ANN BAILEY: Lessons of a winter roadDepending on which route I take to get to a paved road, I either have to drive 3½ miles on gravel roads or 1½ miles.
Depending on which route I take to get to a paved road, I either have to drive 3½ miles on gravel roads or 1½ miles.
Though it is more miles on gravel, during the winter, the former route to the highway sometimes is more navigable than the latter route. The last leg of the 1½-mile route has a railroad track to cross and a shelterbelt on the south side of the road. Both catch snow and members of my family have gotten stuck there over the years.
Of course, if the snow plow comes and clears the roads, we can take either route.
That’s what I was banking on a couple Tuesdays ago after a foot of snow fell. School was two hours late that day and I figured that the plow would come before I ventured out. I suggested to my husband, Brian, that he take the four-wheel-drive pickup to work in Grand Forks. I would drive my car to work in Larimore, N.D., and drop off our children, Brendan, Thomas and Ellen at school.
My confidence that the roads would be cleared by the time I had to leave was boosted when I was feeding the horses. I saw the plow heading down the road a couple of miles south of us, and I was sure our road would be the next one plowed.
I didn’t go out to the road and check to see if it had been cleared before we headed out a couple of hours later. Once I got to the top of the driveway and could see the road was a foot deep in snow, my choices were to continue on or to try and back up.
I knew from past experience that backing up would, without a doubt, result in getting stuck, so I decided to keep moving forward and see if I could make it. I gripped the steering wheel and pressed down hard on the accelerator. The car surged forward, snow flying across the windshield as it barreled through the drifts.
My hope was that once I made it through the lane that is bordered by trees on either side of the road, driving conditions would improve. They didn’t. They got worse because the ditches were full of snow and the landscape was a vast sea of white.
But there was no turning back, so I focused my eyes on the middle of the road and drove. At one point, Thomas, who was sitting in the back said “Mom, can you even see the road?” I told him “no,” that I was just driving as straight as I could.
As we drew closer to the T-intersection a half mile from our house, I had to decide whether to go straight and have fewer miles to drive to get to the highway or turn right and have more miles of gravel.
I chose the latter because it didn’t look like anyone had driven on the road that led straight ahead. I knew that there would be at least a partial set of tracks on the longer route because Brian and I had come home that way the night before in the pickup.
Fast and steady
I’ve learned over the years of driving country roads in the winter that the best thing to do is to drive fast and not panic. I figured if I could make it around the curve on the last half mile, I had a good chance of making it the highway, and, if I did get stuck, we could walk the rest of the way to Larimore.
The driving was challenging as the car scraped bottom on the snow, but we made it to the curve. Along the way, I talked to my children about winter driving in the country and how you can’t hesitate or you’ll get stuck. As we approached the curve, I saw that the snow was deeper and the wheel tracks that our pickup had made the night before were gone.
There was no one coming, so I stayed in the middle of the road and forged forward, pressing down hard on the accelerator whenever it felt like the car was losing ground. The car almost came to a stop, but we made it around the curve and to the stop sign at the highway. I looked both ways and there were no cars, so I kept going, and we were on the pavement.
“Hallelujah,” I said as we drove into Larimore.
Once again, I had conquered the country roads and victory was ours. I just hope that was the last battle of the winter.
Reach Bailey at email@example.com or (218) 779-8093.