Hours later, sitting at home after it was all over, once I'd had time to unwind, erasing the stress and, yes, fear from my mind, the one thing that popped into my mind from nowhere was the dog.
It had lived.
More accurately, I hadn't killed it.
Forecasters had been predicting the storm for days. Each time, even on the day, the prediction had gotten worse. A little snow became more snow, the timing changed, it started with rain/ice. After this winter you'd think they'd have gotten the forecast better. You'd think we'd have adapted.
By noon the first flakes started falling, tiny ones which turned to sleet briefly, then rain, and finally back to snow. Lots of snow. Eventually it dumped 11 inches here. But for me, it was a bit of a lark at first. I was heading east, out ahead of it, into rural Wisconsin, away from the crazy traffic jams it was sure to cause. It was another medical equipment run, heading out to Bloomer. Another place I'd never been. The drop before it put me near Stillwater, making 64 the logical route out.
The whole way out, I was in the leading edge. Everything falling was wet, but I still drove cautiously, never knowing when rain might become ice. It's been a tough winter and my inclination was to drive little-ol'-lady style. I already planned to exaggerate the road conditions on my way back in and call it a day rather than head back into the metro for more work, foolishly thinking I would be home early.
I needn't have bothered.
I noted a few things on the way out. First, there was a whole lot of nowhere out there, long stretches between what might pass for towns once you pass New Richmond. It would be beautiful, once warmer weather took hold. I also noted the shoulders of the road: practically nonexistent. They were skinny, well sloped for drainage, or for dumping off a car, considering they were covered with old ice. No safe places to pull over.
By the time I dropped my package, hit a gas station to use the facilities, and hit a MacDonalds for my 3:00 carb hit, aka an ice cream cone, it was snowing. The storm had caught me. 50 mph quickly became 45, then 40. By the time I hit home, over three hours later, 25 was all the car could handle.
Usually I get a lot of vehicles passing me when I slow down to what I consider safe winter speeds. At the start, a tanker did pass, leaving tracks I couldn't use for my own path, as he had this annoying tendency to drive over the center line. I did find one turn lane to pull over onto for a pickup who'd been patient for several miles to get past. By then there was enough oncoming traffic and bad enough road conditions that unlike most Wisconsin drivers in my experience he hadn't tried passing.
When the dog popped out, roads had turned to ice covered with heavy slush. You had to drive for being unable to stop as well as just needing to stay on it. The dog didn't care. Coming around a corner, there it was on my left shoulder, heading my way. Medium sized, short haired, grey brindle with black patches. It turned to look at me and started angling diagonally across the road in front of my car, its worst possible choice. I slowed, started hitting the brakes cautiously. There was at least one car on my tail, hanging back sensibly. It also dropped back, likely seeing the dog also, and seeing as clearly as I the inevitable. The dog kept on its track, as did I, until it disappeared from my view in front of the car. Still trying to slow, I laid on the horn, hoping to spur the dog on.
The horn may have been what did the trick. There was no thump, and I finally saw it emerge on my right side. My follower was still well back, and I slowly picked up speed again to a hair over 30. There was plenty more rough driving ahead.
The first gas station, the first sane place to pull off the road, was two hours from leaving Bloomer. I stopped again in New Richmond, typed to dispatch that I gave up for the day, and logged out. It would have been impossible by then to do anything productive, and I still had about an hour of driving ahead before getting stuck in my own driveway, just past where the plow had left a ridge across it. I managed to get stuck just far enough in that when he passed on his second run, he didn't clip my car.
After a quick stop in the house, I grabbed a shovel and cleared what I could on both sides of my front tires, then spread a handful of salt next to them on both sides. A bit of rocking finally gave me traction, and I managed to make it to my usual parking spot. Calling Paul to warn him, I came in to try to unknot my back. I'd also been foolish enough to try to clear a bit of the snow bank by the street. About 8 shovelfuls dissuaded me from that attempt.
However, it had to be cleared that evening. Temperatures were holding enough that it hadn't frozen yet. Tomorrow it would be an ice barrier two feet high and six feet wide. Later falling snow would stay as snow, so though it would keep coming down, and continue being plowed across the driveway, there would be no urgency. In fact, Paul and I declared a "plowed in" day for Friday, avoided a lot of bad roads going nowhere, and did our best to relax.
That's when I finally remembered the dog.