Neither snow, nor rain

Icicles in Texas“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Beautiful words, credited to Herodotus who lived over 2000 years ago. What about snow and rain I wonder? Surely that’s a different story entirely.

I awoke a little earlier than usual this morning. I’d gone to sleep late and so had set my alarm in case I dozed too long. There was no scraping, skidding or any other noise outside: promising. There was, however, a faint and ominous “cracking” noise: dubious.

I got out of bed and regarded the scene outside. The child in me jumped and clapped his hands with joy. Snow! I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing snow. Having grown up in South Africa where snow was a far-off dream, having snow on my doorstep is something very special to me.

I contacted Dean from work and checked the weather forecast. In theory, snow is far easier to drive in than ice. The forecast recommended caution but said driving was OK. Dean was going to chance it and some of the others from work had already made it. Right, well, I wasn’t going to be the only one who stayed at home.

I went outside with a plastic spatula and scraped the snow off my windows. Thankfully it hadn’t rained last night, so rather than sheets of ice I just had some stubborn melted snow to deal with. I thought back to my escapades on Monday night.

That night I had gone to Walmart to buy a chemical with which to treat my windows and a bottle of special freeze-resistant windscreen-wiper fluid. I’d lovingly treated my windows the next day and this is another reason why the snow was coming off so easily.

I had also filled up with petrol, just in case I didn’t get a chance to get to a service station in this poor weather. It’s not an experience I would like to repeat: I pulled the lever for the fuel tank then walked around to the back of the car. It was still closed. It took me a while to realise that the darn thing was frozen shut. I froze my fingers to the bone removing that ice, resorting to hitting the cover with my fist till the ice broke away.

I blew on my hands. It wasn’t going to get above freezing until tomorrow morning, so there would be no respite from the cold either. I got in the car and took her for a spin. Not bad, I can manage in this weather ok, as long as I am careful. So, it was with slowly increasing confidence that I braved the Texas roads in my little hybrid on a very cold and wintery morning.

P1030877The I30 (the freeway to work) was unrecognizable. It didn’t look like a road at all, rather more like a frozen stream with little white banks and cars sailing slowly downstream, trying not to bump into one another.

I tested my traction. Good. My car was a front-wheel drive and with all the weight of the engine in the front, traction is about as good as can be expected. I came up to some joker towing a trailer, trying to pass a large truck. He would never make it.

I sighed and sat behind him at 25mph, giving him an exaggeratedly large following distance just in case anything went wrong.

He eventually gave up and conceded the left hand lane to me. I accelerated gracefully into the spot and easily passed the truck. 30mph, 35, 40mph. Man, driving in snow was easy. I smiled to myself and eased back on the accelerator as I crested a hill. I wanted to wait till I had many car-lengths of room between me and the truck before I changed lanes again.

Then, just as I was in an open stretch of road with no cars around me, my back wheels slid out a little. I was eerily reminded of my less-graceful moments on the ice rink. There was no time for panic, no time for fear. I reached forward and turned off the music: I would need full concentration for this.

I tapped the breaks to slow down and only gradually realised my folly: a front-wheel drive going downhill will skid if you try to slow down, since the back wheels will start trying to push you forward. Try steering a shopping trolley backwards down a hill and you’ll get a feeling for how it was for me I my car.

Oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit. Which way is it? Turn into the skid, right? Oh bugger this was going to be embarrassing. I could just see the people behind me giggling: “Whoops, Mr. tiny-hybrid-car seems to have found some ice”

I tapped the breaks and pulled the wheel to my right. At least I had a lot of free space on the road on which to act out my little ice show. I was well clear of all vehicles. My car pirouetted gracefully to the right, the back wheels swinging around till I was almost perpendicular with the road. I then careened off the road and onto the grassy verge, when I finally came to a rest I had turned a full 180 degrees.

You may not believe me but this was intentional. The soft grass stopped my car dead in its tracks, bits of mud, and plant material showering my car in the process. It was all over very quickly.

I took my hands off the wheel and watched the other motorists smugly pass me by. I just knew they were laughing. Why wouldn’t they? I would. That was quite a performance.

I ventured to accelerate out of the mud, the wheels skidded vainly. Now, for the first time, I felt a little pang of fear: I didn’t want to be stuck half-way between nowhere and nowhere in the middle of the snow! I ran through a list of contingency plans in my head and calmed down. I would be fine, no matter what. I put her in reverse, turned the wheel 90 degrees and eased onto the accelerator. My little car popped out of the mud and dutifully pointed itself in the direction of the freeway. I put her into the lowest gear I had and climbed up off the grass and back onto the road.

Needless to say, the rest of my journey was made on the service road that runs parallel to the highway and was made at around 20 miles per hour.

No, Mom, please don’t worry. I am fine, I promise.