On December 30th, my wife and I headed North to Menlo Park to visit some of our friends up in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were worried, just a bit, about the possibility of I-5 being closed (through the Grapevine), but after checking on the weather for the trip up we decided on going through the central valley rather than taking the coast route.
Ok, I decided that we should take the I-5 going up. More the fool, I. My reasoning? The coast route is longer (both in time and distance) and as we were planning on leaving a little later than usual (10 AM instead of my usual 6-7 AM departure time) I thought it would be nice to get in to our destination a bit before the sun went down and everything went pitch black. No battle plan survives five minutes contact with the enemy, though, and we left 45 minutes later than planned.
Now, normally, the run over the Grapevine takes about an hour and a half, and then things speed up (it's about 80 miles from our home to the far side of the pass). Traffic was a little heavier than usual getting out of LA, but I wasn't too worried. We were, after all, leaving a bit later than usual and it was just before New Years. We'd planned on stopping at Grapevine, and eating at the In & Out there (ok, we both have low tastes, some times). But Grapevine was full - of cars. Really full. There was no parking in the lot for the In & Out, and the McD's lot looked similarly full from where I sat, in our car, trying to maneuver around. It took us something like twenty minutes just to get in and out of Grapevine (not really stopping, just driving through). It was an omen of things to come.
Normally, a short distance past Grapevine, the I-5 splits off and goes up to a 70 mile per hour speed limit. It's two lanes each way, and the slower traffic (trucks, mostly) stays at the legal 55 limit for them, and the other lane runs an average of 70-75 (with a few speed demons running upwards of 100 mph). I try to stay in the fast lane, with my cruise control fixed at just about 70, switching to the slow lane to let lunatics pass me every now and then when it's safe.
This time, I didn't have a chance. Traffic was extremely heavy (much more so than I'd ever seen it in the central valley) and traffic speed fluctuated between 30 mph and 65 mph (I may have hit 70 mph once or twice, but never for more than a minute, and I wasn't able to use my cruise control due to traffic conditions).
At that the I-5 North did better than the I-5 South; traffic there looked to be bumper to bumper, almost all the way through the valley (with the exception of one open stretch that turned out to be the result of the CHP running a brief traffic stop to allow a big tow truck to remove a wrecked car and likely to allow someone to remove accident debris). But, seven and a fraction hours after we started, we were at our destination (for only about forty-five minutes more than the usual length of trip). I should have read the omens more carefully... I was pretty tired when we reached a friends house (where we were going to stay for the weekend) but we both quickly unwound. Good friends, a VERY good scotch (thank you, George!), some langosh (a Hungarian garlic bread), salmon pizza, and good conversation later, I was feeling quite a bit better.
For once, thanks to the sanity of my friend George's wife (hi, Ellie!) George and I didn't stay up until midnight or one am talking - I think her hints got us off to rest about 10 or 10:30 PM. Just as well, considering that the next day we'd be staying up until ridiculous (well, past midnight) as is traditional.
We spent Friday doing "little" things (shopping, preparations for an RPG session Friday, and other silly things). Saturday, as had been planned, I ran another session of what we've been calling the Cyberfur campaign. A good time was had by all (George, Ellie, my wife, our friend Lisa - not the Khromat, another one, and me).
Sunday, Kay and I started back (again, rather late in the morning). We'd planned on going back down the I-5, and stopping at Harris Ranch for a late lunch. Our plans took a little detour - before we got to Harris Ranch, we saw the notices on the electronic roadsigns that the I-5 was closed at the Grapevine. We were just North of Kettleman City, so there wasn't much we could do, and we decided to follow our original plan just a little longer.
We ate at Harris Ranch, and MAN but the prime rib was good. We had the open house prime rib sandwiches. I picked that selection for me because it looked like the smallest amount of meat of anything on the menu - 8 ounces. Kay decided to have the same thing, I assume because she noticed the how much meat was on all the other menu items. Mine had a bit more fat and gristle than Kay's - perhaps as much as an ounce. But the remainder made up for it in taste (and even seven ounces of meat is a lot). We were both stuffed, after the meat and fixings that went with it. So, despite the pending detour, we were in a pretty good mood after lunch.
Things didn't stay good for long. We took what turned out to be the best of a very bad deal, and went West on the 41 to the 46 to Pasa Robles and to the 101, starting off the I-5 just South of Kettleman city. It's 53 miles, roughly, off the I-5 to the 101 on that route, but it took us over three hours. Traffic was stopped, mostly. At that, we were "lucky". Had we gone East and tried one of the alternates there, we'd have likely been trapped (most of the alternates ended up closing as well). The detour took us through nowhere to the coast, and with the rain, and the insane traffic, we were both pretty ragged by the time we reached familiar territory. I had to be back at work on Monday, so "the damn fool (me) yelled to push on" (even if we were waist deep at times, figuratively speaking). We made it back in one piece, barely, just a few minutes before midnight (after spending some thirteen hours in transit, with a one hour break for lunch at the Ranch).
I still do not know why the traffic was so heavy, unless people have decided to skip air travel altogether within the State. But, more on that subject another time.
It was fun, it had some bad moments, but it had more really good ones than bad, so we were happy we went. But we were also happy to get home again.