Christmas is not a good time to travel—flying or driving––and we all know that. But, regardless, most people either are traveling or hosting travelers––especially now after three years of Covid.
This year I put 1,800 miles on my car, as I drove to California to see friends and family over Christmas. It was my first trip to California in three years, and I was gone 3 ½ weeks. I really threaded the needle weatherwise––just behind bad weather going down and just ahead driving home. It was the most nerve-wracking trip in my many years of driving to California in winter.
While I was able to avoid most of the bad weather, I didn’t know that would be the case, while I was planning routes and behind the wheel. I was constantly checking Oregon’s TripCheck and California’s CalTrans to check on the highways before I left and after I began. That way, I could take alternate routes, make sure I was at higher elevations during mid-day where the weather was below freezing at night, and get far enough north to avoid flooding rivers and falling trees.
And last Monday, only a few days after I got home, along Oregon’s southern coast on Hwy 101 between Port Orford and Gold Beach, a section of highway was covered by landslide and dropped about 15 feet. So, 101 is closed for several days between Port Orford and Gold Beach with no alternate route. That is not unusual for that stretch of road. Good thing it didn’t happen a few days earlier, when I was passing through.
Going down, I planned to take I-5 since my first stop was in the Sierra foothills east of I-5, but there was snow between Ashland and Redding––about 200 miles–– with blowing snow and zero visibility over Siskiyou Summit on the day I would be passing through. So, I decided to take Hwy 101 down the Oregon Coast and one-third of the way down through California turn on Hwy 20 to cross the state to get to the Grass Valley area where I was headed. It would be windier roads and further to drive, which would make the trip between two and three hours longer. Since I don’t like to drive after dark, it was a two-day trip, instead of normally a one-day trip down I-5. I was right behind a storm, so while it was sunny, it was cold with icy spots and some snow on higher elevations going across on 20. Where my friends live, there was hardly any snow, a few miles away at a higher elevation in Grass Valley, a few inches, and just another few miles and higher still in Nevada City, almost a foot with blowing snow and Hwy 20 closed east of there. I was just behind that east-moving storm.
A few days later when I left the foothills, I headed for Marysville, where I connected with Hwy 70, heading south to Sacramento where I would merge with I-5. I headed south through the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys—known for their winter fog. And it was foggy (yucky) and stayed that way until I got over to the west side south of Stockton and close to foothills. From there to Bakersfield, it was fine—lots of speeding traffic but no more fog.
After 2 ½ weeks in Bakersfield, I headed north to Palo Alto on the Friday before New Year’s weekend. The weather was fine, but the traffic was horrendous. It was stop-and-go from King City to San Jose. Once I got on Hwy 85––shortcut from San Jose to Cupertino––it started moving again. So, the last hour was in darkness and the rain had begun. But I made it.
While I was in Palo Alto, it rained steadily, and there was a lot of flooding throughout the Bay Area. We tried to go to the Stanford Shopping Center, not far from my friend’s home, but her usual route involved a flooded underpass. Street closed. We had to take an alternate route.
A few days later, when I was heading home, there was lots of roadwork through San Francisco––a result of the New Year’s weekend storm. It closed three lanes down to one lane, much of the way, which caused near gridlock. It was January 3, and I was not the only one heading home. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, there was heavy traffic for about 100 miles on Hwy 101 before it thinned out.
I got to Eureka about 4 p.m. and could have stayed there, but a very windy and rainy storm was expected to begin that night with possible flooding and trees down predicted along 101 north of Eureka. I opted to keep going. The stretch between Eureka and Crescent City goes through the redwoods and along the cliffs around Trinidad. Lots of two-lane, windy road with a few one-lane sections due to roadwork that are operated by signals. And the rain had begun. This stretch is very dark after dark. So, once it was dark, I got behind a couple cars and stayed glued to them. Much of it was white-knuckle driving, trying to see the lane and stay in it in the glare of oncoming traffic. I got to Crescent City by 6 p.m. and stayed at one of the first motels I saw. The ride home up the Oregon Coast next day with only drizzle and occasional sun––easy. Glad to be home!
So, was it worth it. You bet! It had been over a year since I had seen my brother, sister-in-law, and sister and three years since I had seen my nephew. I have two friends from college days where we were roommates for two years at Bakersfield Junior College. It had been a year since I had seen one of them, who lives in Palo Alto, and five years since I had seen the other one, who lives near Grass Valley. It was simply lovely to see family and friends. We did lots of catching up, exchanging gifts, and eating lots and lots of good food. Wonderful memories!
Since the photos on this post are of some of my favorite Christmas cards—a couple dating back many years—I’m going to end with one that is part of a Northwest parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I received it back in 1990. I get it out every year—just love it! Enjoy!
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
Twelve rainclouds raining,
Eleven ferries tooting,
Ten geese a leaping,
Nine apples dangling,
Eight lattes steaming,
Seven salmon swimming,
Six tulips swaying,
Five golden slugs,
Four crawling crabs,
Three steamed clams,
Two waddling ducks,
And a seagull in a fir tree.
–1990 Kevi Sutter, The Wild Card Company
Happy New Year!