CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Horrid Road Trip (AKA why I don't do it myself, part II)

Not a question, but a narrative. Go to a Scrabble tournament this weekend in Reno meaning, for me, up the I-80 over Donner pass. Going to use Spikes Spiders instead of chains (my car doesn’t take chains), so put the hubs on. Try to follow instructions. Give em a good tug, they seem tight. Put on the Spiders just for practice. Don’t do a test run of the things around the block. Mistake 1.

Go to Reno. Realize partway there I forgot to pack the Spiders themselves. Mistake 2. Have someone Fedex them from home. (Cheapest option–the things cost $300 and the weather reports for Donner pass are bad for Monday, my expected return date).

So I lose all my games the last day, putting me out of the money. Get on the road about 4:00. Hit the chain control, can’t get the Spiders on myself. It’s one thing doing it in a warm garage on a smooth concrete floor–another to do it on a wet snowy road. So I pay a chain installer $30 to put them on. Get about 200 yards past the chain control point, see one of them come off into the breakdown lane. Stop, run back through slush to retrieve it, cussing out the chain installer. Then see it came off at the hub–the part that I installed. Wonderful–so now I’m done for the day. Throw the Spider in the car and go to take off the other spider–it’s gone.



No exit in sight, so I back carefully up to the chain control point (traffic is going slowly or I’d never have attempted this) and turn around. Go down the mountain–spend the night in Reno. Try again the next morning. No dice–people are putting on chains in Verdi, at the foot of the pass. Turn around. Park the car at a friend’s house and take the Amtrak home, taking about nine hours (normal five hours by car). And this trip is not done yet–weather permitting, I have to take another Amtrak trip back to Reno this weekend to retrieve my car. On the plus side, I found that the train is a civilized way to travel if one has the time: no metal detectors or long security lines, no being crammed in like sardines, a 120 volt outlet to charge a laptop or cell phone, and none of the hassles of driving such as navigation or worrying about someone cutting you off.

Good to hear you safely made it through the experience.
Two points.
1 I hope technology advances to the point where traction aids are much easier and safer to put on.
2 Thankfully, you now have a “public option” when times get tough.

Thanks for pointing out all it’s advantages over unsafely traveling yourself and the sacrifices in time that is the trade off. I guess the moral is; there are no free lunches.

Or…arrange a scrabble tourney closer to home.
Best of traveling luck next time.

Follow-up: Snow predicted Sunday over Donner, and my train would have arrived late Sat afternoon. So, my car gets yet another week in Reno.