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  • Lauren Wood

Travel Day from Hell

We all know travel isn't always easy. Some days are certainly worse than other. Here's a recap of our recent travel day from hell:

Well, it wouldn’t be a proper road trip without a hiccup or two, right? Thursday was by far one of the gnarliest travel days I’ve ever had, and it’s the reason I’ve been MIA with my real time road trip posts.

The day after Christmas, we were set to travel to Vegas as a halfway point on our trip to the Grand Canyon. Our route was supposed to the the 5 South to the 58 East to the 15. Due to weather conditions, CalTrans closed I-5, the major artery connecting Northern California to Southern California (and also the main route leading to the routes that get to Nevada if you’re trying to get to Vegas or Arizona (like us). So with the 5 closed, we had limited options.

Then there was the 58 East, which was also closed at Tehachapi due to snow. So other than driving 10+ hours to go back toward the coast, down around LA and East toward Vegas from there, our only option was the 178 East over Walker Pass.

Neither of us had ever driven over Walker Pass, so we weren’t familiar with that route. We used just about every maps app we had and got little to no information about the pass or the conditions. All we knew was that the weather forecast for the future was clear (no more snow). We found no road closure notices and Waze was telling us it would take us about 30 mins to get over the pass so we could head down toward the Valley.

Well... 𝟲 𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀 𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿, we made it across the short 30 mile pass, exhausted and nowhere near where we had a place booked to hook up and sleep for the night.

We sat in a line of traffic, with thousands of drivers at a complete standstill heading East over the snowy mountain pass. All without a lick of cell service, with no way of checking conditions or finding out what was going on. We were inching along, sometimes completely stopped for 15-30 minutes at a time. People were getting out of their cars walking up the road to see what was going on, peeing in the bushes, and sitting in complete bewilderment at what could possibly be causing the hold up ahead. Some thought it was chain control, others said it was a major accident up ahead.

When we started heading over, it was still daylight and conditions were clear. The longer we sat there though, the icier the roads got, as the building darkness brought the cold in. We continued to sit, stranded, with no ability to turn around and no information about what lied up ahead or how long we would be there.

As we finally reached the top of the pass, we discovered a tour bus without chains that had gotten stuck in the snow in the Eastbound lane. Just a few yards past it, a motorhome was on its side in the snowy embankment to the right, with a semi-truck that slid off the road to the left. Cars and trucks were sliding off the road right and left, taken by surprise by black ice.

With cars inching along at a standstill, and long periods of time with cars not traveling forward past the vehicles that obstructed the roadway, the roads grew icier and the black ice just accumulated. From a stop, it was nearly impossible for most of the cars to gain enough traction and momentum to move forward on the ice, so they just remained stuck in place, prohibiting the 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙨𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙨 of motorists behind them from passing.

It was a total clusterfuck, and a very scary situation, as everyone on that road we’re facing a very likely chance of skidding off the road themselves, or getting stuck at the top of the pass, in the snow and the ice, looking at having to sleep there—most with no food, water or other provisions.

Our saving grace was that we were in a motorhome, with heat and food and a toilet, while most everyone else was just stranded in their cars. Many people were traveling with small children and their dogs, probably heading out of town for vacation or home from the Christmas holiday.

As we approached the top where all the cars were stuck, we were fairly certain that we were going to get stuck ourselves. As we weaved around semi-trucks and other vehicles stuck in the embankment—remember we’re in an RV—skidding over black ice, we were lucky that our vehicle had a lot of weight to it, and somehow, rather miraculously actually, we made it through without crashing into the other vehicles. The whole situation was pretty sketchy, but we were lucky, while others unfortunately didn’t share our luck.

Our original plan was to get from Northern California to Vegas where we had a reservation, though after driving for 6 hours to get to Lake Isabella (just before the pass) and another 6 hours just to get over the 178, we were nowhere close to where we wanted to be and all the RV parks at the bottom of the mountain were either closed or full for the night. So we had to get a hotel in Ridgecrest at 10:00 that night, which thankfully had some availability because so many others were stranded and had to cancel.

Our Thursday travel day fiasco was just one of many reasons why it’s so important to go with the flow and accept the unexpected when doing a long road trip. So many things can go wrong, and even though it could have ended up much, much worse, we definitely hit a bump in the road in our attempt to get to the Grand Canyon.


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