Back Off Northerners, It Wasn’t Just Snow!

Morgan Road Snow Jam 2014This week, our region experienced a snowstorm. It was predicted to fall south of Birmingham, therefore, all of our sand trucks had traveled to help with the expected mayhem in that direction.

When my boss said that he was leaving because of his long commute home, and told us that we could leave if we felt we needed to, I waited around for a little bit. I and another coworker hung out at the window, watching the snow fall, and watching the strong wind blow it around. As I watched it blow, I thought to myself that there was no way this snow would stick to the roads. And I thought that I might be a weenie for leaving so early.

After 30 minutes or so of looking at the snow, I decided that I might need to leave. As I exited the building, the snow was covering the sidewalk, but there was no problem traveling on foot. As soon as I reached the first street, however, I realized that I might have a problem. As soon as I stepped from the curb, my foot slipped, and I looked down to find a solid sheet of ice, with some loose snow on top just for good measure. How does this happen when the temperature hasn’t risen above freezing for two days? I still don’t know the answer to that.

Four blocks later, I reached my car, and pulled out onto the one-way that leads directly onto one of the interstates that passes through Birmingham. Traffic was flowing just fine for the first few blocks, but then it simply stopped. After waiting for 20-30 minutes in this extremely slow line, I turned right, then left and left, and came back out ahead of much of the traffic I’d been behind. Then I saw the problem: cars had wrecked on the ice on the freeway entrance ramp, and it was completely blocked. In Birmingham, all the interstate entrance ramps go up, because the interstates that travel through our fair city are all elevated.

I spent the next two hours navigating my way out of the city, but not before getting gas. I waited behind two cars before filling up, and there were at least three cars waiting for me to leave. One of the main thoroughfares out of the city to the West is a two-lane street dappled with redlights, and it eventually merges into one lane. Needless to say, until the merge happened, we were sitting bumper-to-bumper, eeking along inch by inch, sliding when we came to a stop after traveling five miles per hour on the white sheet of “snow” that had melted ever so slightly and formed into a solid sheet of ice.

After breaking from traffic, I trudged along ever so meekly until I came to my first real hill. Traffic was stopped for 20-30 minutes while a bulldozer pulled stranded cars over the hill. Luckily, my front wheel drive came through for me when it was my turn to go. The next few miles went by slowly but well, until someone passed a line of cars on a bridge. In the other lane. Luckily, no one was approaching from the other side, but I gave her a look that should have melted every flake of snow on that bridge.

The next hill proved more difficult. Traffic was stopped for quite a while in one of the only slushy places I encountered all day. One by one, cars skidded their way over the hill, while people walking kept significant pace ahead of us.

On the last stretch – maybe 10 miles from my home, traffic came to a standstill. Word on the street was that a truck had overturned, and crews were trying to upright it. Along the way, as we inched our way forward thirty minutes at a time, I would see folks getting out of their cars to stretch. As soon as they would put their feet down on the ground, they slipped and fell. The road was white, but it was not covered with mere snow.

Since I had not anticipated being in my car for five hours (at that point), I had left my office without using the restroom. I searched through my car for some sort of vessel, but alas, the only thing that remotely fit the bill was my 32 oz coffee cup. I hated to soil the cup that was the source of so much joy for me on morning workdays, but I felt as if I might have to be taken away by some ambulance that couldn’t actually reach me if I didn’t do it. I did it, and was as sad as I was elated and relieved.

Several hours later, I was on a hill, and was the next car. It was do-or-die time. I was on a two-lane road with a car parked on both sides, just barely able to make it through without sliding into either one. On this hill worked a group of volunteers; they were guys, who by their own description, were just trying to get home to their wives. I had seen one of these people an hour earlier hiking up the road with a shovel in his hand. That shovel now determined my fate. One of the guys shoveled dirt from the road’s shoulder under my front tires, and then the guys behind me pushed. They really had to give it five or six real efforts over quite a distance before they could get me over the hill. After I got over, two men walked with me to the down-sloping intersection to make sure I didn’t slide off into oblivion. As I approached the intersection, a guy in fatigues slipped and fell onto the ice in front of my car. Luckily, I was creeping along so cautiously that I was able to stop before… well, you know.

I made the turn, yelling my thanks out the window as the guys returned to help the next-in-line. But then I saw what was to come. I had forgotten about the next hill. It wasn’t sanded or salted, and there was no one there to help. I tried to gain a little speed as I drove across the preceding bridge. Up, up, up, I went, on this 40 degree hill. And then I started sliding to the right, luckily, just past an SUV that had sought refuge on the shoulder. I was able to stop, but every time I released the brake to nudge the accelerator, my car slid backward on the ice. I was truly stuck, with no one to help.
Not much time passed before a large truck came past me. The truck pulled to the shoulder, and its driver parked, got out, and offered to help. He tried to push me, but the hill was too slick – it was polished ice, and he was sliding too. He helped me back off the road into an open space on the shoulder, and then gave me a ride to the top of my subdivision.

Yes, it’s a long story, and I’m just now getting to the point. I’ve heard so many criticisms from Northerners over the past several days that we Southerners are “dumb” and just don’t know how to drive on snow. Um, it has snowed here before – in fact, many times recently. However, I have never encountered 25 miles of solid ice sheeting the road. I don’t know what kind of cars you guys drive up there, but I have a European car that originates in a very snowy country. Guess what. It won’t go uphill on ice! I don’t know of many cars that would be able to tackle a 1000 yard hill that is covered with ice. Not sleet, not snow, not slush, but solid ice. If you have a car that will do this, don’t even bother to tell me what it is, because I’m not going to buy one. This is such a rare occurrence that I will probably never need again it in my lifetime. I may, however, be sure to keep some snacks and a urinal in my car, just in case.

I feel that I may have been more persistent than some others in my trek home Tuesday, because I didn’t give up until I was beyond help. I’m sure that many other people reached that point before I did. I could have easily walked the last seven miles to my home, but I just knew I could make it. I didn’t. But, I had traveled 21 miles on ice, peed in a very tall coffee cup while seated in the driver’s seat, and reluctantly taken a ride from a very nice stranger. And my family walked up the hill to meet me at the top of my very icy subdivision road. The 11.5 hours it took me to get home was stressful, to say the least, but I had a hot dinner and a warm bed waiting for me, while some of my friends and colleagues slept in their offices on chairs.

If any of you guys up north ever find yourselves in that predicament, please let me know. I will send you a shovel and twenty volunteers.