Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ice Road Muckers

A friend of mine is up north visiting some family and friends.  We were talking on the phone when the subject of the weather naturally came up.  Up there, it's freezing and snowing and freaking cold.  While down here, it's cool, a little chilly, but generally much, much warmer.  Well, warmer compared to the minus temps up north. It ranges from the 40s to 50s F in the day time and drops to the 20s to 30s F at night around here.  It's the wind that really sucks!  Or should say, really blows!  And not in the good way either!

Now, I like cool weather; and I like snow. But I do not like wind chill and freezing temps and icy conditions.  Years ago, I used to live on the east coast.  It was there that I experienced my first ever snowfall.  And that snowfall turned into a week long blizzard that shut the down the city and left me and my friends home bound that whole week.  Everything was closed--the roads, the stores, schools, and even public transportation.  Luckily, we had enough food and alcohol and fun neighbors to keep us entertained and survive the mini ice age. 

I learned a lot from that blizzard.  Cold weather drains car batteries and fuel lines can freeze if you don't have at least half a tank of gas.  And if you're going to start your car, make sure the lights, heater, radio and other accessories are turned OFF to save enough charge to start the car, then let it warm up for five minutes before driving.  In addition to your emergency kit, keep an ice scraper, kitty litter (to give a stuck tire some grip), jumper cables, blankets/sleeping bags, extra warm clothing and socks, windshield wiper fluid, energy bars/snacks, flashlight, and a fully charged cellphone in car.  Bring water with you on long trips.  Maintain proper tire pressure. And if you're on the roads, go slow and keep an extra distance from the cars in front of you to allow for adequate braking distance, and try to stick to the tracks left by other vehicles to minimize skids.

I learned things like you have to keep the water dripping in the sinks lest the pipes freeze and burst.  Remove ice and snow from outside the house and keep your walkways clear--icicles hanging from the roof can snap off and hurt someone, and icy sidewalks are slippery; I learned that the hard way when I took a few steps outside and suddenly found myself landing on my back after what felt like a very unsuccessful attempt at landing a triple axle. 

Another friend of mine taught me how to dress for the weather.  He used the acronym COLD.
Keep it Clean
Avoid   Overheating
Wear it Loose and in Layers
Keep it Dry

Dress in layers with a wind resistant outer layer.  And remove layers in ambient temps to reduce sweating and moisture build up.  I never knew what a beanie was, but that is my favorite item to keep my head and ears warm and protected.  Gloves are a must to protect your hands.  I embraced the hoodie; and interestingly enough, I learned to wear sunglasses on sunny days to protect my eyes from the glare off the snow.  And chapstick.  I never used chapstick until that first winter, and boy, did it come in very handy keeping my lips protected from all that windburn.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that I am not a fan of winter.  Sure, I like the cool temps and playing in the snow.  But given a choice between suffocating humid heat or a bone aching freeze, I'll take the searing heat over the freezer burn any day!  At least in the heat, I can find shade and fan myself or take a cold shower or a nice cool dip.  It's a good thing I'm not a penguin.  Otherwise, come time to return to land, while the other penguins head for Antarctica, I'll be heading for Hawaii.  I hear they cater to penguins at the Hilton Hawaiian Village

It takes a lot of work to survive winter.  And given a choice, in the big northern cities I've wintered in, I'd much rather take public transportation than risk driving in snowy and sleet conditions.  I mentioned this to my friend who is visiting up north.  And I told her that although I've driven in snow and other wintry conditions before, I'd much rather take the train instead to get around and avoid the dreaded black ice.

My friend, a native of the northern winters and driving conditions, switched to lecture mode and imparted the wisdom of her experience and knowledge to me:

"Sure, hitting black ice and skidding is dangerous, but if you handle it right, you'll be okay," she said quite confidently.

I should probably point out that not too long ago, she had to take a defensive driving course to fix a speeding ticket she got on the interstate.  She's a pretty aggressive driver and a speed demon.  I think it comes from growing up in the big city, where I've learned drivers can be pretty rude and aggressive.  Well, no one likes to be stuck in traffic during rush hour--at least in L.A. or Houston, you've got several good radio stations to listen to or you can bring your own music to keep you entertained in the traffic jam.

I listened to my friend as she spoke with such authority, "Hell, I've hit black ice this morning and I'm okay.  It's like I learned in defensive driving course this summer.  You do the same thing as if you were hydroplaning in wet, rainy conditions." 

She continued that it was important to:  Stay calm, ease off the gas and continue steering in the direction you're going to maintain momentum.  No sudden brakes.  And if you find yourself starting to swerve, gently turn the wheels to the direction of the skid to safely straighten out.  Then once you're out of the skid, keep going until you get a solid protected area to safely pull over, a good safe distance from where the skid occurred to keep you safe from other cars that may encounter the same difficulty.

I was impressed with her knowledge and told her so.  "Wow!  That's pretty good," I said.  I could tell she was beaming proudly on the other end of the line.  Then I asked her, "Is that what you did this morning, when you hit that black ice?"

To which she replied, "No, I just screamed really loud until the car stopped sliding when it ran off the road and ended up on the grass."