Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Well, That Was Exciting

Big Girl after her dash down the Mohawk Trail*
Over the weekend the more discerning of the readers may (or may not) have noticed that I, the Old AF Sarge, was posting rather a lot of videos.

Okay, two videos, one on Friday, one on Saturday. It's odd for me to go the video route two days in a row. It's what I do when I have either a dearth of material, a paucity of ideas, or ya know, I went to the well and "she come up dry." Oh wait, the other possibility is that I am away from a reliable Interwebz connection. That was indeed the case this weekend.

For I was up north, up in the homeland, visiting me Mum. On the way up there is where today's post received it's title. It was one of those things you look back on and get a little weak in the knees playing "what if?" Vehicular near misses are not my favorite things. Not even in the top 100 for that matter.

Now if you look close at Big Girl, she's covered in salt residue, the kind of look which is fairly typical for vehicles during a standard New England winter. Which this year has not been. Sure it got below zero for a couple of days, sure it snowed a few times, but nothing really major. Friday though was atypical.

Leaving Chez Sarge, it was chilly with a thick cloud cover. The forecast called for snow in the late afternoon, not much if the storm stayed out to sea as was expected, perhaps some accumulation if the storm came closer to shore. Odds were that it would stay "out there," over the horizon somewhere.

Something I should mention, I got a bit complacent, after all, it's March, how much snow could we get? Well, sometimes it ain't how much that counts. One should also check the weather en route and at the destination. Details, details.

After we passed the last outpost of civilization (as I call it) at Worcester (that's pronounced Wuh-stah in case you were wondering) we plunged into the wild. (Well, as wild as it gets in central Massachusetts, the road seems to run through miles and miles of nothing, though there are towns and such just over the next ridge, they get smaller and smaller as you go north. The towns, not the ridges.)

After a bit, it started snowing. Little tiny flakes, almost imperceptible up close, you had to look towards the hills, noticing that there were no hills (which there are) because of the snow in the air. Tiny flakes, but a lot of them.

Another thing I should have noticed. Those wee bits of frozen water were sticking to the sides of the road and to the rocky outcrops along the way. Did I mention it was pretty cold that day? Well, it was even colder at elevation running up I-190 heading for Route 2. That is snow country. In normal winters those folks call six inches a dusting. Seriously.


Frozen precipitation and icy cold temps were the order of business on Friday. Not really a problem until we got onto Route 2. Lots of traffic out and about, I also noticed that the roads had been heavily treated with salt. How did I know that? The vehicles around me were throwing a mixture of snow melt, sand, and salt up into the air and onto my windshield. The wipers were going constantly as was the windshield wiper fluid. It was a battle that the wipers were slowly losing.

I also noticed that along the shoulders of the highway (where there wasn't much salt) the melting stuff was returning to its frozen state. Not light and fluffy mind you but the stuff that hockey players might enjoy. That was a little tidbit I stored away, just didn't recall that information as quickly as I should have just a bit further on.

Note the shadow... (Source)

As we approached that overpass along the road, mind you, it was nowhere near as sunny as in the photo, I should have realized that as the melted snow was refreezing along the shoulder, no doubt it was freezing even quicker in the shadows. Such as that noted above. Pretty cold under there I'll wager.

As I accelerated past a rather large tractor trailer which was flinging copious amounts of wet dirt into the atmosphere (and all over my windshield) I had the wipers going full bore and was pulling the lever for the wiper fluid for all I was worth, there was indeed a moment where visibility was close to zero. Fortunately there was still a wee bit of "clean-ish" glass to my far left. Yes, I was leaning outboard as it were.

As the tractor trailer combo slid into my wake, my windshield returned to nearly full visibility and I saw something on the road ahead.

It was long and shiny. Glittered like a mirror it did. (A friend asked me that night "Black ice?" "No," says I, "pale it was, pale as Death.")

Immediately time slowed way down (as it does when you are thinking muy rápido). A moment later that little piece of information I mentioned above started to percolate up from the recesses of my near term memory. (Isn't that the second thing to go as you get older?)

As it did I felt a bit of a slide.

Oh sh!t, oh dear... What the...?

My foot instantly came off the gas, letting the vehicle figure things out before I jumped in. As quickly as Big Girl wiggled her tail feathers, she straightened up. As if nothing untoward had just happened.

"What was that?" The Missus Herself inquired, more curious than nervous.

I responded with a certain sang froid, "Hhmm, bit of ice on the road dear. Nothing that we can't handle." Yes, I was feeling a bit nonchalant, far more so than the weather called for. For it was slippery and nasty in spots.

Soon we departed the Mohawk Trail, in a controlled and planned fashion mind you, not the "almost into the barrier" incident of minutes before. As we took the exit, right in front of us was a combination snow plow/sander/salter truck directly to our front. Spraying the landscape (and my car) with sand and salt, mixed with just a bit of melted goop from the roadway itself.

I'm guessing the State of Massachusetts had been expecting a lot more snow (which didn't happen) or that the weather-guessers had let the powers-that-be know that while there wasn't going to be a lot of snow, conditions were right for what would fall would melt upon contact with the road, then freeze again pretty quickly (which it did, in spots). Therefore the Commonwealth ordered approximately three tons of salty sand (or is that sandy salt) applied to every square yard of paved road. Leastways that's the way it appeared to me.

Again, I didn't really think too much of the incident when it occurred, it was just one of those winter driving things which happen from time to time. I've learned over the years that one behaves around snow and ice as one would around a strange, not-so-friendly looking dog, no sudden moves. Slow and steady, don't slam on the brakes, don't jerk the wheel. Ride it, see what happens, then control the situation.

While that is what happened, it was much later, in the wee hours of the night, that it struck me, "Holy crap, we could have been maimed/messed-up/and/or killed!" Yup, one wrong move and we would have gone right into those cement barriers which were backed by steel-reinforced concrete bridge abutments. No fun, no fun at all.

You know that old saying? There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots. 'Tis a true statement, same goes for drivers, methinks I was perhaps just a bit too bold for the road conditions present last Friday.

As I thought in the wee hours of Saturday morning...
Well, that was exciting.
Yeah, way too exciting.

* Bit o' poetic license that. The Mohawk Trail only runs along a small part of Route 2 in Massachusetts, we got off Route 2 before we got to that part. But it's what my Dad called Route 2 "back in the day," so I tend to call it that along its entire length. What would I know? No Mohawks in the family tree, just a lone Seneca, a long ways back...


  1. Mid July on I 25 near Glorieta heading south. Small stretch of slow traffic, kick off the cruise, a very heavy thunderstorm moving to the north. Nice, it's done it's work and is on the move out and away. Very light sprinkles..... nothing major. Then, ICE! Huge dump of hail, uniformly thick on the road. 75 MPH and beginning to drift to the right, tail moving left, Suburban on it's side on the right shoulder, folks running to it, me sliding towards..... THEM!!! steer into it, okay, tail moves right, starting to reverse the skid to the left..... Impala with those big round rear lights, and they're on!!! doing maybe 20 in the left lane!! I'm sliding right at them about 5-10 degrees of slip, both feet planted to the floor, this is gonna be ugly, then..... dry pavement, steer left, zoom by about 6 inches from their left side on the left shoulder, about 73 MPH, and...... safe.

    I got to Santa Fe not long after that, and couldn't walk for 5 minutes or so. I had to sit there and breathe through my teeth.

    I grew up in Lubbock, we always got ice when everyone else got snow. That day, I was really glad we did, and my muscle memory was working.

    1. Dang! Good to be able to get through that kind of thing.

      I once drove down to San Antonio from Colorado in January. Amarillo had snow, Lubbock had ice. I remember it fairly well. But not as well as I remember the BBQ I had in Junction on my way back to Colorado!

    2. Was that at Cooper's?? I got a Turkey sandwich there once on the way to Amarillo from SA. About 0200, in the end room on the far right of the La Quinta in AMA, it violently vacated my system. I know the folks in the next room thought I was being tortured by terrorists. I don't puke softly and gently. The next day I had to run out to Skellytown. I drove from bush to bush with gut rumbles like the old B-52's that broke my aunt's windows in western OK. I made the tower site, was in the middle of finishing my work, when I had to bolt out and shuck my pants. I was leaning up against the front bumper of my truck, trying to avoid splash damage with about a 100 black bald face cows munching in the pasture I was in. The were mildly interested in me, but not afraid. We ALL had loose bowels that day, so I fit right in. Only, I was sick and they weren't.

      It took me a couple years to go back to Cooper's.....

    3. Not sure if it was Cooper's, doesn't look like the place I stopped at back in 1987. According to the magic of Google, the current Cooper's has been in operation since 1999, though the sign claims they've been smoking since 1953.

      The place I stopped was just off I-10 but was kind of a hole in the wall, dirt parking lot, etc. The current location looks kinda fancy, the place I stopped at wasn't fancy but the pulled pork sandwich I got was to die for. Really, really good.

      Then again, it was a long, long time ago.

    4. The Coopers in Junction is an offshoot of the original in Llano (pronounced Laa' no) so that would explain the two different dates. Coopers in Llano if famous around these parts for good BBQ and it's tough to get in the door in under an hour most days.

    5. Never been through Llano, so it wasn't that one.

      I could be "mis-remembering" stopping in Junction for BBQ. I'm pretty sure it was near there, somewhere on the road north from I-10. It was a long time ago and it wasn't "happy times" for me. Long story, I might tell it someday.

    6. Since the next town north of Junction is San Angelo, I'd say it's probable you ate in Junction.

    7. Well, that's good to know. I have fond memories of that sandwich, and Junction. Because of the sandwich.

  2. Getting home safely is the Golden Standard. Sheet metal unchanged is a bonus.

    1. I am glad you made it over the river and through the woods safely, if a bit excitedly! I could tell you stories of winter crashes and ditchings that would bore you mightily!

    2. It could have been much more exciting. It was not and for that I am thankful.

      Your last sentence reminds me of the briefing Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks of XXX Corps gave before Operation Market Garden -

      This is a story you shall tell your grandchildren...

      ...and mightily bored they'll be!

      It happened in real life and they had it in the movie (A Bridge Too Far) as well. Lt Gen Horrocks was portrayed in that film by Edward Fox. An Old AF Sarge favorite BTW.

    3. That's where I got it from!
      As an example, I once saw a Jeep Cherokee so far off the road, and into the woods, that a tow truck cable would not reach, and a 4X4 Deere had to go in after it.

  3. As my brother is wont to say, "It's better to be lucky than good." Having driven a fair amount in winter weather, I've found that I become much more conservative when faced with ice and snow. That said . . . I can remember only one time losing control of my car on ice. Funnily enough, it was up in Mass . . . while leaving Fort Devens, on the entrance ramp to Rte. 2. It had snowed a few days earlier. An April snow, wet and slushy. I was in my (almost) brand new Chevy Nova, second gear, getting ready to shift up to third when I hit an unseen patch of ice. The car yawed left and continued down the ramp sideways. I could only take my foot off the gas and shift into neutral and ride along 'til the end. I had the great good fortune to come to rest against a huge pile of (still soft) snow that had been plowed up by the state trucks. No damage to the car. When my heart slowed, I continued on my way . . . Littleton, I think.

    1. Oh yes, I've been there and done that more than once. Usually without damage.

      Lucky is good, even Napoléon recognized that!

  4. So there I was, driving over Rabbit Ears Pass...

    1. Hhmm, do tell.

      (No really, you are going to tell that story at your place, right?)

  5. In the Sierras during the spring, black ice usually gets some drivers. Look out for shady areas, bridges...

    BTW I have learned that those little Honda Elements are attracting a cult following now. A friend can sell hers for what she paid new for.

    1. The Honda Element is a cool little vehicle, love mine, got it for free. ISYK.

      Black ice is nasty.

  6. My morning, three days a week at Odark30, betwen Cheyenne and Wheatland on I-25. Looking forward to summer.

    1. And as I recall from my days out there, in the winter, the wind never stops blowing.

      Don't get me started on the snow and ice...

      While I don't "feel your pain," I understand it, very well.

  7. Glad you 'handled' it... :-)

  8. It's pretty remarkable, really, what we well shod monkeys can do, piloting our millions of automobiles in packs and at speed along millions of miles of narrow roadway. It's always a bad feeling when the contact patches begin to lose their grip. Isaac is always there in the car with you, ready to take over when you've gooned it. He'll help, up to a point, but you've got to let him.

    1. Knowing Sir Isaac is important, knowing when to let him have his way more so.

      (Heh, well shod monkeys, I like that...)


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