Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Joe's Sense Of Snow

If you live anywhere in Western Washington, you've probably been digging yourself out from the freak (by local standards) snowstorm that hit over the last few days. I'm no stranger to the flaky white stuff myself, having driven through ungodly amounts of it from here to breakfast. Surprisingly, sometimes it doesn't even change the way I drive.

It depends on where I am in relation to the Cascades and/or Sierras usually. What makes this most recent storm so unusual is that the snow was powder-dry. Usually, snow in Western Washington is wet, heavy crap the skiers call Cascade Concrete. The name is quite appropriate, because the second it hits the ground it turns into an impenetrable layer of ice that lasts far longer than you'd think it would. I won't be terribly surprised if I have to deal with roads still icy from this storm in two-plus weeks when I have to drive back to Nevada.

On the other hand, the snow in Reno and lake Tahoe is dry, powdery perfection - if you ski or snowboard. For me it's only an annoyance when it comes down really heavy, really fast. When I drove my courier route around Tahoe's eastern shore, the snow only slowed me down marginally. What slowed me down more was state law - In California. Y'see, while California and Nevada both are quite active in notifying travelers of road conditions in snow-prone areas, California actually enforces posted chain requirements while Nevada only advises for the most part, save for the drive west from Reno up Interstate 80, climbing up to Donner Pass. And this can be most annoying.

What the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) does is to actually install crews on either end of a pass to visually inspect each and every traveler's vehicle to see if they comply with the posted requirements. The problem is that sometimes the requirements change and the 'chain chimps' (my term) don't get the message right away - if at all. That can be a real pain in the ass. Sometimes the traffic along these back-road passes is so light, they forget what they're there for and take a little nap on the job, which I can say because I've seen it with my own eyes. Obviously it's a pretty thankless job, and even though I don't necessarily like it, I do appreciate the service they provide, helping keep the roads somewhat safer.

All I know for sure about my next trip is that I've planned to take my Explorer this time around, trading in a 30 - 40% drop in fuel mileage for the safety of better tires and better tire chains. I try not to skimp when it comes to tire chains. I usually by the self-tightening diamond-pattern chains that WalMart sells for anywhere from $60 - $80 depending on the size of the vehicle. But after a rather dramatic case of getting and returning a set of defective chains, I went with cheaper, basic chains that were supposed to fit my truck but didn't really live up to that billing. The best ones I've ever bought were Les Schwab Tires' QuickFit chains, which were pretty similar to the WalMart self-tighteners, just without the self-tightening thing. They weren't cheap either, but those were minor inconveniences as they worked like a motherfucker.

I just hope my back is feeling better by then. Loading and unloading my truck three or four times in the space of 72 hours tweaked it pretty badly, to the point where Joy is basically browbeating me into taking her Vicodin to ease the pain instead of plain old ibuprofen. I'm not looking forward to being in a car for that long with my back on fire.

I guess this part of growing up, right? Y'all can have that shit back.

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