4/7/20: Alex’s Anecdotes – Stuck In The Mountains

One of the most memorable events from our travels is the time that Dad and I drove across the country to Los Angeles for WonderCon. C2E2 in Chicago was the weekend directly preceding WonderCon, and being from the East Coast we decided it made sense to drive straight to L.A. from Chicago rather than return to Maryland to fly. A lot of other dealers had made similar plans, but the constant refrain was “take the Southern route”. If you are not a long-haul trucker or a comic book dealer, you probably haven’t thought about the logistics of getting across the country in late March. I know I hadn’t.

The Southern route takes you through Texas and New Mexico and reduces your chances of running into snow to about zero, but it also adds a few hours onto your trip. Now, my Dad and I aren’t
exactly dare devils, but in the interest of shaving off some time from an already 30+ hour road trip, we decided we would take the route through Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah. How bad could it be? We were about to find out.

We stayed in central Nebraska the night after the show, and when I woke up it was in the mid 50’s. I wondered aloud what the dealers were talking about, this wasn’t so bad. We had an uneventful day of driving and ended up in Denver, which was a sunny 75 degrees. I remember vividly that we ate dinner on an outside patio with some friends that live in the area. The next day we got out of Denver early, because we had heard that a huge snow storm was about to hit. It had crushed Nebraska the day after we left, blanketing it in a foot of snow that made travel almost impossible, and the same system was set to hit Denver.

We were on a tight schedule for the LA show that meant that even if we got delayed a day we would miss hours on the show floor, so we had hustle. We had about an 8 hour drive that day, and by the time we left the sky was already darkening. We managed to stay out of inclement weather in the Rockies, but then we started climbing the mountains in Utah, and as the sun set, the
snow started falling. This area of I-70 was known as the stretch with the least amount of services, and once you passed the last gas station, that was it for about 100 miles. You were in the mountains.

We hadn’t planned on this, and were running a little low on gas, but we also knew our destination for the night was just on the other side of the mountain range, so while we would be cutting it close, we should ultimately be fine. As our comic laden van climbed higher and higher up the steep mountain, the snow started falling more and more steadily, until it was pure white on the windshield and beginning to accumulate on the ground, and we were still several thousand feet from the crest. I remember thinking how impossible it was that just the night before, 7 hours to the East, I was eating a burger on a patio in shorts and flip flops. Now our van ground to a halt just before the peak of the mountain. What few travelers that were on the road with us were stopped as well, not even inching along.

At this point the temperatures were in the 20s, and our gas was running perilously low, and neither of our cell phones had any signal. I was worried we were in for a long night if we were stuck in park for too much longer. About fifteen nervous minutes went by while we wondered aloud what might be the cause of the backup, and just when it seemed most unbearable, traffic began to inch along. About a half a mile up we saw the source of the backup. At the peak of the mountain I-70 bends around a particularly nasty ravine, and an eighteen-wheeler wasn’t able to handle the turn in the snow. The front of it had crashed, while the actual trailer was free swinging over a ravine of thousands of feet, seemingly only being held from the fall by a regular gray guardrail. Dad was driving at the time and said, “I really did not need to see that”. Thankfully once we passed the accident, we also began our descent. We tried not to touch the gas on the way down and just let our weighted down van and gravity do the work.

Eventually we got through the snow line and we could breathe easily again, with only a few miles to our destination. When we finally pulled into the town with our hotel our van said we were less than 10 miles away from empty! We checked in and went to a restaurant next door for food and some beers. We were both a little shaky after the experience, but about halfway through the first drink we were feeling better. Dad ordered a second beer with a little remaining in his glass, but it being Utah, the waitress said she couldn’t serve him another one until he finished his first beer. We both gulped the dregs of our beers and got another, and after that the trip didn’t seem so bad.

The next day we drove through Nevada (I had my first In-N-Out burger) and made it to the show for setup, and it was smooth sailing on the way home, but was a crazy experience I’ll never forget. Now, every time someone comes up to our booth and says, “You’re living my dream!”, I think of a snow-covered highway in the mountains of Utah, with a tank running on empty.