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HesperiaStar.com
  • Cajon Pass Commuter: The Interstate 15 obstacle course

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  • In 10 years of driving up and down the Hill, I came to regard Interstate 15 as an obstacle course. You never knew what you were going to run into, figuratively or literally.
    The Cajon Pass seems to be a repository of items that can do damage to your car and/or yourself: Pieces of tire, ladders, wrenches, ropes, chains, glass, wood, pieces of other cars.
    I had my share of scary incidents. One night as I was driving home from work up the Cajon Pass, right around the Kenwood exit, I came face to face with a wheelbarrow that had fallen off of somebody’s truck right into the middle of the right-hand lane. Fortunately there were no cars in the lane to my left and I saw the wheelbarrow soon enough that I was able to move over quickly and avoid it. I always wondered if anybody ran into it. It would have done a lot of damage.
    My windshield was cracked a couple of times by chunks of tires that other cars kicked up. I got two flats from nails that were dumped in lanes.
    I narrowly avoided a real disaster when a guy in front of me on the southbound 15 in the Pass had a tire blow out. His car made a hard right turn in front of a big-rig that was right next to me. I thought for sure the big-rig was going to wipe me out trying to avoid the other car but fortunately the driver kept the rig in a straight line and somehow managed to miss the other car.
    Let me tell you, that will get your heart beating pretty fast. I said a prayer of thanks after I calmed down.
    Early on in my commuting days, when I was driving my Toyota Tercel, I thought for sure the car was going to get blown off the Hill during a really bad windstorm. It felt like the wind was hurricane force as I traveled northbound, about halfway between the 138 and the top of the Hill. The Tercel didn’t weigh that much and it was all I could do to keep it in the lane as the wind whipped it about.
    Another time the fog was so thick I thought I was back at the beach. I couldn’t see 20 feet in front of the car, but people were passing me right and left as I neared the top of the Hill. I was sure I was going to come upon a big pileup, but somehow nobody crashed and I dodged a bullet.
    But if you commute long enough, sooner or later something will get you. For me that moment happened about 3 1/2 years ago. I was driving home from work on another really windy night. I was heading north on the 15 around Sierra Avenue in Fontana. There was a pickup truck pulling a trailer in front of me. It looked like one of those home-made trailers. The guy had used plywood for the panels and for the floor of the trailer.
    Well, sure enough, the wind was strong enough that it blew one of the plywood panels right out of the trailer. There were cars on the left and right of me, so I had nowhere to go. All I could do was watch as the plywood flew straight back into my Tercel and nailed me. Later on, when I was discussing the incident with a CHP officer, he rightly pointed out that I was lucky that the plywood didn’t come in sideways or it might have gone right through my windshield and taken my head off. Instead, the sheet — it looked like a full eight-foot sheet — hit the front of my car at an angle, then hit the windshield flat and bounced off.
    There was enough damage that my insurance company totaled the car. (I was disappointed because the Tercel had more than 350,000 miles on it at the time and I had never had to do any major work on it. I really felt like it might have been able to last 500,000 miles or more.)
    Considering I drove up and down the Hill for 10 years, I guess one major incident isn’t really too bad. I survived. And, of course, I finally was able to find a job that ended my Cajon Pass commuting.
    If you are a Cajon Pass commuter, that is my wish for all of you — to survive and to be able to find a job that allows you to not have to commute down the Hill.
    In the meantime, be careful as you navigate the obstacle course that is Interstate 15.
    Steve Hunt can be reached at 760-951-6270 or at SHunt@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevehunteditor.
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