The Value of Fog

My in-laws live in Bakersfield, CA, so we make the drive up there pretty often. In the summer, it’s a hot drive (but we have air conditioning in the car). In the winter, it’s cold (but we have a heater).

Tule Fog

But we don’t have anything on our car to deal with the most deadly winter weather condition in that area: tule fog.

Tule FogTule Fog (pronounced “too-lee”) is the cause of more fatal accidents in California than any other type of weather. It’s a dense fog that cuts driving visibility to around 10 feet or less. Even the fog lights on our car just reflect back at us.

When our kids were toddlers, we drove home from Bakersfield over the Tehachapi Pass. The kids were in their car seats, and the Christmas presents they had received from Grandma and Grandpa filled the back of our 1975 Honda Civic. We knew there would be fog, but didn’t realize how bad it would be.

The denser the fog became, the slower I had to drive. The speedometer dropped from 30 MPH to 20, then 15, then 10 — and it was still too fast. While the car was crawling, my mind was racing. Going 10 miles per hour on an interstate can be unnerving, because you don’t know how fast a truck behind you might be going — and whether they can see your tail lights. All I could do was strain to see the next dash of a white line ahead to make sure I stayed in my lane.

It seemed like there was no end in sight. I was exhausted from the intensity of driving in tule fog, and craved sunlight.  I needed a break, and began looking for an exit.

But the signs might as well have been invisible.

My father-in-law spent most of his career driving those roads, and had told me how to locate exits in fog. On the right side of the road, raised white markers had been installed on the painted lines in advance of the exit.

  • When you saw three buttons, it meant an exit was coming up.
  • When you saw two buttons, it meant you were almost there.
  • When you saw one button, it was time to turn off.

I love those buttons.

Nobody likes tule fog. We’d much rather have sunshine and clear visibility. But everyone experiences fog in their lives, no matter where we live.

Here’s what I’ve learned about life from tule fog:

1. Fog focuses our attention. Driving in fog, I was totally focused. As soon as the sun came out, it was warm and comfortable — but I had trouble staying awake. When we’re relaxed and our guard is down, we’re vulnerable to things, people and distractions pulling away from what really matters. Tough times aren’t pleasant, but they can be times of great growth.

2. When we can’t see, we imagine the worst. Our minds shift into overdrive, and we’re terrified at all the things that might happen. We replace truth with terror.

3. We need to install markers when it’s sunny. It’s important to have a clear sense of what’s most important in our lives — the people, priorities and projects that matter most. That gives us an accurate way to think when the fog rolls in.

4. The fog is coming.  Don’t be surprised — be ready. We can’t keep tough times from coming into our lives. But the choices we make now can prepare us for growing in the fog instead of retreating.

What’s the fog in your life?  Comment below . . .

  • Carrell Halley

    I lived in the Central Valley for more years than I care to admit to so I am all too familiar with the ‘tule’ fog. I used to say it was like driving through cotton. You couldn’t see in front of your face, literally…and to make matters worse, you couldn’t hear a thing. I easily forgot, until I was in the fog, how much I relied on my hearing when I drove. I just wish I’d had your insight and knowledge as I was creeping along the 5, or the 99, at 10mph with my sleeping babies in the car…maybe I wouldn’t have as many gray hairs…thanks for the post.

    • Nobody can really understand that kind of fog until they’ve been to central CA and experienced it, right? Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Dan

    This is really really good Dr. Mike! Especially about setting markers in place when things are clear – love the illustration – this is good! Dan