December 8th-10th, 2015 – Flooding, landslides, multiple road closures including I-5, ten hour plus traffic jams, a natural gas leak, a couple of police shootings, topped off with a tornado, I’m telling you it was a twisted road home up the west coast. This is a long story, and probably not all that interesting reading. But it is really just notes for an eventual video of me telling the story, which I expect will be much more entertaining.
First shooting – quite removed – I had left Redlands on December 2nd, having passed through San Bernardino the day before and listened on the radio as events unfolded in the San Bernardino inland regional center shooting and the FBI served a search warrant in Redlands. This is the kind of thing you think, well I guess I got out town just in time. Not that I would have been in harms way anyhow. By itself a footnote, but seemingly the start of a string of unfortunate events.
Getting Wetter – While I was in Arcata the weather had turned wet and blustery. My trip to the jetty being evidence, plus the next day’s tour of the avenue of the giants and such where the weather was such that I took mostly memories and very few photos. The weather got steadily worse over the next few days. Out of Arcata, I stayed at Cape Blanco on the night of December 8th. The blustery wind was out of the south, pushing me along and helped gas mileage. But it was gusty so it meant keeping alert.
Second Shooting and a Detour – December 9th was really the start of the fun. I headed north along 101 and came upon a huge traffic jam. After sitting still for an hour I managed to get wind of the issue. It turned out there was an officer involved shooting at an RV park in Newport and the highway was closed. I plotted a route around, and detoured inland along some country roads. Along those roads I started seeing downed trees and little landslides. Just a harbinger for things to come.
Fording the Tillamook – As I headed up 101 and arrived in Tillamook I hit more traffic. I started seeing a lot of water in the fields beside the road. Up ahead they had the road down to one lane and the Sherriff was leading the traffic through several inches of water. The water was flowing across the road such that you could see the wake that the car ahead was leaving as it slid off the road over the shoulder and into the field which was now a lake.
101 Closed All Up The Coast – A couple more minor detours and I was back to being northbound on 101. I needed fuel so I stopped in Garibaldi at a little station. I went inside to get something to drink and started up a conversation about the trailer with the folks there. As I was getting to today in the story they got a funny look on their faces. “If you are heading north along the coast, you won’t make it very far” they said. The road is closed in about ten places between here and Astoria, flooding and landslides. We talked a bit and they suggested going back to Tillamook and heading inland. Hopefully that would still be open. Else I might want to just park for a few days and enjoy the rain.
Inland To Portland – Well, I had been on the road for 8 hours, but it looked like time was of the essence. So I did as they suggested and headed for Portland on highway 6 and US 26. Highway 6 had some down trees and small landslides, but all stuff we could drive around. I drove a bit slower because of the rain and the uncertainty, which meant letting some more foolhardy folks go ahead.
Avoid I-5, until stopped by landslide By the time I made it to US 26 the word was that Interstate 5 was a parking lot and that an alternate route over the Lewis and Clark Bridge was better. So I detoured across the Cornelius Pass road to US 30 and north. I made it as far as Columbia city when I got the news that a landslide just 8 miles ahead was blocking traffic to the bridge about 8 miles beyond that. So I turned around and headed back.
Back to I-5 – New plan, head to I-5 again. So 25 miles back down US 30 to North Portland and across to Interstate 5. At least I was moving again. By this time it was 9pm and I had been driving for 12 hours. I had been hearing radio reports that a landslide had also blocked I-5 at Woodland. But I had plugged in my route to Google Maps and it thought it had found a way around the traffic as well as the land slide. Trusting it was unwise.
Over Hill and Dale – The route did go around the parking lot section of I-5 but there were no roads around the blocked section of the interstate. Of course I didn’t know this and I was joined by hundreds of other folks relying on Google Maps to find them a route around, and so I got caught in a several hour backup on windy country roads. Inching forward, as the various side roads flowed together into a single solid stream. That solid stream lead inexorably to the last exit before the landslide. The exit was closed and no northbound traffic was being allowed.
All Roads Lead to Walmart – Right at the exit there is a Walmart, and folks were filling up their parking lot, hoping the road would be reopened soon. I joined them, working my way through a hundred trucks parked randomly. 10:30pm. I headed inside to get some food and as I was coming out met up with a police officer. He was spreading the word that the road was going to be closed overnight for sure and possibly another day. They had opened the high school parking lot next door for overflow parking, and they were going to be dropping off banks of portable toilets around the parking lot soon. Not going home tonight. One more night in a Walmart parking lot. I settled in, and got some sleep.
Go Around, Again – Morning of December 10th. Word is that the I-5 won’t open at least until tonight, but that they have cleared highway 30 and traffic is getting over the Lewis and Clarke Bridge. So I decide to head that direction, and the plot thickens.
Neither Snow nor Rain… As I head south on I-5 I am on the speaker phone with my friend in Seattle. The rain is coming down so heavily it is hard for us to hear each other. Rain turns to sleet and we have slush on the road, now everyone is now driving 15 miles per hour, barely creeping along. He says, wow I’ve never seen that color on the weather radar before. I think that’s right where you are saying you are. Turns out that ten minutes after I pass through, this same storm cell will move a bit east and a tornado will touch down and damage 36 houses and 2 businesses.
Nor Gas – Out of the rain and through North Portland. I’ve got the mapping software on, and it is taking me down all sorts of side roads. I’m following it, mostly out of curiosity. I cross the main stream of traffic a couple of times and show up making a right turn to join them and cross the bridge to US 30. About a half hour later I hear a report on the radio that this road had been closed and traffic redirected. Apparently due to a natural gas leak, and they had shut down the road about 30 minutes prior. So, doing the math I apparently was one of the last folks to make it through.
Nor Abominable Traffic – US 30 is four lanes near Portland, but becomes to two lanes along the way. After we got down to two lanes the traffic slowed and slowed. People going around on side roads merging back every mile or seemed to make things worse. Eventually traffic slowed to the point where we were shutting our cars down for 15 minutes, then starting them up and moving forward a few blocks and repeating the process. The last 15 miles to the bridge took 7 hours to travel.
8 hours = 20 miles – Now the fun fact here is that I have been driving since 10am. I left Woodland and headed south to Portland, the north to cross the Columbia river and over to Longview and back on to Interstate 5 about 20 miles north of Woodland. So here at 6pm, I’ve actually made about 20 miles progress in 8 hours.
Could have spent the last 8 hours at Walmart! – Now as I get back on I-5, I notice that there is traffic on the road coming from the south. It turns out that at 5:30pm, 30 minutes before I got back to I-5, they started letting traffic through on one lane from Woodland. Now I would probably have been waiting in a line hundred trucks long to get through but it seemed appropriately ironic.
Relatively easy drive from here, as stop for dinner along the way. I made it home at about 11pm. Turns out that the heavy rain got into the wiring harness for the back up camera. So I didn’t bother trying to back the trailer in tonight. Long shower, and my own bed.