Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winter Driving on the Prairies This Week (Grab a Coffee and Sit Ye Doon!)

This has been an excellent week so far......mostly. Early Monday morning I had a tooth filled and discovered the joys of modern dentistry that meant I could walk out of the dentist's office and have a meal as soon as the freezing came out. In the medieval days, the days when I last had dental appointments, fillings needed a couple of days to set up and harden.  Trying to eat or even drink anything for the first 48 hours was an inconvenient challenge and the tooth sometimes felt achy for a couple of weeks afterward.  Now, the only reason the dentist asked me to wait to eat until the freezing came out was so that I wouldn't accidentally bite my tongue!!  Pa, ya' won't believe how them dentists have improved things nowadays! hahaha

So, at my husband's suggestion, we were able to race around the house packing after my appointment and take off for a sunny, warm 5 hour trip to the city to check in on my parents.  While we could only stay there for about a day and a half, we were able to take mom shopping all over the place and help her and dad with their various eye drops, see for ourselves that Mom's eye is recovering well after her first cataract surgery and, most importantly, have a rational discussion about preparing for possible near future moves into a different style of living arrangement.  There was no yelling, no denial, no upset this time around.  There seemed to be a true recognition that age related infirmities are going to force change to happen.  Dad has some more tests for eyes and back and over the next month should finally have more information as to what he is facing longer term with his health issues.  Then he and Mom are planning to start making phone calls to quite a few seniors' residences to get the details of cost and care.  For now I choose to believe them. At least I know they will be well fed with the frozen meals I packed their freezer with.

For ourselves we were able to slip in one meal of Nepalese food that was sumptuous!  We found a few groceries once again that aren't available anywhere near where we live and my husband went crazy buying more and more and more and more varieties of teas.  Guess I shouldn't have allowed him to go to the Lebanese and Indian grocery stores by himself. hahaha He purchased some thyme tea that he now loves and that I can't even smell without gagging. haha  He was also able to find some strong pieces of leather and some lacing so he can put new soles on his moccasins.  The uppers are good strong moose hide and will last for many years to come, but he wears them around the house so much that the soles are getting holes in them. It will give him a hobby project, finally, that involves something other than sitting at the computer staring at the screen.  He also brought home some sewing patterns and ideas for new stoles and albs that his sister found for him.  He has his mom's sewing machine and has been itching to use it for a larger project than he has had to date. He certainly made the most of his abbreviated time to shop and to see his own family.

All was well on the drive home too, until the last 100 kilometers.  The sun was out, the snow was melting a bit in the fields and beside the roads. We stopped part way home to eat sandwiches and although we missed a stop by the one tree by the road that we look for eagerly on that 5 hour drive, the one we usually park beside to eat our lunch, we were able to park beside a giant snow drift....the kind the wind sculpts into softly rolling curves and hollows.  It was lovely, pristine white, not tainted with bits of black muck and gravel that will ruin it once spring arrives and those things are tossed around by speeding vehicle tires.  The road we travel on has no services whatsoever for 3 of the 5 hours....no towns, no restaurants, no gasoline stations and no cell phone service for part of that time.  It is not the road to be on if you have car trouble or weather related disasters as you could be sitting beside the road for many hours awaiting an emergency assistance vehicle.  But it is a wonderful shortcut and saves us over an hour of driving to the city on the main highways.

As we drove along about 200 km from home we noticed the road was quite wet, there was some slush and there was a tremendous amount of gravel on the road surface. Winds earlier in the day had blown snow from the fields where it melted on the warm pavement.  Then the temperatures began to drop in the afternoon as the weather system began changing pattern, cooling the pavement and refreezing the snow melt. We noticed the wind was slowly changing direction from northwest to southeast and that there was a chinook arch cloud formation to the east of us.  There was a chinook arch cloud formation to the west of us.  We were trapped between those systems and that, we have learned from sad experience, is not a good place to find ourselves.  The water on the road had quick frozen and a lot of gravel and sand had been put down to help melt it off again.  On the Alberta side of the border the ploughs and gravel trucks had been out and thoroughly melted off any icy patches that had formed.  The closer we came to the SK border the more slush and water there was on the road.  As we crossed the final AB north/south connecting highway, 20 km before reaching the border, to continue on our shortcut home, the water and slush immediately ceased and the road became a sheet of clear, pebbled ice.  It was like someone had taken a ruler and drawn a line on a piece of paper to mark where the water stopped and the ice began.  We were crossing from the Have province as far as road maintenance budget to the Have Not province and it was amazing to see the difference so starkly depicted.  

The last 100 km home was a nightmare.  It is the nightmare we have been driving on most of this past winter around here.  In that final 100 km sand had been dropped in exactly 3 places: first on a large curve in the road and then on both of the steep hills between the border and our home town.  We crawled along  for 2.5 hours before our next stop: 30km from home we came across an accident that had traffic blocked in both directions.  Aaaaah, the joys of an icy 2 lane highway filled with semi rigs whizzing past only a few inches from the driver's door.  A rig had gone off the road into the ditch partway up the first of the 2 hills.  We were heading into what would become a very long lineup of stopped vehicles waiting for a tow truck to come and pull the front of the cab out of the ditch and pull the trailer off the highway where it was blocking both lanes.

About the time we were pulling to a stop we saw 2 vehicles ahead of us pull out of the line and head down a side road to the north. We decided to follow them and go around the accident on the gravel roads.  As we headed north for 2 km all was well, not much drifting and the winds were blowing the road clear. How wonderful to have the traction of the gravel after slipping and sliding on the icy highway despite our good winter studs.  Unfortunately our joy only lasted as far as the first quarter kilometer after we turned east again on the grid road.  The wind had all ready piled drifts 4 feet high on the south side of the road and the snow was swirling down onto the grid road, creating drifts too high for our car to smash through.  The flat light from the now grey skies made it impossible to discern the depth of the drifts  until we were into them.  It became apparent we might be looking at turning around and returning to the main highway.  We came across a young couple ahead of us on the grid road. They had a 4 wheel drive vehicle that was higher off the ground than our car and they were standing on the road examining the drifts just ahead of them.  After a discussion with them we decided we would all turn around and get off that road before we were stranded there for possibly overnight before a plough or a farmer's tractor came along and found us.  They went ahead of us breaking up the new snow that had filled in our tire tracks in only the few seconds between breaking the drifts and turning around to go back.

When we got back to the highway we realized we would have been, had we been smart enough to just hold our place there originally, in the first batch of vehicles the police had allowed to slip past the semi by using the oncoming lane.  So we were waiting again.  It took only about ten more minutes to get the truck and trailer off the road, onto tow trucks and hauled out of the way.  However, nearly ten minutes later, the lead truck in our line up, a double trailer grain hauler, had not budged.  It continued to sit, lights flashing, not moving, no sign from the driver that he had the okay from the police to move forward. And so, for 2 km behind him, a long line of vehicles sat immobile with our lights flashing, the howling wind creating snow drifts between each vehicle, wondering what was going on.  Short version: the grain hauler had been forced to stop at a point on the hill where he couldn't get enough traction on the ice to get going again.  Apparently he had radio'd for a sanding truck to come and bring enough sand and gravel to give him traction so he could get moving.  However, he failed to let the vehicles immediately behind him know that the road was free for everyone else to continue on their way.  He didn't so much as stick his arm out the window of the truck to motion to the drivers behind him to go around him.  Finally the little half ton truck behind him figured it out, signalled to the next driver that he was going around when the oncoming traffic cleared and so began the slow trek for the rest of us to get up the  hill around the immobile grain hauler and continue the crawl home.   My husband was so tired by the time we arrived home he could barely keep his eyes open long enough to drive through town to our house!  

The worst part of this week for him now is that today he has to tackle those road conditions once again to get to our other church for some important meetings this afternoon.  He is supposed to be at this week's inter-church Lenten lunch but may wait until early afternoon to go in hopes that the plough has come out at least long enough to remove the worst of the deep snow drifts across the road.  The ice will be a fixture now until it warms up sufficiently outside (maybe this weekend??) to melt it enough that passing car tires will break it up and push it into the shoulder of the road.

I am still shaking from the drive.  With the accident causing us that nearly half hour of waiting and driving around trying to get around it, it took us 3 hours to travel 100 km.  Unreal!!  

Except out here on the prairies.......

And we have to drive 5 hours to Regina this weekend for the installation of our new Bishop....command performance for all the diocesan clergy travelling far and wide to attend and perform their various duties.....

SPRING......come soon.........please........




1 comment:

Penny said...

YIKES! not fun living on the prairies when winter road conditions are that crappy