Donner Pass

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Flying J Truck Stop, CA99, exit 237  Ripon, California May 2, 2017 

   This is the nearest truck stop to San Francisco and I have been here more than once, before.  I had all the good intention to do the laundry, but it seems their laundromat has been the victim of an uncontrolled incendiary event.  They are awaiting permits to rebuild.  I had the trailer washed out immediately because I noticed liquid pork running in the air-slots in the floor while I was helping to unload.  I bought more oil because the engine is back to burning about a gallon per week.  The mechanics at Purgatory did not seem at all alarmed by this and I won’t complain as long as I get $10 worth of Loyalty Points with every two gallons I purchase – with Company money, of course.

    I have been marooned here for about 18 hours with no load assignment as yet.

 The last Shipper of 3, Waiting for a door, Salinas, California May 2, 2017 21:00

    I am sequestered in a big parking lot with about 40 other trucks.  We are all waiting to be sent to a door to be loaded or unloaded.  Time is running out for the day and I will probably spend the  night here.  There are exactly 3 Port-a-Cans

    My trip had been carefully planned to cross the mountains into California in early afternoon and arrive near the final in Oakland at about 4 PM on a Sunday.  From there, I would make a short trip to the final at noon on Monday and hopefully get empty and leave by 1400 -, thus avoiding all weekday traffic.  The Swap deal took me by surprise and left me entering Donner Pass into the Golden State at about 0100 in utter darkness.

Donner is one of the “school” passes for student drivers who go down it with a trainer like The Instructor. It is on Interstate 80 starting just North of Lake Tahoe (I saw that Exit Ramp, too) The road reaches 7239 feet and there are several miles of 5% and 6% grades – steep when dealing with 40 ton vehicles.  There are two runaway truck ramps and about 33 warning signs on the West-bound decent.  I know all this because I have a “Directory” devoted to describing Mountain Passes in Eleven Western States.  There is a video about the opposite trip made in the Daytime but it does not show the vivid drop-offs at the road’s edge with that 3 foot wall that would be just enough for the trailer (whose load starts at three-feet-high) to trip over before if goes plunging down the ravine – taking the tractor with it, of course.

Donner Pass is famous for a historical and quite tragic event.   A “wagon train” of emigrants to California were led to believe that this pass was something of a “shortcut” to California.  In reality the distance was greater and the conditions worse than the established route.  They were led by George Donner and very nearly made the summit before being trapped by snow and ice at Truckee Lake.  Food became very scarce.  The livestock were all consumed and a small group  attempted to make the crossing on foot and return with help  Many died and some of the survivors resorted to eating the bodies of the dead.

I told you it was tragic!

My night crossing was tempered by memories of my previous daytime crossing and imaginative visions of the drop-offs that I knew were there in the dark.  I don’t have any pictures of this area because I can’t spare a hand from the “death grip” on the wheel.

This night descent was made all the more unnerving by the discovery that there are no lane markings on most of the highest part of the pass.  Not even the solid white line at the right edge that marks the shoulder, was to be seen. That particular marking is what we depend upon for our lives when the opposing traffic is using high-beam headlights (about every tenth car).

Please excuse me while I scream at the California Department of Transportation:


OK, I am through.  Thank you for your patience.

The route was almost entirely on Interstate 80 and it took me to the new San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge.  I had crossed the previous bridge with my wife and eldest son (at single digit age) in the 1990’s, driving a Ford Taurus Station Wagon.

SanFranBayBriidge1San Francisco, from the New Bay Bridge – with a wonderful “Baroque” feeling added.  (I can only pass off the dirty windshield as “antiquing” a few more times.) 😉

I had hoped that the delivery would be at the edge of town somewhere in a warehouse district.  It was in fact in a “Midtown” neighborhood with a few ancient meat wholesalers.  The San Francisco Hills were in evidence and part of the route was along mass transit tracks (not a cable car route, thankfully).  The “loading dock” might be mistaken for a street lined with parked cars.  The protocal is to pull up to the dumpster that mysteriously appears in the middle of the street.  When the unloader is ready he moves the dumpster so I can pass forward until the tractor is halfway into the next intersection.  This lines up my trailer doors at a convenient spot and he replace the dumpster about 30 feet behind to define his working area and provide an approach for the next truck.

SanFranLoadingDock.jpgThe loading dock.  It’s right there, just in front of the wandering dumpster.

SanFranOneTonPallets These are the one-ton containers of pork parts that I moved from the front of the trailer to the “tailgate” with a manual pallet jack.  I had volunteered for this duty when I thought there were 5 or 6.  There were 14 in all.

Hardeman County Rest Area US Highway 287 SB, Quannah, Texas May 5, 2017

My truck has been sold (again) and I will be dragged – kicking and screaming – into Purgatory once again.  Yesterday saw a new 11 hour mileage record of 644.  (A “daily” record can be more if a ten hour break is in the middle of it.) I could have made the final today if I but had the drive hours.  The DOT gave me eleven this morning and immediately took away all but 6 and change with the 70 hour rule.  I will get back 7 at midnight and there are about three hours of drive time to the 1400 appointment.  Having arrived here at 1100 this morning I will leave at 900 tomorrow and still get there two hours early.   I can sum this up with a Michael Cain impression “Hurry up and Wait…is my middle name.”  If you can’t imagine Michael saying that, ask me when you see me and I’ll do it for you. 😉

    The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower peaks tonight around 400.  I am far enough from town that the sky will be dark enough for a good view.  The moon is waxing gibbous (3/4 full) and will set at 400.  The only problem will be all the accursed street lights all over the Rest Area.  This might as well be Downtown Houston.


Rest Area near Quannah, Texas.  Note the many light poles.


I might be able to hike out in the un-mowed field adjacent to the park, but these signs are posted around the area:

So, I’m thinking that it might not be wise to shuffle through knee-deep grass in the dark.




Back to California:

I left the narrative at San Francisco.  From there it was expedient to get out of San Francisco before the Monday traffic erupted.  South seemed to be the route of least resistance and I targeted the Pilot truck stop at Ripon where I have spent more than a few breaks, including this 34 hour break.


Hustling South on the Bayshore Freeway, down the peninsula to avoid rush hour.  There was some traffic nonetheless, but nothing unmanageable.


Loads out of California are produce shipments, as a rule.  A new assignment was slow in coming since it is Spring and not yet harvest season for many crops.  Produce loads are frequently made up of more than one “pick” at shippers that can be hundreds of miles apart.  This journey saw three stops to load and the average was about 100 miles from one to the next.  See the map below for my complete Tour d’California.

ArizonaMap2The complete route through California.   The entire trip covered about 1100 miles in the State.  Red numbers indicate 10(+) hour breaks.  Black numbers are deliveries or pick-ups.


Middle California just south of Salinas.  Note the “Ireland-like” green hills.  This is in vivid contrast to last year about this time when everything was brown and dusty, even this far North.

    California has had some heavy rain this year, especially in the Northern and Middle regions.  That was quite obvious from the general greenness and full rivers I encountered there.   Panicky bleating about Man-Made Climate change causing a permanent drought in California has now been replaced by panicky bleating about Man-Made Climate Change causing floods.

MiddleCaliforniaRiverFull.jpgRivers in Middle Cal were all very full and close to overflowing.


  The roadsides are overgrown with weeds and will undoubtedly become a public service scandal since they will need to be mowed now that the drought is over.  I noticed weeds growing between rows of orchards.  They use drip irrigation to water only the trees and last year I saw nothing but dirt between rows.  The photo below is near Ripon in September of ’16.


A drip-irrigated almond orchard in Ripon.  These days there are rain-watered weeds in many such orchards.

LostHillsPumpjackJungle.jpgFurther South finds this obviously very old oilfield full of pumpjacks.  Horizontal drilling is making this sort of crowding a thing of the past.  The field was discovered in 1910 by drillers looking for water for livestock. 

   It is a little-known fact that California is one of the top oil producing states.  This is only the 18th largest field in the state.  And where is the biggest?  The Los Angeles Basin…yes, that’s what I said.  California also has enough refineries to process all its own crude plus Alaskan and foreign imports.  Of ten parts, four are Californian, one Alaskan and five foreign.

Californians in general are quick to demonize oil and gas when, in reality they depend upon and produce a great deal of it.  Replacing fossil fuels is touted by the “greens”, but in reality it is simply not practical.  I researched it in  Changing Energy Use in the United States.

If you remember the comic strip “Peanuts”, Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy had a brother named Spike.  Spike lives in Needles, California – which is marked at the California/Arizona border.

Over the Road,


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