The law of averages says that traveling as much as we do sooner or later we will get stuck in some tough road conditions. Although we have certainly seen our share of construction and possible bad weather, we have only had really had scary road conditions a few times. That hasn’t made us complacent though and Lee always checks road conditions along our route. As we all know the weather can change quickly and we are not always in an area where you can easily stop and wait it out.
When we left Cheyenne we had a relatively short 250 mile drive on I-80 West. It was windy, but less than we had been experiencing, and a bigger storm was supposed to be coming to Cheyenne the next day. We had built an extra week into our schedule but both of us were eager to get to Yellowstone and Lee thought he could solo drive the day and handle 40 mph gusts.
It started off OK with dry roads and manageable winds but pretty quickly we were at a higher elevation with some snow on the ground. Still it was pretty and the blowing snow wasn’t too bad except in a couple of spots where the conditions were near white out.
I got pretty nervous, but Lee said he was fine because the roads were still dry and clear. He took his time, drove with the flashers on, and I tried to stay as calm as possible. Things were going OK and then we hit the ice. I should mention here that we don’t have 4 wheel drive and climbing icy roads is problematic at the best of times. Add blowing snows and higher winds to the equation and it was a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully all of the traffic was going pretty slow because there was a FedEx truck stuck in one of the lanes. We could creep along with everyone else and things were OK but it got scarier when we passed the accident and everyone started to speed up. I was looking for a place for us to stop, but it was one of those areas with limited rest areas and the one we passed was completely full of trucks. That should have clued us in we were in trouble and for the first time we really wished we had a CB radio to know what was ahead.
After the accident it got way worse, but Lee didn’t want to pull over because he was afraid with the ice on the side of the road we wouldn’t be able to get back on the road. We found out later wind gusts were 65mph in some spaces and the blowing snow and poor roads was terrible.
Not long after this we saw our first of five accidents, but there was no place to stop and all we could do was drive really slow with our flashers on. Lee handled it extremely well and I just tried to stay as calm as possible because a nervous passenger makes it much worse for the driver.
The one good thing was the further we went the less vehicles were on the road. We learned later that they had actually closed the road behind us and we were one of the last vehicles to make it through. Unfortunately we didn’t see any salt trucks at all and although many trucks were able to pull off the road the one remaining rest area was an uphill climb and Lee didn’t think he could make it. This was unfortunate because we were headed towards a steep downgrade, which are fine normally, but trying it with high winds and ice was not great. It was the last 9 mile stretch to get to Laramie though and Lee decided since it was downhill he could make it. Personally I never would have tried it but the driver makes the call.
The scariest part of the entire drive was when a huge gust of wind hit us and the truck and RV starting sliding across the ice into the other lane. No one was near us thankfully and Lee somehow managed to keep us on the road but it was terrifying. As you can see in the picture above though getting off the road wasn’t really an option so all we could do was take some deep breaths and keep going.
Thankfully though someone was looking out for us, because not only were there wind breaks through most sections of the downgrade the road was much better. Towards the end we saw a salt truck coming the other way and realized the road was closed and they had the ice trucks clearing the pass. That’s why most of the trucks pulled over and hunkered down.
We talked about continuing since we had only gone 60 miles so far but I said absolutely not. Lee reminded me that our marriage was a democracy and I calmed down a little when we got gas and we talked about it. He might have kept going but thankfully God literally sent us a sign when we saw one that said I-80 west was closed to high profile light vehicles. Lee did say we weren’t really light but his heart wasn’t in it and we went and stayed at the fairgrounds where we had stayed before. Sometimes you just have to pay attention to the signs and call it a day.
Just in case you think this is our worst travel day ever it is not. Our worst was while we were on our way to Alaska and Lee had to drive on a 10 percent grade in snowy conditions. That was really scary.
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