My husband and I are at odds with the open road, snookered by the seasons and dismayed by chains.
We generally rely on avoidance to avert any combination of the above. But then a family emergency sent us packing off to Cody, Wyo., in mid-March.
Now, we do not travel well in the best of circumstances.
The minister who married us said our attitudes toward money were too different to coexist in a healthy marriage. (Mike believes in investing in fun and adventure. I am wary of both of those things, even if they are free.) Warned, we made a plan and headed off financial conflict.
The minister missed the real issue: the long-range road trip. Divorce lawyers circle our driveway when they hear we’re prepping for a trip.
My husband travels so light he once relocated halfway across the continent carrying everything in a blue Fiat Spider. He can pack a duffle, trust there will be Jack in the Boxes along the way, and be on the road by 6 a.m., calculating an accurate ETA as he merges onto the freeway.
I pack heavy enough to make my husband’s subcompact cry for its mommy.
Hauling a family gathering’s worth of salmon, shrimp and vegetables to the fresh-food desert that is Wyoming makes sense to me. Getting out of the driveway before 10 a.m. does not.
That’s a shame, because, as we discovered heading east toward the Wild West, when we leave at 10, we and surprise snowstorms arrive at the tricky mountain passes at the same time.
“Do we have chains?” I asked as we slushed toward Snoqualmie Summit in our Scion XD.
Of course not. That would not be packing light.
“Should we buy some?” I ventured, though we had passed the point of no retail.
(Want to make a million? Here’s your biz plan: The Chain Truck, a mobile traction safety emporium parked at the chain-up pull-offs halfway up major mountain passes.)
In sunny Ellensburg, the very notion of chains seemed as weird as losing two hours by crossing into the Mountain Time Zone the same weekend as Daylight Savings Time.
We would chase down one of those hours on the return trip, we promised ourselves, and the rest of the trip east would be over highways as bare and dry as the deer skeletons along I-90.
And it was.
Five days of comfort food and good cries later, we headed home. The day, like all the others in the week, was in the sunny 60s through Clark, Laurel, Bozeman and over the dozen-odd bends of the Clarks Forks of the Yellowstone and Shoshone rivers.
Where were Lewis’ Forks? we asked ourselves. And what did dust ranchers do with all those decommissioned school buses by their tractor sheds?
It wasn’t until a flash blizzard gathered halfway up Homestake Pass above Butte, Mont., that we asked ourselves why we hadn’t bought chains.
Semis and unchained sedans were pulling over, sometimes on purpose, mostly not.
Two stinkin’ days before the equinox, the snow put down half a foot in half an hour. The O’Reilly’s auto parts store was just a short skid from the second Butte exit.
Hardy Montanans stood in line for windshield wipers. Their tires could take the snow. Their wipers could not.
We spent $44.98 on chains that came closest to our tiny tires’ size, then spent 30 minutes of muffled expletives trying to make them fit.
It was our lucky half hour.
No sooner were we beyond Butte than chains were obsolete.
What had been ice was mush. The chains, with their top speed of 30 miles per hour, rattled us. We were the fools leading a chain of slow traffic. We felt guilty, prayed for an exit and regretted our purchase, and the time spent on them.
Then we noticed the roadside attractions. Every quarter mile, there was a jackknifed semi or a sedan backwards in the borrow pit. They’d slid there in the half hour we’d spent muttering at our tires.
We’d been snookered by the seasons, but saved by the dismay our chains had caused us.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street