Ponder this:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter thrill ride

Last week there was a snowstorm.

Unlike last year, I was prepared, my studded tires applied in the nick of time. I set out for work confidently and a little early, to give myself time to reawaken my winter driving skills.  I hadn't foreseen that the road crews had all slept late, leaving all the roads as God and Mother Nature had modified them.

Down the little one-lane hill road I went cautiously. At the bottom of the road there is a sharp drop where dirt road meets state route. I slowed far in advance, and still slid halfway out across the road. Fortunately, no traffic from either direction.
So. This is good. Now I know just what I have to deal with: Purely treacherous roads.

Slowly, slowly, twenty on fifty-five-mile-per-hour roads, with the occasional floaty feeling that means complete loss of traction, I made it to the interstate. The stretch that I travel of this particular interstate highway is known and respected for its exposure to winter winds and resulting ice.  There was no wind that morning, and as I left the exit I was pleased to see that I was the only westward traveler in view. I trundled down the highway, feeling ice ridges under my tires.  After a while, a few vehicles caught up with me. Most stayed well back.  A tanker truck passed me on the way down a hill, and as it passed, I enviously eyed its confident forward momentum.

Between my entrance and my exit the interstate goes through three or four climates due to the changes in elevation.  At the highest point of my route, the guide rails have been breached and mended many times.  There the highway overlooks, to the north, and four hundred feet below, the two-lane state route that could have been my alternate route.  It also overlooks a yellow house where I imagine, on bad road days, the residents might sit at their kitchen table and watch vehicles rolling one after another down into their back yard. It is a landmark: "The yellow house where the cars roll down." I might have smiled to myself as I passed that point without mishap.

My exit is at the top of a long hill. The tanker that had passed me was still in sight and I saw its bulk sway over to the right shoulder, tires caught in snow and icy ruts. I made a mental note to avoid those ruts. They grabbed me despite my preparation.  I was careful to maintain my breathtaking thirty-five miles per hour. I emerged from the ruts. To my surprise, then, my car began a graceful and balletic sliding loop to my left. I watched through the windshield and the side windows as the world turned around me.

As always in such circumstances, time slowed.  Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I had plenty of time to look about me and to wonder what was going to happen next. I noted that oncoming cars were far enough away that collision was unlikely, and I had enough time to think, "Finally, after all these years, today I will be be one of those poor slobs whose cars sit in the valley of the median while other commuters pass and smugly wonder what happened to get it there."

The car stopped looping and began a straight rearward glide south toward the edge of the road. Then I could apply my brakes, and was satisfied to feel the studs digging in. I stopped, still on the road and facing due north. The whole three-quarter loop took, perhaps, four seconds.

A small white car that had been following me had stopped, staying out of harm's way.  I looked out the passenger side window at the driver to see if she would go past but she remained where she was, waiting for me to sort myself out. I gently touched the gas pedal and resumed my controlled-slide commute.

Nobody at work had expected the weather to be as bad as it turned out to be. Morning Boss said, "I'm not sure we should be here at all."
"Well I'm not goin' home!" I cried.


Wanda..... said...

I assume you're not still at work. ;)

I don't have the need to drive in bad weather, but I do fear for my grandchildren as new drivers, for two it will be their first winter.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Whoaaaaa....I've had a few of those commutes - I swear they each took a year off of my life. The stress of it all!

You write beautifully and describe the desperate situation so well. You made a fabulous post out of a harrowing situation! Bravo.

Carolynn Anctil said...

Last year I opted to stay home as soon as the snow started to stick on the ground. This year, my boss knows I have snow tires on my car. Dumb, on my part. Anyway, it's not good enough for me to have snow tires, if the guy sliding toward me doesn't. So, I may still opt to stay home when the snow flies again this year....which they're predicting for Monday. Of course.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Ah...........The Ice and Snow Ballet. I, too, have recently been reacquainted with that terrifying opus. I am immensely relieved that you were unharmed. Morning Boss has remarkable 20/20 hindsight and an amazing penchant for understatement. I probably would have said something similar--after throwing something aerodynamic in his/her general direction.

June said...

Wanda, by 4:30 the roads were just wet, not even slush. So, no, I have not been sleeping on either of my desks. :-P Learning winter driving is a rite of passage, almost never without some mishap. Your grandchildren are, no doubt, smart and careful enough to make those mishaps small ones.

Bonnie, the spin itself was sort of enjoyable because of the complete giving up of control. It was afterward that my shoulder tightened up until they were wrapped around my ears!

Carolynn, I stayed home a day or two last year before the studded tires were put on, and I might have done that last week except that Morning Boss gets so upset when I'm not there.

LW, welcome back to the wintry northeast! Had I had any idea that she would say such a thing, I wouldn't have ventured out! Nothing I'd have like better than a snow day!

Lord Wellbourne said...

Bears have it best--eat, drink, and make merry--then sleep for four months and go out for breakfast. sigh..............

Barb said...

Well, June, my adrenalin started pumping as I read your harrowing account. Thank Goodness you're safe! We drive in bad weather here in CO all the time, but some drivers go way too fast. Many times, you see someone in a ditch or rolled. I sure wouldn't want to live in the yellow house! Be careful.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Yes, June, please don't inadvertently 'drop in' on them.

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