I ranted last week about Alaskan drivers and may have given the impression that I’m perfect. (HA) To set the record straight, I’ll share some highlights of my driving career…my “auto” biography if you’ll pardon the pun. (sorry about that…)
I took a notion one year to drive my teeny little Chevy Luv to Valdez to get some winter pictures. In January. In a blizzard. With 4 hours of daylight and snow blowing sideways for two of the three days I was on the road, there wasn’t actually a lot of photography. The drive to Valdez at night in a blizzard isn’t all that scenic as it turns out.
It was about 10pm when I came down out of Thompson Pass and headed into Keystone Canyon. Exiting the canyon, I went from relatively calm snow and some visibility to a crazy white swirling world and no road in front of me. I slowed my truck, and then slowed it some more until I was barely crawling along. Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had the road to myself I saw headlights coming. I couldn’t see the road, never mind lane lines so I cautiously sidled over to give the oncoming 18-wheeler plenty of room to pass me. And then I sidled my way right into the ditch. I only knew that because my forward motion stopped and I was listing to port all of a sudden.
Huh. Now what?
By the time I had collected my wits and stepped out of my truck to assess the situation, the trucker had gotten himself stopped and was walking a tow strap back to me. I was out of that ditch before I could think about it. How many folks can say they’ve been pulled out of a ditch by an 18-wheeler?
Years later a friend and I were coming back to Anchorage from Kenai after Thanksgiving with my parents. I had a little Mazda 323 at the time and had had just enough money to purchase two new studded winter tires. Not knowing any better, I instructed the tire guys to install them on the front since it was a front-wheel drive car. If you’re not from winter country you might not realize what a big NO-NO that is. Here’s why…
The snow started coming down as we left Kenai and by the time we got to the Sterling flats it was really thick, the kind of snow that Hollywood thinks of when they try to create snow for film. Big, wet flakes were swirling around and were rapidly accumulating on the road surface. I slowed a little, but I wasn’t too worried until I realized that the back end of the car was going faster than the front end around a long slow curve in the road. With more weight on the gripping winter tires in front, the summer tires in the back had nothing to hold them to the road, so slowing down on a slick curve was actually the worst thing I could have done. Only the front tires could respond.
We did a nice, slow-motion 360 and came to rest nose down in a shallow ditch. My guardian angel was on duty once again. A tow truck came along just as we were climbing up out of the ditch and wondering who to call. He hooked up, yanked us out and wished us a safe journey before we could even get all our winter gear on.
Incidents like these have made me a cautious driver. Road trip gear, especially in the winter, includes blankets or a down sleeping bag, flares, a small air compressor, heavy cold weather gear in case I have to walk for help, a jug of water, food and first aid supplies. The gas tank is always topped off before setting out. Even if the accident that stops highway traffic isn’t yours, you could find yourself on the road hours longer than you had planned. My dad got caught between avalanches one year and couldn’t go back home or come the rest of the way into Anchorage. He was lucky and only spent a few hours at the gas station in Girdwood before road crews cleared the avalanches.
Our family has the best guardian angels anywhere!