A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

I taught 4 students classic technique at the AMC Gunstock cross country clinic. They learned a bunch and I discovered some areas for improvement in my teaching, so it was good.

But that wasn’t the exciting part of the day.

Right around noon it began to freezing rain. By the time we were done with lunch inside, it was pouring. Google showed multiple accidents on the highway. It suggested following back roads — 2 hours and 20 minutes instead of the usual hour and a half. I headed out. With my studded snow tires I had reasonable traction. People were generally driving really slowly. There were a few cars in the ditch, but not very many. So, overall it seemed like the trip was going ok. Except google kept updating the time and saying I still had 2:20 to get home, and the icicles on my mirror had grown to over an inch.

I crossed rt 140, and traffic stopped. We inched over the crest of a hill to find an ambulance blocking the road. I figured it was hiding an accident on the other side and once they cleared that out, we could go again. Next a salt truck drove up spraying salt all over the road and parked next to the ambulance. People jumped out and shoveled salt under the ambulance’s tires. That’s when I realized there was no accident behind the ambulance, it had just spun out in the middle of the road. Once it drove off, we inched forward a little bit more and parked again.

The line of cars occasionally inched forward. Occasionally a car passed driving the other direction. I concluded that the only reason we were moving was people giving up and turning around. I decided if I could inch up to the next intersection, I would take it and try to find an alternate route. Eventually I made it. Google insisted the best thing I could do was turn around and go back to the parked traffic. I disagreed so I forged on until it gave me a new route.

Conditions were worse on this road since it was a side road. Then the pavement ended and the road headed steeply uphill. The road was reddish brown dirt peppered with dark gravel and covered with a sheet of ice. Even driving uphill I was sliding around and had to use the soft snow at the edge as a bumper. I made it to the top and was really hoping the other side was less steep.

Luckily it was more gradual. I came upon a truck coming uphill. The road was only a car and a half wide, so I needed to stop at the pullout. I managed, but with an awful lot of fishtailing. The truck drove up and informed me that the way ahead was blocked by a jackknifed truck and trailer and I had to go back.

I turned around and crept back up the hill dreading the steep drop on the other side. Given how hard it was to stop going down the gradual hill, I had no idea how I was going to get down the steep hill. I had just crested the hill and started to creep down when I saw the truck pulled off on the side of the road and the driver jumped out and waved me to stop. My tires slipped as I tried to brake, so I angled into the snow bank and came to rest.

For lack of anything better to do, I got out of the car to investigate down below. My feet had no purchase at all. I had to pull myself hand over hand up the car to the trunk. There I put on a bunch of ski clothes and jackets in case I couldn’t get back up to the car for a while. I wished I had microspikes, but the best I could find was my ski poles with sharp tips. Using my poles, I was able to traverse the road to the soft snow on the side. There I had enough traction to walk down the hill.

I stopped at the first truck. That driver gave me some useful hints for driving down the hill, most notably to drive on the edge of the road where the snow was soft just like where I was walking. I continued down the road to the main blockage, a pickup attempting to tow a trailer with an ATV up the hill. Farther down there were more vehicles. They decided to try to use the winch on the ATV to get themselves unstuck. I climbed up to the car and back down to offer my tow strap, but it ended up being extra. One of the other guys helping lost his footing and belly-slid down the road, unable to stop until the crown of the road pushed him off the side. I even called up Tyson for his advice on how to get out of my predicament. Once the rest of the vehicles were clear, I still was not sure I could make it down.

Then the cry came from lower in the group “salt truck coming!” I scurried up the hill as fast as I could without falling. My car was in the way, diagonally across the road. I didn’t quite beat the sand truck to my car, but he waited patiently. Each time I tried to back up the hill out of the way, I could get going while in the snow bank, but once in the middle of the road, my tires just spun. And every time I tried, I was in danger of spinning more sideways to the road. Finally I tried creeping a little bit down the steep hill so I could line myself up straight on the side of the road. That worked and I was able to back up staying tight to the side.

The fresh sand provided plenty of traction. Once back out at main roads I considered the map. Google said the traffic jam on my original route was almost clear, and I didn’t have the guts to try any more detours, so I headed back. It turns out google doesn’t update traffic when no one is moving. Rt 160 was still an absolute parking lot. So I just turned off my engine and sat there listening to lots of NPR until it cleared up.

All told, the trip home took over four hours. Normally it is an hour and a half.