Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘winter driving

Isolated Festively

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Over a holiday weekend that historically would have us venturing sixty-some miles to the west three times in two days to mingle and nosh with Cyndie’s relations, the Christmas of 2020 in all its pandemic isolation reduced our travels to one time to exchange gifts at her mom’s house. Distanced, masked, and without risking a shared meal, our children met us at Marie’s house in Edina on Christmas eve day for the briefest of gift exchanges.

Little did we realize before setting out in the moments after our township road had finally been plowed around 11:00 a.m., we were in for some of the riskiest driving we’d experienced in recent memory. From local roads to the interstate highways, the surface was frozen and slippery. Almost every mile, sometimes more frequently, we spotted vehicles buried in the ditch.

Approaching a speed that would require the use of brakes in order to slow down was taking chances that threatened an unwelcome hell of post-storm autobody appointments, not to mention bumps and bruises, or worse.

Every overhead message board flashed warnings of crash delays ahead. As we waited in one backup, a full-size fire engine forced its way ahead and crossed all lanes to block the two left-most. We crawled ahead to where the sight of a big rig was perched on the cement barrier dividing east and westbound traffic, front tires high off the ground.

Later, another backup wrapped around a helpless pickup in a center lane, lacking enough traction to make any progress up the slight incline.

Cyndie’s expertly cautious driving got us there and back without incident.

Back home with presents in hand, we settled in for three days of isolation that Cyndie masterfully enhanced with wonderfully festive meals and activities, while simultaneously continuing to practice post-surgery regiments for her knee.

We ate like royalty and dined on some of her family holiday classics. Beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, marinated carrots, out-of-this-world skin-on mashed red potatoes, and dessert of unparalleled greatness, cranberry cake with butter-caramel sauce.

We sat around the fireplace and worked on a new jigsaw puzzle from Marie that depicted chickens that looked just like ours. Cyndie poured herself into new books and I spent renewed time in my world-wide online community, catching up on reading and writing there.

A text-chain of family members helped us to stay connected, but there was no getting around the fact we were home alone together at one of the most family-gathering times of the year.

Somehow, maybe due to an urge to make it feel anything but just another day at home, Cyndie took interest in assembling the jigsaw puzzle with me, something in which she usually finds no pleasure. I chose to match her change in routine by deciding to skip building the outer border first, a step that moved me entirely out of my otherwise rigid norm.

We had a blast with the task, each finding great pleasure in the shared experience.

Quite simply, it helped to make the entire weekend feel downright festive, isolation be damned.

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Freezing Mist

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Now, this. What did we do to deserve this? My commute home from work yesterday afternoon was one of the least complicated in my memory, right up until the last ten miles. Then things got serious.

Thank goodness for my Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive Subaru vehicle with Traction Control and an Anti-Lock Braking System. Before the changing road conditions were even visible, my car alerted me to the increasingly slippery conditions.

Most of the day was a dreary, gloomy gray, with temperatures just above freezing, and a hint of wetness in the air and on the ground. When I left Plymouth, MN, it just seemed damp outside. I barely needed to use wipers throughout my drive, as the moisture wasn’t collecting on the glass.

Things changed after I had turned southeast and passed through River Falls, WI. Within five miles of home, I slowed to make a lazy left turn from the state highway to a county road. However, I hadn’t slowed enough for the invisible icing hazard, which triggered the Traction Control to suddenly kick in and instantly grab my attention.

I touched the brake to drop some of my momentum and the Anti-Lock vibrated for added emphasis. I would drive the rest of the way home with extreme care.

After turning off the county road onto the local streets, I came over a rise and spotted the telltale marks of tires sliding in an oscillating fish tale pattern, and the car perched up ahead in the first few rows of a harvested corn field. I couldn’t stop to offer any support, because there was nowhere safe to pull over, and I wasn’t sure I could get my car to stop.

Luckily, it was close to two farms where they would have equipment to help. I wouldn’t have been able to offer more than moral support.

Poor Delilah lost her feet right away on the front steps when we headed out for a walk. The conditions on our land have gone from bad to worse. Areas that were icy before are now glazed smoother than a freshly resurfaced hockey rink. Rocks, cement, and asphalt, all have a coating that is deceptively and heart-stoppingly slippery.

The absurd wickedness of navigating around here on foot has gotten morbidly comical.

As darkness set in, I very carefully made my way down to close the chicken door to the coop. As we always do, I opened the big door to peek in and count hens. Eight. I found eight. Dang it! There were just nine of them milling about around there fifteen minute before.

I counted four times, then made my way up the treacherous climb to the house to get a flashlight. Slipping my way back down again, it struck me that I had only looked at one side in the coop, toward the roosts. There were seven on the roost and one that is typically up on the 2×4 framing over the small side window.

Aiming my flashlight through the window to the opposite side, I found hen number nine, deftly perched above the other side window. Whew!

As I climbed back up toward the house one more time, I captured a shot of the shiny glaze forming on the driveway and the wisps of mist reflecting in the beam of my flashlight.

I expect driving this morning will be a real slippery trip on the local back roads.

It might take me more than the usual hour to get in to work today.

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Commuting Roulette

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The latest weather adventure to appear in our region involves a mixture of freezing mist and blowing snow. I left for work early yesterday morning, reaching my destination in good time, before the precipitation started. I decided working a short day was an option if the predicted glazing played out and threatened to turn roads into skating rinks.

About three hours into my shift, speckles of moisture started coating the window to the parking lot. Balancing the radar views with an attempt to get as much done as possible, I held out until about ten o’clock. The extra minutes I needed to spend chipping the frozen glaze off my car windows helped to assure me that my decision to leave early was justified.

If I needed any more proof of that, the two separate incidents of cars having spun out ahead of me to end up on the left shoulder, facing my approaching car head on, served as adequate confirmation.

Those were the scariest, but not the last problems to be dealt with. The next challenge came with a warning, as one of the overhead signs flashed notice of an accident ahead, with an alert to prepare to stop. To my relief, the problem was in the Westbound lanes, and I was headed east.

That one was a mess that involved a jack-knifed tractor-trailer, a lot of shredded metal, and a fleet of flashing emergency vehicles.

Surprisingly, despite all these incidents, my forward progress was barely hindered most of the way home. I drove as fast as I felt comfortable and reached our driveway in an hour and a half, as compared to the usual 60 minute drive.

Just to keep me from getting too cocky, as I braked for the turn into our welcoming driveway, my car kept right on going, sliding straight past the entrance.

I backed up, made the turn, and proceeded carefully up to the house, giving heartfelt thanks to my lucky stars.

Home, safe home, where the snow fell beautifully for a while, then turned back to that freezing slurry of icy pellets alternating with an almost invisible mist.

Cyndie recorded the sound it made to walk on the crunchy surface, because it was so uncharacteristic of the normal winter snow squeaks. She described it as walking on cardboard on top of marshmallow.

I hope my car tires are up to handling that on this morning’s drive.

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Written by johnwhays

February 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

More Nuisance

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January closed out with the 17th day in a row of above average temperatures in this region, punctuated by another minor inconvenience of a snowfall that was more nuisance than anything else. With the warm temps, much of the snow was melting while it was also accumulating. Weird science.dscn5748e

Once again, enough snow to make a mess, but hardly enough to shovel.

The problem is, though, before it actually melts enough to offer clear walkways, colder air will be moving in to freeze everything up. After that, it becomes a mess that hangs around for a while.

As I got closer to work yesterday morning, the precipitation became more of a drizzling mist than snow. The heavily treated surface of the freeways stayed mostly wet, but as I came barreling up the off-ramp, I quickly realized I was carrying a little too much momentum.

By sheer luck, the traffic light was in my favor and I didn’t need to stop. I made my way gently to the parking lot and had my suspicions confirmed when I placed my foot on the slick pavement. There was a thin but very effective glaze on the road surface.

This was my second day of driving my Subaru after having picked it up from the body shop, looking good as new. The slippery footing gave me flashbacks of the day I got rear-ended.

I arrived so early, the daily paper hadn’t been delivered yet. That gave rise to a vision of the person sliding into my parked car when they pulled in to toss the news.

My car was safe and sound when I stepped out to check on the delivery. It looked like the driver had avoided my car by staying far away and throwing the bagged newspaper a longer distance. When it landed, the bag stuck to the icy pavement and the paper just kept on sliding. It was efficiently soaking up the wetness about 10 feet away from the bag.

Other staff didn’t have as much luck as me. Several people slid into a snowbank around a turn. After the facility maintenance truck showed up to add salt to the dangerous glaze, it slid around that same corner, smashing into one of our employee’s car in the process.

Makes the little bit of messy snow we have at home seem like a lot less of a nuisance in comparison.

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Written by johnwhays

February 1, 2017 at 7:00 am

Sneaking Treats

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I’m feeling a bit of a sugar overdose this morning after a day of too many treats. I told Cyndie that I kept sneaking cookies and caramels as if I was trying to hide them from myself. I don’t think I successfully fooled me.

We had a bit of a weather event move through the region yesterday. It wasn’t as bad as the tornadoes that proved lethal in the south, but it added a little drama to my double-commute. After navigating the snow to get home from work, we drove back into the cities through the heaviest snow for dinner and a visit with friends and family.

Yesterday’s precipitation started as rain. Cyndie had smartly moved the horses into the barn overnight, while they were calm and dry Tuesday evening. She described the horses as wanting to go outside Wednesday morning, even though the obvious reverberation of raindrops on the metal roof meant they would get a soaking once out.

By the time I got home in the afternoon, it was falling as all snow. It was a sloppy, sticky mess. Rolling slowly along the driveway, I inspected the herd. The two young chestnuts were in the back pasture, grazing normally. Dezirea was near Legacy, close to the paddock, but out in the hay-field area. She had her butt to the wind and her head down, in the classic pose of enduring the wetness.

It was Legacy who drew my attention. I felt a moment of alarm, wondering if he may have a serious problem, so I stopped to observe him for about three minutes. I couldn’t quite figure out his issue, because his uncharacteristic behavior included as many normal gestures as odd ones.

I decided he just looked uncomfortable and reported it to Cyndie immediately. She headed out to check and let them back in the barn for the night. Turned out to be accumulations of sticky snow balled up under his hooves that were irritating him.

After picking up my car that had been in for service— oh, that’s another story… The recent flat tire revealed that all my tires were pretty worn out. I authorized a full set of new tires and asked them to change the oil while they had it. I wasn’t surprised when the shop called to report the rotors of the front brakes were in bad shape. It was time. Nor was I surprised when they called again and said the calipers not working is probably what wore out the rotors. New calipers, too.

The repair of my one flat tire had escalated into a 3-day project that was in danger of costing a quarter of the car’s worth. When I called to see if it was ready for us to pick up, the tech answered and reported that, yes, the battery had come, and it was ready now.

Battery?

Oh, yeah. That, too. That one flat tire led to a very expensive visit to the shop. Merry Christmas, John. You just spent your holiday bonus and then some. I will say, I am very satisfied to have this much car, with its known history, for that amount of money.

I’m off work until next Monday and we now enter full Christmas eventing for the next 4 days. If I find time, I’ll write about it.

It’s going to involve a lot of driving in my “new” car, and I’m hoping a somewhat controlled amount of sugary treats.

Merry Christmas to you!

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Written by johnwhays

December 24, 2015 at 10:13 am

Spin Happens

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Ya know that theory I was jesting about yesterday? Well, it works from both directions. If you are under-prepared, that is when you will face situations that challenge your preparedness. Case in point: if you plan to use your pickup truck for commuting on the roadways during inclement weather, make sure you put some weight in the back to balance the vehicle and add traction to the rear wheels. If you don’t, the truck just might spin out on an icy patch of road and slide off the pavement, where the wheels can catch on the gravel of the shoulder and cause the truck to roll over.

TruckUpsidedown

Cyndie captured this on-the-scene cell phone image of the dramatic outcome.

Cyndie didn’t intentionally test that theory, but by making an unplanned decision to drive the Wintervale Ranch truck to work yesterday (since her car was in for service and she didn’t want to risk driving a rental car on the icy roads), she subjected herself to an incredible dose of adrenaline and tested her seat belt when the truck spun and slid across the oncoming lane, and off the pavement. As the truck reached the shoulder, sliding sideways, the wheels stopped and the momentum of the vehicle kept on going. Up and over it rolled, passenger door down, then over onto the roof, breaking the door window and smashing the windshield as the roof of the cab buckled.

Our illustrious hero dodged suffering any blows from impact, lucky that the truck missed a sign post as it moseyed past, and luckier still that there was no vehicle approaching from the north as she lost control.

Of course, I assumed she was probably going too fast for the conditions, until she described where the accident occurred. If that is as far as she had gotten in the time since she left the house, she must have been driving very slow. Plus, that spot is just after an intersection with a stoplight, and it is an uphill slope in the direction she was driving.

Cyndie is quick to state that the Good Samaritans who were driving immediately behind her witnessed the whole event and corroborated her claim to responding police officers that she wasn’t going fast at the time.

Spin happens.

Be careful out there. And, always wear a seat belt!

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Written by johnwhays

November 12, 2014 at 7:00 am