It’s 6:15 a.m. and senior Jake Sands is up and moving. He doesn’t have a test to cram for, nor does he have insomnia. What does he have? A 38-mile commute.
Sands, who lives in Auburn, has been making the drive since he began at Country Day four years ago. Before that, he attended Weimar Hills Middle School in Auburn, only a four-minute drive from his home.
Before he got his driver’s license in sophomore year, his parents Rebecca and Ron Sands made the drive both ways.
According to Mrs. Sands, the commute into Sacramento was actually a major draw to Country Day, as she was taking classes at the time at Sacramento State University, only two miles from SCDS.
“I was able to schedule my days around him, which made the choice easier,” she said.
Although Mrs. Sands said she appreciates the natural surroundings and parks of Auburn, the family is looking into moving closer to Sacramento.
“I’m used to living in the city, and while Auburn is nice, getting closer to the restaurants and the culture would be a major plus,” she said.
Getting his driver’s license made a major difference logistically with regard to his extracurriculars, according to Jake. As Sands is a member of Student Council, he often sets up dances and other student activities.
“Before, I would set up for a dance and afterwards wait eight hours at a random coffee shop for the event to start,” he said.
“At least now I can choose where to go – because driving back home isn’t really an option.”
Sands said the commute between home and school has also stunted his weekend activities.
“I don’t go to as many basketball games or school events like Holiday Gift Making,” Jake said.
“It just doesn’t make sense to drive over an hour there and an hour back for a two-hour event.”
Although Sands has lived in Auburn for seven years, he agrees with his parents about a future move to Sacramento to shorten the commute.
When he was touring the school in spring of 2011, he didn’t take the commute into consideration, he said.
“I was too interested in Country Day to fully grasp the consequences of living so far away from where I go to school,” Sands said.
The primary health impact from his commute is abnormal sleep patterns according to Sands.
“Since driving’s relaxing, I’ll come home and just crash for eight hours,” Sands said.
“Then I’ll wake up at 2 a.m., do my homework, and by the time I’m done, it’s time to go to school again.”
Sands isn’t the only super-commuting student. Sophomore Harkirat Lally and senior brother Jag live in Yuba City (47 miles from school).
The Lallys, who’ve lived in the agricultural town since birth, have made the commute into Sacramento for seven years – first to Brookfield School and now to Country Day.
Jag said he didn’t mind the commute until sophomore year.
“When I wasn’t the person driving, it was absolutely fine because I could just get work done – or sleep,” Jag said.
“But, obviously, since I’m the one driving now, it’s become a major thing in my life.”
Jag said that basketball season was particularly painful.
“It’s 4 a.m., and pitch black, and there’s no one else on the road,” Lally said.
Lally said that he has pulled over on the side of the road to rest before.
“Once I pulled an all-nighter before a test, and on the way down to Sacramento, I started falling asleep,” Lally said.
Even though he spends three hours a day commuting to and from school, Lally said he wouldn’t move.
“With my family and our businesses in Yuba, it makes sense to live out there,” Lally said.
He said there’s another reason for the super-commuting – education options.
“The Yuba City schools are some of the worst,” Lally said.
“They’re really overcrowded and basically feeder schools to Yuba Community College. My parents wanted me to get a real education, so a three-hour daily commute is the price we have to pay.”
For some former super-commuting students, like junior Emil Erickson and senior Colby Conner, the drive became too much.
Erickson moved to East Sacramento last summer from Yuba City (43 miles from school). And the primary reason for the move, he said, was the commute. Erickson’s involvement in a number of teams (baseball, soccer, tennis and ski) made the trip even worse.
In addition to the shorter commute, Erickson likes the walkability of East Sacramento.
“I walk to Heavenly Yogurt, and drive to school in 10 minutes,” he said.
He said he has no regrets about moving down.
“Honestly, I wish I’d done it earlier,” Erickson said.
Conner lived in Loomis (22 miles from school) until sophomore year and also moved because of the commute.
“My family realized one day that my father was working in Woodland, I was going to school in Sacramento, and there was zero reason for living in Loomis,” Conner said.
“At that point the decision (to move) became unanimous.”
Conner said that moving to Sacramento (he’s now a seven-minute walk from Country Day) has simplified and improved his life.
“I think moving helped improve my grades,” Conner said.
“(I have) more time to devote to my schoolwork, and I can sleep an hour extra before jazz band practice. Before I moved, if I left something at home, that was that. I couldn’t get it back. I can be a lot more flexible and participate in school events now.”
Tales of a 38-mile, 90-minute drive
As I began writing this commuting feature story, it became apparent that there was no way to understand my interviewees’ long commutes without doing one myself. So on Feb. 5, I made the 38-mile drive with senior Jake Sands from Auburn to Country Day.
We left his house before 7 a.m. (any later and we wouldn’t make it to school on time, he said) with the sun cresting over the evergreen forests of the foothills.
Rumbling in his Subaru Impreza through the bedroom community, I was struck by just how many people seemed to be making the drive to the city. For a neighborhood at the extremity of the Sacramento bubble, an awful lot of sedans were piercing the frigid morning air.
Up and down we drove, cresting hill after hill, at each intersection gaining a few fellow commuters before Luther Road became a thick stream of vehicles.
As we merged onto I-80, I was amazed by how many 18-wheelers were also making their descent into the valley, ice flying off their undercarriage and axles.
Zipping through downtown Auburn, I looked at the clock: 7:20. Sands was determined to give me an authentic experience, so we avoided the carpool lane (Sands normally drives by himself, but my presence meant we could have used the HOV lane).
As we cruised through Granite Bay, I told Sands we were making good time.
“Just wait, buddy,” he said.
As the Roseville Galleria came into the distance, we hit “the wall.” The car slowed from 70 mph to 25, and after moving so quickly through the foothills, I found our slow crawl unbearable. The conversation changed from talking about our AP English novel, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” to the cars swerving dangerously in and out of lanes.
As we neared Greenback Lane, Sands told me to watch for a man on the bridge holding a sign with a biblical verse.
Sure enough, as we neared the overpass, a portly man waving a vibrant orange sign with the words “John 3:16” scrawled in thick black ink came into view. I glanced at the clock: 7:42 a.m, and we still had 10 miles to go.
As we approached Sacramento, the traffic slowed further. By the time we got to the I-80-Capital City Freeway interchange, the stream of cars was bumper-to-bumper: vehicular molasses.
The blinker clicked repeatedly as Sands deftly maneuvered the car to the right, lane after lane after lane after lane.
Once in the slow lane, I got a view of dew-covered Haggin Oaks golf course, the first real greenery we’d seen since Loomis. I looked at the clock again: 7:58 a.m.
As we exited on Fulton Avenue, Sands began to murmur, “Green light, green light, green light.” And at the Haggin Oaks intersection, his prayers were answered.
As we slogged down Fulton, I stretched my legs and yawned. I was exhausted – and I wasn’t even the one driving.
At 8:18 a.m., Sands and I reached American River Drive. As we walked towards school, I realized that we’d spent almost 90 minutes on the road.
“You do that every day?” I asked.
“Oh, buddy, c’mon,” he said, glancing over at me as we strode down Latham.
“I wish I had traffic like this every day! It’s usually a lot worse.”