December 28th, 2006


winter driving terror

Well, I made it to Souris safe and sound last night. For the curious, I drove from Sherbrooke to Antigonish, as the driving was initially slushy, so I thought it best to avoid the Blue Mountain Road, which features, among other things, fire towers, sharp curves, steep hills, and a total lack of cell coverage. I took the extra half-hour detour to Antigonish to stay within civilization.

Antigonish and on was great. It was still a little slushy until New Glasgow, but the two-lane freeway was a tremendous improvement over Trunk 7. After New Glasgow, the rural divided freeway was clear as a bell, and I set the cruise control at 110 km/h and felt perfectly safe. Ah, it was splendid.

I stopped in North River, but my cousins weren’t home.

I drove into Amherst and out again in search of a Petro-Canada that happened to be at the interchange at the other end of the town. They have a surprisingly pretty downtown.

I reached the Confederation Bridge, and all seemed well, though the deck wasn’t perfectly clear.

Then I touched down on PEI, and it got worse by the mile. I skidded around the first corner on the Trans-Canada. Wet ice. The temperature was about freezing.

From Borden to Charlottetown, I did OK, averaging about 40-50 km/h. A couple of shocks to the system, but no serious incidents.

Charlottetown onward was another matter. I got into a skid simply going downhill in Cherry Valley, and when I got on Highway 3, it turned out that it wasn’t really ploughed. I lost control of the car many times, once or twice when there was an oncoming car in the other lane. I frantically flashed my brights in an attempt to warn them that I was out of control.

Highway 4 looked OK, but only the centre line area was bare – the sides of the lanes were pure wet ice. I continually skidded to the right, and the only way to maintain control was to drive in the middle of the road. When a car came, I slowed down from 15-20 km/h to nothing, or simply pulled over if I was freaked out enough. Before descending the hill on Alley’s Mill Road (the one with the 48 Road / Highway 5 crossing at the bottom), I was pulled over for about 30 minutes, catching my breath and phoning ahead for advice. I flipped through my car manual, desperate for any insight. The other cars on the road seemed to be getting along fine, what was wrong with me?

For the record, I was driving a big, heavy 1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, with front-wheel drive, threadbare tires, and broken ABS. It can be a deathtrap in fine weather thanks to its temperamental brakes, but I never imagined I’d be having this much trouble in a little bit of wet ice, especially when not braking.

Anyway, after many, many stops and about an hour or so of terror, I make it up to Albion Cross. Uncle Shane came down from Souris to get me. As I write this, the car is still parked there. We think I was having trouble mostly because my front tires got all gummed up with the icy slush, possibly because they were the drive wheels being pressed into the road much more strongly than my rear tires, which were clear of the snowy debris. There might have been other factors at play, but I think that one is the chief cause. I’m going to talk to our mechanic about it the next time I see him, which I hope isn’t too soon for pecuniary reasons.

Right now I’m worried about how I’m going to get that boat home. It’ll snow in August before I take that rig on a winter road trip again. I’m glad I didn’t have any passengers, as they would have altered the course of events with their screams and possible desperate acts. The ditches looked way too deep to safely slide into.

I got an MP3 player for Christmas! Or, to be more accurate, I will get one. Uncle Shane found the same model online for half-price, so we’ll return the one I unwrapped without opening the packaging, and wait for the sale item to come in the mail. It’s quite comical, really.

I’m diving into Facebook tonight. Look out, world!

PS: I had a fantastic Christmas in Sherbrooke. It was incredible to have everyone there – I can’t remember the last time we did. Some of my cousins weren’t even born last time, most likely. Flickr to follow, as it will for Ryan's party.