Being a native New Yorker, I'm somewhat used to traffic jams, but have never experienced a traffic jam up on narrow, twisty mountain lanes. These roads, carved and blasted through stone, are tight little narrow ribbons of freedom, clustered with perpetual curved blind spots that inspire people like me to drive weeeell below the speed limit... Not because I wanted to gawk at the gorgeous views peppered with sheer cliff drop-offs and pretty-pretty lakes, which I enjoyed with wide-eyed wonder, but because my racing heart did not (and still does not) Want. To. Die...
Yeah, all those Rock Slide warning signs coupled with lots of missing landscaping will get you wondering about your odds of being knocked off the mountain. Especially after witnessing them clear one away. Not gonna forget that dust cloud, EVER. Pssst... P.S.: Don't wanna talk about the big road pebbles. Not now (but maybe later - waaaaay later).
Usually, I am a happy walker, jogger, blogger type of gal. Exercise is a beautiful thing until lack of space gets in the mix. My heart couldn't bear accidentally killing any hikers, runners or cyclists. These residents, who are also trying not to die in their death-defying use of amazingly limited lane space, totally rely on us drivers while maneuvering in a bike lane periodically as wide as my bedroom bookshelf. These brave souls are counting on the confident drivers whizzing by them on those hair-pin curves to stay firmly within the confines of their claustrophobic, little passageways.
Truth be told, my shelves may actually be bigger... In some places, the 8.5 inch side of a piece of loose-leaf paper may actually have that bike lane begging for an extra inch.
That, my friend, is a very scary thought. Why? Because your handlebars might be scraping rock or briefly hanging cliff-side if you were to weeble-wobble a tad too much on a squeeze play of human avoiding machine. That also equals no shoulder to pull over on and limited areas to pass. Did I hold up traffic with my don't touch anything that isn't the road with your rental car paranoia? Yes. Yes, I did. I took those 15 mile an hour hair-pin curve speed limits seriously. There are some for 20 and 25 miles an hour as well. At some point, you might actually feel proud of yourself when you get to drive a steady 45 miles an hour. Then the horror sign appears: S Curves, next 7 miles. They. Are. Not. Kidding.
Dude. Seriously. The natives have skills. The rest of us out of town newbie gawkers with the white knuckled grip, not so much. Don't give me that squinty-eyed look. I am pulling out the "I'm fifty," card. I get to drive like a granny if I want to. Besides, my Red Cross friends are coming and going. Some of them need to be warned. FYI: The bridge is out (yeah Dude, actually missing), so they installed ad hoc traffic lights for both directions to take turns sharing a single mountain lane. Just thinking about it gives me heart palpitations... I couldn't see if anyone was coming and had nowhere to go if a bad or drunk driver ran the light. Why? Because that shared one lane is a curvy ride with no shoulder. Pause and think about that...
Did you know I had to rent a car and GPS unit at the airport to get here? The limited time I've driven the rental vehicle revealed a curious fact: There are two main roads to get you to Middletown, California (if you don't know what you are doing and follow the GPS like a good little visitor). The snarky part of my brain thought I was wrong, so I chatted up a few of the local residents, because, well, I eventually have to go home and would prefer not doing the whole twisty, gorgeous, distracting, bridge-is-missing ride of sudden death to enter Sacramento.
Guess what? There really are two main roads that lead you in and out of Middletown. I found myself wondering what that had to be like for them back in September. You know... people trying to flee a tiny mountain town where panic ruled and wild fires raged in the dead of night. Cars crashing and catching on fire because they were disabled and couldn't move. Tires melting while people tried to speed across burning roads and highways. Drivers choking on acrid smoke, low visibility with eerie dirty orange plumes and embers lighting the sky like deadly little wind swept fireflies... Row after row of houses looking like boxy, burning jack-o-lanterns... Yeah... bet you never actually really thought about that.
To think I was freaking out taking a careful ride during a sunny, gorgeous afternoon. It was enough to make me stop dead in my tracks while hiking up the mountain. The cartoons in my brain suddenly supplied my imagination with a room to park my whiny thoughts and ponder a new point of view...
Middleton residents survived that, and so much more... We need to help these people. Please help.