Friday, December 02, 2005
Adventures In Snow Driving

I am home, safe. Not in a ditch. Not stuck at the bottom of a hill. Home. In bed. Safe.

I was getting cocky, it's true. I was becoming over-confident. I am the intrepid college van driver, I get people home. And the road wasn't all that bad, really -- there was snow, and it had been slushy earlier, but it seemed okay. I got almost all the way to campus without incident. In fact, I made it to the very last hill.

Yeah, there were a few cars on the side of the road, but there always are on nights like this. I've made it past them plenty of times before. I just have to get up to the lot by the administration building -- it's fifty feet away. No problem. So up I go, slowly slowly...

Up... up... up... uuuuhhhhhhhh... uh-oh. Three-quarters of the way up the hill, my wheels start to spin. Oh shit. Stop. Stop stop stop stop. Brakes on, going backwards. Oh fuck.

And then I start a slow spin. It's completely predictable, of course, the classic blunder. But what else are you going to do? You can't go up, and you can't control yourself going down without stopping -- but as soon as you stop, you start to slide. Ten degrees, fifteen, thirty, still spinning -- oh god, oh no, here comes the ditch.

The only way out, of course, is to noodge the gas pedal in the hopes that you find some traction. Every fiber of your being, every ounce of your instinct is saying, "brake brake brake brake brake BRAKE BRAKE GODDAMMIT BRAKE!" You have to override that response by force of will and tap the gas. This is doubly hard to do when you're at a 45-degree angle to your original direction of travel -- which is to say, headed straight for the ditch -- but it's the only way.

My car continued its slow pirouette in the middle of the road with fantastic but alarmingly uncontrolled grace. I tried to steer, I mashed the brake (which only made me slide in a slightly different direction), and then finally, when I was facing the opposite direction from which I had begun, I noodged the gas pedal. My wheels found some road, the car jolted back into control, and I pulled neatly into a driveway at the bottom of the hill. Although I did take out a plow whip* along the way, which tells you how close I got.

Okay... so we're not going up that way.

I parked, my hands and legs shaking, strapped my ice cleats onto my boots, and headed to the dining hall to see who, if anybody, was looking for a ride. There were three: two students who lived on my way home and one townie who was heading to Brattleboro, but who has several friends to crash with on campus. "There's no way I'm doing the full run to town and back tonight," I said, "but if you two want to ride back with me in my car -- at your own risk -- you can." Sorry, townie, you're out of luck -- but you're not really supposed to ride, anyway.

So the three of us headed back down to my car, got in, crept back down the driveway to the bottom of the icy hill, and headed back the way I'd originally come. The problem is, there's a big hill on both sides. I'd made it down, but now I was stuck in a valley between them (which, pleasantly enough, has a deep gorge on one side with no rails). But there was only one thing for it -- might as well try.

So we made the attempt, and we almost got to the top. We were this close. But my wheels started to spin again, and all I could think about was my recent near miss and that deep fucking gorge. Luckily, I found some traction and came to a safe stop on the hill; I backed down sooooo slowly, back to the bottom of the hill. "You need to build up some more speed this time," said the girl in the passenger seat. "Speed?" I thought. "You want me to build up more speed? Are you fucking nuts?" But she was right, of course -- just a tiny bit more speed and we'd have made it the first time. I made several false starts, wheels slipping beneath us, stopping and backing up farther, hands shaking again. God, how I wished for studded tires. Then, taking a deep breath, I made another go for it. I was going 30 mph when we got to the bottom of the hill, and 5 mph when he got to the top of it. But we got there.

It really wasn't that big a deal; perfectly normal stuff as winter driving goes. For all my fear, I handled it all quite well -- trembling aside, I had the presence of mind to stay out of the ditch in the first place, and I was smart enough not to try the whole van run. But I could very well be stuck in a ditch out in the howling wind and snow right now, so I'm quite happy to be here, in my bed, safe.

PS: They tried to get me to go back out -- there were a few people in town waiting for the van. The roads, obviously, are completely clear in Brattleboro, so they don't realize that they've completely glassed over up on campus. I really, really hate it when people get stranded -- I do everything I can to avoid having that happen. I'll drive through snow all night long, whatever, but ice -- I won't do the ice. Anyway, they called a super-RA on campus pleading for a way home, and she called me to ask if I'd go get 'em; I said I'd consider the drive into town, but there was no f-ing way I was making another attempt at the road to the college in my car tonight. If she'd come get me and take me home again after, fine. But she might want to try the other drivers first, since they were already on campus. She said she'd try. I haven't heard back from her.

Anyway, I hope everybody else makes it to their safe, warm beds tonight. But I'm not risking my neck just because they didn't plan ahead very well.

*a plow whip, for my southern readers, is a tall, slender stick rural road crews stick into the ground along the edge of a road to let the guy driving the snow plow how far over he can safely drive.
9:35 PM ::
Amy :: permalink