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. Lane markers disappeared in the roiling sea under our tires. The windshield wipers on our minivan struggled against the force of water.  Herds of 18-wheelers and double trailers and triple-trailers hydroplaned wildly into our lane, whipping back and forth like behemoth skaters playing “crack-the-whip.” None of the long-haul trucks appeared to slow down. I was afraid to reduce my speed for fear of being rear-ended. There was no shoulder where I could pull off the road. Despite having all-wheel drive, my car seemed to have no traction and I struggled just to keep the car pointed straight ahead and to maintain speed.

It was probably no more than 20 minutes but it felt like several years. When I reached the outskirts of Evanston, the sun broke through and suddenly it was a beautiful, late-summer day. I pulled into the Flying J truck stop to calm my nerves. My arms ached from gripping the wheel.

“That was really frightening,” I said to one of the arriving truckers.

He looked at me like I was crazy. To him, apparently, it was just another day on I-80.

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Rone Tempest was a longtime national and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. In 2004 he was part of a team of reporters to win the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the massive wildfires in Southern...

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