Friday, December 26, 2008

Joy to the World

Five years ago, just before we moved to Boise, we drove from California to Utah for Christmas. Our intent was to then go to Boise for a few days to do some house hunting. A huge snowstorm delayed our departure by a day, and then we had to stop along the way for several more hours to wait out the weather. When we finally got to Boise, we had one day instead of three to find a house.

For the last several Christmases since moving to Boise, we have opened presents at our house in Boise, eaten breakfast, then packed up to drive to Utah and spend the rest of the holiday week with family. This year was no exception, except that Rachel and the kids wouldn't be making the return trip. It seems fitting, then, that since we came in a snowstorm, we should go back in one. We thought about delaying, but with storms stacked up back-to-back for the next several days, we figured it was a crap shoot and we'd have weather no matter what. Since it was relatively clear in Boise, we decided to go for it.

The first couple of hours between Boise and Jerome went smoothly. My dad called me to tell me that I-84 between Burley and Tremonton was closed, but things were so clear, I really thought it might open again by the time we got there. The only trouble we encountered was that nothing in Jerome was open except the gas station, so for lunch we had cheese crackers, beef jerky, and popcorn.

Then, just outside of Jerome, the wind picked up. Snow was drifting over the road, and we saw several slideoffs. In many cases, there was ice under the drifts, so it was really slick. We slowed down to 30 mph and even less at times. We were going so slow that I started doing mental math comparing how long it would take us to drive versus how fast I could ride the same distance on my bike. There wasn't a huge difference.

As fate would have it, I-84 remained closed, so we had to take I-86 to Pocatello and then drive south on I-15 from there. From the junction to Pocatello things got worse. We stopped at a rest area, and the snow had drifted so deep that Rachel didn't want to pull her car into the parking place out of fear she wouldn't get it back out. Oh, did I mention we were driving separate vehicles? Because that made it so much more fun knowing there were two cars to worry about rather than just one.

Inside the rest area, Rachel was shaking with fear because the roads were so bad. Unfortunately, we weren't at a place where we could stop and wait it out. You'd think that in her vehicle (a 4wd Toyota 4-Runner with traction control, ABS, and brand-new, top-of-the-line, all-terrain tires) that she'd be fine in the snow, but she said she felt like it was squirming. I suggested that we trade cars and she drive my Subaru instead. Once we got back out on the road, I realized why she was so nervous. In deep snow, the 4-Runner does great. But on the icy roads, it was squirming around, while the Subaru (with winter tires) did just fine.

Before we got to Pocatello (now about six hours into the trip), our youngest started crying. She was sick of the car and hungry. We stopped at the only place that was open: Denny's. Since all the I-84 traffic was being re-routed through Pocatello, and the journey was taking longer than expected, the number or weary travelers needing a bite to eat was high, in addition to the usual crowd that would be there on Christmas anyway. The kitchen was overwhelmed to put it mildly. I don't know if it's possible to spend 90 minutes sitting in a booth at Denny's. I certainly couldn't do it. I kept finding reasons just to stand up, going out to the car or even to the bathroom even though it had the aroma of urine and halitosis, with undertones of B.O. I tried to take one of the two little kids with me every other time just to keep them from fighting.

As we filled up on our greasy, starchy meal that was nowhere near as good as the Armenian feast my mom had prepared for us, we had to make a decision as to whether we'd continue on or get a hotel for the night. According to 511, the road conditions sounded worse where we'd come than where we were going, and it wasn't actively snowing, so we decided to keep going and try and make it at least to Tremonton.

The only stretches between Pocatello and the Utah border that were sketchy were through the mountain pass near Inkom and coming over Malad summit. The rest of the time, we were intermittently on dry pavement and were able to make close to 50 mph.

As we approached the Utah border and the roads were clear--not just clear, the best we'd had all day--I expected things would only get better since Utah has a larger snow removal budget than Idaho does. Boy was I wrong. While I-15 in Idaho was mostly clear and in good condition, in Utah, I'm not sure when it had even been plowed. From the Utah line south, we were driving on packed snow and didn't see pavement. At all.

We considered stopping in Tremonton or Brigham City for the night, but both vehicles were doing OK in the deep snow and the kids were asleep, so we kept going. About 10:30 my brother called to see if we wanted to crash at his fiancee's house in North Salt Lake. Knowing it would be more than an hour of additional drive time to keep going to Cedar Hills, we stopped. At about 12:15 a.m., we finally pulled in, having covered about 390 miles in eleven hours.

To put the drive time into perspective, here are some other distances I have covered in about the same amount of time:

Bicycle: Logan, UT to Jackson, WY (206 miles, 10 hours 14 minutes)
Driving: Salt Lake City to Orange County (674 miles, less than 9 hours)
Flying: Hong Kong to San Francisco (6,910 miles, ~13 hours)

Kinda reminds me of that scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark brings everyone out to see the lights, does the drum roll, sings "Joy to the world!", plugs them in, and...nothing. Ellen's mother turns to the kids and says "I hope you all see what a silly waste of resources this was."


  1. What an ordeal. Glad you made it without serious incident.

  2. Driving in horrible conditions is raised to a whole new level with kids. I am glad you are all safe.

  3. Emily and I really liked it when we were listening to Christmas music and the song "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" came on. "And since we've no place to go..." We laughed about that one for two or three hours.