Caution, Falling Rocks!


It all began with a simple trip to the grocery store this week. Jorge and I recently left paradise to relocate to the Bay Area and landed in weather that screams, “Welcome home, you’re no longer in Kansas anymore.”

What should have been an hour trip for red wine and sausages turned into an overnight adventure resembling a dice-rolling, Armageddon-style escape route that left us more than longing for the warm predictability of our former digs south of the Central Coast divide.

After routing our maps app to drive home with enough provisions for a serious weeklong gourmet campout, we discovered that the highway near our new home was dead closed 1 mile before our exit. We weren’t all that surprised, as mudslides have been a rather common and harrowing occurrence lately that much of the Bay Area is unprepared for, despite a historical record of 100 year floods. Only, we thought we were in the safe zone- guess not.

One mile from the house felt so close and yet so far away. We stopped short of the scene in town to wait out the clean up and paid our new local firemen a visit. They reported that 3 engines were stuck in the debris with meter-wide boulders and a slide resembling a lava cake fit for Godzilla. So, they offered us the fireman’s special: coffee and a warm seat. Moments later, a woman’s voice on the loudspeaker summoned the workers to another scene out in the wild. Within a minute they were all suited up on the last remaining engine and waving goodbye apologetically. After much debate, we drove around looking for an open restaurant and found only one with Christmas lights in the window: Italian, perfect for my new gluten free experiment.

The restaurant ended up being the best gosh-darned thing in town and we were happy to relax for a minute. Inside it’s cozy quarters, one wouldn’t know about the storm raging outside. Now 3 hours past our original eta, we found one last hope through Waze over an open space preserve and down the back side of the mountain. Yeah right, us and 5 other cars thought we had outsmarted the highway system by trekking up past multiple slides and fallen trees on a back road only to be greeted by a chained gate controlled by county parks. With every other possible option in ruins or flooded according to Caltrans, we resigned to a hotel room for the night.

When we pulled up to the parking lot by guest registration, the creek to its side was raging like a Class 2 rapid and oddly resembled Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. No Oompa Loompas were sighted along its banks, but it felt almost as psychedelic as in the movie, considering that the last time I saw this “stream” it was an empty, dry channel of dirt.

The next day, we drove the only way home, which was a 2 hour detour south and then north again. Every other road was totally impassible, along with the original way home, which was still engulfing 3 fire engines and blocking thousands of commuters. In fact, the news reported that the local community pulled it together the day before when a sequoia came straight across both directions on the highway. They chain sawed that sucker and took it home for firewood quicker than government officials could move molten earth.

As we neared the end of our route, we came upon our exit from the northbound side and saw that they had just opened the mudslide zone at about the same time on the southbound. Either way, our timing was the same. Instead of sipping coffee, we drove by farms and happy cows grazing in the infinitely edible rainsoaked hills, right alongside giant scars resembling claw marks on the steeper sections that must have been Godzilla looking to sate his sweet tooth again.

What’s most ironic is that we were due to drive to Tahoe on Monday originally to see my cousin and snowboard, but then the door guy scheduled to install that morning. With just that couple hours delay, our drive over Carson’s Pass included friendly 150mph winds, Avalanche warnings and, as we heard the next day, part of Hwy 50 completely collapsing. I was all down for the adventure, but to have a cousin who grew up on a tough northeastern mountain say, “I wouldn’t do it,” holds some weight. In the end, he made the right call. I mean, our Subaru is the closest thing common citizens like us can own to a Hummer, but against those conditions, it would seem more like a Honda Fit.

So, a Tahoe trip turned into a local adventure where we discovered that Mother Nature loves to play games with thrill seekers…and grocery shoppers.

It’s sink or swim in the Bay and I’m happy to get wet again.

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