I was almost late for work on Tuesday. It all began as I got onto Highway 49 traveling north towards Downieville. About a quarter mile out of Nevada City, I came upon a CalTrans tractor crawling down the road at about 5 mph. Normally, the tractor would be hauled on a trailer, but this guy seemed to be enjoying an early morning drive in the country. Ten minutes later and half a dozen cars in tow, he finally pulled over to let us pass.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll make it up on the other side of the south fork.” I was scooting right along and when I hit the long straight stretch between Peterson’s Corner and Sweetland Rd., I saw a truck approaching in the other lane, waving a wide load sign out the driver’s window. “That’s unusual,” I thought. I slowed down to about 50 mph, expecting to see a loader or mobile home following along. As I came around the curve I ran smack dab into the annual cattle drive from the high country above Graniteville down to Brown’s Valley! Bovines were spread out all over the road… everywhere! A few cowpokes and some greenhorns were leading the way (the cattle owners will let just about anyone “help” with the drive as long as they can stay on a horse).
At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be late to work. But, it would be worth it and I couldn’t think of a better alibi! I was fortunate to come in right behind the Highway Patrol cruiser leading traffic in my direction. We moved through the herd like salmon heading upstream, weaving back and forth, crawling at about 3 mph.
The herd was so pressed together that we had to stop. I watched the CHP patrol car jiggle back and forth as cattle were bumping into the grill and the fenders. I pulled right up to his tail so they wouldn’t get between us. Occasionally one of the little doggies would bump into the CHP, then start sliding down the driver’s side and stick it’s nose in the trooper’s open window. He would pet it and sort of push it back out. I rolled down my window and invited the calves to stick their noses in my window but, by the time they reached me they were more concerned with catching up to mama.
A couple of cowboys were picking up stragglers and strays with their two Australian Shepherds traveling from shoulder to shoulder, tongues hanging out, eyes darting back and forth with that stressed out look that cattle dogs have when they’re on the job. I exchanged a “good morning” with “Highway Patrolman Dave” bringing up the rear, leading the vehicles in the opposite direction. I made good time from there and arrived at work about two minutes before eight.