In retrospect, I should have known. I know I'm an optimist and I realize I can be
Maybe I should write out a couple of reminders so I don't forget:
1) When chain control warnings are in effect, add at least 3 hours to your driving time. I know, you have AWD and don't need chains, but it doesn't matter. You will be crawling at 0-3 miles per hour because the highway people check each and every car and because people will be pulling in and out of the far shoulder to install/remove their chains.
2) When conditions are treacherous, add another hour to your driving time. Even if you're a safe driver, you will still need to stop for cars that slip and slide into snowbanks. And the 100 cars in front of you will also have to stop. And even if you're a safe driver with a good car and sturdy chains on, you might still be the unlucky driver who slips and slides into snowbanks.
3) During a snowstorm, highways will close due to poor visibility. They will close due to 8-car pileups. They will close due to avalanches. They will close due to avalanche control (only they won't tell you it's closed; no, they will keep you at a standstill for 1 hour before announcing that "traffic is being held" for an indefinite period of time). Add another 3 hours to your driving time because you had to go out of your way to find an open route. Then add 3 hours or more waiting for the highway to open because you arrived there just after they closed said highway.
All those reminders can be translated into one simple rule:
If the weather forecast calls for more than 5 inches of snowfall, plus winds of over 5 miles per hour, Don't Go.
And I need to add a footnote to that rule:
I don't care if you've booked the hotel room and you're past the 72-hour cancellation period. Once you're stuck in your car, you'll be willing to pay twice that amount to have a helicopter fly you out of the traffic. Avoid the stress by booking a room at a place with a 24 (or at the most, 48) hour cancellation policy, so you can check the weather forecast 2 days before and reschedule your trip.
Maybe I'm overreacting. This happened over the weekend and my memory is all too fresh. Someday we'll be able to chuckle and boast about our hardcore Tahoe vacation. We will get over this and we will make the drive again. But right now the sunny beaches of the Philippines are looking pretty good. Come to think of it, it would have taken us less time to get to the Philippines....