Minnesota Traveler


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.

MNDOT road conditions 4-18-2013.jpg
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.

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Found my car iced over when I pulled into Glenwood

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.

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View on the main road- between Sauk and Glenwood

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.

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Note: this picture was taken close to home, AFTER I was through the worst of the driving

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mike pulling my car out yesterday morning

I hope this note finds you well and hopeful for spring. What are your winter stories?


Kathy..very intense reading, this last entry...very exciting trip...very...just don't do that again. Love from yo' mama.

Loved your story! I remember driving home from Ortonville--14 LONG miles in similar conditions. Often thought I was nuts being on the road--stopped often to let the blowing snow pass--and then on I'd go! Always so glad to turn in at the driveway knowing if I did get stuck then I could walk the rest of the way. Dave was always watching for me (no cell phones way back then)and am sure he breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it. (Or was it the fact that it was almost milking time?) Your dandelion wine comments also brought memories. My friend JoAnn's mom, Ida Melin always made dandelion wine and we were allowed just a taste sometimes! She also made chokecherry wine and perhaps other kinds as well. Definitely the good old days---so many great memories of people who were loved so much

Mom--- yes, I will be more careful and less headstrong. Hopefully done with winter with this last storm.

Jean-- Yes- something about this part of the state that seems to be windier and snowier. Will have to make some more of the dandelion wine this year. Assuming we ever see the lawn. The snow is many feet deep still in back. DO NOT LEAVE AZ YET!!!! It would be miserable to get in and out of your place today. Thank you for the nice not and the memories!!

And here's why I took myself off of the roads for a spell last month-- I was getting out of control punchy. http://youtu.be/nbmGuql-gTI

Hope mom doesn't see this! Or I'll be grounded.

All I could think of while reading this was that crazy Christmas Eve when we ended up in the ditch....and reading the paragraph you wrote about it made me laugh! I had told Rick he shouldn't wear long underwear because he would get too to hot...I am pretty sure he was cursing me when he was standing in the ditch trying to push the car out. There were creepy dolls in our room too...but Steve really had it bad with those clocks. Gotta love MN!...and with that, I am going outside to sit by the pool and soak yup some sun before it gets too hot today! Glad you made it home safely!

My sister had this posted on her facebook status (Lila Salls). When I read it, I had to chuckle. I traveled for fifteen years, three states for my job as a nurse. Being a float nurse and/or agency nurse was a real adventure in winter. I drove some of the worst roads in MN and SD you can imagine and in some of the worst storms. I can certainly understand your trip all too well. There were times I just hoped the vehicle I was driving knew the way to the next town because I wasn't real sure I did!

Your adventure brought back memories I never want to repeat again. Be careful out there!


Kathy....just came back to this entry...read it back in April, but didn't comment then. I enjoyed reading it once more! Very exciting, and so well-told!! You were lucky to have made it through that! That said...thank you for bringing back favorite memories of blizzards and snowdrifts 7 ft high and more. One of the most memorable...my young son, his friend, and I were rescued from a snow drift and given a ride home by two guys who (we realized later) were quite drunk, but did get us home safely. Strange how such memories are treasured more than others when we were much safer! I haven't heard, but assume you made it through the May 2nd snowfall! That was another memorable one!

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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on April 20, 2013 7:01 AM.

On Gratitude was the previous entry in this blog.

Not Lost, but Gone Before (ikke tabt, men gaaet forud) -- Memorial Day 2013 is the next entry in this blog.

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