Picture this scenerio: Two truck drivers, doing the best they can to keep their wits in poor weather, are pulled over in a designated pull-off of a two-lane, winding mountain road to let a line of cars go by. When they try to head out they find themselves stuck with tires spinning – on a cold, lonely mountain pass. After several attempts and strategies out of their situation, frustration and worry begin to surface. As if that wasn’t enough, the passenger-side window shatters after shutting the door with the window half down. All they can do is just stand there, staring at each other in disbelief from their bad luck. Feeling totally worn and defeated, they stare into the snow-turned-freezing pouring rain for a few seconds. The truck is stuck and freshly-broken window glass is spewn about. All they can think is, “is this really happening right now?”
Most trips go pretty smoothly with not much to talk about. Then some – well, like this one – leave you with a story to tell. These trips test your patience, character, ability to make decisions, knowledge, and simply whether or not you can hold yourself together. Which really, in the end, you have no choice in the matter. You just gotta do what needs to be done. But it sure isn’t fun.
It started before we even left. Our route to Portland, Oregon from Wisconsin would normally take us through North Dakota, but a blizzard came through, shutting down most of our route along I-94. We took a slow-going alternate route through Wisconsin, dipping us down toward I-90 through South Dakota instead. This put us a little behind our normal schedule, but that was okay. One blizzard bypassed? Success, I suppose.
We confidently cruised through rain and snow flurries in Montana and Idaho. Then we crossed the Columbia River gorge from Washington state into Oregon. It was like someone turned on a light switch, only it was a blizzard switch. We found ourselves in a world of white, falling and blowing snow. After a couple of hours of poorly-maintained roads a sign told us we had to stop and chain up. We pulled out our tire socks, installed them and head back out. I went back to bed as Adam slogged along at 20mph in the snow storm. We finally, but safely, arrived to our pre-paid reserved truck parking spot at 11 pm. We made it through another nasty blizzard.
Then came the ice. The next morning we planned to walk over to the restaurant for breakfast. We stepped out of the truck onto a glassy, reflective sheet of solid, thick ice that covered the entire parking lot. And every truck. And every branch of every tree. Every… thing. We literally shuffled our feet by inches to make our way across the lot for breakfast, then slowly head out into those elements to our delivery. At our delivery, the ice-covered lot made it pretty tough to back into our dock. I kept trying to pull up to the right, but the tractor would just slide to the left. Finally after about ten attempts I got backed in, all while a couple of forklift drivers looked on, entertained. I was tempted to install our tire socks on my steer tires just to get backed in… I was close!
After that I took a deep breath and head south to a second delivery a couple of hours away, and got a break from the ice. The temperature rose and it poured rain, but it wasn’t icy! Unfortunately we had to head back right into it for our pickup in Tillamook, Oregon. This trip is normally a beautiful drive along a winding, two-lane mountainous road in the Cascade mountain range.
That’s when our bad luck started to pile up. Already working on spent nerves, we made our way up the pass. It wasn’t long before the rain on our windshield started to splatter. It was starting to snow, and as we slowed down, a line of cars built up behind us, impatient and wanting to pass. It’s common courtesy and sometimes law to pull over if possible to let others by. So we did. We pulled off on a pullout designed for these sorts of things. This one, in particular, was covered in snow but looked pretty solid. We sat and let the cars go by, taking advantage of being stopped to breathe, gather ourselves, and discuss and prepare for the night’s uncertain weather that lay ahead.
When we were ready to go, Adam released the brakes, lightly pressed the fuel pedal, up went the rpms, but nothing. We weren’t moving. It was a classic case of warm tires on cold snow. The tires get warm from driving on the road, and when you stop, those warm tires melt through the snow, and when it’s cold enough, that melt freezes, and there you sit. Aaaand so there we sat. We were basically stuck with each individual tire in its very own icy hole… spinning.
First we pulled out our handy collapsible shovel and shoveled the snow out from under each drive tire. Nothing. Then we tossed kitty litter under each tire. Nothing. More shoveling, more kitty litter, nothing. We rocked and rocked and shoveled and kitty-littered… Still nothing. I grabbed a couple of tire socks and tucked them under a couple of the tires. The tires grabbed them! But then spit them right out the other side. No go.
I started to worry, and we were getting frustrated. We were cold, muddy and wet from the sloppy snow/rain that was coming down. I stepped back into the truck to grab another set of tire socks, with the new plan of trying to install them onto the tires that weren’t going anywhere. That’s when Adam closed the passenger-side door. We had the window halfway down so it kept out most of the rain, but so we could still hear each other while trying to get unstuck. The door banged shut, with an eerie simultaneous, “crash!” I turned to see what happened and saw the passenger seat full of shattered glass. My heart immediately sank to my stomach. Is this really happening right now? I felt like we were stuck in some kind of lucid nightmare.
In an effort not to lose it myself and run off into the snowy forest screaming and crying, I just kept going the only way I could. I got out of the truck right away, walked over to Adam, hugged him tight and said, “we’re just having a really bad day. But we’re going to be okay.” We stood there in what was now pouring rain, hugging, and just for a single minute gave up and didn’t care that the truck was still stuck, and now our passenger-side window was gone.
After letting ourselves just be in our craptastic moment, we continued on with the task of getting the truck moving. I got a couple of tire socks halfway on, and with some tricky rocking of the truck, Adam finally got it moving forward. I quickly gathered our tire socks, shovel, and kitty litter into my arms, jumped in the truck, and off we went. I wore my jacket, hat and gloves the last 30 miles to our destination to thwart off the cold coming in through the broken window, and thankfully the rain mostly stayed out.
We made it to our shipper, and while we waited for an open dock we started to deal with the window situation. We gave our awesome maintenance guy a call, and he got us going on a plan. He talked us through how to rig up a temporary window using clear plastic and Gorilla tape, while he called to see if there was a place nearby that had the window we needed. Trying to get the plastic and tape to stick to the wet truck while it poured rain was quite tricky, but we worked fast and managed to patch something together – but it was most certainly temporary. Thankfully there was a place in Portland that had a window – and they were open until midnight! Now we just had to get our trailer loaded and get back over the same pass in the declining weather before they closed!
We arrived at the service garage with a few hours to spare. We dropped our truck off, and got a ride to a nearby hotel where we took hot showers to rid our bones of the wet chill we’d been fighting, and went right to bed. The next morning we picked up our truck with the plan of finally heading home.
Nope. We weren’t done yet! I-84 eastbound (our route home) was closed down because of not only poor road conditions, but also to clear up some accidents that had occurred due to the roads being slippery. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren’t able to head into that the night before. Did our broken window save us from that mess? Who knows. Maybe we wouldn’t have gone anyway.
In an effort to keep moving, we head north toward Seattle to catch I-90, avoiding the whole closed I-84 mess. About 10 miles out we realized chain laws were in effect over Snoqualmie Pass. We pulled off at a rest area and made a call to our after-hours dispatcher (it is now Saturday). Our company is always totally supportive of our comfort zone when it comes to driving in adverse weather conditions, and with no question, the decision to try the alternate route or go back and shut down was totally up to us. We turned back. Heading up to a chain-restricted mountain pass sounded a little too nerve-wracking and dangerous.
Will this week ever end? Keeping fingers crossed!
Tonight I love summer.