Once you are underway on a stretch like that, there’s no turning back, and your elbows and hands lock so Super-glue solid that you probably couldn’t move the wheel more than an inch anyway. You can feel yourself afloat on the ice, and you don’t dare accelerate or brake – raising your headlight beams might be enough to send you spinning on the glass. An exit – what few there are – is out of the question, because the trucks behind in the blinding storm aren’t going to see you or slow down. Even changing lanes is out of the question – you will begin a graceful pirouette and end crumpled in the borrow, or orchestra, pit.
By far my most terrifying I-80 moment came not in winter but in late August a few years ago in the desert badlands east of Evanston. I was traveling to California with my wife, two kids, Indian pariah dog and Chinese cat. A sudden deluge unloaded on the treeless moonscape as we descended the Bigelow Bench at about mileage marker 28. The heavy rain turned the highway slick and reduced visibility to almost nothing.
About half an hour outside Laramie it starts to snow, hard. Soon we're in a white-out with a semi-truck about two inches from our rear bumper and another maybe a foot in front of us. But who can tell? We can’t see a thing. Nada. We are surely about to be crushed alive between two semis from hell.
The road wasn’t packed with snow. Visibility was the issue. When a semi-truck passes, it twists a nasty tornado of snow around you, erasing every possible marker available. You have to trust your instincts. But I wasn’t driving. I was panicked, as were all the passengers. We were in a mess of swirling, blinding snow — to the point that it no longer made sense to move forward at all, according to my girlfriend at the wheel.
Then I noticed the traffic heading east towards Cheyenne was a lot heavier than the traffic going west. I shrugged it off. But I did note tiny crystals floating past my car. Then, in a short period of time, probably less than a minute, a blinding cloud of flakes assaulted my windshield. Where the hell did this come from? I fretted. The wind turbines vanished from sight. I had, in fact, about 50 feet of visibility. I turned on my lights. Snow swirled crazily around my beams like a rising mayfly hatch.