18 Hour Drive to Boulder and Learning about Snow

The drive from San Francisco to Boulder, CO took two full days of driving, about nine hours on each day. The I-80 East drive took me through such states as Utah and Wyoming, places I’ve spent little-to-no time, and at a trucker stop in Wyoming I began wondering whether this ranching state is more of a culture shock for a San Franciscan than western Europe.

In Laramie, Wyoming all cars came to a dead stop. The winds were too fierce, blowing snow all over the place. The roads were icy. As the cars stood stationary for 45 minutes, waiting for the winds to die down, my car shook violently. Finally, we could proceed. As we snaked our way out of the rough patch of road, we passed several cars which had spun into the median or turned over completely — including this picture of a huge big rig on its side:


When at long last the Boulder sign appeared, I was relieved to find the snow scarce. Sure, there were packs of snow pushed to the side of the road, but it looked nothing like the news reports of the past few weeks. Instead, there was ice; which, upon further reflection, may be even worse than snow, since the ice opens the possibility to slipping and falling whereas snow simply ensures getting your pants a little wet. When I woke up the following morning in my new apartment, however, I was stunned to find snow falling softly on the entire parking lot and neighborhood covered in the white stuff. Having never lived or visited a snowy climate, I truly thought for a second I had been transported to a Christmas movie, or perhaps had been stuck into a snowglobe.

When I first saw snow near Tahoe, my heart jumped a beat, excitement at an unknown which I’m sure will be fully numbed by the time I leave Colorado.

My wide-eyed wonderment soon turned to the practical: How am I going to drive to the office in this snow? Should I wear my winter boots when I walk to my car? Do these conditions call for a winter coat, or simply a thin fleece? The first question, on driving, proved the most elusive. The snowplows only plowed "high priority" roads, which means the side roads leading to the main highway I take to the Mobius office were covered in snow. Street signs were also covered in snow. I drove slowly but within 5 minutes I had already lost control of my vehicle twice (I turned the wheel too far to the left).

Call it divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but I miraculously made it to the highway safe and sound, got in the right lane, and tried to imagine that it was just another day on a clearly marked, clean, and safe highway. What really happened, of course, was that my California plates timidly followed the Florida plates in the right lane, while the local Coloradoans whizzed by in the left lane.

This was nothing compared to my drive to The Kitchen restaurant in the evening — I found my windshield frozen with ice! "I’m fucked," I thought to myself, after foolishly thinking my California squeegee could scrape ice. Fortunately, Chris Wand came to the rescue by lending his ice scraper. He did the passenger side of the window, I did the driver’s side. Oops. My shoddy job made me lean over to look out the passenger side of the window while driving in the dark on unfamiliar, icy roads.

The locals here tell me time and time again that the current weather is "abnormal," so I’m optimistic it will improve. In any event, I’m on my feet in Boulder, and have a great set-up, and I see myself assimilating nicely over the next few months.

5 comments on “18 Hour Drive to Boulder and Learning about Snow
  • When I went to the University of Colorado a long time ago, I loved the snows in Boulder. The snow was drier, larger, and “flakier” than on the western slope. I especially loved going for long walks at night on campus in the snow.

    The trick for dressing for winter is layers. Especially as we move into spring, you’ll notice that every day in Colorado can produce a variety of temperatures and environmental conditions. If the sun comes out, it’s hot. If there’s lots of snow on the ground, wear boots to keep your pants drier (although, as a native, I usually wear tennis shoes everywhere all year round unless I’m hiking in deeper snow).

    Cassette cases make great ice scrapers. Yogurt lids work in a pinch. My daughter cleared our windshield a couple of weeks ago after a storm–since she was using the official ice scraper, I used a cassette case, and it worked much better than her official scraper.

    Try not to do anything aggressive at all when you’re driving in those conditions–barely steer, barely brake (unless your owner’s manual says differently), and barely move. Then if you skid, you’ll be okay. I had a Mexican relative who did great driving in snow his first time in Colorado, and he said it was because Mexico has lots of mud, and driving in snow is like driving in mud.

    Wyoming and eastern Colorado are so flat that the snow drifts like crazy, even though they have snow fences along all the highways.

    Take the bus or walk whenever possible–I never drive on icy/snowy roads unless I have to, and in Boulder, you seldom have to. Have fun!

  • Oh man, I hate I80 more than any road I can think of. Largely because of the W’s you mentioned (wind and Wyoming). I70 is a bit more fun to come through Colorado (much more scenic obviously). I recommend you get up there sometime, for sure.

    The Kitchen is great. I assume if you haven’t already you’ll visit The Med just two blocks away. There are all kinds of neat places to eat down there.

    Glad to hear you’ve made it safely…

  • oh-oh– I love The Kitchen…great food, design and awesome bathrooms!!
    I’m in Denver… and just refuse to go out in the snow until it melts away!

  • Just heard that it’s windy in Boulder. You can look at it as a positive experience because high winds are the quintessential Boulder bad weather. If you hadn’t experienced them, you’d wonder what others were talking about when they talked about the wind; now you know.

    Here’s another vote for avoiding I-80 (although I’ve never driven it in the winter). In the summer, it’s just boring.

  • My brother once saw a semi wipe out on ice in Minnesota. The truck spilled corned beef everywhere–tons of it. He said it was a sight to behold in the snow.

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