I had my winter vacation all planned out.
Sure, I was looking forward to seeing my younger son Nick and my longtime friend, Dona, up in Chico. Then I’d fly down to sunny Tucson to visit my brother and his wife for a few days.
But the real goal of this trip was to avoid what was likely to be a very severe winter storm here at home. For me, the novelty of snow here in the foothills had worn off years ago.
At 76, shoveling snow, walking in snow, driving in snow and even looking at snow holds no charm. So I planned my trip around the long-term weather forecast.
I’d leave just before storm was due and return to home just after the snow had melted. Supposedly.
A cold rain began falling just as I was driving my pickup down Yankee Hill Road for points north on Feb. 21. “Perfect timing,” I thought to myself as I cruised smugly toward the valley.
Yeah, it rained a bit in the lowlands. But I could put up with drizzle. My 2001 Tundra’s wipers were working just fine. Five days later, I flew from Sacramento to Tucson, where brother Chip, his wife Frosty, and sunny skies awaited.
My plan was working like a charm. But two days later, doubts began to creep in. First, the Arizona skies clouded up and temps dropped. Then my daughter Hallie, who with husband Jack were driving from LA to join us in Tucson, called to say they were running late.
“We’re in a blizzard!” said Hallie from Interstate 10. “We can’t see to drive and we can’t find a motel.”
“You can thank California for that,” I said, secretly happy this winter wave had left the Mother Lode behind. “Keep looking for a place and let me know when you find one.”
By 1 a.m., she and Jack checked into a Motel 6. And at 7 a.m., 3 inches of snow had fallen at Chip’s place, coating saguaros on the nearby Santa Catalina mountains.
Hallie pulled in at 11 and by noon the desert snow had melted. But by 2, I was not at all convinced my well thought out weather-avoidance strategy would work: The storm that brought inches to Tucson, I learned, had dumped feet on my Yankee Hill home.
The long-range forecasts, as they often are, had been wrong.
Two days later I flew back to Sacramento, stayed overnight at an airport motel and girded myself for trouble.
On Sunday, March 5, I began my drive home: The hillsides around Valley Springs were white, flurries greeted me in Angels Camp and a chains-required sign was posted at Vallecito. By the time I reached Columbia, my carefully crafted weather-avoidance strategy was in tatters.
The park was covered in snow and I pulled into a parking lot to chain up my truck for the first time in years.
“You need some help?”asked a young tourist, pitying a local geezer. “Nah!!” I responded, like I chained up semis amid Donner Pass storms as a hobby. “I got this.”
Thirty minutes later my chains were very tentatively on and I was soaked from top to bottom. My hands were freezing and I was not at all sure every hook was successfully fastened or that the stretchers were tight enough. I feared my chains could come loose, tangle around the axle and leave me not only stranded but embarrassed by incompetence.
I headed up Yankee Hill Road at about 7 mph and watched the snow depths rise to nearly 3 feet by Beer Can Corner. On the plus side, there was zero traffic. Nobody else was stupid enough to brave the hill in a snowstorm.
When the pavement ended, so did my Tundra’s footing. It began to lurch and slide. But I somehow managed to power up my driveway and some 40 inches of powder. Then, in about 11 easy steps, I managed to turn my truck around and aim it downhill for departure – which I imagined might come in May.
All this brought to mind an adventure early in my Union Democrat tenure. I woke up in my newly rented Yankee Hill home in 1976 to a foot of snow and realized there was no way my two-wheel-drive Datsun 610 wagon would make it down the hill.
So I got out my cross-country skis, bundled up, then and somehow slalomed, stumbled and fell my way to the bottom of the hill, where a fellow reporter picked me up at Sawmill Flat Road and drove me to the office.
Dedication? Or stupidity?
Well, let’s put it this way, in my mid-70s such a stunt is beyond comprehension. I am now ready to stay at home and live on canned soup for weeks rather than venture out on skis, on foot or behind the wheel.
“At home” proved surrealistic in 2023: Snow sliding from the roof had buried my front steps in 7 or 8 feet — forming a hard-packed barrier that might as well be concrete. I managed to shovel out a side exit, clear a path down the driveway to my truck and lug my stuff up.
My cat, Jasmine, was desperate — meowing like crazy at the sight of me.
Her sitter, Jan, had barely made her way to the house early in my trip, but was snowed out thereafter. But she did leave Jazz with gallons of water and pounds of dry food.
So my cat did not starve, but she nevertheless was seething with vocal resentment when I arrived. I cleared out her dry food, gave her a dish of wet and cleaned her at-capacity litter boxes (no more details needed). Still, she was not at all happy with me.
But I was overjoyed that I had somehow made it home. Although my place lost power twice while I was gone (ever-courteous, PG&E had texted me with each outage and restoration), it was back on when I arrived.
The heat was on, the water flowed, but caked snow had knocked my DISH Network TV receiver off target — and I don’t expect a technician to arrive for weeks.
So I’ll somehow survive on DVDs and, believe it or not, books!
Meanwhile, of course, California’s unrelenting storms have continued.
(Next: I retrieve my dog, drive chain-free to Sonora, and play Samaritan to a couple of stranded neighbors).
Contact Chris Bateman at email@example.com. His columns also appear on the Union Democrat website: www.uniondemocrat.com.