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Courtney films TV pilot

When my friend Sarah Larson, with whom I have a travel-adventure show in development, asked me to drive with her to Seattle from Los Angeles with a U-Haul filled with belongings she needed to return to her family, I imagined we would be adding a hitch to the car and pulling a U-Haul trailer behind us.

When she arrived at my house in L.A. from Las Vegas the night before we were to venture out, she was actually not behind the wheel of a trailer, but instead a giant U-Haul truck.

Well, I had to laugh when Sarah jumped out of the driver’s seat and onto the ground. What a road trip this was going to be, so I grabbed my new high-definition video camera so we could shoot some footage for a TV-show pilot, and we were off. It was Dec. 16.

When we checked out the weather reports for the trip route, the news was mixed. Some areas, even north of San Francisco, were going to be sunny and unseasonably warm, while other reports indicated major snowstorms in Oregon and Washington states. We felt prepared for it all.

Before leaving my driveway, we taped some funny bits such as dancing with excitement and laughing at the fact that I was wearing flip-flops in the winter while Sarah donned more weather-appropriate boots.

Sarah began behind the wheel and I must admit she was a decent driver. Honestly, outside of race driver Danica Patrick and my sister, I haven’t seen too many women who do well behind the wheel. And here Sarah was operating a massive U-Haul.

After we saw some snow in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, we stopped for lunch and then it was my turn to get behind of the wheel. I’ll tell you, it’s tricky to maneuver one of those things. They feel top heavy and cumbersome and are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from my Ford Thunderbird. No kidding.

I love to drive and happily took over for 11 hours. Our first stop was San Francisco, far north of Los Angeles, where we taped some moments by the wharf with the seafood restaurants, seals, birds and, of course, Alcatraz prison in the background. The weather there was cool, sunny and gorgeous. After a couple of hours we were back on the road.

We were nearing the only major pass that leads through the mountains into Oregon and stopped for the night in a cute lodge to get some rest. Surprisingly, outside of some flurries in the mountains north of Los Angeles, we had encountered no bad weather. Yet, horrible storms were predicted over that pass and we wanted to avoid hitting them in the middle of the night, so we opted to get few hours of shut-eye.

An hour into our morning drive, it was snowing hard and we hit a crazy amount of traffic, suddenly finding ourselves at a standstill on the highway. As we neared the pass, we encountered big rig after big rig parked along the shoulder of the highway with the drivers putting chains on the tires. Apparently it’s mandatory to use chains in here.

We were approached by police who told us that due to accidents in the pass, the roads heading into Washington were closed. We had a several-hour detour during which time we ate and then pulled into a store where I traded the flip-flops for boots and got a lesson in applying chains from one of the attendants. Interestingly, while I know cars well and lived in snowy Minnesota for many years, “chaining up” is something I had never done.

Sarah did the driving through the windy mountain pass while I stayed positive, focusing on the Paolo Nutini music we had playing on the iPod rather than on my fears about the icy highway, the cluster of trucks we had to navigate around and the poor visibility. The typical four-hour drive took more than six.

After a good night’s rest in Portland, Ore., we endured the same snowy, icy, stormy conditions for hours into Seattle, where we ended up storm-stayed through Christmas. Due to the greatest amount of snow Seattle has seen in 18 years, planes ran out of de-icer, which backed up the airports, while fuel trucks could not make it into the city to deliver gas, so filling stations were dry. The city was not equipped to handle that amount of snow in one shot and most people were staying at home to avoid driving.

It was definitely an adventurous trip and there was a lot to gain from the two weeks. We shot incredible footage for our pilot, I became close with Sarah’s lovely family, we had lots of fun in the snow (which we don’t get in Los Angeles). Most importantly, I learned to drive a U-Haul.

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of her own book entitled the “Garage Girl’s Guide,” the host of Spike TV’s “PowerBlock,” the former host of TLC’s “Overhaulin'” and a writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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