Tuesday, March 8, 2011

AC/DC was misinformed

The highway to hell is in fact the 64 miles of U.S. 6 between Spanish Fork and Price, Utah. This stretch runs through Spanish Fork Canyon, and the demons that haunt it are determined to make traversing it an absolute nightmare.
Thus far, they are doing a hell of a job.
U.S. 6 has definitely earned the distinction of being one of the deadliest roads in the nation. It's a winding, often narrow road that's flanked on both sides by mountains, and the wilderness runs right up to the shoulder. It gets more severe weather than the valleys and is colder, leading to more ice on the roads. The speed through most of it is 65, the same as the speed through I-15 in most of Utah County -- except during construction, when freeway speeds are actually lower than this highway. People drive a little recklessly. There is a surprising amount of traffic on the road, including a good number of semi trucks. Wildlife wander. There's a lot of ups and downs along the roadway.
Since I've been in Utah, there have been two accidents that included explosions and multiple deaths from cars going off the side of the road, going into opposing traffic, and one especially tragic incident of a driver who was struck and killed after stopping to help at another accident.
I can't remember the last time I drove all the way through the canyon when it was not snowing.
This last trip was especially fantastic. Last Thursday, it was snowing, as per the devil's agreement with the weather. (He does control the waters, so I've heard. Apparently that extends to the clouds.) I'm driving happily along when I see a deer on the road.
Good news: I saw it in time to brake.
Bad news: I did not brake fast enough. Goodbye, uncracked windshield, driver's side mirror and Heidi's peace of mind.
The fun just kept coming. Yesterday I was coming from the other direction. It was night. It was, surprise, surprise, snowing. Except it wasn't just snowing. It was a blizzard: snow in all direction, including right at me, which is incredibly disorienting. I couldn't see the lines on the road. Often, I couldn't see the road. I didn't have a good sense of how close I was to the edge — and I literally mean edge, as much of this road is just yards away from precipitous plunges. Visibility was about 50 yards. My lights barely lit up more than the snow flying everywhere in front of me, but every time I turned on my brights I was almost blinded by the light reflecting off those snowflakes. I had no idea where I was in the canyon. I couldn't pull over safely. All I could do was sit tensely in my seat, white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel and slowly going numb, legs tensing up as I tried to keep just the right amount of pressure on the gas to avoid both the brakes and going too quickly, eyes glued to the road in front of me, trying to find the center line or the right-side line and feeling simultaneous waves of frustration and gratitude every time I ran over the rumble strips that at least let me know I was on the road and mostly on the right side.
I wanted to cry but didn't want to restrict my vision anymore than it already was. By the time I made it out my numb extremities started shaking uncontrollably.
It was terrifying. If I never see another blizzard again, I will die happy.
As long as I don't die on that road.

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