When my sister’s car was ravaged by hail and nearly had to be totaled out during those terrible storms that hit the South earlier this month—and then her roommate’s car (also damaged in the storm) was fully totaled by a crate that flew off an 18-wheeler in front of them on the drive from Knoxville to Memphis the following day, resulting in an eight-hour wait at a dingy rest stop, where coincidentally a blonde college girl had been abducted just weeks before, for the tow truck to finally arrive at 2am—I was just sure I had transferred my notorious luck onto her. I even laughed evilly in my head, thinking that for awhile I’d be back in the clear and someone else would see just what it’s like to walk in these size 8 shoes.
But it seems she’s sent it back my way. (Jerk.)
We left San Francisco for our epic road trip on Saturday, May 14, arriving at SVV’s parents’ house in Fair Oaks very late at night with the plans of leaving that Monday morning. Only, after I returned from Sunday brunch with Amy—a brunch, I should note, where it started hailing furiously in the middle of our visit…in Sacramento…in May (this is an oddity, for sure)—SVV was already loading up the trailer and ready to make an early escape. He asked me to check the road conditions for I-80, which I thought was a weird thing to do given that, again, it was May.
So imagine my surprise to find that four-wheel drive was required to pass at Donner Summit just before Tahoe. Given the questionable conditions in Sac and the 45 degrees when it’s usually 70 to 80 that time of year, I guess that shouldn’t have shocked me. But SVV and I had gotten engaged that very week in the Tahoe area just two years prior wearing bathing suits. This weather was not the norm. In fact, we went to Tahoe more than half a dozen times this winter and took my little Altima every time but one…in December, January, February and March. So heavy snow in May is not only “not the norm,” it’s downright preposterous.
We waited it out a bit, hanging out with SVV’s brother Jim and our niece and nephew and indulging ourselves on one final feast my lovely mother-in-law prepared for our departure, and finally decided to just get going. The road conditions seemed to have improved, and it looked like the worst of the weather for the day was behind us; if we were going to wait until the following morning, then we’d really be in trouble as a full-blown snowstorm was making its way south.
Only, if there’s one thing I’ve already learned in the 10 days we’ve been gone, it’s that you can never trust Weather.com. Needless to say, it arrived sooner than expected.
We weren’t an hour east of the VVs’ house when the snow started flurrying. As we were driving a Silverado sans four-wheel drive that was towing a 19-foot trailer, we pulled over on the side of the road after just a wee bit of slipping and sliding and put chains on the truck. It was cold as the dickens out, and we were hardly dressed for being out in the snow—I was wearing very non-water-resistant TOMS; SVV in his signature Chucks. I’m only glad SVV threw our puffy jackets in the car just before we left our apartment. (I was under the false impression that we were leaving winter, i.e. San Francisco, for summer, i.e. the rest of the country. Apparently not.) We suited up the truck and kept driving.
Not three miles down the road, there was a chain checkpoint. There we were told we also had to put chains on the trailer. Good thing SVV is a smarty-pants and also thought to grab the extra set of chains before we left. I swear I would float through life in an aimless haze if it weren’t for him. We pulled over on that exit to a line of 30 cars doing the same. We chained up and were back on 80 within 20 minutes.
What followed may very well be some of the scariest hours of my life.
We hit a patch of black ice—the worst SVV, a California native who’s been coming to Tahoe for 30 years, said he’d ever seen—and all the cars and trucks in front of us were going just 5 miles per hour and still careening into the vehicles in front of them. It was that bad. There was nothing you could do but slide and hope. We saw seven wrecks and spin-outs in a five-mile stretch, some involving multiple vehicles and serious injuries.
My heart was pounding in my throat, and I just knew we were next.
But this is where marrying a guy who knows all and can do all comes in handy. Even though he later admitted to being scared himself—though he’d never admit so in the face of adversity; it’s just something about these former military boys, I’m telling you—SVV maneuvered that truck-and-trailer like he was born to do so, keeping one hand always on the emergency brake, and we came out on the other side unharmed.
We had planned to drive all the way to Winnemucca, Nevada the first night, but due to the time it took us to pass over the Sierras—around three hours—and the stress that ensued, we wound up calling it a night in Sparks.
One handy tip I learned from both reading some RV blogs and absorbing some of your comments on our initial road trip post is that there are a number of companies who are camper friendly and allow you to overnight in their parking lots for free—Flying J, Big K-Mart and Wal-Mart being three of them. To save money on campground fees—and to save the stress of finding a place to sleep after dark—we made for the nearest Wal-Mart* on Pyramid Way.
We parked at the very back of the lot where we wouldn’t bother anyone, went in and did some shopping (we wanted to be good tenants after all), set up the bed for the night and passed out. Only, it was loud being so close to a major freeway and took us ages to fall asleep.
When sleep had finally come to us, we were awakened to unwelcome screeching at 4am: “GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW. YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO BE HERE.”
“Huh?” I murmured sleepily.
“YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE. YOU MUST LEAVE, IMMEDIATELY!” he yelled, menacingly.
Ella growled. SVV sighed. Smoke billowed out of my ears.
“OK, OK, we’re going,” I said, annoyed.
“IF YOU’RE NOT OUT OF HERE IN 15 MINUTES, THE COPS WILL BE HERE!” he continued to yell.
“Geez, it’s 4am, I said we’re going. What more do you want? How do you expect us to have the trailer packed and ready within 30 seconds of you waking us up?” I might have shot back.
So, in our pajamas, we got in the car and drove the trailer to the adjoining Kohl’s parking lot, where they don’t kick campers out of their beds at 4am. I will be shopping at Kohl’s again; I will not be returning to a Wal-Mart if I have any say about it.
Nevada, as it turns out, is not the friendliest place. Luckily, Utah would prove to be much better—when we came out on the other end of the monsoon, that is…
*For you fellow RVers: I read on a camping blog that Wal-Mart wishes you report any branches who don’t honor its company-wide policy to the corporate office, which I will be doing promptly once my fuming has abated.