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.