Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Unexpected Adventure: Day 2

The journey of half a thousand miles begins with... sleep deprivation. My unusually high caffeine intake on the drive up had left me with a jangly-nerved buzz that kept me awake for two hours after checking into my Super 8 room, despite trying to relax with a book. Bed just wasn't comfortable. I mean, it was fine, but I hate hate HATE sleeping nude! Give me a sloppy t-shirt and similar fabric pants and I'm comfy as a clam in a shell without a speck of sand, but skin on sheets, no. Every time I turn over, I have to wake up that little bit extra just to keep my neck and shoulders tucked under the blankets. Though it never used to, at my age it bothers me if they get cold. Add in the complication that those are my cool-down spots for when the bedding gets too warm, and it can make for a spotty night's sleep.

Despite that, I woke at 6. It's my usual time, so ingrained that I was up at 5 all the time I was in Arizona. The clock this morning may have said 7, but my body is still on standard time. It'll have to get used to daylight time later. It knew it was 6. End of story. I thought about staying in bed. I tried to stay in bed and get some more sleep. It wasn't going to happen. I might as well turn on the news, find out the weather and road conditions.


The scroll across the top of the screen was all about school closings, delays, schools being open if you can make it there on time, and school buses being late "if possible". I took that to mean it was possible they might not get through at all. It's always possible to be late. Perhaps they understand that clearly up there, but we seem to phrase it better down here.

Had there been a blizzard while I slept through it? A quick peek out the curtain revealed a bit of fresh snow on cars but blacktop where wind had scoured it clear. My car had a couple inches of snow with spots of ice  underneath, nothing that a couple minutes wouldn't fix.

After a wait the TV started with road conditions, starting with winds. Strong. Northwest. 83 had no travel advised from Minot to Coleharbor. That sounded familiar. 52 had no travel advised from Minot to Velva. 2 had no travel advised from Minot to ... I forget where because I had no clue where it was and the map had been left in the car.

Do you sense a pattern here? I'm in ice central with no way out. Might as well shower, dress, have coffee and breakfast. Soap and shampoo worked their usual wonders, but with no comb I had to resort to using my fingers to try to impose some sense of direction to my mess. I realized that not only did I not have my morning Rx pills, of which I only really missed the blood pressure pill, but I'd also left the ibuprofin out in the car last night. Oh well, I wasn't planning any hikes.

Breakfast was last night's planned supper, tucked in the tiny fridge Super 8 provides. I'd checked out the breakfast offerings in the lobby but it was juice, toast, muffins, English muffins, waffles, 2 cereals... in a word, nothing, not for me. I'd buy travel food when I hit the gas station later. Meanwhile the Greek yogurt with bananas and walnuts I mashed in the day before was good enough, and my freezer block was refreshed as well in case it was needed. At least coffee was free and hot. I'd grab more caffeine on the road, but today preferred a catnap to winding up with another buzz.

I thought I'd check road conditions again, see if maybe something had improved. 83 now not recommended to Bismarck, 52's problems extended to Jamestown, 94 Bismarck to Jamestown was awful, and 2 was now a problem from Montana to Minnesota. Oh goodie, it's getting worse. Oh, and now they mention drifts on top of the ice. Well, my choices are limited: bad and worse, very slow all the way. It's stacking up to be a very long day. Waiting till afternoon hardly seems an option, but the forecast offers some hope that conditions will improve the farther I drive. I'll wait until it gets light so I can at least see how bad it is. I came up in it, after all. And I can hope if I ever reach Minnesota the roads will be fine again. (Ain't ignorance bliss?)

Minot is a mining town. I already figure I was lucky finding a room. Gas is expensive. Travel food costs twice what it does in Minnesota, so I limited myself to a single meat stick and a small diet cola. Minot has plenty of oil, wind, snow, windmills, hills, and friendly people. Occasional trees actually block the snow-driving wind, but are a bit too scattered. (Hey guys, have you considered planting more windbreaks along your roads? Trees do live here. I've seen them. They work.) Salt on the roads? Not so much. I had plenty of time to reflect on that during the first leg of my trip down to the next town, Max. Did they not collect enough taxes, rich as they were in oil revenues, to buy the stuff? Would the wind just have blown it off the roads while it blew snow across to become ice? Were they just too darn landlocked to get salt shipped in from anywhere?

That 25 mile trek took an hour. Two lanes solid unremitting ice. I was the slow driver in the right lane, shaking my head at the faster vehicles in the left. The ruts in the ice were shaking my car left to right even at my speed. There might have been scenery, but I had eyes only for the road. I did manage to note the wind farm as the towers were right along the road. I also took note of the SUV in the center median, one of those huge things that's basically a van with a few dimples on the outside making enough of a design to give it pretensions of being a car. I also took note of the tanker in the median. No jackknife, at least, but I wondered how long it would take a tow to gain enough traction on the road surface to be able to pull it out. Max had a convenience store and a long pullout lane for a safe turnoff, and I took advantage to unwind. My shoulders were already in knots.

It was looking to be a brutal day.

I did take note in the restroom, now that my hair had fully dried, that  finger combing left it fluffier and more curly, not slicked down my usual way. It had been blown around plenty while scraping windows, filling the tank, and just walking into this store. I couldn't tell. Ain't natural curls grand? I may have to try this again.

It was at this stop that I earned the need to apologize to Steve, the following day when I had some sense again. I'd told him of my lack of progress to this point, and he looked Max up to see for himself. He then started to give me the name of the next town, and I simply cut him off with, " irrelevant." My mind was only fixated on the ice and Bismarck as the next goal. Who cared about the bits between? Not me, not then.

The first few miles out of Max were a big improvement, actual bits of pavement in parallel stripes at tire widths, occasional patches of clear. Somebody had thrown a big switch! It continued getting better, and well before Coleharbor was completely ice free. I didn't trust it for a bit, but soon noticed the speedometer sitting at 70! It only took until 11:00 to roll into Bismarck. And hooray! A Wendys! A little more caffeine, a small chili with onions for lunch right there, and my favorite apple chicken pecan salad in the cooler for afternoon. I was set. With any luck, the way the roads looked, I could hit Alexandria for an evening snack of KFC hot wings. All my favorite fast foods, carbs within my limits, to help make the day a bit easier.

I also checked in with dispatch. He checked road conditions. 94 was now supposed to be bad all the way to the border. It was fine here, so I filed that away under grain of salt. I finally asked what the run paid, since we don't get that information at the time. The total would make three good days, and should still take me just two. Good news. I won't say just how much less I still would have been happy with, just in case somebody rethinks the charges on a future jaunt. He also asked me to check in when I reached St. Cloud, if he was still there (before 7:00 PM) just in case something came up along, say, the 95 corridor late in the day. I agreed, with the stipulation that roads needed to be good enough for me to make that kind of time, and he'd just finished telling me they weren't.

Enough. Now eastbound.

There comes a time during a long haul when I start holding mental conversations with cars and drivers, even things all around me. It's a way of keeping alert as well as entertained. This became one of those times. There was nothing else to do for a while, and it became habit. I noticed, for example, that the first bridge I drove under after hitting the freeway had ice patches under it just where my tires had to roll. These tend to give my car a small sideways jerk, and I need to watch for them and plan according to hold the car steady. But there was no snow, either blowing or falling, and no more icy patches. For a while.

No snow, eh? Dry roads? I wonder who comes up with those road condition forecasts, just what kind of grandma drivers they're making them for. Oh wait, I'm one of those grandmas. Well, maybe not one of those grandmas, but still, who are they making the warnings for? At least, there's no snow.

Oh wait, there are a few flakes. At least it's just a few flakes, not like it's covering the road. Oh, there it goes, blowing across the road. At least it's not sticking. Ohhh, there you go, sticking on the road.

At least the blowing snow is staying low. I recall last winter when I scored a run to New Ulm and had to drive through a blowing snow whiteout. Thank goodness I'm not doing that again. Well, except for here... but it's mostly low. Vision isn't really blocked. And the accumulating snow isn't really bad. I can still do 65. 60. 55. Sigh.

I'm mostly pacing those of us who choose the right lane. The left is worse, but still some decide to pass using it anyway. We're mostly scattered. Traffic overall is light, at least half are big rigs. They kick up a lot of crap. my wipers are in great shape, keeping the windshield clear. Oh wait, a few white streaks: finally evidence of some minimal salt use in this state! But why can't  you guys put it down all over? It's a patch here, nothing, a patch there, nothing, a patch.

Well, at least it's still just snow. Nothing like the ice buildup earlier. Oh wait, the spray from that passing semi just froze all over the windshield. Hit the squirters, fast! Whew! Hey, at least the road is snow, not that louder noise the bumpy ice makes. Oh, what's that noise? Dang! 45. 40.

I've had the time and leisure to notice that thus far the worst snow is accumulating on the northern, westbound two lanes. What's left dumps more in the median, with a bit left for the northern eastbound lane. Mine is least affected. Suddenly, however, there are flashing lights up ahead. The turn out to be on the right shoulder. I've been keeping an eagle eye on the rearviews, keeping prepared for semis spraying me and possible wind interruption causing sideways motion, so I know I'm clear to move over left. But really gradually, and slowing down meanwhile. Why are you there, squad? Are you warning about ice?

I catch a flash of the reason just as I pass. Oh my, Buddy, that is a long way down there, especially for a state as flat as North Dakota. And you chose here to drive off the road? It wouldn't have been my first pick. Not even in my first ten. But hey, at least the rubber side landed down. And now you have an answer to the question where's a cop when you really need one? He's probably getting ready to climb down there through all that snow to tell you how stupid you were, since being down there instead of up here getting where you were heading just wasn't a good enough clue! Good luck, buddy.

35. 30. Oh heck, just pull off at the upcoming rest stop. Catch 40 winks, set the timer for 15, lock the doors, put the seat back.... DING!

Refreshed, I spend the next 40 miles or so observing that every time I have thought about how bad it hasn't gotten, it gets that bad. Ask and ye shall be answered. In the worst way. I've got to stop that!  At least so far the ice hadn't turned into the kind that builds up all  under the car, filling wheel wells until a bump in the road pushes it against the tire with a grinding noise.

Bump. Grind. Dang!

It can still get worse. I mean, at least there hadn't been more than the one accident... Oh shit, there's another, westbound. That U-Haul trailer didn't stabilize your ride at all, did it? How's that move gong for you? But the truckers are doing OK... Dang it! That one's a jackknife plus an SUV, blocking all but one lane's worth of a passing gap on the shoulder. Cut it out! Start thinking ... daffodils. That's it. If they start springing up, no biggie. Won't happen, but... Daffodils.

Whew! No rollovers at least. Shit shit shit!  Well, the right kind of crane or something can get it upright and it's as good as new. Still intact, looks like... Oh no! Now cut that out, Heather! That one used to be a house trailer. Now why would you take one of those out on a road like this? I mean, it's not like you didn't used to have a place to stay, right? On the bright side, that blue upholstery was really ugly, didn't go with your walls at all.  I'm not sure they'll get all the pieces packed onto that trailer thing. A whole lotta folks are backed up watching them try, though.

I'm not going to think about injuries. Nope. Won't do it. Not gonna go there. At least nobody burned.

You hear that? NOBODY BURNED!


I kept waiting for it to improve. Eventually it did, with the whole city of Fargo to act as windbreak. Gas stop. Salad break. Phone check-in. Steve worries. He also is feeling chatty all day. I just want to reassure him and get on with it. This day I'm stopping driving to use the cell phone.

The optimist, the prideful Minnesotan in me thinks that hitting the border means better roads. Even if the weather doesn't stop at the border, surely plowing improves? The second I'm past Moorhead city structures, I hit the worst snow-drifted roads of the trip. There's a plow just now getting to them. My right lane is still passable, going slowly. The real good luck comes a few miles farther, when the road turns from straight east to southeast. With the wind at my back, no snow is crossing the road. Of course, every time it curves a bit, snow goes across, either covering westbound lanes or eastbound lanes, depending on which side it presents. Light traffic means long following distances and plenty of warning, time to drop from 70 to 40 safely.

Alexandria means a wait for hot wings, but fresh is better anyway. After that roads are clear. I can relax and eat on the road, at my leisure, in safety.

St. Cloud is timely, and dispatch hands me a run from Cambridge to Isanti, a hospice drugs run he can't cover. It will technically be a bit late, but that's fine. I leave the pharmacy just as the sun is setting. There's a teeny glorious band of gold on the horizon, just the smallest break in the clouds, and not enough of one for me to be able to see comet Pan Starrs, visible only this week, they say. Steve caught it last night, will again this night, maybe every night it's around. It's his first comet, and last night he was describing it for me, glowing in sunset colors. I'm just a bit jealous.

As I come in the door, finally home, Koda greets me as if his tail is going to wag itself off. With only Paul in the house the last two days, away working 12 hour shifts, his outside breaks have been severely limited. He's also used to lots more attention from a variety of people. Allergies or not, I relent and let him sleep at the foot of my bad that night. I missed him too.

I made it through. Despite the weather and roads, the lack of preparation, the excess time, I made it through my unexpected adventure. My knees got a big break, and didn't leave me aching with hours of driving still to go before home. So the question is, would I do it again, given the chance?

Hmmmmm....  Sure! Absolutely! Maybe not this week, not this weather, and not without some advance packing. Say, undies, toiletries, and meds. And some better choices in the CD holder. But yeah.


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