I’m sure you’ve clicked on this article slightly intrigued, very confused, and wondering why I would be driving to Oregon through a blizzard, and more importantly, how is a flaming Volvo involved in this? So let me give a little backstory to add context to everything.
In January I went to Huntington Beach, California to compete in the WSL Shoe City Pro, the first event of the 2017 season for the Qualifying Series. I ended up making the semi-finals, which is good! My boyfriend, Justin, also came from school to watch me compete. After I was out of the event we all drove up to San Francisco together. My mom is from the Bay Area and grew up in Pacifica, my grandparents still live there. My sister and Justin are both attending college in the Bay Area at Stanford University and California State Maritime Academy, respectively. So, because they’re both over there I find myself spending a lot of my free time in San Francisco.
Whenever I go over to visit, Justin and I always try to make it a point to go out and have some kind of big adventure. Coming from a tiny island, we love the fact that on the mainland there are so many possibilities of things to do and places to see, and all you have to do is get in your car and drive to them. When Justin first moved over to SF he bought a Volvo from my uncle (who’s a Volvo mechanic and the nicest guy ever) for $600. The interior was a little rough, the odometer was stuck at somewhere around 130k miles, and it was pretty old, but my uncle took good care of it and it ran great. One time we drove from San Francisco to Washington on the weekend just because we could! (We made it back in time for Justin’s 7:00 AM formation on Monday morning.)
One of our best friends from home, Jonah, is going to college in Bend, Oregon. The weekend we drove to Washington we visited him on the way down and swore we would come back when there was more snow and the lifts at Mt. Bachelor were open.
Now this trip, we were planning on going somewhere down south, until we saw that a pretty big storm was going to bring a lot of rain to the area, so we made a last minute decision to just go back up to Bend to visit Jonah. This was going to be my first time snowboarding!
The drive was planned to be about 8 hours, and our ETA was about 1 am. We would have left earlier but Justin had to finish up his classes, so we didn’t get on the road until around 5 PM. The start of our drive was smooth. Until it started raining. Kaua’i is one of the wettest spots on earth, so we’re more than accustomed to driving in heavy rain and flooding, but when it started coming down it turned into 6 lanes of drivers who were crawling through a moderate shower. This added a lot of extra time to what should’ve been a super fast straightaway headed north on the I-5.
As we got to Redding the maps on our phones were showing red, backed-up roads all around Mount Shasta. The 5 was closed in two separate areas due to heavy snowfall, so we were re-routed on a detour that would normally take an additional hour and 45 minutes. It’s been dark for a while now, everything is going well, and I notice that we’re starting to pass these trees that look a little different, I thought they were growing some kind of weird flowers or leaves, so I point it out to Justin who laughs at me and says,”That’s snow on the tree branches, not flowers.”Now that sounds completely ridiculous of me to say, but I haven’t seen proper snow since I was about 7 years old, and I totally wasn’t expecting this area to have snow at all.
I’m feeling idiotic over my previous comment, when suddenly everything turns white, and we drive into a small town where there’s snow everywhere! On the trees, the houses, the cars, and so much coming down from the sky. At this point I’m completely distracted in total awe, until we come upon a massive line of cars. By the looks of how much snow covered their roof’s, they had been there for a long, long time.
Not even our detour could help us avoid the snowed-in roads, and we ended up sitting in traffic waiting for the snow plows to clear the road for about 3 or 4 hours in total, moving a few miles every hour. We kept ourselves amused with good music, conversation, and snow watching. It was time spent together in an out-of-the-ordinary situation, so it was entertaining on its own. In the course of this time we figured that we should put snow chains on our car. Being from the Hawai’i, of course I had no idea how to put these things on, so luckily Justin was able to do it. I hadn’t anticipated the awful sounds they were going to make, but after a while it sort of just drowned out. Eventually the pass was cleared completely, so we descended down the hill and made our way into the nearest town, Burney.
By this time it was 2:15 AM. We needed gas, so we charged through a couple feet of fresh fallen snow to make it to the station. Although it was late and we were supposed to arrive in Bend an hour ago, we were not tired. This may have sounded like a nightmare of traffic, but for us this was exciting! It was something we’d never experienced before. Nothing was going to plan but that’s what made it fun and adventurous.
We spent the next 45 minutes at the gas station talking with a few other people who had been stuck in the traffic and were trying to get home through the storm. A woman working at the gas station told us we could spend the night in our car under the cover of the gas pumps, and we were debating wether or not we should stay or try to make it to the next little town. As we were deciding, a huge snow plow passed by the gas station on the main road and threw all of the fresh snow to the sides of the road. Right then we decided to go for it and follow the snow plow as far as we could.
As we continued our drive, we passed by houses with cars covered up to the windows in snow. Our snow chains restricted us from going any faster than 30 MPH, so although it wasn’t more than 15 – 20 miles in between towns, it ended up taking us forever to get from point A to point B. The plows had gotten rid of majority of the snow on the road, leaving only a couple fresh inches, but we were skeptical to take off our chains because of how icy it was. By now the plow had long passed us and the visibility was minimal due to snowfall. It was beautiful to see the snow covered trees and quaint little forest houses, but undoubtedly a little scary being that it was the early hours of the morning and there was really no one on the roads besides us.
We told ourselves that when we got to the next town we would stop, but each time we reached the next town the one just after seemed so close! We’d gone through three towns now, and as we were on our way to the fourth we noticed hazard lights gleaming in the distance. I didn’t think that there would be any one else driving at this hour of the night and assumed it was a plow, but as we approached the lights we made out two figures. We slowed down when we came to see it was a mother and her daughter, covered in snow and tinkering with something under their car. They were having trouble putting chains on their car. Earlier someone had put the chains on for them, but since then they had taken them off since the road was flat and plowed. Now the road was becoming much steeper and we were sure they must have been slipping back. Justin put their chains back on and they told us they especially needed them for going up the pass and out of the valley just passed Canby. They said they bet the road was going to be really snowed in. We had to go on the same pass, and as we continued driving we agreed that stopping for the night in Canby would be the best option.
I don’t like to sleep while Justin is driving, but somewhere just before we got into town I accidentally dozed off. When I woke up we were definitely not in Canby. I asked Justin how much longer until we got there, and he said we passed it 20 minutes ago. He decided to keep going because there wasn’t anywhere that looked OK to stop at, and as he was looking the mom and daughter we met earlier went by and continued up the pass in their Prius, so he figured we could make it too. The snowfall had backed off greatly compared to earlier, and although it was still nighttime, the soft light provided by the moon allowed us to make out the scenery around us. We had peaked over what seemed to be a valley filled with snow covered fields, tall evergreens, and trees that branched out with snow adorned arms. It was a beautiful drive through the pass, and surprisingly, no trouble at all.
We eventually rolled into the next microscopic town where a large group of trucks and their drivers congregated, having a smoke and seemingly waiting for the sun to rise. Now, it was only a straight shot of about an hour to the Oregon border. Yes, we were still only in California. We finally took the chains off, which was a massive relief after having to listen to them clanking and banging for the past hours of our journey. This entire time Justin had been driving, so now that the snow had subsided and the roads were a bit less icy, it was my turn to take the wheel so he could sleep. The road was straight as an arrow on this stretch of the 139, and somewhere along the way it became abruptly dry. No snow on the sides of the roads or in the trees, which was another relief. Driving on ice all night was starting to get tedious. Again, the snow returned and with it came society as we entered Tulelake. Seeing other cars and homes with signs of life was reassuring.
Soon, we crossed the Oregon border and I stopped at the first gas station I saw. Groggy and sleep deprived I dragged myself out of the car and attempted to pump my gas, but every time I tried to use the pump nothing would come out. I didn’t notice, but there was a man just next to the front of my car, and when I finally looked his way he was just sort of laughing at me. “What are you doing?”, he asked me. In my head I was thinking of how dumb of a question that was, when I remembered that in Oregon it’s illegal to pump your own gas. Embarrassed, I gave him my card and he swiped his employee card to engage the pump. He started fueling the car, meanwhile, Justin is passed out in the front seat and it’s now about 6:15 AM.
From here on out it was much smoother. The sun started to rise and we could properly see what we’d been driving through all night, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We drove along Klamath lake and its iced over face was a stark contrast from its greenery and flowing waters that I had witnessed in early November. It was about 8:00AM when we stopped for food at a gas station near crater lake that we’d been to before, our bodies practically running on empty. Several breakfast burritos and juices later, we continued on for Bend.
Everything got more and more beautiful as we got nearer to our destination. After another 2.5 hours of driving through the massive snow capped evergreens and massive trucks, we finally arrived in Bend around 10:30 AM. What was supposed to be an 8 hour drive had literally taken us all night and then some. 17 hours from 5PM to 10:30 AM. What we think is the worst (and funniest) part of this drive is that it took 17 hours of nearly continuous driving. Besides the time spent stopping at gas stations, helping the mother and daughter, and eating breakfast, we were at the wheel crawling through the snow at 30 miles per hour. We couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous we were, two kids from the tropics who ended up driving through a total blizzard. In the coming days we would find out how serious that storm really was and how it blasted the sierras with snow and caused detrimental flooding in a lot of California cities. We were really lucky that we were safe and had no issues with our car (yet).
We called up Jonah, who was expecting us at midnight, and he couldn’t believe that it took us so long. He told us he was going to go for an afternoon session at Mount Bachelor, and although we were running on about an hour or so of sleep each, we were determined to get at least some time on the mountain that day, so we headed straight to a snow shop to rent boards.
We were feeling pretty confident in our snow-driving abilities as we arrived at the shop, when at that exact moment reality checked us, and our car got stuck in the parking lot. For 17 hours and hundreds of miles we were good as gold, but apparently we were no match for our parking spot. Some guy outside the store mistook me for someone he knew and helped push us out, and when he started asking me if I ever hung out with his son because we were in the same grade, I gazed at him with an exhausted complexion and all my brain could muster up was, “Thank you so much, but I’m from Hawaii”. He was really confused and we both turned and walked away. I was too tired to explain any further and he was probably regretting helping us out of the snow.
We finally got our gear. We were super pumped up to see Jonah and go snowboarding with him. We drove to his campus, attempted to park our car, and got completely stuck again, but this time it was way worse. Some kid in a car next to us got out and lended us his shovel, but it was no help. He said we were high centered, meaning our front tires got over the lump of snow but the bottom of our car was stuck on top of it, leaving 3 of the 4 tires lifted with nothing to grip onto. Jonah came down from his room laughing and found us attempting to shovel ourselves out. Conveniently, another girl had gotten stuck near us and one of her friends came by with a massive truck to pull her out. He then pulled us out and saved us from our poor decision of a parking stall.With all that done I wanted to get far from our car for a while.
We went to catch up in Jonah’s dorm room and as we began to suit up, our excitement surpassed our need for sleep, and we didn’t feel tired at all. Luckily, Jonah’s awesome roommates have all-wheel or 4-wheel drive cars, so they drove us all up to Bachelor. The snow was piled on the sides of the road probably 7 feet high and more was coming down.
We got to the slopes and I hobbled my way onto the lift with the boys. Again, This was my first time snowboarding and Justin’s second, however it had been years since he last went. We got off and slid over to the top of the run. I was expecting that we would both be on the same level learning together, but that was not the case. Jonah took us on our first run and to be brief, I was a hot mess. I could barely go down the run without falling every 10 feet, but it was a worth a good laugh. Justin was so good! He looked really comfortable and snapped right into it. Luckily I had them to nurse me through my first few runs, until eventually I could fend for myself. For me, the hardest part was changing my approach and realizing it was totally different from surfing. I caught edge after age until I figured out I had to dictate with my back foot rather than the weight of my body altogether, like surfing. By the end of the day I had the hang of it and we were exhausted.
We spent the next two days snowboarding from morning to sunset and it only got more and more fun. It was a really interesting (and hilarious) feeling to be a beginner at a board sport again, and although I was definitely #KookOfTheDay for my entire trip it was a good learning experience. It snowed all day, every day up on the mountain, so the view of the snow coming down on the trees made having lunch and hot chai in the lodge that much better.
On our last day we took our time and were the last people on the mountain. Jonah always said the sky looks so much bigger in Oregon than back home, and as we sat on the mountain and looked down at how far the hills rolled into the horizon in the pink hues of the sunset, I knew what he meant. We’re so used to being at sea level where the sky is always over the water, or being covered by the high mountains. When you’re above it all and you see nothing but land in every direction, everything looks so much more vast. It was a major contrast of scenery from what we three grew up with, but it gives you the same humbling feeling as you look out and realize how small you are. When we reached our car in the parking lot it was covered in snow and icicles, and we had to crawl in from the hatchback because our door handles were frozen over.
We spent our few nights in town cruising with Jonah and his roommates. Bend is such a nice place and everyone is so friendly there, it reminded me a bit of home. One night we went ice skating and got Dutch Brothers afterwards because one of Jonah’s friends works there. It was the first time I’d ever had it, and the raspberry hot chocolate was the cherry on top of an amazing day spent with equally amazing people.
On Sunday we said goodbye to Jonah and headed back down for San Francisco. We had a much smoother ride than we did on our way up. Although we had a hectic time getting to Bend, that’s what made the trip so memorable. I’ll never forget all of the crazy and hilarious little moments we spent laughing at ourselves and the situation we got into. You know what they say, it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.
As for our trusty Volvo, she delivered us safely back to Cal Maritime for the night and then to the Oakland airport the next morning. I head on my flight and when I arrive home I turn on my phone to this lovely photo from Justin:
Turns out that Tanner, Justin’s older brother who also attends Cal Maritime, took the car that evening to a nearby target to get groceries. As he and his friend were driving down the freeway they noticed smoke coming from the hood, so they pulled over as soon as they could. When they parked the car, the engine burst into flames and they ran out of the car just in time. The fire ended up engulfing nearly the entire front end of the car, shattering the window shield and torching the interior. Firefighters came to put out the fire, they collected what was left inside, and towed it away. This came as a pretty big shock to the boys because it was very well taken care of, despite its high milage. They believe the fire started from some type of electrical combustion from broken wires in the engine, but who knows. She probably had over 200k miles, perhaps it was just her time. Helga lived a long, full life, and the memories we created together will live forever in our hearts. #RIPHelga
To see footage of what happened to the car you can watch here, in this short video I put together using the footage we haphazardly recorded on our trip.