Thursday February 5, 2004

One Reason I Live in Central Coastal California


A friend sent this photo, taken in the Oswego area (near Syracuse, NY).

They call the San Francisco Bay Area, "Northern" California. It's not really northern California. It snows in northern California — it snows up around Tahoe and north into the Sierras. It snows a lot up there; they build ski resorts to showcase the snow. However, we choose not to drive up there in the winter (come to think of it, we don't go up there in the summer either, but I digress). We've decided we don't "do" chains :-)

Here in beautiful Bay Area California, however, the closest we get to snow is that sometimes we can see a little on Mount Diablo ( due east across the Bay out our kitchen windows). The summit on Mt. Diablo is 3,849 feet; a few days ago the snow level was down to 3000 feet. But our house is only a few hundred feet above sea level and we don't see much snow around here. Certainly not like the snow in the photo.

Nevertheless, this photo invokes a feeling of Deja Vu for me.

During the winter of 1981/82, I was in a graduate school program in West Haven, CT. That winter, it snowed, a day or so before winter break. There was a 12-18" accumulation in West Haven (something very rare for the communities along the Long Island Sound). Nevertheless, I was going home for the midwinter break, snow or no snow. (I didn't like that grad school program; that's another story.)

I had two choices for a route from West Haven, in southern Connecticut, to State College, in central Pennsylvania. I could take I95 down through NYC (never my favorite route under the best conditions) or I84 through western CT and upper NY State, a much more scenic "road less traveled" that I generally preferred. For that trip, I figured I95 would be pretty clear of snow, but more heavily traveled. I also estimated that there was a 50:50 chance that I84 had seen much plowing but (or because of that), there would probably be very few fellow travelers and they would most likely be more snow-savvy than the ones down around NYC. I chose I84.

It was one of the most "interesting" road trips of my life. ;-)

Normally, the drive from West Haven to State College took 7 hours. I don't recall how long it took that day but it was at least 10 hours. We didn't see blacktop through the snow till well into the late afternoon, inside the Pennsylvania border. Actually, the road got more difficult to drive at that point, because we were seeing asphalt through the well-driven ruts, now melting in the late afternoon sun. As long as one drove carefully and stayed in the ruts. however, it wasn't too bad. It was sort of like driving on a railroad track...

Through all of western Connecticut and New York state, for most of the day, we were driving on packed snow. The road had been plowed (i.e. flattened) to a 6" or better packed surface, bounded by at least 5 feet of piled snow to both sides. The channel formed thus was a few feet wider than a car (i.e. as wide as a snow plow!) on both sides.

There weren't very many cars; we all drove very carefully, at a well-considered speed, in single file. I84 is a well-divided Highway; the eastbound traffic was somewhere to our left, invisible beyond the snow. I had one near mishap; coming around one turn a little too fast, I skidded slightly. I took my foot off the gas (I'm well taught ;-), slowed down, corrected, and proceeded smoothly without incident.

I have a vague recollection of one car off to the side; whether he skidded there or made a temporary planned stop, I don't know. I'm not sure, even, how well I trust that memory.

There were certainly no accidents, no multi-car pileups. We all drove slowly and carefully, a safe and reasonable distance apart, through a surreal landscape of cold white walls and floor. It was one of those memories that stays with a person.



One Reason I Live in Central Coastal California ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Thu, 05 Feb, 12:22 Pacific | «e»