Sock Summit: Getting there

posted in: Serendipity, Travel | 9

Sock Summit 2009 was an amazing experience, and I had an unusual view of it. I taught, assisted, and was a member of the final afternoon's Luminary Panel.

I don't have many photographs, because I was busy working. I do have some. I'll need to post them in stages.

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These are about getting to the Sock Summit in Portland, Oregon, from my home.

I started by driving across Wyoming. Being interested in a drive across Wyoming requires the abilities to notice subtle differences in landscapes and to appreciate the infinite variability and beauty of clouds.

The line of objects across the horizon in this photograph is a wind farm, generating power. Wyoming is well supplied with wind.

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Here's a set of great clouds:

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Whenever I see things like this, I want to stop and draw or paint them. If my daughter isn't traveling with me, it's all I can do to get a few photographs.

In Idaho, I met up with Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Nelda Davis, who had driven together from western Colorado after Nelda flew in from the East Coast and took a couple of days to acclimate to our Rocky Mountain lack of oxygen.

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We traveled the rest of the way to Portland in coordination with each other. We drove the same highways, stayed in the same places, and ate breakfast and dinner together, but didn't try to stay within sight of each other for the rest of the days. Priscila's diesel bug doesn't need to refuel as often as my car (although I got my best mileage yet, beating my previous record by 4 mpg) and sometimes we like to stop to look at different things. I got in a stop at Sierra Trading Post for jeans while Priscilla and Nelda did some nosing around in places where Priscilla used to live.

Here's eastern Oregon:

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More great clouds. A more dramatically varied horizon than Wyoming.

Runaway truck ramps

It occurred to me as I was driving through Oregon that people who haven't driven much in the west (or a few eastern mountain areas, and some other hilly environments) may not be familiar with runaway truck ramps.

They are part of road construction in areas that have steep descents, which means 5% or greater grades. Basically, if a truck loses its ability to brake safely its driver needs a way to stop the vehicle that isn't disastrous for itself and all the other traffic in the area. A runaway truck ramp provides an emergency stopping function, and not just for trucks, although smaller vehicles can almost always stop by other means and should—barring an appropriate emergency—stay completely away from the runaway truck ramp, in case a big rig needs to use it.

There are always advance warning signs that a ramp is coming up. While a vehicle without brakes may need to be steered accurately for some distance to get to the ramp, it can be a relief to a driver to know that a ramp is up ahead, and how far away it is.

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This is a half-mile warning. Sometimes the warnings are a mile or more in advance of the ramp.

Here's that ramp, off to the right:

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Tire marks almost to the top of the ramp indicate that it's not any longer than it needs to be. The ramp is built with loose gravel, intended to stop a vehicle, not provide it with smooth rolling. It takes a lot of momentum and mass to get a vehicle up that high. Getting a truck back down out of the ramp is not a cinch. Ramps aren't used frivolously. You wouldn't want to go anywhere near a ramp if you didn't have to. If you needed one, it could be the prettiest sight imaginable.

I never mind slowing to a crawl behind a big truck on a downhill slope (or an uphill one, but the downhill is the more dangerous situation). This driver, who had a heavy load in the truck's trailer, took it really slowly down the west side of the mountains. Cars accumulated behind the truck—there were many more behind me (I was the sixth in line). Everybody stayed safe and nobody had to use the truck ramp.

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It was a good day.

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I drove about 1250 miles (one way) to get to Sock Summit. In the next post, I'll have some photos of socks.

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9 Responses

  1. Great to hear (the beginnings) of your trip. Did I tell you that I got my husband to drive Honister Pass in the English lake district? Had 20 – 25% grades. No trucks there!

  2. 20 to 25% grades? I’m impressed! No, you hadn’t mentioned it. The mind boggles. Yes, cars can handle a lot steeper grades than trucks can. Still.

  3. There are a few roads up in the national parks here that have runaway ramps: they were installed after a gasoline tanker came roaring down the hill from Sinclair Pass into Radium Hot Springs (just across the AB-BC border) out of control, flipped when it came off the road, landed in the main hot spring pool, and burst into flames.

    The driver and a few (very few, thankfully, since it was winter) people in the pool were killed, and the next summer, construction began.

    Even though this happened more than thirty years ago, you can still see where the foliage was incinerated by the fire on the hill….

  4. That’s the worst runaway event I’ve heard about, and the ones I’ve heard about have been bad. Ramps are there for a reason.

    Drivers in the Rockies get impatient with trucks going slowly and attempt to pass in inappropriate locations. If only they knew what the stakes really are. . . .

  5. Thank you for taking both the time to travel through the West, and the time to share your impressions.

  6. It certainly cured me of any career plans I might have had as a long-haul trucker….

    And as a frequent visitor to the area, it’s been interesting, over the years, to see how the area has grown up. It’s an interesting microclimate to start with, being a very steep hillside above water that is 100 deg. F at source.

    In fact, there are signs at that end of the pool that discuss the small (and rare) snake that makes it home there.

  7. I was married to a long-haul trucker. He taught me a lot about “reading the road”–telling what had gone on from signs traffic left on the asphalt and shoulders and all. Over-the-road trucking can be very hard on the body even when there aren’t runaway vehicles involved.

  8. I’m glad to see I am not the only person who likes clouds. 2900 miles through Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon gave me plenty of cloud watching and photographing 🙂
    SS sounds like a blast, only I had the choice of Europe or SS…

  9. Europe would be wonderful, too!

    When I moved to Colorado (near but not in the mountains), I had to learn to look UP to find things I was interested in seeing. I was accustomed to being near water, mountains, forests, and old houses, as well as stormy weather. Here, the sky carries the day many times.

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