I’m sure you have heard the news about the rain on the U.S. West coast. Here’s our story.
On Tuesday December 8, despite the pouring rain I drove south to Corvallis after work to pick up Tara from college to come home for the holidays. We got home at 9:30 pm and I was so tired we didn’t visit, just went to bed. So much rain had fallen that day it had caused a mudslide that brought down trees and debris across Oregon Highway 30 near Rainier, my hometown. Wednesday morning I kissed Tara’s sleeping head, and hopped into the Jeep at 5:00 am like usual. I could not take the Highway 30 route into Portland because there was a roadblock, flashing lights, and police out there answering questions. I shrugged and turned the other direction to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Columbia River to Washington state. It’s my preferred route into town anyway. Both highways hug the river all the way to Portland, but the I-5 speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and the Hwy 30 speed limit ranges from 25 to 55 mph as it passes through half a dozen little towns.
During the day Wednesday the rain came down like a monsoon. Word spread through the office that there had been a mudslide on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle – my way home. I wasn’t worried at first, since that is a major route and I knew it would be a priority cleanup.
Tara sent a video taken on their phone. It showed our little Beaver Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded the whole bottom section of the property, flowed all across the land and into the pond. The video is blurry, but you get the idea. Since I moved here in July I have fretted about the low level of the pond, but in minutes the raging Beaver River filled it up and overflowed the other side. (Notice the sticks still on the railing after I photographed them for their ice formations.)
I left work and headed north on I-5 like usual, and right away I saw enormous highway signs proclaiming “Road closed, mile post 23. Use alternate route.” I kept driving because the mudslide was from the morning. Certainly the major highway would be open by the time I arrived. And besides, “alternate route,” that’s a joke. There is no alternate route. There isn’t a frontage road, or mountain pass, or even a little recreation road that follows the Columbia River on the Washington side. There is absolutely no other way to get through except Highway 30 on the Oregon side.
I was still about 10 miles away from the so-called “road closure,” but already the Interstate was slowing down. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic traveling around 15 miles an hour finally made me take the situation seriously. The big glowing highway signs stated “Take next exit.” I passed one exit, still not convinced. When we were down to 3 miles an hour, and still 8 miles from mile marker 23, I acquiesced and pulled off the highway, turned around and went back to Portland. I finally had to agree that the Interstate was truly closed.
Luckily I had a place to stay in downtown Portland, so I had a rather appealing Plan B. Serendipitously, Tara was at home and could keep an eye on the place, feed the cat and the chickens, and that was reassuring. I visited the hot tub on the roof of the apartment building where I stayed, and for an hour the rain let up and gave us this Christmas view of the city.
I wore all the same clothes at work Thursday December 10, though I was able to swap out my undershirt with a clean Incredible Hulk T-shirt, which I was carrying for the workout that never happened. You just never know when you’re going to need the help of a superhero, am I right?! My co-workers and I heard that Highway 30 was finally open at Rainier, but a couple hours later a new mudslide happened at the St. John’s bridge. Cleanup crews for the St. John’s slide accidentally hit a natural gas pipeline, which closed Highway 30 again. I-5 stayed closed. My co-worker’s wife called to tell him that a tornado dropped down in their hometown, and the schools were calling parents to come get their kids. A tornado!
I considered driving to the coast at Tillamook, Oregon, going north to Astoria, and coming in to Rainier from the back way. Yes, for reals, I was seriously going to drive to the coast just to get home. However, the same co-worker with kids going home for a tornado, has family in Tillamook. He cautioned me not to try it because many of those highways were under water as well.
Finally Hwy 30 opened again in the afternoon, and I left an hour early. I thought for sure that leaving at 2:30 pm would help me avoid rush hour traffic and make the trip home reasonable. I had not seen my home in two days, hadn’t said “hi” to my teenager or the chickens or the cat, hadn’t taken prescription meds, and I needed new clothes. I made up my mind to get onto 30 and just be patient if it ended up taking a long time.
All Interstate 5 traffic was routed onto 30 that day. Just imagine it: three lanes of Interstate traffic on two lanes (and for a large portion of the highway, only one lane) of country road. It wasn’t just a slow trip home: it was the worst ever. Six and a half hours it took me. I finally pulled into the driveway at 9:15 pm.
Friday morning at 5:00 am, I kissed Tara’s forehead in the dark again (I still hadn’t seen my kid awake for days) and headed back into town. Sadly, all the southbound roads had been open all week. Meaning, I could always get to work, but getting home was the problem. Next time I’d prefer to be trapped at home due to mudslides. At work we heard stories of how the Red Cross had set up tents along the Interstate for motorists trapped on the highway, unable to back out because of being penned in by other vehicles. They passed out silver heat blankets and bottled water, and people stayed the night in their cars. If I was religious, this would probably have been the time for me to send up some prayers. (I sent some anyway, just because I don’t let convictions get in the way of my gratitude)
After work Friday I went home on I-5 that had two lanes open at long last. I passed about a dozen abandoned cars beside the highway, where people had pulled into the ditch and walked back toward Portland two nights earlier. Thank goodness I had not been one of those trapped. I am so glad I decided to turn around. One of my defining qualities is the refusal to give up when things get difficult, but perhaps a sign that I’m maturing despite it all, is the fact that I am learning that sometimes the right decision is to give it up.
All is well at home. No one is allowed to worry that my house was ever in danger of flooding. We sit up on a hill and the whole Columbia Valley would have to fill up before the water would get to my house. Ironically, I currently have an application pending with FEMA to get the property removed from their categorization of flood zone, so I don’t have to buy flood insurance. Shh! Don’t show them the video.