A crash course in manís finiteness

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer January 11, 2013 10:00 am

It’s early January. I’m driving over the Blue Mountains between Teri and my extremely modest homes, the “mountain cabin” and “beach condo.”

No, Milton-Freewater has no beach. But it’s the banana belt compared to Cove. 

My mind is whirling. I’m thinking about the nine tour bus passengers who died 20 miles up ahead, several days earlier, in one of the worst traffic accidents in Oregon history. The snowy Blues provided their last sights on earth. The snow-covered ponderosa pines. Perhaps a bald eagle soaring above the fog, or a herd of elk slogging up to their knees in global warming.

Semi trucks, passenger cars and pickups — a river of traffic flows east and west. 

Were the tour bus passengers watching the scenery whirl by? Talking with their seatmates? Playing with their cell phones? Eating doughnuts? Snoozing?

The passengers riding the bus that late December day had no way of knowing they were minutes away from a terrible crash. The tour bus, apparently hitting ice, slid off a perfectly flat and straight section of Interstate 84, crashed through a guardrail and plunged down an embankment. The bus was westbound on Interstate 84 and had yet to begin the notorious descent of Cabbage Hill, six miles of 6 percent downgrade, that truckers like to make movies of and post on YouTube.

Notorious winds

It’s a route I travel often. The snowplows work vigilantly to keep the road passable in winter. The freeway is closed only when trucks get blown off the road by notorious Cabbage Hill winds, when blizzards totally erase visibility or when trucks jackknife and block the way. 

Still, most days, traffic muddles through, up Cabbage Hill, past lonely Meacham and over the 4,200-foot summit and down to La Grande and the oasis of the Grande Ronde Valley.

Any drive can be deadly. The point is, none of us know how long we have on this earth. No, we cannot live each day as if it is our last. Many of us would not show up for work, and the wheels of industry would quit turning. But we can appreciate the friendships we make, and care about the problems we get to solve. 

Ever since my first date with Teri, on Oct. 26, 2008, I’ve been traveling this section of interstate almost weekly. Every round-trip from the mountain cabin to the beach condo and back is 180 miles. Some days it’s snowy. Other days it’s sunny. Still other days thunderstorms are brewing, or I drive out of pristine blue into a sea of fog. If I make the trip 45 times in the course of a year, that’s 8,100 miles of snow, sun and fog. That’s three trips across the United States for the Prius Snow Leopard.

I am privileged to be able to make the drive and keep up the connections with the beautiful woman who is now my wife of 1-1/4 years. The horrific accident put both of us on alert, of the dangers of I-84, of any highway really, but I tell her not to worry. I’ll drive as safely as I can and watch out for crazies. Neither of us can predict the future, or change the past. All we can do is the best we are capable of, today.


Reach the author at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it