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 humans, really, need to refill our cups of creativity and abundance.

cappucinoWe’ve poured it out on pages, on people we love, on the world.

heart anemone


But the world gives back when we let it. Love. Beauty. Peace.


We can take it all in, deeply…


looking closely…

Carpinteria girls 2013 170 (1)


listening carefully…


and watching the stars.

tidal pool starfish sunset

I find it in the mountains, at the beach,

on city streets, and especially…

sleepy pug

whenever I see a sleepy dog. There’s something about the slow rise and fall of a canine chest, the gentle snore, those dream-tickled twitching paws. Dogs are perfect examples of being fully in the moment, whatever that moment may be.

I was blessed this week to experience a renewal of abundance in Carpinteria, California. Paying attention to the ocean and moon, I met creatures in the tidal pools at low tide, found treasures washed up by high tide, and let the rhythmic sounds of the waves wash over me. Jules

We danced in the sand.
Julie Gail

And now, my cup is full.


Above me, the morning sky wakes bright and clear blue. But looking east, the thick mountain cover that’s ordinarily snow or rain-clouds is a different color, hanging ominously north to south. A heavy gray-smudged orange haze blankets the Sierra. Smoke.

The morning news reported that the Rim Fire threatens the city of San Francisco’s drinking water supply with ash. Homes, wildlife, and vast stretches of land, including Yosemite National Park, are in danger. Time lapse film of the rim fire,

created by the National Park Service, is savagely beautiful when viewed on my computer. But close-up, homeowners and firefighters might not have the same reaction. I didn’t, when I packed my car in Colorado, ready to flee with my dogs and family from oncoming fire.

Seeing smoke hanging in the sky reminds me that my reactions to reports on television news are brief. Sometimes I follow up by donating to relief funds for victims of shootings, hurricanes, flood and other disasters. When the High Meadows fire in Colorado spared us, I spent time volunteering with other families, evacuated children sheltered at the high school while their parents worked with insurance representatives or tried to salvage belongings. I brought water bottles and snacks to firefighters. It helped me feel not quite so powerless in the face of disaster.

Life on this planet of ours includes sad, even shocking events frequently enough that I have come to value proactivity. Regular donations to the Red Cross, for instance. A frequent prayer for all people, everywhere, in any difficulties they may face. Lovingkindness. Chesed. Blessings.

I feel compassion for those who suffer. (Including an occasional “Poor baby” just for me!)

A mindfulness colleague in my meditation group once quoted Shinzen Young: Suffering = Pain x Resistence. (S = P x R). In other words, there will be events that cause us pain. Pain is a natural part of existence. When I was learning to carve nature scenes into the covers of wooden boxes with my exacto knife, I slipped and cut my hand. I had a choice in how to react:

“Owwwwwuh! I am so clumsy! Why can’t I ever learn something new without a disaster? And look at my hand. It will never be beautiful again after that cut. I’ll probably have a big, ugly scar. Oh, it’s going to hurt so badly if lemon gets on this cut…”

You know. On and on. Like that. But I had another choice:


In both cases, the cut hurt. But in the first example, I multiplied my pain. Lately I’m starting to realize there’s enough pain, just being alive, without multiplying it. It makes me appreciate good days and good friends.

Today, as I lift my eyes to the hills, I’m sending special Sierra thoughts and prayers in their direction. And, as usual, in yours.

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.