Mountain Girl’s Lessons Learned ~ Winter Driving Tips

You can take the girl out of the mountains, kicking and screaming, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl.

I learned to drive in Pennsylvania’s mild Pocono Mountains, where I called 911 to report the state snowplow I’d just passed stuck in a blizzard. I moved to Vermont, where I studied in college,when I wasn’t skiing or having other mountain fun. Finals were a breeze compared to learning to drive a stick shift in Burlington, VT. I moved to Colorado, at 8,000′, completed my Master’s, and, depending on I-70 traffic, drove west to the Continental Divide for alpine, or south for Nordic (cross-country) skiing. I checked on the driver of a snowplow who flipped, yes, flipped, his snowplow in Conifer, CO. Really.

We stopped to help a driver whose precariously balancing car teetered on the guard rail of Berthoud Pass. I’ve avoided rockslides and avalanches near Georgetown, CO, and made a dorky (according to Hunk) survival kit for my car. I drove Oh My God Road (which SO lives up to its name) in the snow. When Hunk had to head through a snowstorm to Aspen for business, he asked me to make a survival kit for him. Haha.

Most recently, I lived in Northern California, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding the Sierra Nevada. I crossed the country by car, in all kinds of weather, over the Sierra and Rockies, six times in the past two years, once in my convertible in a blizzard (car top closed). I’ve made a few observations about driving in ice and snow. Even though I am currently writing from just north of DC, I hope you find these tips credible, and helpful!

  1. 4WD helps you go, but it does not help you STOP.
  2. Cleaning your windshield of snow is just the beginning. I clear my headlights of snow, and turn them on in bad weather. I also appreciate when other drivers clean the snow from their cars’ roofs, and side and rear windows, so they can see me and not splat my windshield with snow. Seeing is good when you drive.
  3. Road spray uses up your windshield wiper fluid. Keep some in the car for winter travel. That same dirty film covers your headlights, but worse, since they’re closer to the road. I clean them, too. Otherwise, I’m left thinking my alternator is failing because my lights are so dim.
  4. Same rules apply for driving as skiing and boarding. Plan ahead for icy spots. Slow before you hit them. Don’t try sudden turns mid-ice.
  5. Underpasses, bridges and even culverts allow colder air to circulate under that part of the road, enabling black ice to form on roads. Anticipate that possibility when the temperature gets near freezing, even if it’s just raining.
  6. Where gravel is used for ice and snow, remember that it adds its own degree of marbles-on-the-road when trying to stop.
  7. I never assume that the other driver can stop, even if I have the right of way. In bad weather, I always assume the car traveling downhill has the right-of-way at intersections. Likewise for people traveling fast in 4WD vehicles. See #1.
  8. That dorky homemade Girl Scout survival kit in my car? A flashlight, mylar blanket, pocket poncho, waterproof matches or a lighter, tissues, canned camp candle, some hard candies, protein bars, XL plastic trash bag (can double as rain poncho), a couple of small ziplocs that can be used for water or anything else. The small items I store in a metal cup, which I could heat over flame. I always have some water with me, regardless of weather. In winter I add a shovel, scraper and sleeping bag. In a pinch, your credit card or similar card can double as an ice-scraper for your windshield.
  9. If you do get stuck in deep snow, #8 comes in handy, but also remember that your tailpipe exhausts carbon dioxide when the engine is running. Balance staying warm with being safe – you may need to clear the tailpipe area, but try not to get wet – more danger of hypothermia when wet.
  10. And one more on being safe: if you need to pull off the road, please remember that other drivers in snow and ice may skid or simply not see you. Standing outside your car on an icy roadside? Nope.

More next time. Until then, have fun in the snow, and be safe out there!

Filling Up The Cup

Sometimes we writers, and all humans, really, need to refill our cups of creativity and abundance. I did just that this week in Carpinteria, California, with two of my best friends from Colorado. But as beautiful as the setting was, I do that wherever I am with them. Sitting with really good friends is like sunshine on the stormiest days of our lives. We know there will be days like that. We know we can weather them together, even if we are far apart. We are connected. I am grateful. On stormy days, when my toes are frozen, or have been stomped on and hurt, this day, today, this warm sand, will still be a part of me. Because I wasn’t distracted. I wasn’t doing anything. I was just being, with friends, at the beach. I am just being.

Recipe for a Perfect Day

Recipe for a Perfect Alpine Day:

1 cup of fresh coffee
2 eggs over easy
9 hours of sunshine
1 handsome man at my side
11 groomed packed-powder blues
4 fresh, untracked powder black diamonds
5 deck chairs overlooking Lake Tahoe
3 great, fearless friends
1 bottle of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon


Apres-ski view, Lake Tahoe

Mix vigorously until joy and laughter fill the air. Soak 15-20 minutes in hot tub until tender spots are soothed.

Serves: 1-5. Double recipe if desired.

Elephant Seals Take To The Beach

elephant seals san simeon 043

February 14th is a time for romance. Head to the beach and find the mate of your dreams.

Like this guy, stretched out on his back. Yes, he snores a little. But he is helping to bring his race back from the brink of extinction. According to there were fewer than 100 northern elephant seals by 1910, down from around 15,000, due to overhunting for lamp oil. elephant seals san simeon 026

Valentine’s Day is the peak of mating season for the Northern Elephant Seal. This beach is about seven miles north of San Simeon, near the Hearst Mansion. It’s called the Piedras Blancas rookery, because it is the site to which these elephant seals return twice a year to mate and bear their young. elephant seals san simeon 036You can view the elephant seals from raised boardwalk viewing platforms on the bluffs.

I was impressed. Every single visitor was quiet and respectful toward the seals, (and each other.) I was awed by experiencing the intimate lives of these enormous creatures in such close proximity.elephant seals san simeon 024

The largest male elephant seal I saw was, I’d guess, around fourteen feet, but they can grow up to sixteen feet long, and over five thousand pounds! The pictures can’t capture the scale, because volunteers ensure that no humans disturb the seals by going onto the beach. This is for the seals’ protection, but frankly, you wouldn’t stand a chance against one of the big guys. That large,snoring male was bigger than our SUV!elephant seals san simeon 018

The pups and females scurried out of their paths as powerful, blubbery males hulked across the sand, sometimes pursuing a female, and other times battling other males. The pups’ piercing cries for their mothers, and the bellowing call of the males, were cacophonous. The sparkling sea added to nature’s noise. florida 2014 191I could have stayed all day. elephant seals san simeon 020

As you’d expect, this isn’t a place to bring your dog. Mine was happy with the windows down in the parking lot, nose in the cool, fresh breeze. If you make the trip, you might want to bring a jacket, plus sunglasses and sunscreen if you go in the afternoon, as the beach faces west. And, of course, your camera!

*No animals were disturbed in the making of this post. A zoom lens and great spot on the viewing platform are all you need.

Broken $%!# – my new theme song

…and where in Sacramento to hear live music:

I recently wrote to my favorite Sacramento storytelling musician, Justin Farren.  I couldn’t really tell my story properly without the soundtrack of one of his songs.

Once I shared with Justin Farren the highlights of my arrival in Sacramento, including

  • being hit by a car while riding my bike;
  • getting a 911 bill for being hit by a car;
  • receiving, by mail, a ticket for being hit by the car, since the driver said it was my fault;
  • successfully demonstrating to the judge through overabundant pictures and video of the intersection that my story was the true version;
  • finally, discovering that my wobbly, car-crash bicycle had been stolen,
Justin agreed to let me post this link to his song, Broken Shit.  It’s my new Sacramento theme song. He said “that’s a crazy story!” But every time I play his song on my ipod, I laugh, thinking of the crazy irony of that thief somewhere when the wheel falls off my bike.

Justin tells great stories. Just listen to “Where did I leave my sweater?” or “Shade Tree”, two of his other funny songs, or any of his more contemplative material.  When you see some sorry times, you more deeply appreciate the juxtaposition of humor that floats around the edges.

So even though I’m not particularly grateful for the thief with the cable cutter, or the driver who hit me and fibbed about it, (but turned out to be getting married the following week, so I forgave her), or especially, the various agencies that attempted to take advantage of me after I’d been hit by a car, I  am grateful for a sense of humor, persistence, a cheap little camera, and especially, a new theme song.

Thanks, Justin.     Justin’s website (I wish I had a guitar icon here!)

Oh, yes – a couple of little places to hear live acoustic music in Sacramento: