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As Long as We Remember...

November 30, 2007

Snow and That Other Stuff

Edward Lulie III

It is getting to be the time of year when that certain four letter word begins to appear in long range weather forecasts: SNOW. The mere mention of the word brings joy to some and panic to others.

Some sing and rhythm dance and then begin making preparations, gathering warm clothing, waxing skis or planning for some quiet time with a significant other.

Others appalled at the sight of that four letter word, race in panic to buy milk, bread, generators and a month’s supply of unwatched DVDs. Just because they might panic easily doesn’t mean that they’re dumb.

I love snow! It creates a beautiful and quiet landscape. It slows down the pace of modern life and occasionally makes us take time to spend at home with family.

Ice is another story. I hate ice! It ruins a beautiful snowfall and makes everything dangerous. I hope ice doesn’t pay us a visit, but the long range forecast predicts an icy winter – bah, humbug to that.

I’d rather have snow, lots of snow. You can actually drive in snow…well at least some of us can. For too many the concept of snow and driving exceeds their CPU capacity. Their neurons are sizzling and they go to a default setting such as DRIVE=FAST. Unfortunately fast is not something that plays well with snowy roads.

In beautiful but distant Nevada, there is a place in the Sierra Mountains called Lake Tahoe. You can drive there from Reno and your route will take you over Mt. Rose.

The road over Mt. Rose tends to corkscrew up the side of the mountain (well over 10,000 feet in height), taking you from desert to mountainsides covered in pine trees. Many years ago I had to make that trek to meet relatives at the Reno Airport. It snowed.

I, with a front wheel drive car and experience in driving in snow, went cautiously. There are many very sharp turns and spots where – if you slide off the road – you can tumble down a thousand (or more) foot drop. For me that inspires caution, lots of it.

Yet despite the fact that I was driving the speed limit (or just below it) I was repeatedly tail gated by pick-up trucks which would often then pass me, illegally sometimes, and go off into the darkness accelerating as they went. Wow, I thought, they must be really good drivers. Otherwise they’d be dying by the dozens.

Actually it turns out that getting killed by driving too fast and going off the road is not unusual at all. Mountain roads, like those of Mt. Rose, are dangerous. If you ever get a chance to travel them in daylight, you might look carefully as you make the trip. Often you see the gleaming metal of wrecks down below the road, partly hidden among the trees and other vegetation.

Some wrecks are very old; some aren’t. Access to them is difficult and time consuming. They only check them out if a driver is reported missing, or someone sees evidence of a crash. People have crashed and not been discovered for years.

In Maryland the biggest danger with driving in snow is other drivers. I believe it is time that drivers’ licenses no longer be given away in cereal boxes. You don’t want to meet the drivers that haven’t discovered that you cannot stop in snow like you can on a dry road. These drivers often fly past you on their way to a meeting with that ever important utility pole or ditch. You want to avoid them if at all possible.

Then, too, there are the Creepers. They snail along at 10 M.P.H. and create obstructions causing normal drivers to slow and brake until they crawl along, following miserably behind. The problem is that they become an obstruction, when another driver going too fast comes up behind to discover that they cannot brake in time.

The Creeper has another fault. In snow, hills require a certain momentum that must be reached before you can get up and over them. Creepers tend to go halfway up and then slide sideways, or even backwards. This tends to cause bad things to happen to those unfortunate drivers stuck behind Creepers, such as meeting the Creeper as they slide back down the hill.

My advice on driving in snow is to avoid using a rear wheel drive car. They were designed by people who didn’t realize it could ever snow. Front-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicles are much better. They actually manage to get around in relative safety in most conditions.

Yet even they fail miserably when faced with the dreaded three letter word ICE. "I Can Escape" is a helpful thing to memorize when faced with the obnoxious stuff, unless – of course – it’s cooling a drink. If you discover it in your path while driving, find a safe haven and hunker down. It isn’t worth the risk.

Snow is much better. You can learn to drive in snow. Simply drive more slowly and carefully. Back roads (if plowed) can be your friend because they allow you a better chance to avoid that greatest of all risks – other drivers.

Other drivers are not your friends when ICE is present. They are unpredictable, unsafe and more dangerous than telephone poles, walls or bridges. Unlike fixed structures they can seek you out. They may not want to, or try to, but something about ICE makes motor vehicles sex-crazed: all they want to do is mate with each other.

If you are out there in a motor vehicle with no other cars in sight beware as well. Vehicles start feeling very frisky toward a fixed structure, such as a foxy stone wall or stop sign.

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