I drove 700 miles today with Murphy as my co-pilot and navigator.

You see, I needed to head up to Air Sailing (in Nevada) to disassemble my glider, put it in the trailer, and take to Aviation Classics at Reno/Stead airport. They're going to install an altitude encoding transponder (so that Air Traffic Control can see me, as well as any big jets with TCAS anti-collision systems).

But instead of taking my normal route (87 north, 280 south, 680 north, 580 east, 205 east, 5 north, 80 east, 445 north), I wanted to try something new. The other two reasonable routes over the Sierra Nevada Mountains are either highway 50, which takes you to South Lake Tahoe and into the Carson Valley, or highway 88 which is a bit farther south than highway 50.

Since I've driven highway 50 to Tahoe and back a couple times, I decided to try highway 88. There was some discussion of using it as an alternate route for trailering a glider back from Minden, Nevada. So I wanted to check it out. I even left an hour and a half earlier than I would have otherwise.

Today was a little unusual though there was a lot of haze in the air. As I followed 88 into the mountains, it slowly got worse. I hadn't looked at the weather forecast (I had no plans to fly, so why bother?), so I figured there was just a low inversion that needed to either blow out or bake off.

But as I got deeper into it I noticed the distinct smell of burning wood. And then something in the back of my mind remembered reading something about a few forrest fires there were burning in the eastern Sierra--maybe a bit south of Grass Valley and/or Auburn. Who knows?

As I drove further, I was amazed at how little traffic there was--especially coming in the opposite direction. I was seeing one vehicle maybe every 3-5 minutes. It occurred to me that if this is typical, it'd be a great route for towing my glider back. There's only one lane each way, but so little traffic!

Then I saw the big electronic sign: Highway 88 closed 10 miles ahead due to forrest fire.Fuck!

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck...

I pulled off to the side of the road to study the map. My only option was to backtrack about 30 minutes of driving to the highway 49 junction. I could take 49 north to 50 and go that route.

Wait a minute. I have this vague memory of hearing the traffic reports on the radio Friday afternoon--they said that highway 50 was closed due to the fires.


Why I couldn't have remembered this 2 hours earlier?

Well, 49 was still the best option. I could either take it all the way to I-80 or hop off 49 at highway 16 to Sacramento and avoid some driving in the hills.

Not sure what to do, I decided to just hop on 49 and figure it out from there. It's always hard to tell how twisty a mountain road will be when looking most maps.

It turns out that highway 49 isn't that bad. Except that every 5 miles or so you have to drive 30mph through some stupid little tourist trap of a town. So it took quite a while to get anywhere on 49. Fearing the worst, I decided to cut my losses and take 16 to Sacramento where I could just jump on I-80 East to Reno as I'm used to.

I arrived at Air Sailing about 2.5 hours later than I expected. The disassembly went quickly after playing a bit of "glider tetris" to get my ship out of the hangar without moving the pickup truck that was parked near it. (No, I have no idea why there was suddenly a pickup truck in the hangar--but it added about 10 more minutes to the process.)

Oh, and it was windy. And getting stronger. By the time I hit the road to Stead, there was a good 20-30 knot westerly wind blowing. So I had to drive slowly and more carefully than I might have otherwise. This all added up to me arriving at Aviation Classics about 45 minutes after they closed. So I parked the trailer outside near the fence--right where they said to put it if I got there late.

I then hit Subway for dinner and headed back to San Jose, on the tried and true route of 80, 5, 205, 580, 680, 280, 87. And I made it home in nearly record time: 4 hours and 15 minutes, including one fuel stop.

As if that's not enough, I'm hoping to go back next weekend to pick up the glider and bring it back to the Bay Area for the fall/winter/spring seasons. I think I'll be a bit more careful about checking for fires.

How many white dashes are in 700 miles of driving?

A lot.

Posted by jzawodn at October 16, 2004 11:58 PM

Reader Comments
# Eric said:

Ever consider a cell phone? I'm sure you could've called *411 and asked for help with the routes...

on October 24, 2004 11:03 AM
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