Of Flooding and Exploding Blow Dryers

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We’ve all heard the expression “When it rains, it pours.”  January was a monsoon for me.

It actually started mid-December with the news of my mother-in-law’s stage IV stomach cancer diagnosis.  With a six-month timeline, Elke* has opted to receive hospice care.  All her life she’s dealt with cancer.  It started in her late 20s, returned in her 40s, again in her late 60s, and with this last bit of news, she said she’s done.  Prognosis was not good to begin with, and she just didn’t want to go through the “cure” again.  Her husband, John*, has been displaying signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease.  He had to be reminded who we were, and yet, most cruel, he’s aware of it right now.  They live in Texas, three and a half states over, and timing was not good.  But it had to be done.

The journey back to Texas was odd.  Any road trip I’ve taken before has always been a good thing.  My husband and I made the most of it, since it was three days hard travel.  My sister, who lives in Bakersfield, was gracious enough to let us use her place as flop house.  We literally spent less than 15 minutes talking to her before we headed for bed, and then in the morning, we hugged one and another and moved on, both going and coming back.  The second day out, I wrote some errant thoughts.  Those long drives gives a person way too much time to think.

January 4, 2017, Wednesday

When the sun is rising, the errant contrail casts a shadow on the higher clouds

Driving east along Interstate 10 to Texas

Don’t know how to feel

Sedimentary, layered mountains Las Cruces

Texas landscape out of El Paso flat

Scrub brush

Minimal traffic

Can use cruise control – indefinitely

Occasional butte, rolling hills

Road stretches out in front of you in gentle, undulating waves

Cerulean sky, painted with high altitude stratus clouds

Harmless, no rain

When sun is setting, the color of the western sky shifts from blue to lavender, then gradually to a dusky plum, all but obscuring the horizon, then gradually, deep purple to the black of night.

Headlights

On the third morning of our visit, I was drying my hair, when my blow-dryer of at least 10 years decides to go out with a bang.  Sparks flew and I had to unplug it to stop the sparks from turning into flames.  The acrid smell of burnt electronics filled our hotel room for at least a day.  I felt it was appropriate, somehow, that it should happen at that time; however, I had spent the night before crying, so it was possible I was just upset.  Saying good bye to something else, even something as replaceable as a minor appliance, really set me off.

When driving back, we ran into the storms in Northern California that we’d been monitoring even before we left.  It was an eye-opener to see the areas around Sacramento, flooded by water that had overrun the bank of the Cosumnes River.  Sacramento has the American and the Sacramento Rivers to deal with and the levies around the city are monitored more closely.  What I photographed was the Cosumnes River gone a bit wild, just south of Elk Grove, a suburb of SacTown.  And then from Highway 99 North to I80 East, up around Applegate, the trucks were pulled over because the road over Donner Pass was closed due to snow.

I was so grateful to be home…because our garage was flooding.  We got some more sandbags (don’t ask) and cleaned up what we could.  Thanks goodness the foundation is concrete, and no real damage was done.

On a lesser, but more immediate note, my husband’s car has stopped running.  The money we would have used to fix that was spent visiting his mother.  It sits in the front of the house, ads running on Facebook, Letgo and Craigslist with no results.  I guess no one wants a mechanic’s project at this time.

There is more to the story, but I will leave it.  Sometimes it’s good not to tell so much, and this is one of those instances.

*names changed for privacy

Lessons Learned

It looked innocent enough when it first started.

It looked innocent enough when it first started.

Talk about counting your blessings!  I am so blessed to be sitting at the dining room table with a roaring fire in the fireplace as I tap out my story.  If you’re a regular reader, then you’re probably scratching your head wondering why I’m beginning my yarn with a genuine sentiment of gratitude.  It’s not everyday that one has, shall we say, an adventure.

For several days I had been aware of the winter storm warning coming our way in Northern California.  Not being familiar with Sierra Nevada snow, (it’s wet, not dry) I thought we would be fine.  Ok.  So I shall refine that statement even further; not being accustomed to any kind of snow storm driving (yes, I’ve driven on snowy roads AFTER the fact) and I didn’t expect to be driving in any kind of snow… well, you see where I’m going.  So many times before snow had been forecast and never happened.  I figured, at best, we’d get a light cover.  When the snow started falling a little early, it looked benign enough.  My husband, Rick, said we should go to the store and get some salt to put on the driveway.  Why we waited for the snow to start falling, I don’t know.

We took a 20 minute drive to get some water softener salt (not the correct kind *sigh*) and leisurely took our time back, making sure we stopped by the local Starbucks to get some holiday coffee to go along with our holiday snow.  The young man at the window expressed grave concerns about the storm.  You see, he lived there.  He knew.  We shrugged off his warnings and started the last leg of our trek.  Or so we thought.

Our house is located at the top of the hill in our neighborhood.  There are some steep inclines which make for rigorous walking and interesting driving in mild weather conditions, so when we rounded the familiar turn onto our street, we were a bit concerned by the amount of snow accumulation, but not overly so.  We could make it easily in our Toyota Yaris.  Mind you, it’s a great little gadabout car, but as we were to discover, it’s not meant to plow snow!  We lost all traction only halfway up the hill.  I even draped myself across the hood to hopefully give the tires more pull on the road.  Not happening.  After a moment’s thought, Rick decided it was time to go get some snow chains for the tires.

After a few phone calls, we located a shop back in Auburn, where we could purchase the chains for our car and our daughter’s car.  (She lives with us.)  She also had a Toyota Yaris*, same year, same trim, different color.  She was working in Rocklin and wasn’t going to get off until 10:30 that evening.  We thought it would be nice of us to not only get her the much needed chains but to help her when the time came to put them on.  The instructions looked easy enough.

While we dawdled at the local Barnes and Noble in Roseville, both Rick and I noticed that it was raining non-stop.  I kept checking the weather app on my phone and realized that it was snowing all this time up in Colfax where we live.  Not only that, my phone was running out power.  I was really starting to get worried.  My stomach felt tight and I was getting jittery.  Normally, we enjoy our trips to Barnes and Noble, but the time could not pass fast enough for us.  We needed to get home.  When 10:30 did arrive, we were waiting for Rachel.  Rick decided it would be better if he drove with her and I would follow in my car.

And the journey began.

It was smooth sailing for some time, and I thought, briefly, that we had been worried for nothing.  Then we hit Auburn and snow.  Real snow.  Snow so dense that the road markings are obscured and everyone is driving slower.  We were cruising about 30 mph, still too fast for our limited experience and weather conditions when Rachel’s car started sliding all over the road.  I barely had time to think to myself, Oh shit! when my car lost traction.  I very carefully applied the brakes to see what that would get me.  I know, you’re not supposed to do that, but I lucked out.  I was able to make contact with something solid and pull over to the side of the road with my hazard lights blinking and safely stop.  I looked around for Rick and Rachel and was shocked and relieved to see the car resting against a snow drift next to the center median, pointing the opposite direction.  The late night traffic was thin, so no harm had befallen anyone, just our nerves!  After a few moments, they carefully pulled up behind where I was.

Time for the chains.  As usual, when purchasing a new product that is to be used in inclement weather, practice is required.  Having purchased said items only a few hours before and NOT having practiced, the outcome was less than desired.  No chains on the tires.

We carefully pulled off the interstate at the next off-ramp and pulled over.  What to do?  I thought of my car insurance and the towing package.  They could rescue us! For the the first time since I’ve had a car (that’s been a long time, you guys) I was using the roadside assistance number.  It took about 5 minutes to get a live person, all the while, my phone’s battery is getting lower and showing amber.  And no, I didn’t have a phone charger.  I do now.  We would have to wait an hour and a half for any assistance.  I expected that.  I invited Rick and Rachel to join me in my car so we could at least keep each other company.  Besides, I always carry water and a blanket with me.

For awhile we had fun, chatting and laughing, and checking the occasional auto that drove by to see if it was the tow truck.  After about an hour, I got a phone call from my auto insurance saying they couldn’t get hold of anyone local.  At all.  It was also about this time that a helpful police officer pulled over to ask if we were okay.  From him we got the information that the interstate east of Applegate was closed to all but four-wheel, tire-chained traffic.  So no rescue was forthcoming.  He advised us to sit tight until morning.  Rick joined me in my car and Rachel got in hers and we tried to sleep.  Correction: they slept and I fidgeted.  I heard the snow plows working the streets, the chains on trucks slapping the asphalt, Rick’s snoring, and I watched the snow stop drifting down.  After awhile, a snow plow worker stopped in front of us and asked to move.  Since the the landscape had been covered in drifts, we unknowingly parked right in the middle of a road.  I asked him if he knew of the road conditions further up the interstate, and he said they had been cleared all the way up to Colfax; further than that, he didn’t know.  That was good enough for me.

We got back on the highway and slowly, ever so slowly, made our way up to Applegate where we found some opportunists – bless their hearts!  They installed our chains for an exorbitant fee and we carried on, feeling a bit more secure.  We were able to make it back to our neighborhood where the snow was deep and thick.  After plowing through the drifts for about 15 minutes, we couldn’t go any further.  We were back at our old spot that stopped us 11 hours before.  Rachel disembarked there to hike up to the house, while we backed down to the entrance, found spots that wouldn’t get in the way of a plow or driveway, and walked the mile home.  In deep snow.  Uphill.  In my new heeled boots.

Snow still on the boots!  Turned out, they weren't so bad for the walk.

Snow still on the boots! Turned out, they weren’t so bad for the walk. The snow was deeper than the water lines…my pants were drenched!

It took us 30 minutes to make the trek home.  I could see where Rachel had fallen several times and I couldn’t help but laugh.  I was disappointed that my phone was pretty much dead so I couldn’t take any pictures.  They would have been great, but Rachel would have been steaming.  When we arrived panting and warm and so tired, the doggies came out to greet us.  They had probably been confused that we would leave all the lights on and the television running and the homemade chicken straining in the sink for so long.  And why hadn’t I fed them dinner?

Surprisingly, everything kept while we were gone, so all I had to do was finish up for a wonderful warming chicken noodle soup!

Surprisingly, everything kept while we were gone, so all I had to do was finish up for a wonderful warming chicken noodle soup!

I fed the dogs, took off my shoes, continued making the homemade chicken noodle soup, took a picture or two with the wrong lens (didn’t want to make the extra trip upstairs to get the wide-angle) and went to bed at 7:30 am.

Taken just as the sun was coming up.  Not as cold as I would have thought.

Taken just as the sun was coming up. Not as cold as I would have thought.

Lessons learned:

1.  Learn how to put on snow chains in the summer!

2.  Have plenty of melting salt on hand.   We live in an area that does get snow occasionally.

3.  Continue to carry water and a blanket.  Possibly a snack or two in the glove compartment.

4.  Unless absolutely necessary, stay indoors.  No driving around!

*As soon as we could safely pull out of the driveway, Rachel took her Yaris down to the nearest Subaru dealer and traded it in on an all-wheel drive Forester!