Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Beast

I have looked into the maw of the beast, and have survived.

As I've mentioned before, my department head apparently thought it would be amusing to send the southern boy to teach at the satellite campus twenty miles away one night a week in the spring semester. We live in a major snow belt. This is why I live within walking distance of my office.

Last Tuesday, there were predictions for a fair amount of heavy snowfall towards evening. Now the university has shut down evening classes twice before while I've been here because of heavy snow making the interstates impassable, so there was a chance that would happen again. However, I needed to be there by 3:30, we had already had plenty of snow, and the university does not generally shut down the evening classes until at least 3:00, so I knew I was going to end up traveling no matter what happened.

First, I needed to unearth my car, including shoveling out the huge drift behind it made by the plow that (partly) clears the parking lot. I do this by cleaning the car, then hauling the snow out of the way and piling it onto areas with grass on the sides of the parking lot. Other people do this by throwing the snow off into the middle of the parking lot, I suppose on the hopes that the plow may come again at some point before anyone else needs to drive anywhere. If it's that well thought out. In the course of clearing space around my car, I accidentally knocked off the side mirror again, which has been looking at little loose. (Remember when I lost the side mirror this summer?) I reattached with duct tape for now. I think it might be time to look into having this completely repaired.

Driving to class was fine; the main roads were pretty well cleared, and what snow we had at the moment was light. Around 5:30, the class took a break and discovered the massive amount of snow streaking down outside. This is not promising.

I left around 6:45, after cleaning the car again (which had gotten rather caked). I told the car I had faith in it, that it could indeed get me home safely even in this weather. I patted it's dashboard and headed (slowly) out of the parking lot and onto the road, making my way down to the state highway that runs in front of my street. So far, only mild amounts of sliding while going around corners. That unnerving sense of shift which you know shouldn't be there, the sense in your gut that part of your movement is not under your control.

The snow gets heavier, and I have the wipers on full. The road is completely white, and I'm mostly steering based on previous tracks in the snow rather than any signs of actual road. There are headlights behind me, so someone is following, perhaps too closely. Perhaps they think I should speed up. They can bite me.

There is little traffic on this road, which is mostly good. I make it to a mid point town and stop at a gas station to fill up. After I leave, I get the paranoid feeling I often do and check the side mirror to see if I've closed the gas flap. It turns out I actually haven't. I'm in the middle of nowhere, on a two-lane road with no stops, where I cannot see the shoulder because it is under drifts of snow, with thick and heavy snowfall, and there are cars some distance behind me. I hope that I actually screwed on the gas cap and only forgot to close the flap.

The snow gets heavier. We're approaching white out conditions, and I doubt I can see more than about 10 feet ahead of the car. Although my wipers are running, they are for some reason not clearing part of the windshield; ice is actually starting to build up on parts of it. I'm ducking down a little bit to see under this part. I'm also leaning forward, as if getting closer to the window will help me see through the curtain of dancing flakes just beyond it.

I'm not entirely sure where the road is anymore, but I begin to suspect that I'm on the wrong side of it. Either that or the string of cars heading toward me is. Assuming they're correct, I head back to the right, hoping that I'm not driving off the road into a ditch or snowbank. I seem to still be on solid surface as the cars finally reach and pass me.

Despite the defrost blasting on the highest heat setting and the wipers running, my windshield is getting progressively harder to see through. I'm not sure what's up with that. Thankfully the onslaught gradually slows as I approach home. I seem to have driven out of the worst of it as I get back into town. I can actually recognize some landmarks, and not just a small radius of white around my car.

There is a grocery on the road going home, so I stop for supplies and to check the car. I'm relieved to find the gas tank tightly capped and slide the flap over it. There is about an inch and half of ice frozen around the edges of my windshield wipers. It's no wonder they were not helping. A spray of defroster and some scraping loosens things up so I can finish my trip.

Amazingly, when I get home I actually find an open space in the parking lot which is not totally blocked by mounds of snow. In fact, it's the same space I came out of. I'm not sure how that happened. I'm not even sure how I survived the experience. If I were superstitious, I think this would count as a legitimate miracle.

The snow eventually moseyed its way down the highway dumped a few more feet outside, but that was long after I was in, so I didn't mind. (Although I laughed pretty hard in the morning when I found how deep the drifts were on the sidewalk I had completely cleared the day before.) And a professional driver here thought it was bad last night, so I think I can fairly claim to have driven in winter conditions now. I don't want to ever do that again.

I hope I won't have to next week.

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