By Pam Linn


Driving like crazy

Every time I make this marathon drive from Montana to California it seems to take longer. It should be the other way around. Once you know the way, where to stop, what places to avoid, well, it should be easier.

Weather permitting.

This time, the day starts out fine, but we had a two-foot snowstorm a few days earlier and my daughters said, Go through Dillon. That adds significant mileage and about two hours to the usual route but is definitely safer in winter.

So, I only get lost once, and some nice rancher offers to show me the way. Good start.

I don’t hit any scary weather until south of Salt Lake City. I know I should have stayed overnight in Provo but think I’ll go a little farther before it gets dark. Bad idea.

When the light fades and snowflakes begin to plaster themselves to my windshield, I’m many miles from anywhere and a string of blurry red tail lights trail into the distance. At 25 mph, it’s another hour before my tires slush their way into Nephi’s Best Western.

Prying my white knuckles off the wheel, unwinding my aching legs, I book a room on the ground floor with refrigerator, microwave, cable TV and a decent shower. That’ll work, even if it sets me back a C note. Good thing I always carry food in an insulated zippered bag courtesy of Trader Joe’s.

Slam! Car beepers! Headlights blinking through thick drapes. Cussing! More Slams! I thought people weren’t supposed to cuss in Utah. Still dark as a vampire’s heart outside but now I’m wide awake. By the time I load up the Subaru, dawn streaks pink across the mountains as I whisk a thin dusting of dry white powder from the windows and roof. The highway looks clear.

Within minutes, white swirls blow across the roadway. A sign warns, “Chain-up Area Ahead.” Then I remember there are two or three grades with elevation gains of 1,000 feet or more between where I am and Cedar City. Rats!

On the northbound side a see a snowplow scraping and blowing great plumes high into the air. Apparently it’s already come through on one southbound lane and there are no cars and no tracks through the undisturbed white lane. Ahead in the center divide are flashing amber lights next to an overturned dump truck. This must be the poor fellow who sanded the lane I’m using. I wish him well.

A glance in the rearview mirror shows a white pickup on my tail. The driver is deciding whether to pass. He goes for it, swinging out into the unplowed lane. Dumb move. The pickup slides toward the divide, turns 90 degrees, swerves, spins a 180 and plunges over the side, disappearing into dense, frosty rabbit brush.

For the next 60 miles, over two more passes, my eyes are glued to the road and my fingers frozen to the wheel. But the Subaru behaves well even though still sporting its all-weather tires. How I wish I had changed to the Blizzaks, but that’s always a tough call in November. Perfect for Montana winters, the soft deep treads can be a drag on California freeways.

By the time I get to St. George, the sun is high over red rock cliffs, the road is dry and my shoulders begin to relax. Down through the Virgin River Gorge, the most geographically significant view, with Hoodoos perched atop sandstone cliffs, I sense its spirit. Beyond this, there’s nothing but bleached desert.

When I turn into the ranch, weary but grateful to have made it safely once more, I remember it’s too late to watch my granddaughter Amy riding at Pony Club. Oh well, she’ll tell me all about it when she gets back. Her brother Devon, now a lanky teenager, will have his own stories to tell, or not, depending on his mood.

The Border collie meets me in the driveway, glad to see me but wary, knowing I won’t be around for long. About 10 now, she’s starting to show her age but then so is the pointer, all gray muzzle and arthritic joints. Me too.

Before all is unloaded into the house, my son Bobby rides up on the quad to give me hug and welcome me back. Within days, it will seem I never left. I’ll be the same tense old nag I always am here. It’s hard to figure out why the reverse happens when I go north. Somewhere northwest of Idaho, I’ll take a deep breath and relax, even if I’m driving through a blizzard.

When I first moved to Montana I figured everyone was nice because they lived a happier life. In over-crowded California, people are just too stressed out. After all, how many hours can you spend crawling on the 405 or the 101 and not lose your sense of humor?

Meanwhile, I’ll visit my sisters, a few friends, get my old piano tuned, trim the roses, mend some broken stuff and ponder the strange dynamics of fragmented family life.

It’s worth a challenging drive.