That Time Crossing California Took 26 Hours

I will begin this by again echoing my favorite Indigo Girls pre-song quote:

‘You have to laugh at yourself… because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.’ Because really. You do.

Friday. Oh, Friday.

I had swept rapidly down into the city late Wednesday afternoon, for a (conveniently coincidental) social-work-social sandwich, which was probably not totally necessary given I have seen Anna, Bridget and Rachel all multiple times very recently and just spent a week of quality time in the office, but 1) there can never be enough time spent with these lovely ladies (and it’s rarely with all of them together), 2) office time is necessary sometimes and 3) we had to defend our title as Wine Champs (…’we’ is a loose interpretation – I voted our team wine lowest last time). This was all fine.

Self-timer ridiculousness.

Given the eventfulness of every other Crossing California adventure I’ve had since moving up here, I was crossing my fingers (no pun intended) that this one might break the cycle and be pleasantly insignificant. Clearly I should not think these things, because it just sets myself up for failure.

The day had started with trekking down Columbus through North Beach on a muggy morning at the wee hour of half 7, to catch a bus to fetch my car, and the hours between waking and 11am, when I found myself suddenly three-quarters of the way up 80 and in Auburn in somewhat record time were, in fact, pleasantly insignificant.

I had been instructed to pull off in Auburn and run for an hour to scope out the trails there, and so without much knowledge of the area (and any research), I had randomly mapped out something that looked vaguely close to a road (and vaguely flat). As I was starting, I get a text from ski-friend up here, passing along information that 80 is shut at Colfax due to a landslide. Given Auburn is the last real turning point before Colfax (side note: Colfax has an AWESOME gas station that makes real sandwiches, should you ever need to stop before climbing the rest of the mountain), this is excellent information, and with some back-and-forth and map scouting, we determine that I could actually take 49 north, and stay with him outside of Sierraville… which then meant I could just hop back on 49 and jet back down in the morning to go back to Auburn for a running meetup I was also meant to go to and totally avoid the whole 80 mess until Saturday afternoon.

And so I run. In retrospect, this run, which ended abruptly with the trail in the rushing river and required me to go back-and-forth on the same section over and over again, was incredibly accurate (and eerie) foreshadowing of what was to come.

Raging river.

I find some cafe afterwards and change into the only non-running clothes I have left, which means I am now sweaty, covered in mud from six creek crossings, and wearing skinny jeans, leopard-print pointy flats, a running baseball hat, and a sweater* (*the entire time I was in this cafe, I was actually wearing a white tshirt, which was slightly more passable as not-a-bizarre-outfit; however, upon walking out an hour later, I had realized that Otis had eaten the entire lower half of the back. Classy.).

Quarry Trail.

Anyway, it’s now about 1pm, and I switch on one of my horribly embarrassing Celine and Wicked-inspired Spotify playlists to belt out some tunes and keep myself awake and start cruising (slowly) up 49.

After about 40 minutes, I find myself in front of a Road Closed sign on this two-lane, windy road, and have my first ‘Hmm’ moment. There is a Highway Patrol guy there eating an orange (how boring of a job) though, and so we chat, and he gives me some backroad directions to rejoin 49. I do this hour-long detour, and for a brief moment it reminds me of being back in Harmonyville, until it starts ascending some mountain on a one-lane road, which is totally scenic and cool and all, but also totally not Harmonyville, Pennsylvania (I really should’ve taken a photo, it was quite pretty).

I finally get back to 49, and at this point am the only car on the road, somewhere deep in the heart of outdoor camp-land, and as I begin to hear the dulcet echoes of a banjo strumming the Deliverance theme-tune, I realize that I desperately need to pee, am starving, and have zero cell service (and haven’t since 3pm, when I’d mapped my 2-hours-from-then ETA)… but this is all still comical.

About an hour later, I pass through some towns, the ‘largest’ of which was Downieville (population 300), which is adorable in this timeless, mine-town California way. It is also pretty close to the end of 49, so this is kind of exciting.

About a half hour later, I find myself gradually climbing in elevation, re-entering the Sierra winter wonderland at golden hour… and facing another Road Closed sign. But… the roads are totally clear. There is no precipitation. It is 45 and sunny. There are ‘Flooded’ signs on dry asphalt. … and so I go around, because at this point I am SO CLOSE, and I can’t imagine CHP actually being on top of removing these in a timely manner, because clearly not that many people live in this neck of the woods or use these roads.

About fifteen minutes later, I hit another Road Closed sign, literally a 5-minute descent away from my destination… and because I am already feeling super rebellious and empowered and all ‘act first, ask forgiveness later’, I actually get out of the car, move the orange cones, drive through, replace the cones (leave no trace), and carry on.

About five minutes later, however, I encounter Snow Plow Man. Snow Plow Man inches up to me, we roll down our windows… and he shakes his head with laughter, because apparently the two Road Closed signs are because there was actually quite a large snowslide that have made the road entirely impassable (I am still not sure what he was plowing, if not that, given the fact that everything else was totally clear). He laughs again and points at the lump of trees and is like, ‘you literally just have to run over that hill, and you’ll be there’… and I have a total moment of looking at him with the But, like, what if it was for puppies? face, because in my head I’m shoving my car in a snowbank, swapping my leopard-print pointy flats for my wellies, and am seriously contemplating crossing the woods.

Obviously I don’t do that. Sometimes I have some (not much) common sense.

And so I turn around, remove the orange cones again, drive past the first Road Closed sign, drive a lot more, and end up back in adorable little Downieville, which luckily has a self-serve gas station, unlocked restrooms, and a pizza place that is open.

It’s now about 6pm, and I still have no cell service, am an hour past ETA, am having horrible flashbacks of that time I got lost in high school driving around farmfields trying to get to Val’s house in the pre-cell phone era… and am also realizing that I probably should do some deep research on the Caltrans website before carrying on down any more mountain roads.

I barrel into the pizza place and charm (/demand) Lead Pizza Guy into giving me their wifi password, and rapidly try to decipher highways, recruit Laura to use internet iphone text to send an actual text relaying my whereabouts and new ETA probably about 3 hours from then. Pizza Guy tells me I’m silly for not using Waze and, against my better judgment, sends me back to the first Road Closed sign to go over the shortcut road.

Let’s skip ahead a bit. I stupidly do this, because I think Pizza Guy has some local knowledge I don’t, but shortcut road (obviously) has an 8-foot barrier of snow across it, because it’s a forest road, not a real road. Another hour passes.

I go back to Downieville, sit in the car using the internet, and revise my plan to go back down to Grass Valley or Auburn and give up. And then I drive back down 49 the way I came four hours earlier and encounter another Road Closed sign, and am now having the ‘I might actually be sleeping in my car, or in Pizza Guys house tonight’ moment.

I go back to Pizza Guy, this time have him make me a pizza, and he confirms that that sign is actually a joke, and is one you can drive through. He’s also leaving shortly to drive to Auburn with his friend (friend who just happens to be a big, burly guy driving a huge truck with a trailer, not creepy at all) because there’s some massive (unspecified) show tomorrow (and do I want to come to that?). They offer to let me follow them down the windy roads, I frantically book the only hotel left between here (literally) and Auburn on Expedia, and drive for another two hours in solitary darkness somewhere across California.

I finally arrive in Nevada City, and traffic is a disaster, it’s pouring rain, and 10pm, and the only hotel left happens to be on this windy backroad, and it is on par with that B&B in the Gilmore Girls. The women who checks me in is having a full-on conversation with her imaginary dog behind the desk. The women who checks me out the next day is wearing 1840’s attire. There are also a pair of men’s boxers in the shower. I picture myself being dismembered and thrown in the waterfall outside my window, and nobody knowing because there is still only spotty internet and no cell service.

For some perspective.

I traveled a net of about 30 miles between 1pm and 10pm.

Despite staying close(r) to Foresthill, where I was meant to run, I did not. It took me 3 more hours to get back to Truckee on Saturday morning, and then I did the worst weekend LSD (Long Slow Distance) run ever on dismal roads, where real LSD would’ve really helped.

Early morning Auburn sunrise.

I am not going back to the Bay anytime soon.

I am studying Caltrans before I go anywhere.

I am equipping my car with basic camping supplies.

I am never going back to Downieville, California.

This, ladies and gents, is my life.


One comment

  1. Haha, I like your plan. Whenever I travel, I bring basic camping supplies (water, camp stove, some sort of blanket). In the winter, I toss some chains and a snow shovel in too. Sometimes even a bag of kitty litter, just in case. 🙂

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