Earthquake: Reno, Nevada

Earthquake Accident The rash of recent earthquakes in Reno, Nevada reminds me of my own experience with this particular fault line. About three years ago, I was driving my brand new Subaru Outback up the canyon of Highway I-80 towards Truckee, California to go whitewater kayaking when an earthquake struck. I was moving along at about 70 mph just past the Floriston exit when a large boulder arced off of the steep hillside to my right, struck the adjoining lane, and quickly began tumbling towards me. It looked like something out of a cartoon, and my disbelief was only cut short by my sudden realization that I was going to die. In a split second I slammed on the brakes and immediately impacted with the boulder.

Anyone that has ever been in an accident knows when an air bag deploys it can be a lot like getting punched in the face. As I began to collect myself and determine whether I was severely injured or not my first thought was – I’m going to be hit from behind! Fortunately, the other cars behind me had been able to stop in time. The inside of the car smelled strongly of gun powder, the windshield was smashed, and the entire passenger side was caved in.

I got out of the car half expecting to not be able to stand, or for blood to suddenly start spurting forth from some area of my body, but I was fine. I nervously scanned the hillside wondering if any other boulders might suddenly decide to dislodge themselves but none came. I took note that my kayak was no longer on top of the car, not that I particularly cared at that moment, but my eyes soon fell upon it on the other side of the road. It had shot off the top of the car, careened across the oncoming lanes of traffic, and somehow managed not to cause another accident.

The police soon arrived, and the first comment I received was, “Boy, you are lucky to be alive.” The  second thing they told me was that there had been an earthquake of a magnitude 5.0. I never felt it.

The section of I-80 between Reno and Truckee is a dangerous one for many reasons. As the area continues to experience more tremors, and even faces a potentially much larger earthquake, keep this story in mind if you are driving this section of road. There are a lot of exposed hillsides containing countless boulders that are precipitously placed for a quick fall, and trust me, you don’t want to hit one.

21 thoughts on “Earthquake: Reno, Nevada”

  1. Dude, it looks like you totally rocked that boulder. No pun intended…it does look like it got split in half, though! Good work. Does car indurance cover falling rocks or soiled undies? You are actually the 2nd person I know that has had an experience like this…crazy stuff.

  2. Robert, you are indeed very lucky. Wow! I have never experienced what you went through, but have been through the Northridge CA quake of 1994, and that was plenty of shaking for me. I sincerely hope you were fully covered and hope that you’re ok.

  3. That’s quite amazing! My wife and I cautiously drove home last Friday evening a half hour after the 4.7. We were careful to look for any boulders that may be in the road…

    Did you end up getting your boat back?

  4. I did get my boat back. However, I was so shaky that I asked a policeman to get it for me because I was too scared to cross the highyway! LOL! Later on they asked me if I was still going to go kayaking. I replied, I think I’ve had enough excitement for one day. Fordyce Creek would have been a little too much for me after that experience. Plus, I did end up having to go to the hospital to get my neck xrayed. I received a good case of whiplash, and think I still have some intermittent issues with tightness and soreness in my neck because of the accident.

  5. Having driven that stretch of I-80 from Reno to Truckee many times, I agree that you are very lucky. That road is winding, twisty and has a few potholes. Happy that you can look back on this with a smile.

    I wonder why CalTrans or the Nevada Highway folks can’t go out and inspect those looming and overhanging boulders? Seems they might be able to bring down those that pose a risk.

  6. Dale, I don’t know because I am quite sure that I am not the only one this has happened to on this stretch of road. There’s no barrier there to keep rocks and boulders from coming down on the roadway. Because of your comment, I FINALLY took the initiative and submitted a maintenance request on the Caltrans website. We’ll see what happens.

  7. I remember when that happened. Your buddy Charles showed me the flick. Glad to see everone made it out OK!

  8. I saw a boulder bigger around than a car come down a very steep hill on highway 101 just south of SF, and it hit a VW, plop on top. Mush.

    States dont have enough money to make the roads safe, particularly mountain roads. How big would the barrier have to be? The one I saw hit the VW was bigger than a car. They have some fences to keep the rubble off the roadways, but they are not going to stop a big one.

    I have driven along highway 1 in southern Marin and you can see wrecked cars 200 feet below, that have gone off the cliff. No guard-rail.
    Highway 1 goes for 100’s of miles. You could build an entire train system for the same cost as trying to make the mountain roads safe.
    I would rather see the money to go alternative transportation.

  9. Bruce, you certainly make a good point, and I am behind you 100% on the alternative transportation. Do you know how it works when large apartment complexes and subdivisions complain about noise from the highway and then they get a giant barrier built? Incidentally, I was thinking just a concrete barrier like the one that separates the two sides of the highway. When my particular boulder hit it, it stopped. There’s also the chain link mesh coverings to keep them in place, or slow them down and carry them to a low point. They certainly have them in other spots along this corridor. Also, I think there are always exceptions to any budget when you have a well known problem that exists on a major thoroughfare where people commute on a daily basis at high speeds.

  10. Hello there,
    Yea big rocks don’t give much when you hit them. I drive a semi-truck and am always on the lookout. Ive seen them lying in the middle of roads and i’ve seen everything from motorcycles to 18 wheel trucks destroyed by them.

    What did the insurance company say?

  11. The insurance company covered most of it, and I didn’t even have Gap Insurance. Think it was probably because it was one of the very early models. Subaru also gave me $500 for a new one I think in part because they liked the story and the accompanying pictures I sent them of the accident.

  12. Way to go Caltrans! After submitting a maintenance service request to Caltrans I received the following in response.
    Thank you for taking the time to submit a service request with the Caltrans Maintenance Website.

    We are in the process of installing rock fall protection in your area of concern. All the ditches and rock fences will be installed by summers end.

    If you have any questions of concerns regarding Interstate-80 in the Sierra’s, please feel free to call me at the numbers listed below.

    Bryan Carlson
    Donner Pass Area
    Maintenance Superintendent

  13. oh my god, this earthquake is crazy! you are very lucky! thank you for providing me with this information for my science project

    ~cassie and sam

  14. I guess Subaru was impressed with your pic. I just saw it in an ad. Questioned its authenticity. Binged it . you goning to by another one?

  15. Hi Robert. I came across your story by Googling “wrecked Subaru Outbacks”. I own an Outback myself and was curious about their durability. All I can say is, wow, someone is watching over you. Thank you for sharing this on the Internet and I wish you the best.

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