01 February 2008

braving mountain passes...

reposted from myspace...

Well, this was the week I bid farewell to the lady in my life (for the time being). The trip over the mountains was quite treacherous as it happened. I tested the limits of my sanity in more ways than one and mostly came home unscathed.

The first omen was when the clerk at Shucks told me that they don't make chains for my tires. I know it is hard to imagine, but apparently they fall into some bizzaro land category where they are too unique and nobody cares to make chains that are even adjustable to that size.

They are traction tires and rated for snow specifically so I decided to brave it anyway. The pass was requiring traction tires Tuesday and no mention that we were required to carry chains or anything. Everything was going fine as it were until I got about a half mile from the summit. I knew I was close too because this pass is quite familiar to me. This is where I suddenly felt the tires slipping and I tried a lower gear to regain traction but no luck.I was stuck in the middle of the right lanes and people were looking at me like I was the devil or something even though they all managed to get around me just fine. Then when I thought all was hopeless the sheriff's Deputy came and offered a push to get me going again. Turns out that was all that I needed. However, he insisted Rachel get back in her car and press on so her car wouldn't get hit so we were to meet at the summit. The problem was that when she got to the top the parking lots were not plowed very well and she worried about getting stuck in them so she kept going. When I got to the top I tried to call her because I noticed the same thing, but I couldn't get through and I had no messages from her so I pulled into a parking lot so I could get out and look around for her and let her know I made it.

It proved to be a bad idea though because I got stuck in the entrance to the parking lot. The sheriff gave me one more push but insisted I get turned around and go down the mountain before I got stuck again because he had other people to go help. So I did, but I got stuck just before getting out of the parking lot. This was where the snow was piled up from plowing the highway and the ski area personnel had not plowed any exits from their parking lot on this side.

I was stranded there for quite a while, gradually digging my tires out and trying to make it move, all the while knowing that I only need to get a few feet before I was out onto the highway. Finally a staffer from the ski area drove by to see what was wrong and brought shovels to dig me out.

Meanwhile I had gotten a call from Rachel that she had decided not to stop at the pass and wanted to let me know now that she was back in range of a phone signal. I laughed and told her that I had stopped and gotten stuck and would now be quite a bit behind her.

So I got going again and took it easy on the way down assuming the worst of it was over. I was doing just fine using my lower gears to keep the car from getting too fast for the corners but at some point well down the other side of the pass the car lost traction and started sliding. I corrected but it kept sliding and now I was moving toward oncoming traffic, tractor trailer included. So I corrected again the opposite way and began to panic until I felt the car heading toward the snow banks on the side of the road.

I felt a sense of relief when I saw the snow fly over the window and the sunroof knowing this was perhaps the safest place to be, for the moment! I also felt quite embarrassed but got out of the car and told the folks in the SUV behind me that I was perfectly ok and once I had dug my car out I would be able to get going again, so they pressed on.
I didn't realize how difficult it can be to dig your car out of that much snow though. All I had was an ice scraper, albeit a large one, and the kind of gloves that cease functioning proper once they get a little wet (though still better than nothing). A little later a nice skier in a mini-bus stopped and offered me his shovel for a minute. I managed to dig out most of the snow around my right front tire and some of the snow under the front of the car, but it still wouldn't budge in either direction.

Then a DOT worker happened by and shook his head, noting that he saw me stuck both of the previous times at the top of the mountain. He still managed to help, but only after a lecture (I finally stood up for myself and told him to be glad I didn't hit the truck and all we were doing was getting me unstuck from the snow) about keeping it in the road and getting off the mountain before I caused anymore problems.

The problem this time was the only way to get me unstuck was to pull me out with a tow rope which is only a problem because my car is apparently not designed with any visible places to hook such a device onto. I was desperate though so I popped my hood and pointed to the first solid piece of metal I found and asked him to just hook it on that, which he did and pretty soon we were slowly pulling my car free of the snow.

Well, sort of--the right front tire was stubborn and all it really did was pull me around and my front end was still hugging the snowbank. He pointed out that the tow had dented the metal bar we hooked it onto and I should just see if I could back out of it now. Sure enough, I was finally free and I started back down the mountain, again.

Some hour or so later I finally made it to Leavenworth (going obnoxiously slow and probably angering many people behind me). I was able to meet up with Rachel around the time we should have been eating dinner but it was snowing hard in Leavenworth and we didn't know how far down it would still be that way and she wanted to get going so we wouldn't have to do as much night driving as it already appeared we would be doing.

So we pressed through to Chelan and most of that leg of the trip was quite normal, well until we got into Chelan again and I went back to going about 25 miles an hour. Then after dinner in Chelan we went up to Fields Point where we would stay until the ferry comes in the morning. A drive that probably should have only taken 45 minutes took about an hour and a half for us though as the road was almost completely covered with a thin-but-stubborn layer of snow and ice. I also remembered in the back of my mind a story of how a school bus went off this road and into the lake back in the 40's killing a dozen or so children and the bus driver in similar weather.

We finally arrived and found the place where we were to stay (though not without having to call for better directions) and I transferred all my worrying to what I would have to do the next day in order to get home.

Ultimately I decided to go stop in Wenatchee and see if they could check my alignment since my car was vibrating at higher speeds (approximately 60) and check one more time to see if they made ANY chains that would fit my tires, even if it wasn't a perfect fit. They couldn't squeeze me in until late afternoon for the alignment and the said that there were several issues why they couldn't sell chains for my tires, including a clearance concern since the tires were very close to the walls inside the wells and the issue of them having a low profile (if they could find a chain that otherwise fit it would chew up the rims pretty bad).

I finally resigned that I would just try to get back over the mountain as long as the restrictions were the same (or less than) as the day before, which they were. So I started on my way and kept checking the radio for updates. When I got to Leavenworth it was still snowing hard but the roads were much clearer than they had been the night before and that was the case much of the way toward the summit. It wasn't until you started the final climb up the summit in fact that the road became completely covered with snow and ice.

I also discovered something on my way up that gave me a clue into why I might have lost control the night before on the way down. I had been using my gears to keep the car under control without using my brakes. It hadn't occurred to me that if I downshifted at the wrong speed I would cause my rear tires to want to turn far slower than the car's actual speed, effectively acting like a rear-tires-only brake. Since I have the same kind of brakes on all four wheels this is totally unnecessary. Both times the cars in front of me braked hard enough to cause me to need to, I tried shifting from 2nd to 1st and lost traction and the car tried to spin out (though both times I was going slow enough to recover easily).

I put the pieces of the puzzle together in my mind and resolved both to keep my distance from the cars in front of me and to use my brakes and only shift when the car was at the right speed to do so safely. Amazing what you don't even think about when you ordinarily never have to drive a certain way (having always had automatic transmissions).
So I managed to get all the way to the top without losing traction, even though lots of people passed me and a couple times I worried that having to drive on the right (in the deeper snow that had not been freshly plowed) that I might be losing too much speed to be able to recover without losing traction again. It was the same on the way down. Every time someone wanted to pass it forced me to move over into the deeper snow/slush that would cause my car to want to slide around quite a bit. Still somehow I managed to get down to where it turned to rain and we all could do a normal pace again.

Finally I stopped off at the bottom of the mountain in my parents hometown where I still have many relatives. I visited my uncle who is a DOT man in charge of a significant portion of that pass and checked to see if he heard about the idiot in the black sedan who got stuck three times going over the day before. He hadn't and he said he was glad I didn't tell the last guy we were related or he never would've heard the end of it.

So that is my story about learning how to negotiate passes without the aid of four-wheel-drive or the piece of mind of having chains in the back of the car just-in-case. I suppose I'll have to blog about being home alone again, but I think I will do that later.Suffice it to say it was difficult to say goodbye (for now) and I am still processing her absence. The apartment is very much a mess and I might just leave it that way for a while. I still have a lot of rearranging to do. Well, I am going to start looking for a new car. Seems wise to get something that gets better mileage and can negotiate passes with ease now that these are the circumstances? Oh and a lower payment would be nice too! HA!