Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road trips, snow, and Kurt Cobain

All this snow has got me thinking about Kurt Cobain again.

Back in the misty days of 2003, Dave and I took a road trip to Santa Barbara to meet up with my favourite cousin and his family. Andrew had promised to come and see us in the US when we moved to Seattle, and true to his word (as he always is), he did. Trouble is, Andrew and I have both inherited our clan's optimistic streak, so he flew into LA, since Seattle seemed "a bit rainy", and I was sure that it'd be no trouble to meet them "somewhere in the middle". Yeah, right. A 2,500 mile round-trip "middle"

Anyway, it was worth it to see the Forest contingent, even if we only had two nights with them before turning round to head the 3 days back. We stopped off to celebrate New Year's Eve in a hot tub in wine country before banging up the I5 motorway all the way home (note to self: I5 or motorway? Pick one). Well, that was the theory.

Because we were total newbies, in the US only eight months, we hadn't paid any attention to the sporadic radio reports warning of "heavy snow" on the border between California and Oregon. We were in an all-wheel drive SUV (hey, this was America) and travelling on the motorway. What possible concern could we have?

Um, yeah. That's right, we're idiots. We got snowed off the road not once, but twice. The first time was just before the mountain pass in the incredibly inaptly-named Yreka (or maybe that's the point: it really ISN'T a Eureka moment, it's a Why?reka moment). At this point, I was still caught up in the romance of the road trip (you'd have thought 1,500 miles in a car would've solved this particular sentimental nonsense, pero no). "Hooray" I thought (and maybe even said, at which point Dave should have just pushed me into the nearest snow drift and legged it). "We can do the proper road trip thing & eat nasty take-out in a dodgy motel".

We were on our way the next morning, my ThingsToDoInAmerica list one item shorter, and despite the quickly-acquired snow chains battering the living crap out of the car, we made it through the mountain. In a blizzard. At 30 miles an hour. With nothing in sight (not even other cars; Christ knows where they went). In reality, I don't think it was *actually* dangerous, bar our extreme stupidity. We had no spare blankets, no flares, no *spade*; our Seattle-area mobile phones didn't get coverage in that region; we had nothing, really, to help us out of a problem. We did, however, have our bodyweight in books and some Ghiradelli chocolate, so I suppose we'd have been well-fed and well-read, if moronic.

Later that day, we came off the road at a freeway onramp in our haste to leave a rest stop manned by over-excited Christians (burgers and bibles. Another thing off my list, then). We stood there examining our car, listing in the snow with a burst tyre, and decided that the only thing to do was to convince the Christians that God's Will was to mend our car. Fortunately they were quite sturdy Christians, appropriately dressed in snow gear (did we have our snow gear in the car, despite having gone snowboarding a week previously? Did we bollocks) and got us on the road in good time. We were a bit late for the next stop, but no matter - we'd just do a big day the next day and get home already.

Except, no! Driving merrily through a picturesque bit of lower Washington state, Oregon gladly behind us at this point (no offence Oregon), bam - more blizzards. Let me tell you, snow falling on cedars might make for an evocative book title but it's a bastard to drive in. These were little forest roads with no sign of either gritters or Christians, so there was nothing for it but to stay in the nearest town, the call-it-like-you-see-it South Bend (and yes, there's a North Bend. Dunno about East or West though).

By this stage the whole quaintness of motels and Friends reruns was wearing a bit thin. We made it out the next day by the judicious move of following the gritter through the forest, and followed the road to the most depressing small town we'd seen yet, which was saying something. And then we saw the sign for it. Aberdeen. The hometown, as anyone living in Seattle is civically required to know, to Kurt Cobain.

"Jesus" said Dave, who'd been pretty stoic until then. "No wonder the poor bastard topped himself.

Anyway, any time we see decent snow here, I think of our first, idiotic road trip, and Kurt Cobain. I'm sure he'd be horrified to be linked with snowballs and mayhem, but he'd certainly get why being snowed into South Bend was such a hideous prospect.

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