Have you had enough of this long winter? It starts to wear on a person. Minnesotans have winter travel weather tales. And this has been a good winter to accumulate more- it's been a long, some might say brutish, winter. My work involves a lot of travel and I try to arrange it between winter storms. That didn't quite work out this week. But, obviously, I made it home alive and so all is well.
It hadn't been a good day at work in St. Paul; I was vexed, largely because of my own doings, and just wanted to be home. I had calculated that I'd have about 78 hours at home before I needed to leave for another 5 day trip. So I pointed my car west and headed heedlessly into the storm in the midafternoon. The schools had all closed like dominos ahead of me and many places of work, including some offices of my own organization in greater MN, had shut down and sent people home early.
Thanks to Alma, my road crew, who kept updating me on the MNDOT 511 road conditions the entire time (via hands free car phone, mom). All of which were "hazardous" and "no travel advised", with the occasional "difficult" to look forward to.
And it was an exciting trip those first 150 miles. When I stopped in Glenwood to pry my white knuckles off the steering wheel (now 5+ hours into what normally is 2.5 hours of travel), a guy at the gas station looked at my frozen and ice packed car and said "wow- what have you been driving through?" "HA!" I said- "hope you aren't heading east! It's brutal." There were cars all over in the ditches- on the MNDOT road condition map (above) all those purple diamonds are spin outs. In just the five miles before Morris, there were 3 cars newly in the ditch. How did I know they were "newly"? By the surprised and still faces of people still sitting behind their steering wheels.
But the real excitement- the kind that makes you forgot all of your troubles- started when I turned south onto the Chokio road. I heard this "crrrrrrrrrr" sound under my car and realized that the snow on the road was up to my bumper and my chassis was pushing it down as I drove through it. If I slowed down now I would be stranded- 16 miles from home.
Note: This whole trip had a sound track and it was loud and thumping. I don't know about you, but Public Radio was not what kept me sharp and confident to keep my foot to the pedal. It was a Phillip Phillips HOME kinda trip, with some Mumford and Sons for emphasis.
Maybe it's kinda, you know, sick to enjoy this. But I did. Those last 16 miles were pure white out blizzard driving through snow that was up to and above my bumper. As I crashed through, the snow came up my hood and over the windshield so that I couldn't even see. I had to open my window and put my head out. It's almost sensual with the mist of the blowing snow pelting my skin, melting on my face and my hands on the steering wheel. Every sense is alert- with time slowing down intensely. There are no curves on this road, I couldn't see the edges of it on the prairie and in the white out- so I pointed straight and kept my foot firmly on the gas pedal. If I had met a single other car those last 16 miles and had had to slow down, I would have been stuck in that snow overnight. There was still just barely enough light that I could see apart from my headlights.
And then -- a flashback to an earlier trip Mike and I had taken in with his brother and sister, home from Arizona. Same deal- we drove from the Cities in a blizzard, turned south on the Chokio road, but it was night. We pointed the car south and gunned it. But this time we veered ever so slightly to the west and got sucked into the 10 foot deep snow of the ditch. Buried. After some time another car came along, luckily, and we waved them down. They stopped and took the five of us into Chokio where we were put up for the night by a big hearted older couple. And this is the part of the story that makes me laugh every time. Mike and I were put up in the 'doll' room, which displayed the many dolls made and collected by the woman of the house. Mike's brother, being the single guy, got put in the Cuckoo Clock room. So all night long, every 30 and 60 minutes, more than 100 Cuckoo Clocks went off. See, I'm laughing again. We got the car pulled out of the ditch and made it to the farm the next day.
Back to this most recent adventure. I had to turn west off the Chokio road now - keeping enough speed to bust through the snow, but not so much as to slide through the turn and into the ditch. It was close and like spinning a wheeley on purpose. It was 100% white out as I climbed the glacial moraine past where I knew the township hall would be sitting, could I have seen it. By the way, during this entire last 16 miles I'm driving in the middle of the road as there are no lanes, no line, and barely any distinguishable road out on the flatland prairie.
And the tale might have just ended like this. "Kathy made it home safe into the arms of her loving family." And, in fact, that is precisely what happened. But there's something else. Honest to G_d- as I closed in on home, a pair of swans flew up from the side of the road- nearly hovering as they were trying to take off into the 30+mph wind. Two white swans hovering just in front of my car. And as I drove over the slight hill, I broke through the actual edge of this blizzard and into a pink sunset on the horizon. Have you have ever felt that G-d or the universe is sending you a message? It was the Welcome Home for my soul. I had been wiped clean of any cares while I just focused every cell on surviving and then BOOF! You break through into beauty, peace, nature.
The trip wasn't done- I still had the final four (miles). And I'm happy to report that I burst through the last drifts on our ½ mile long driveway and made it to within 10 feet of the garage when I hit the final drift hard enough to basically, as Mike told me the next morning, lift the car off of the ground and set it on top of the drift so that the wheels didn't touch the ground.
And (back to the happy ending) then she made it home into the loving arms of her family. The table set with a glass of Dandelion wine; roast chicken and potatoes held warm in the oven.
Note: I actually have three children, but only one which throws himself in front of every camera. So while there are a disproportional number of pictures, there is proportional amount of love for all.
I made that dandelion wine with one purpose- to drink it after a couple snow days when I needed to remember and hope for lush, green, flowering spring. Back in 2011, Jens and I sat outside one spring day picking the abundant crop of dandelions growing in our 'organic' yard. Buckets of bright yellow flowers, my boy in the green grass, sunshine, and blue sky over endless prairie. I have now finished off the last bottle and I'm ready. For spring.
I hope this note finds you well and hopeful for spring. What are your winter stories?