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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Road Trip To Utah - Day 2

Day 2 - February 5th, 2008

Starting point: Nebraska City, Nebraska
Finishing point: Layton, Utah
Starting time: 7 a.m.
Finishing time: 1 a.m.
Miles travelled: 921

And so Day 2 began. My brother-in-law Phillip and I reloaded our clothes back into the minivan and the snow that had started just as we were ready to leave kept getting heavier and heavier. We knew that since we had only driven for about 8 hours yesterday, it was well below our projected travel time of 22 hours total driving time. I had figured up the mileage before we left and it came to roughly 1,500 miles and cutting it into two equal parts would have meant two days driving time of 11 hours each day. Instead of taking 3 extra hours for lost time yesterday, the day ended up taking 18 hours! After only about 20 minutes, it was apparent that the day was going to be longer than we had anticipated or hoped for.

Conditions about 20 miles past Nebraska City.

As you can see from the above picture, the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly. We could only manage about 35-40 miles per hour at best, so our distance/time ratio went way down. There is a lot of snow in the winter in Illinois, so we knew what it was like to drive on slick roads. Apparently, the people from this area did not. Just around the time the above picture was taken, some hotshot in a sporty import shot past us, going at least 65 or 70 mph. About 5 miles down the road, we saw him spun out in the middle section that divided our two lanes going West and the other two heading back East. He didn't look too happy, but it was his own fault. Most drivers drove cautiously, but there was also the occasional tractor-trailer rig that was in too much of a hurry to get where he was going. See below. To our good fortune, nobody wiped out and took us with them.

I-80 West, past Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska was where we were going to get back on an interstate, I-80 West, but when we got there, there was already about 4 inches of snow on the roads and it was early morning rush hour. It probably took twice as long to get through there, but we made it safely. We saw another accident while passing through the busy city streets. After we got past Lincoln and settled in for a leisurely drive of about 40 miles per hour on the interstate, we noted that Nebraska was a very long and boring state to have to travel through. We didn't think we'd ever get out of there! Aside from the snow, all there was to see in the rest of the state was flat plains and cows. Black Angus and Longhorns. Conditions didn't lend themselves for photography going West, but on the way back, there will be some cow pictures to see, rest assured on that.
We stopped for lunch at noon around Kearney, I think, and then I took the wheel from Phillip once we commenced. 5 hours were already finished, but I certainly didn't know there was going to be 13 hours more and that I would be driving them all. After a certain point, there just wasn't many places to switch back.
Phillip had his trusty cell-phone and used it to our great benefit the whole trip. (When it could find a tower.) His wife and my sister, Karla, is a professional at watching the weather and when we called her about the conditions ahead of us, she told us that once we reached the panhandle of Nebraska, the storm would clear. Well, allowing for the fact that we were headed West and the storm was heading mostly due East, the skies cleard about 30 minutes before we reached the panhandle - just like she had predicted. So, the last couple hours of Nebraska and the first few hours into Wyoming, up to just past the Medicine Bow Mountain area, we travelled along in clear, sunny blue skies - the only time we did so the whole trip out there.
I think it was in Cheyenne, Wyoming that we stopped for gas. From there on out, things started changing. The first thing we encountered, we still can't explain. We had just about reached the top of the Medicine Bow Mountains and stopped along the East-bound lanes was an eighteen wheeler. Just after we had passed it, there was this sound like a tire blowing out. I hurriedly pulled over to the side of the interstate, as I didn't want to plummet over the side for any reason. All the tires were still up. I have thought all along that the sound came from the truck - but, just what that sound was, I don't know. It happened in an area of the Medicine Bow Mountains such as pictured below. Phillip took the rest of the pictures for Day 2, so I can't take credit for all these beautiful mountain shots in the rest of this blog. He has a camera identical to mine, so before he left, I suggested he just take his long zoom lens and I'll take the wide angle to normal lens on mine and then we wouldn't have to be switching lenses the whole trip. It worked out great.

A rock formation in the Medicine Bow Mountains.

As we crossed over the Medicine Bow Mountains, it levelled off slightly. It was from there that we got our first real glimpse of some big mountains. Pictured below are the Rocky Mountains as we first began to see them.

The Rocky Mountains.

However nice the Rockies were to look at, we soon began to see and experience something new for our trip. Next to the interstate for miles and miles, were a series of tiny hills that didn't hardly amount to anything. But, apparently they are good for one thing - generating wind. Hills such as the one pictured below just let wind currents build and pass unobstructed over them. There wasn't any new snow falling, but what was already on the ground was subject to being blown continually in the direction of the interstate we were travelling on.

A seemingly innocuous-looking hill.

As we got nearer to them, you could see clouds of snow being continually stirred up. And then we felt them. The wind was strong, gusting to 40 or 50 miles per hour, and constantly kept the snow billowing across the interstate, obliterating the lanes and the edges.

Great clouds of snow silhouetted in the sunset.

Add in to the mix the heavy traffic around us and it was driving conditions I don't want to have to ever face again in my life. Just when we'd get to a section where we thought we were safely through it and the road was clear, it started again. It never let up for more than a few minutes. We saw more semi trucks turned around alongside the road, so the wind must have had even more affect on them. The snow seemed almost alive - snaking fingers that kept reaching across the road for something to grab hold of. Undulating and probing, I had to maintain a firm grip on the wheel so we wouldn't be blown off. The sun was setting, so it was beginning to get dark as well. But, somehow, we managed to make it through that section of bad weather and come out the other side.

The snow seemed to be a living, breathing entity.

About the only thing I can see that might have been good about the whole area was that it helped produce a lot of wind-generated electricity. I certainly didn't see any towns or dwellings along this stretch - who would want to live where the wind was constantly blowing like this?

Wind power generators.

We got past it and began climbing into mountains that would take us into Utah. Darkness fell and things settled down somewhat. Three miles from the border of Utah, we stopped at a town called Evanston to stretch our legs. Remember this town name, as it will make another appearance in a later act.

During the entire trip, we hadn't taken a single wrong turn. And this good luck kept up all the way into Layton, Utah, where my brother lived. But, just into the edge of Layton is all. For one thing, we never saw a single sign that said we were in Layton. We stopped at a gas station and the man there said it was just up the hill in front of us and down the other side and we would be there. It was most certainly not there. Fortunately, we had been in telephone contact with my brother Matthew, so he was expecting us. We called once again and he recognized where we were at and steered us the rest of the way. They had been hit with the worst snowfall in 14 years, so that was another thing we had to deal with, but we made it. There in front of us was his apartment complex and we just had to find a parking space and we could stop moving. He had ordered out for pizza and it was waiting on us when we got inside. We all talked for awhile and then crashed because we were just so tired from the trip and having not gotten much sleep. About 3 a.m. we crawled to bed for some rest. We had planned to make the next day after arriving there a day of rest. As it turned out, my brother hadn't been given much notice that he was going to be deployed to the other side of the planet and with everything he had to do just to get ready for his end, that left the personal side of his life undone. Things such as packing all his household belongings and renting a U-Haul truck to haul it to a storage facility. We basically had all of Wednesday to do it, but that's something that will be detailed in Day 3.

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