You might not even know they were there except for the three innocuous signs spaced a few miles apart along southbound Interstate 15 in Southern Nevada. They are three little known and slightly mysterious places called Apex, Arrolime and Garnet.
It’s not as if they’re secret test sites, alien landing pads or anything as exciting as that. Just harmless little stops along the way that most drivers hardly notice.
So, why is it that when I pass those signs, my heartbeat goes into overdrive, my palms start sweating and I get the urge to go, if you know what I mean? I’ll tell you why. It’s because those signs are telling me we are closing in on Las Vegas and pretty soon we will be taking a ride on the dreaded TRAIN FROM HELL!
If we’re driving a car on a Las Vegas freeway, things are really not that much different than driving on any other big city freeway. We know from extensive studies in Los Angeles, for example, that over several generations, a shark-like feeding frenzy mindset has developed among freeway commuters, so we want to be alert for the more aggressive among them. We know that commuters are playful and competitive.
We know this by looking at the concrete median which was originally white but is covered with black tire marks where drivers have competed to see how many can crash through or jump over the wall. And, we know that the local media is supportive. On our car radio the traffic reporter boasts, “Good news folks, only nine wrecks and seven fatalities to report at this two o’clock hour, but with any luck we’ll make it to an even dozen by commute time.”
Yes, freeway driving in a car can be routine. But, we’re not driving an ordinary car. We’re driving a motorhome with a car in tow which measure roughly 55 feet in total length and together weigh about 24,000 pounds. Unless someone has handled one of these, he or she likely has no clue as to the skill it takes to navigate a rig like this in heavy traffic and that describes just about all of those other drivers out there.
This changes the game. Now we’re not just another car. We have somehow become a target, or at least it seems that way when we’re driving through Las Vegas!
“C’mon, everybody, let’s harass this guy and see if we can run him off the road.”
So, why are we here in the first place? Well, usually we’re here because we’re on our way to Laughlin, Lake Havasu, maybe Palm Springs or some other place in that general direction and, the trouble is, there is no way to get there without going through Vegas. Well, there are other ways, but most are longer and out of the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Las Vegas. Been there and done that many times. No, it’s not the town that bugs me — it’s the dag-nabbed, rattle-brained suicidal drivers!
The “Train from Hell” begins for us on southbound Interstate 15 where it passes the Las Vegas Motor Speedway about 12 miles north of downtown. This is where inbound traffic starts to rev up and I begin asking myself, “Do I really want to do this again?”
And, have you noticed? The time of day doesn’t seem to matter anymore. When people used to ask me the best time to drive through Las Vegas, I would casually tell them, “Oh, just stay outta there between, um, roughly 7 and 10 a.m. and maybe between 4 and 7 p.m.” Now it’s bumper to bumper everywhere in the world no matter what the time of day. Doesn’t anybody work anymore?
Anyway, the Train from Hell is now taking us into downtown Las Vegas where things start getting dicey. No pun intended there. We’re coming up on this thing they call “the spaghetti bowl,” which is a tangled nightmare of on and off ramps which lead to places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Reno and who knows where else. I don’t dare take my eyes away from the road long enough to look.
The ramps are about 3 feet wide here and have advisory speed limits of 25 miles per hour because of the tight curves, which, of course, make people drive faster! Oh, I almost forgot. This interchange is always under construction, and has been for the last 20 years.
Here comes the really fun part. We are now obliged to merge onto another freeway called the “515.” This is where I close my eyes (no I don’t) and mutter a hopeful prayer that we can manage this one more time without crashing. You see, the merging area is uphill so, after slowing to the obligatory 25 mph on the crossover, there’s no way in hell we can get up to traffic speed which is about 1,200 miles an hour, in time to merge safely.
Believe me, you do not want to go here with a heavy rig unless you have more guts than brains and your life insurance (and car insurance) is paid up.
Unless there’s a wreck up ahead to bring everything to a halt, which the city arranges at least a couple of times a day at no charge, the Train from Hell will be smokin’ along on the 515 at its usual pace of about 85 to 90 miles per hour.
The renegade kamikazes — usually young guys in massive high rise pickup trucks — will be flashing past at full throttle and working hard to blow you away with their prop wash. The woman behind will be following so close we can see the spinach in her teeth and the locals will make it clear immediately that nobody (and I mean NOBODY!) is about to give any room to this idiot foreigner who is dumb enough to be here in the first place, especially with that stupid motorhome getting in everybody’s way! I’m gripping the wheel so hard now it’s trying to bite me.
For some unknown reason, drivers tend to bunch up on freeways. It’s extremely dangerous behavior, but very common. We call these wolf packs. Typically, there will be a quarter mile or so between these, but The Train from Hell is not your everyday a wolf pack. It’s world class! One massive wolf pack with no space in any direction.
If anyone should have a problem in this nightmarish close order drill, like a blow out or loss of control for example, the result will be total disaster. There’s no telling how many other cars and drivers will be involved and there are bound to be fatalities. Stay out of wolf packs!
Here’s something else to think about when you find yourself on one of these Trains from Hell. If you are driving at 45 mph and you have normal unimpaired reaction time, your brakes and tires are in good condition and you’re stopping on dry, level concrete your stopping distance is 150 feet. We’re talking about half the length of a football field. Are you listening? Half the length of a football field!
Keeping this in mind, imagine now that you are not in your car but in your motorhome or towing your fifth wheel and your speed is not 45, but 65 or 70 miles per hour. What will your stopping distance be now? Are you listening? Keep your speed reasonable and do not tailgate!
Anything over 65 mph is just wasting very expensive fuel anyway with no gain in efficiency. If you want to get there sooner, leave earlier!