Saturday, January 21, 2017

Just another day

There has been enough coverage of the tragedy in America, but the reaction from good people has given me a reason to hope that this can be squelched and we can still move forward in due time.

So purely for entertainment purposes I intend to tell you about my trip into work this morning.

First, some background. I have a two mile trip down our rural gravel road to the U.S. Highway 61 where my elevation changes from 1200 feet above sea level down to 600 feet above sea level right next to Lake Superior.
Our place is toward the left side of this picture and just about at the top of the hillside. What happens on the trip down are changes in atmospheric conditions caused by elevation and the proximity to the lake. The worst that can happen in summer is that your vehicle windows will fog up suddenly.

Winter is another matter altogether. We can have snow at the farm and rain at the lake. Or rain and freezing rain. Or just rain on a frozen road. We had the latter in the past 24 hours. We never used to have rain in the winter, but that was thirty years ago. Things are very different now (but that isn't true according to the idiocracy in charge) and we get rain in the winter along with the usual snow and sub zero temperatures.The road is plowed by the county as the school bus needs to take kids to school and needs to get through so that the kids don't turn out as stupid as the previous generation. We can only hope.

Usually the road is covered in hard-packed snow and he plows usually put down a little sand in the slippery spots. Today, however, is Saturday and the school kids and plow drivers sleep in. I was expected to be at work at eight this morning after a night of temperatures hovering around freezing and an occasional light drizzle.

I pull out onto the road in four wheel drive expecting it to be slippery. It was, but by the farm it wasn't so bad. There were even a few parts of road bed exposed giving me some traction. As I descended the hill I could tell by the glare on the road that conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Gravity was doing its part to speed me up from the 40 or 45 mph speed I had reached. I saw some gravelly spots in the road and carefully applied my brakes to slow down the 6500 pounds of steel and plastic surrounding me. Gravity kept wanting me to go faster. I slowed down enough to get it back into second gear and the transmission and gravity fought like demons to gain control of the situation. 

Now comes the fun part where my monologue kicks in. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!" I exclaimed while pinching my cheeks and increasing my death grip on the steering wheel. I am about to enter the ess curves where the road is protected from sun and wind by trees and therefore has the smoothness of glass with a fresh coat of polish.

I touched my brakes and immediately started sliding and just as immediately let off the brakes. I was close to the edge of the road which is good and bad. The edge has a little traction as it is not quite as smooth, but there is a ditch hidden under the snow. I am trying to remember at the speed of a Hal 2000 what it looks like in summer at that piece of road. Will I end up in the ditch or stay almost in control? I manage to get the speed under 10 mph and jamb it down into first gear. The wheels are still turning, but not as fast as I am actually going. The truck shimmies a little left and a little right. I have minimal steering control and don't dare touch the brakes or I will be in the ditch or the trees. At least at this speed I won't die. I slide a little sideways and try to straighten out again using the edge of the road. It catches traction at the last second and my heart is in my throat along with a taste of breakfast. At this point I am barely moving forward, but with only 50 yards to go until clear road I am pretty sure I will make it.

I take the truck out of four wheel drive and am on a wet, paved highway increasing my speed. After a mile or two I remember to start breathing again and check to see if my pants are still dry. All is well.

I call the sheriff's office when I get to work and talk to the dispatcher, who used to keep a horse here, and tell her that our road is impassable. The county boys are already hard at it and the road is well sanded by the time I come home. Nothing like a little adrenaline to get your day started.  


  1. Ack.
    Even reading this I could feel my heat beat harder and faster. And my shoulders tighten. Dry pants though.
    I hope the rest of your week is less adrenaline filled.

  2. That's quite a forest you live in. How deep is the ditch you avoided?

  3. ACK! not for the faint of heart is your drive!

    I'mma leave this here

  4. While snow is pretty, ice is just plain scary. Glad you made it safely!

  5. Holy shit, scary stuff! Glad you made it down okay!

  6. A horrible, unexpected ice storm a month ago scared the sh*t out of me, because I was stuck in it. Making your daily commute would require me to wear a diaper every day.

  7. Yikes! Your description got my adrenaline pumping! There's nothing like the pucker-factor of a frictionless downhill S-bend - I've been in that situation once or twice, and hope never to experience it again. Glad you made it okay, and I'm thoroughly impressed that you didn't even have to change your pants! :-)

  8. Oh my goodness, what a ride you had! Glad you arrived at work safe and sound. We had a similar harrowing drive daily when we lived in Nova Scotia. The highway ran right beside the ocean. Throw in a very steep hill and as you can expect we had some nail biting drives into work.
    Have a good week.

  9. Glad you're safe. Winter is pretty, but also treacherous (which is why I joined the Snowbird migration south for a month).

  10. That sounds hair-raising; I'm glad it turned out okay in the end. We have the opposite problem here - it can be fine at lower elevations and completely slick at higher ones. What a beautiful picture of your area. You can see the individual tree trunks, yet it's clearly taken from quite a distance (from the air?).

  11. Elephant's Child, Glad I could share the experience. Also good that no one was in the truck with me as the screams might have been distracting.

    Gorilla B, The ditch is only a couple of feet deep, but I wouldn't have been able to drive out assuming I was still upright. Thought you might like the northern version of the jungle.

    anne marie, What concerns me is my heart stopping just when I need it most.

    Pixel Peeper, Snow just requires a little caution and common sense. Ice, however, isn't any fun without skates. I can't skate.

    Debra, There was nary a glimmer of hope for a few moments. Thought I'd be sitting on the side of the road for a while.

    Sioux, Not a bad idea! Keeping an adult diaper handy might be a good idea when road conditions are like that.

    Diane, I didn't have a change of pants with me, but I may add that to my winter survival pack.

    Cat Lover, I would imagine the Maritimes could have some very dicey road conditions.

    Tom, The whole snowbird thing gets more appealing every year.

    jenny_o, I would think the wind could get to be a factor out your way, as well. I took the photo from a friend's plane while I was taking some aerial shots of his property listings. It was about September of 2014, I think.

  12. omg...moments like that are really scary..once when I lived in portland, oregon I was taking the boys to dinner and was really bad weather snow and ice, but hey I can handle this..going down a steep hill the station wagon started to spin in circles..around and around and around spinning wildly...we got to the bottom of the hill and I was stopped at the stop sign going in the right heart was pounding (days long before seatbelts or car seats)and was shaking like a leaf..from back of the car I hear my youngest 3 year old 'wow, mom that was cool, can we do it again?'...sigh*

  13. I think you just described, word for word, my worst nightmare. I can drive in the snow with the best of them, but once you reach that level of ice/snowpack where the vehicle starts drifting sideways at the mere touch of the gas pedal, and the brake pedal is essentially useless, and there may or may not be barriers beside you on the road, then the puckering begins. God, I'm anxious just typing this.

  14. What kept me going, as I read this, was knowing that you must have survived because you wrote this post. Phew! That was a close, scary trek. Don't take us or yourself there again, okay?
    Stay safe, friend.
    PS Great writing!

  15. Been there, done that, sliding gracefully backwards down an icy hill in my trusty VW bug, luckily didn't end up in the ditch. Christmas parcels flying around the inside of the car. Small boy in the back seat crying. Shouldn't have tapped that brake pedal at the top of the hill..... lesson learned.
    Glad you and your vehicle survived.
    Icy rain here last week. I was looking after YoungerSon's dog for the week and couldn't even walk to the end of the driveway with her so she could have a pee, too icy.

  16. Between you and Jackiesue, I hurt from laughing. I feel your pain. I had never heard of freezing rain until I moved to Ontario back in '69/'70. You can live by your lovely lake. I will only visit in summer, thank you.
    We have freezing rain in Ukraine but we do not have a car so I dont have to drive. If you didn't need your brown trousers after that trip, you have nerves of steel.