The Jan. 10 issue of the Transcript-Bulletin had just been wrapped up and sent to press, when suddenly I saw it: Winter Storm Gandolf.
We all knew the storm would arrive at some point that day, but when it finally came, it hit with a vengeance. The entire area turned whiter than Gandalf’s beard in “The Two Towers,” the roads became icy death traps, and puns of the storm’s name got out of hand.
Despite the difference in spellings between the storm and the wizard of Middle-Earth, the Transcript-Bulletin newsroom was filled with jokes regarding Winter Storm Gandolf and “The Lord of the Rings.”
The ultimate winter driving test for a kid from St. George was under way as I entered my vehicle and began driving down Highway 112 to Grantsville. I drove slowly, following other vehicles along the way. Without any buildings to look at for landmarks, the whole area looked like Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw the ice monster that attacked Luke Skywalker jump out of the snow at one point.
After a 35-minute commute to Grantsville, I arrived at the high school for that evening’s girls basketball game. The storm affected everyone, as one of the referees arrived about 40 minutes late.
With each passing minute, I grew more concerned. I currently live in Sandy, so a late-ending basketball game, coupled with slow travel, could have meant spending the night somewhere on snow-covered I-80.
I don’t know how to sleep in my car when it’s snowing outside. Are there rules for this kind of stuff? It snows once a year in St. George. When it does, it’s usually the week before Christmas, the same week as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or the week before spring break — all times when you can count on southern Utah folks to stay inside anyway.
I left Grantsville High School at 9:28 p.m., which was a little bit sooner than I had feared — but I still had the treacherous interstate to battle.
Conditions were awful with ice and snow, and snowplow drivers were desperately trying to unbury I-80. To make matters worse, as I passed Magna, the snow became so thick that my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. Apparently, I was supposed to chip the ice off the windshield wipers before I left the high school. I guess it’s time to get new ones.
I slowed to 15 mph during that stretch by Magna, and then the scariest part of my trip took place: Semis started to pass me. I know I was going slow, but come on guys! We were driving on the equivalent of a hockey rink and you all decided to pass me?
Eventually the blurry mess by Magna cleared as I drove a little more, and all the vehicles that passed me had to slow down after getting caught behind a snowplow. I was plenty content to follow the convoy back to Salt Lake Valley.
Finally, my agonizing journey from Lake Point to Salt Lake City ended. When I arrived at my destination, I reached down to check my phone and saw that I had a text message. It was from my mom.
“Don’t try and drive in the snow if it’s too bad,” she wrote.
I have no idea how you folks have done this for so many years. Thursday night was one of the most frightening experiences of my life, and a lot of my troubles were created because of my own errors.
Who knew that years of winter comfort would be my undoing? I was so used to taking photos by the palm trees at Dixie State College in January and February, wearing sunglasses and drinking smoothies, I never truly understood the dangers of driving in the snow.
I salute all of you for braving the storm, and hopefully I’ll be a little more prepared next time.