The past two weeks delivered a blizzard arriving from many fronts. One is literal – the snowstorm of the century descending on our mountain with both grace and vengeance. We were snowed in for days; my truck buried under more than 4 feet of pillowy white down. County snowplows didn’t visit our roads for days because they’d been detoured to our nearby highway that leads to vacation-favorite, Lake Tahoe. The rest of us remained trapped at home, making the best of Mother Nature’s Christmas gift. And so begins my holiday saga.
Then, about two weeks ago, we received our second-holiday gift (as if snow wasn’t enough?) when the power went out throughout a wide swath of our region. Power is (and is not) delivered by PG&E – a publicly held corporation accountable to a board of directors, its stockholders, and, last and least, ratepayers.
Like most folks up here, we have a gas-powered generator to provide backup power when it goes dark (a not infrequent occurrence). One 5-gallon can of gas fuels about 8 hours of power. The first week of the outage, we went down the hill to our nearby town to fill up gas cans at about 3 PM, usually a 20 minute round trip. At the same time, Hwy 50 to Lake Tahoe closed because of weather conditions. Thousands of families traveling from valley cities and the Bay Area were held up and told to turn back. The most determined of these travelers checked Google maps and detoured on a narrow 2-lane road aptly named Pony Express Trail. They formed an immovable train of vehicles held up on the snow-packed road that spans about 7 miles – drivers somehow believing they just might get to Tahoe, no matter what. Pony Express is, however, a dead-end road.
Our local gas station was littered with cars and trucks, scattered like toys puffing out exhaust fumes after finding the station was out of gas. We headed to the next local source, getting swept up in bumper-to-bumper on traffic on Pony Express and passing three more small gas stations. Each was out of gas. It’s a road with no escape. Five miles per hour, we wound along the ribbon of road lit up like a Christmas tree by an endless string of cars on the way to nowhere. As locals, we knew how to get to the last station on the route and found enough gas for our containers. But to get home, we had to reverse course and get back into the mosh pit of lost tourists. We’d left home at 3:30 and returned at 7:45. A 20-minute trip completed in 4 hours.
Powered up and ready for the long haul, we fed the generator and managed the inconvenience of its limitations – the key benefits being heat (it was in the 20s outdoors) and lights. We were without Wi-Fi and a TV signal. We closed off rooms we didn’t have to use and hung a curtain over the opening to our upstairs bedrooms. We have split heating units downstairs and shut off those we didn’t need. Upstairs we still have an old forced air system we don’t use.
Downstairs we shut down the generator at bedtime because my husband wasn’t willing to go outside in 20-some degree darkness to refill the generator with gas at 5 AM. Inside, we crawled under blankets and quilts (I wore a stocking cap and gloves) for a cold winter’s nap. In the morning, I dressed under the covers while my husband added gas to the generator, flipped on some heat, and then made a pot of really strong coffee.
During the day, we grabbed our shovels and tried to dig out the mountain of snow encasing our truck and then took on the glacier that had formed after a snowplow blasted down our street and made a berm worthy of the Arctic. Our mailbox was also buried and inaccessible, which didn’t matter because conditions were too harsh for the little postal trucks to attempt delivery. I strapped ice spikes onto my boots so that I could take the dogs (wearing snowsuits) on their daily walk. They have more courage than me.
The daily effort was tiring and, after a week of survival living, we accepted the offer of a friend to stay at her house in the valley for a couple of days. Heat, lights, internet access, small screen entertainment, a clothes washer, and dryer… irresistible! We shut off the generator, took all the food from our refrigerator, transferred it to coolers, and buried them under piles of snow on our back deck.
From the comfort of a house with working power, we monitored emails from PG&E, hoping for some helpful information. The most the company could offer was “We are trying to gain access to your area … there are cruise working.” (Yes, they did make this typo). Similar empty updates gave no one comfort or confidence. The morning of day three in our city retreat, we drove home determined to reignite our western frontier spirit and make the best of things.
We dug out the refrigerator food from the snow mound that had turned to ice, mopped up pools of water that had melted from our refrigerator, and restocked the food. We hung curtains over drafty spots, rolled up towels and stuffed them under doors, and reduced our living area to three rooms. I moved our bedding to the family room, where we have an uncomfortable sofa bed and a small woodstove. I hauled stacks of cedar and manzanita inside, and I built the everlasting fire of a lifetime. I was more than a little satisfied with myself when, just as we were climbing into bed, my husband said, “I turned on the propane gas heat upstairs, just to warm it up a little. I forgot we even had that.”
As I got up throughout the night to add more logs to the best fire I’d ever made, I let his information sink in. For the past ten days, we’ve had a working heating system upstairs. Two bedrooms and a bathroom. Even a small refrigerator and other amenities I’d put in for guests. From the first day of the power outage, we had access to heat. Warm rooms. Beds for sleeping. Chairs for lounging. Windows to look out on a cold and beautiful winterscape - all this, while I’d been living like a contestant on a survivor special.
After ten long days of living as if we would freeze to death without heroic efforts, the power has been restored. Now, if I can just forget that I forgot we had a heating system free of PG&E, I’ll be okay too. I want to blame this lack of awareness on my pandemic mind (I really do need a good excuse).
Hoping the new year treats us all much better than the previous two and that you never forget the blessings you have at your fingertips.
Stay strong my friends. The universe is testing our mettle! Thanks for reading my blog - your time and attention are precious to me. Please let me know how you are faring and anything outstanding you'd like to share. I love hearing from you! I am at email@example.com ! Let's DO 2022 together, stronger!
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