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ODOT helps take a peek at the pass

I haven't left the Rogue Valley since I went on a mini-vacation to the Oregon Coast with my son and mother in August. In fact, I've barely even left Ashland. I've been to Medford for a couple errands and to do my Christmas shopping, but other than that I've been the townie version of a homebody.

Don't think I'm just sitting in my dark bedroom checking my Facebook and counting my paperback novels, I actually visit many exciting locales within Ashland. Most notably, I make regular excursions to my parents' house and to my work. Being a hospital nurse is great, but unfortunately not a job you can do from home via the Internet.

Considering the fact that I haven't even been to Mount Ashland yet this season, my computer browser history betrays the fact that I am addicted to checking road conditions along I-5. I have visited the Oregon Department of Transportation website at least once a day for the past three weeks.

The habit started innocently enough. My sister was going to be driving into town from Portland and I was checking whether chains were required along the I-5 passes north of Grants Pass. This quick moment of access to the website was enough to show me a world of road-condition and incident updates which I found, and find, fascinating.

Even on days when there is no chance that I will be driving even as far as Medford, I check the website.

I look up what delays are going on around Southern Oregon, and check whether chains will be required going over the pass to Northern California. This last one is important to me because I live close to where many trucks either put on or take off their chains at night. I like to have a little warning. Otherwise, the sound at night awakens me from nightmares featuring ghosts in chains, as seen in "A Christmas Carol."

My absolute favorite feature of the website is the roadside cameras.

There is no live video being featured on the website (which is probably good or I would never get up from my computer), but a new picture every couple of minutes.

The pictures are fascinating. When the weather is bad and there are only a few cars on the road, I sit and stare at the one little car in the screenshot and wonder where those people are going, what the road is really like when you're the one driving on it, and whether or not they have any good snacks in the car.

This train of thought usually encourages me to leave the computer, at least long enough to get some snacks.

I click my mouse over the camera icons all over ODOT's map of Oregon, but I am usually interested in the passes along I-5 to our north and south. Once I woke up in the middle of the night and the thought struck me, what does the Siskiyou Summit look like right now? I couldn't go back to sleep until I had satisfied my curiosity.

In case you're dying to know, the Siskiyou Summit, via webcam, looks just as you might expect at 2 o'clock in the morning — dark.

My sister is driving back up to Portland this morning, and it's probably a good thing that I'll be working. I'll be able to check road conditions in the morning, and will be forced to avoid the urge to constantly click "refresh" to see if I can spot my sister driving by on one of the webcams.

As for myself, I'll probably leave this fine valley for another little trip one of these days. But I'm going to wait until the threat of having to chain up on the side of the road has lifted.

Zoe Abel has nothing but admiration for the brave souls willing to travel during the winter months. You can contact her at dailyzoe@gmail.com.