I’m not a local; or, how to get across town and nearly die
There are those who say that you have to log around 30 years of time up here to be considered a local.
All things considered, I’d have to imagine that’s probably true.
So, on Monday our new reporter, Katie, had dropped her car off to be repaired over on East River Street. She asked if I could give her a ride there to pick it up.
Usually, this would not be a problem.
Unfortunately, this cross-town trip was on the Monday of a holiday weekend.
It was also on the Monday after a holiday weekend when it was starting to snow and blow quite frenetically.
Thus, traffic through town, in case you missed it Monday, was stopped.
Besides the gridlock on Interstate 80 because everybody that lives in the Bay Area had come to Tahoe and Reno last weekend, pretty much all of Donner Pass Road had become a parking lot, thanks to clever folks who decided to bypass the I-80 chaos by going through town.
Getting back to the Sierra Sun offices near Donner Lake could take a week in traffic like this, I realized. And I hadn’t packed a lunch.
This, unfortunately, is where my innate cleverness chose to kick in.
“Wait! I have a great idea,” I thought. We could avoid the 10-hour delay to reach the other side of town and be one up on the gridlocked tourists.
Katie is from Oakland, and new to this whole winter experience. I figured I would be her guide to local ways.
I recalled a “short cut” that I’d used one time during summer gridlock.
It involved going up Highway 89 North a short ways, then turning onto Alder Creek Drive, which takes you into the back side of Tahoe Donner and eventually deposits you at the bottom of Northwoods Boulevard, thus cutting hours from our trip across town.
I congratulated myself for my amazing cleverness many times as I drove up Highway 89 North, with Katie following me in her car, and turned onto Alder Creek Drive.
The white stuff on the roads got a little thicker and icier as we climbed into the back side of Tahoe Donner, but I wasn’t worried. I was mountain folk.
The short cut was going great until I got a little confused. The snow was much worse up here than in the lowlands of Truckee, and it was getting hard to see.
After a moment to gather my thoughts, I found the turn I was looking for and we took it.
Unfortunately, the road we took apparently was a short cut straight to Antarctica.
I figured out later that in the blinding snow, I had missed Fjord Drive, the tiny road I’d meant to take, and ended up on Skislope Way.
If you look on a map of Truckee, you will see that Skislope Way snakes wayyyyy around the western edge of Tahoe Donner, up and down hills, around treacherous curves, getting narrower all the way.
It is not a good road to take in winter.
We drove along, me thinking that any second now we’d pop out on Northwoods Drive and relative safety.
Instead, the road got narrower and the snow came down harder. Suddenly, mammoth drifts began to appear in the road, several feet high. I realized I could only see about three inches from the windshield. The wind howled. The snow gods roared. I began to tremble uncontrollably as I realized I had no clue where we were and barely knew where the road itself was.
Behind me, in my rear view mirror, I could vaguely see Katie soldiering on in her own car, eyes wide as saucers, probably imaging her new editor had lured her out into the middle of the tundra to have her killed and steal her car.
I began having vivid snow-induced visions of my own death. I would end up buried in a snowbank, not found until spring thaw. My frozen corpse would be put on display at the state park, to warn others away from my stupidity.
Of course, eventually, we made it out. Our “short cut” only required 45 minutes of white-knuckle driving through a blizzard.
I wiped a few gallons of sweat off my brow and nonchalantly acted like this is how we drive in Truckee every day.
To my eternal shame, Katie actually drove better in the snow than I did.
And she doesn’t even have 4-wheel drive.
We arrived back at the office, chastened and wizened from our experience. I declared to Katie that the whole situation was actually our Sierra Sun initiation trial for new employees.
I hope she still believes this.
We all seem to go a little bit crazy when it snows.
The joke around the office is that fresh snow causes flatlanders’ IQ to drop by 50 points.
The police scanner at our office provides ample evidence of this.
Besides the usual litany of spinouts, wipeouts and rollovers caused by people thinking 4-wheel drive makes your car invincible, there were a few really weird calls on Monday.
Like the call for medical aid up at the Donner Summit Rest Area. Apparently a woman up there had decided to go snowboarding – off the roof of the rest stop. Probably not to anybody’s surprise but her own, she ended up injuring her back in the process.
Perhaps ambulance crews can consider charging a “stupidity tax” for incidents such as this.
Of course, I came fairly close to earning my own stupidity tax on Monday, I guess.
I’ve only lived in Nevada County for 20 or so of my 30 years, I estimate, so I’m probably still learning the ropes.
I am just a visitor, in the land where the snow gods live, and rule.
Sierra Sun editor Nik Dirga grew up in Nevada County. He is still a newcomer.