January 8, 2009 Driving to New York

Day three of the trip.  I have not been able to post much of anything because, as I explained in my mini-iPhone post this morning, we have not had internets in our motel rooms, in spite of promises by Expedia to the contrary.

My last long piece was written before we reached Susanville, California at about 4 in the afternoon.  Heading into Susanville tested my driving mettle.  Leaving the mountains we headed down a 6.5% downgrade curving into the town.  The final curve is 20 mph 180 degree turn at a ridiculously steep downgrade.

The road leaving California and heading into Nevada is mostly flat, long and low across the desert.  We decided we would stop for the night in Elko, Nevada, nearly across the state.

When I was twelve, my dad worked in Alaska for part of the year.  He and my mom decided to have her drive up in a truck with a camper on the back, taking my brother and step-brother.  For years after the trip my mom would tell the story of the drive on the narrow freeway, trucks passing and causing the camper and truck to rock back and forth, back and forth.  She was terrified, but my brother was little and my step-brother had only a learner’s permit–the job was hers.

I fully and completely sympathize.  I had been driving comfortably on the long, flat straight highway.  For the most part the road was smooth.  Bridges were a different story.  There were seams at the beginning and end of each bridge, some dipping a good four inches below the surface of the road.  Driving along at 60 mph, I hit a dip and the truck began to rock side to side, back and forth, the up wheels completely off the road.  Boyfriend had experienced a similar rocking on I-5 in Oregon, but not nearly to the extent of this.

Fear of that magnitude is a physical experience.  As the truck rocked side to side, I felt my body blanch, sweat pouring from every gland.  My heart raced.  I thought I was going to wet myself.  Seconds later as I managed to straighten the truck and slow significantly.  My heart was pounding.  My only thought was that I wanted to get to Milla.  Minutes later, I began to weep.  Weird, this fear response.  I continued for my portion of the drive, then Boyfriend took over.  He kept braking, terrified of a repeat.  He had experienced the same terror as I did.  When we finally arrived in Elko after midnight, all we wanted was a bath and sleep.

This morning we headed across Nevada towards Salt Lake.  Our intention was to get to Boulder in one day.  The roads were clear, the sky was bright with sun, and we were optimistic.

The desert there is quite lovely.  There are snow-capped mountains in the near distance.  Sagebrush dots the landscape contrasting beautifully with spots of snow.  Its expansiveness filled us both with awe.  Ours is such a beautiful planet.

I fell asleep two hours outside Elko.  A half an hour later, I woke and sat up sleepily.  As I stared catatonically into the distance (I have had only 4-6 hours of sleep each night in the last week.  My insomnia has returned with a vengeance.), I felt the truck jerk and bump, then it began its furious side to side weaving.  Boyfriend attempted to drive over the anti-sleep ruts on the shoulder.  This did not work and the truck veered madly toward the edge of the road, tilting and rocking.  That fear hit me again.  Boyfriend managed to straighten it out and slowed to nearly 35 mph.  He had not been going faster than 55, but the combination of a monster tractor-trailer and massive dips after a bridge created the turbulence.  I could smell the sweat on him after, fear palpable between the two of us.

A short time later we made our driver switch.  Driving into and through Salt Lake, I was a wreck.  There were tons of tractor-trailers.  They buzzed by proving just how piddly our truck and trailer were to them.  The roads were terrible.  There were repair seams everywhere crossing all lanes.  Construction projects forced cars into narrow, cement-sided passageways.  I spent the entire trip taking deep breaths, constantly wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans.  As we headed into the mountains east of the city, I was not sure I would be able to manage.  I was so afraid and I could not talk myself out of it.
I am not normally a very fearful person.  I will often push through situations when fear seems to want to take over.  But too many nights without enough sleep, a lot of pretty crappy road food, and the stress of driving the monster weaving truck had me completely out of sorts.  I felt on the verge of tears at every turn.  Finally as we headed towards a sharp 45 mph curve on a 6.5% downgrade slope, I lost it and started bawling.

Boyfriend had called my dad who has driven trucks across the country before.  My dad described the physics of what was happening to us.  He said that rather than braking or stopping acceleration, when the truck began to rock we should actually accelerate.  Once the truck straightened, we could then brake.  He said the worst thing to do was brake.  This made sense and we wondered that we hadn’t figured it out ourselves, but our automatic response was to try to slow down not speed up.

As we headed towards the severe downgrade curve, Boyfriend told me to brake.  So afraid of rocking back and forth, I had stopped wanting to brake altogether, taking the advice to avoid it to the extreme.  It’s okay to brake, we aren’t rocking, he told me calmly.  I managed to slow from 50 to 35 and we made it through the curves without incident.

We continued on through Park City, Utah.  I had managed to accelerate through a few minor rockings and discovered that it did indeed work.  Then we saw a sign indicating that Cheyenne was 427 miles from our location.  I quickly calculated in my head and realized we would not reach Boulder and Milla at a reasonable hour.  Boyfriend was on the phone with a friend and at that moment, after describing how slowly we were going to avoid tipping and rocking, said We aren’t in any hurry.

I realized he was right.  Why were we breaking our necks to get to Boulder tonight?  I wanted to spend time with Milla.  We had forgotten to change the clocks so our calculations put us in Boulder even later.  When Boyfriend got off the phone, I told him I wanted to stop somewhere right inside Wyoming, get a good meal, a solid night’s rest, and relax.  He said, I think that is the best idea we have had in a while. What a man.

Our trip from that point on was much more relaxed. I drove to Edmonton, Wyoming.  We stopped at the corporate addiction palace to get some caffeine and to log onto the internets to make motel reservations in Rock Springs, Wyoming.  When we left, Boyfriend took the wheel.  We are almost there.  I am looking forward to some time to relax an enjoy ourselves.  It is 5:45.  We’ll be there in under a half an hour.  Boyfriend has been driving like a pro.  Now that we have figured out a way around the horrible careening truck swings, and since we know we’ll have a night to relax, we’re both much happier.

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