The storm that slammed Northern California last weekend was described as an atmospheric river. My landlord stopped by to suggest that perhaps I might want to vacate the cabin till the storm was over “just in case a tree falls on your house”. Mm hmm. I decided to ride day 1 out in the cabin as I had plans to go skiing in the Sierras with friends for the rest of the week anyway. After all lots of rain=lots of snow=lots of fun, right?
Friday night I simply put earplugs in and went to sleep figuring that if a tree was going to fall on my house I’d just as soon not know it was coming because there would be nothing I could do about it anyway. I woke up to torrential downpours and felt that a steaming cup of coffee was in order. Standing at the kitchen sink enjoying my first sip the power went out. A moment later I heard “BOOM” as the tree that had knocked out the lines hit the ground. I could see down to the road from my perch and watched the power lines dance in a sine wave. Already? I was expecting to loose power at some point during the storm but not the first morning. This also meant the road was blocked and in order to get out I had a somewhat arduous journey back up and over the mountain to get out via semi-paved back roads. I had skis to rent and groceries to buy for company was coming to dinner. Theoretically.
One of the things I enjoy about living in the countryside and about having weather events is how it makes people friendly. Much like pioneer days when wagons would stop along the trails and people would exchange information via word of mouth. Cars have to pull over to let one another squeeze by, dipping slowly into giant potholes and climbing back out, mud splashing. It’s expected to stop and roll down your window and exchange news. Personally I like to roll down my window, spit, and say “Howdy, neighbor”. Makes it feel more authentic. But truly, with phone and power lines down, it’s the only way to get information and everyone seems so eager and happy to share their piece. One hopes that information doesn’t get too skewed via this game of “telephone”. Hmm. I wonder if that’s how the story of the Sasquatch in the apple orchard on my road got started. Perhaps the original message started out as “There’s a tree down, squashed power lines near the apple orchard,” and ended up as “Did you hear so and so saw a Sasquatch in the apple orchard?!”
By the next morning the road had been cleared and power restored. My friends who live one mile further up the mountain stopped by to pick me up and we sped off towards Tahoe. It was VERY slow going in the pouring rain but we pressed on, dreaming of white powder and whoops of joy as we carved our way downhill. When we arrived many hours later it was…dumping rain? In the Sierras in January? Who ordered this Pineapple Express? Dang! Definitely not skiing weather. Well, no matter, it would surely change to snow overnight.
Oh it changed to snow overnight, alright. We woke up to a blizzard. Tahoe was shut down. High winds, heavy snowfall, no visibility, and none of the employees could make it to work with all the road closures. More of the same the third day. By the third night we all had cabin fever so badly, we decided to risk the blizzard and make the 4 mile drive to the Ritz Carlton at Northstar to treat ourselves to a fabulous dinner. As we were getting ready someone thought they saw a car go by outside. “No, it must have been the snowplow,” said Patrick. “No one would be out driving right now. It would be complete madness. You’d have to be crazy.” I looked at him sideways. “I mean, unless you were going to dinner, of course.” he amended. A flurry of shoveling to un-bury the car, a few tentative taps on the brakes, and we were off. We crept along peering out at flurries of white, straining to see the white road bounded by banks of white. The tires creaked on the snow. The headlight beams swept across a truck that had gotten stuck and simply been abandoned in the road. It was quickly disappearing under a blanket of snow. There was much discussion about the appropriate driving technique and which way to go as all the signs were buried. It was dark, but I do believe Paula’s knuckles were white.
Normally I think of the Ritz at Northstar sort of like Hogwarts-a grand castle on top of the hill shining its light down on all the poor saps below. This night, however, we didn’t see it until the hood poked out from one of the snow tunnels we had been following, and oh! We’re here! We pulled in through the grand, sweeping driveway to the front steps. The valets were curiously absent. Well, never mind, we decided to just park under the overhang and find someone to direct us. We went through the first set of doors. Still no one. How odd. We pushed open the second set of doors and encountered a well dressed man in the middle of a huge yawn. He stared at us uncomprehendingly for a few moments. Then his eyes flew open wide and he gasped, “Did you just DRIVE here?” We nodded. “For DINNER?” He was astounded. After a moment he snapped to and was all courtesy and service, calling for helpers, people to park the car, people to show us to the restaurant. “So sorry,” he apologized, “it’s just that we haven’t seen ANYONE for hours and hours.” The spiral staircase at the Ritz climbs around the most magnificent stone chimney you’ve ever seen. The chimney is the centerpiece of the hotel with multiple fireplace openings to it on each level. It must be 30 feet in diameter.
Once seated in the hushed dining room with a glass of wine in hand, we all relaxed. The staff seemed thrilled to have something to do and someone new to discuss the storm with. We had multiple visits from the bus boy, the water girl, our waiter, the sommelier, and anyone else who happened by. Though the windows were frosted over, you could see snow absolutely cartwheeling by. At times it appeared to be snowing up rather than down. The wind was fierce and the lights started to flicker. One of the sous chefs in the open kitchen froze and we caught eyes. We both raised our eyebrows in a “Well this could get exciting” look. She went back to chopping and I went back to my cream of cauliflower soup with shaved black truffles. Next was braised lamb shank and wild mushrooms over a buttery farro and more wine. We were all delighted to see our local Santa Cruz wine on the world class wine list at the Ritz. Randall Grahm aka The Rhone Ranger and his Bonny Doon Vineyards make unique and very delicious wines in my opinion. I was happy to see the Ritz Carlton agreed. The final course was a blood orange sorbet. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. I don’t care as long as I can ride it out in the restaurant at the Ritz. But alas, we had to leave at some point before it became impossible to get back. The drive back was even more harrowing but we made it safely.
Little did we know but the moment when the lights were flickering in the Ritz was actually a massive tree coming down on high voltage lines that would knock out power to the entire city of Truckee and all surrounding areas. No matter, I did what I do at home when I get home late and it’s too bothersome to start a fire. I threw extra blankets on the bed, burrowed under and didn’t come out till the sun came up. I figured they’d have it sorted out by morning. They didn’t.
Day 4 stuck in the cabin broke with no power, no heat, no TV, no internet. Also, no downhill skiing due to power outage and avalanche hazard, no cross country due to blizzard conditions, all the stores, restaurants, every thing, was closed. I voted for missing work and just hibernating. Tim and Paula had a flight to catch and were just over the whole experience. There was a small window when it stopped snowing and we quickly packed up the car. We left the house at 9:30 in the morning and didn’t get home till 11pm. I won’t go into all the details but we encountered more road closures than you can shake a stick at , car accidents, a mud slide, and most unbelievably, a hand full of yahoos who ran a red light on a section of road where it was under construction for several miles and down to one lane and one way traffic. Needless to say they ran into us and a string of about 30 other cars who had waited for our green light and our turn and were most surprised to encounter someone coming the opposite direction. One of them had the gall to come tell us that our whole string of traffic was going to have to back up several miles to let them by. So we all sat and stared at each other. Until a couple rough looking fellows who had clearly just gotten off work stomped down the line of traffic cursing and flexing their muscles and suddenly the imbeciles who had run the light agreed that it was actually they themselves who ought to do the backing up.
I tell you home sweet home never looked so good. A tree didn’t fall on my house. And while we were totally skunked on the skiing, we had quite the adventure anyway! I think this will be one of those, “Remember that time when we…” trips.