My group goes to a wonderful place in the Santa Cruz Mountains every year for a retreat. It begins on Friday afternoon and ends Sunday around noon. This year was a wild ride!
I have ten acres in that area, so I'm comfortable with the driving now - even in rain - but we were in the throes of a wild storm that had just blown into California and promised to dump 6-10 inches of rain in that area in one swell foop. Neither of us had 4wd on our little cars (and my truck is already over the hill), so Diana volunteered to drive and I rode shotgun. She filled up her tank (an excellent move) and we headed out around 2pm, right after a small break in the downpour. We had both missed the "yarn crawl" that began in Sunnyvale because of the downpour and the beginnings of blocked roads around the Bay Area.
The first barrier was at Highway 17, just at the last Los Gatos exit. The CHP, who was blocking both lanes with his vehicle, was yelling at everyone to "TAKE HIGHWAY 9!" (Diana yelled back, "Is 9 OPEN?", and he did not reply) which we happily did, although we were surprised to see everyone ELSE turning left into Los Gatos. We were being DIVERTED, but nobody else was diverting. Diana and I never figured this out, although we had theories.
(N.B.: Diana is a "reformed" astronomer - she formerly taught college astronomy - and I'm a "reformed" program manager and coder, so between the two of us we have some pretty good analytical and problem management skills.)
We got onto Highway 9 and headed for our destination, soon to be stopped by barrier #2: mud slide on Highway 9. We waited perhaps 1/2 hour for this to clear. There was a digger not far in front of us, clearing the slide (although we couldn't see it). We knitted and chatted. We had wine, fruit and chocolates in our car, pounds of knitting wool and plenty of clothes and even sleeping bags and blankets, and I always carry a pocket knife. We wouldn't starve (although water other than what was dumping on our car might have been helpful), we wouldn't freeze, and my Verizon wireless service seemed to work pretty well (but her iPhone didn't). Eventually the line of cars was allowed to snake through the rubble. The water building in the streams beside Hwy 9 were becoming ENORMOUS, and we were beginning to see logs floating down and erosion of the highway surface.
We snaked our way up Hwy 9 to find a sign at what is essentially the summit, posted a bit off the road and to the right, that said, "Road Closed". The guy in front of us ran it. There were no cars coming the other way, toward us. There was no fire truck or CHP there. We decided to go for it.
A couple of miles later we ran into barrier #3: down power lines on Highway 9. There were perhaps 10 vehicles in the queue with us, all passing on information as it came. I love being around people in emergencies, they are all so considerate and helpful. We knitted and chatted and I read poetry to Diana (Billy Collins and Sharon Olds, my favorites). Eventually the word spread that it would become passable in about 15 minutes. Better than turning around, we both agreed. We waited.
We now drove over 9 to enter our destination "the back way" from what we're accustomed to. We saw a lot of PG&E, fire trucks, and CalTrans vehicles in action. Diana was now in hot denial as we came around every curve and saw blinking lights of some sort: "That is NOT an emergency vehicle", she would say, or, "That is NOT blocking our side of the road" (which was more likely).
At approximately 5:15pm we arrived in Ben Lomond, to the road our retreat resides on, and I was hooting and cheering. We did it! We made it! We were so excited.
Barrier #4 appears in front of us: a fire truck, BLOCKING THE ROAD THAT OUR RETREAT IS ON. This was a bit much for me, but Diana gathered information: there's a tree down on the high voltage wires up ahead, no we can't drive under it, no we are not allowed to WALK under it (we are about 1/2 mile from our retreat lodge), they don't know when PG&E will get here, this is not top priority for them, yes there is another way to get to this road, it's convoluted but here it is.
We turned around, I called the retreat managers who were holed up on their piece of mountain and did not have updated information or power (they said they had started the generator for the main lodge), and we told them we were coming around the back way. They confirmed the firefighter's directions. They agreed to talk us in if need be. We never knew how much cell phone coverage we would have, but this was ONE time when I was grateful for cell phones.
We had to go back through Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, and the firemen had told us that the Boulder Creek fire department would have more up-to-date information. We saw a whole gang of Ben Lomond firefighters gathered in front of the station when we left, chatting and having a Good Old Time.
We arrived in Boulder Creek and eventually found the fire station: it was locked up tight with nobody inside. We banged on doors. Nothing. Dang.
There was a small store across the street. We entered and began to ask around about getting to our destination the back way. They pointed at the guy behind the sandwich counter, who was slowly and methodically making a sandwich. He looked like a local, like someone who has lived in those mountains many years. He finally asked us what we needed, and we told him the directions we had been given by the firefighters, and he said yes, that's right. The signs may be blown down, or they may be on opposite sides of the road, or there might not be a sign, or there may be blockages or trees down. This all makes sense to me because I have land in those mountains. Diana thought he was spewing Gloom and Doom, but that's just the way things are up there. We got back in the car and began down our new path: left, left, left, then through the back end of another retreat property, then into the fire road that will lead to our retreat house. It is now approximately 5:45pm. This was an adventure!
The directions were good, the signage was good (considering the circumstances), it was VERY dark by now and the rain had a foggy quality so that Diana's high beams were not very helpful. We crept along fairly slowly, cheering when we would see a vehicle coming in the other direction (That means there is someone UP there! No blockages! Diana would say), and Diana began to hum the tune from "Peter and the Wolf". Eventually our directions took us up a steep grade on a road that was one lane at best. The dark here is a teeny advantage, because at least we would know if someone was coming toward us. There was nobody.
I noted that we didn't seem to have anyone following us, and there had been nobody from our group behind us in the queue at the top of Hwy 9. There was a distinct chance that nobody from our group was behind us. Whatever doors (roads) had opened up for the people in our event, we were possibly the last to pass.
We ended up at last, around 6:30, in the other retreat center, wandering around trying to find the "wooden gate" that enters the back of our retreat. This is where the directions from our retreat directors had become VERY fuzzy, and we were literally poking around in the dark (and also going in circles) trying to find a fire road. The director promised he would try to meet us at the gate. Woo hoo! We reached it! An old wooden gate that hasn't been used in God knows how long. I pushed open the right half, Diana wanted the other half open as well, and when I pushed it, it fell down. I laughed, it was such a fun punctuation mark to this evening. It was 6:40pm, and we had left Willow Glen at 2pm.
We arrived in the main lodge to find only one other car (two people) had made it (they had driven right up the road before the fire truck had arrived, under the redwood that was resting on the high voltage line), plus our cook Wendy (who had arrived very early in the day), who had a huge amount of a scrumptious dinner for people who would never arrive that night.
None of the remaining 24 people arrived Friday night. Many arrived the next day, after being talked through the path to the fire road entrance. There was only generator power, in the main lodge, all weekend. What an adventure!
Good thing I know how to knit in the dark. It was a crucial skill this weekend.