The day in snow: Blizzard roadtrip!

February 21, 2011

Part 1: Back story

I have a good reason. My friend Sara and her podcast partner Rob from How Much Do We Love are having a live performance in Chicago tomorrow night. Sara lives in California, I live in Minneapolis. One of my two best friends from Minneapolis, Rob, moved to California and is now one of her best friends. So Sara and I are friends via the transitive property. There are two Robs—my friend (and now Sara’s) and Sara’s podcast partner who lives in Chicago. Confused?

So Sara and podcast Rob decided to do a live performance version of How Much Do We Love. Since Chicago is in my neck of the woods, roughly speaking and definitely relative to California, I decided to hop in the car, contingent upon my tax refunds finding their way to my checking account. They did. As a bonus, my friend California Rob is going, too. But he was the lucky one. He got to fly. Today, he only had to drive from Madison where he had overnighted with his brother. Unlike me, who had to drive from Minneapolis.

I suppose I could have flown, but a flight is so much more expensive than three-plus tanks of gas in my economical Hyundai Accent. It’s a good car, but it has the bodyweight of a gnat and therein lies the problem.

It was no surprise that it blizzarded today. But the timing kept changing. By suppertime yesterday, I had resigned myself to waiting until Monday (tomorrow) to drive down, because the forecast at that time said the snow would start during the overnight. But when I woke up at 7:00 this morning there was not a flake in sight. The weather radar made me think that if I could just get going, I’d avoid a large part of the trouble. This seemed like the thing to do, as the forecast now said that snow would continue through about midday Monday.

Part 2: The drive

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Of course, hoping to leave within an hour turned into actually leaving in two. Okay, so I laid in bed for forty-five minutes contemplating it all while checking forecasts for cities along Interstate 94 and hypnotoading myself with the radar loop trying to figure out where the blob was going and how quickly. I hit the road at 10:15, just as the snow was beginning to fall in earnest in Minneapolis. I was still optimistic.

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For a while, just a while, I, in my fluffy little Hyundai Accent, managed to drive at speeds up to 50mph. That didn’t last too long. By the time I availed myself of the rest stop at Menomonie WI, conditions were deteriorating quickly.

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This is the mayhem that I was endeavoring to traverse, from the upper left pin to the lower right. Kindly disregard that one in the middle that’s out of line.

As I neared Eau Claire WI, conditions were approaching white-out (I refuse to spell it Wite Out®). What qualifies as white-out? At best, I could see 1/10 mile ahead of me. At the second Eau Claire exit, traffic was diverted off of I-94 to US Highway 12. Tonight I heard it was because of a twenty-car pile-up. At the exit, there were four vehicles in either ditch.

I shall now digress and editorialize about something that irks me at the best of driving times—tailgaters. It’s bad enough that when you’re flying down the freeway at speed, people think it’s okay to ride ten feet off your bumper. Today, in the blizzard+white out conditions, people were riding ten feet off other people’s bumpers. What in the name of [insert your favorite diety here] makes you think that’s a good idea when it’s slippery and you can’t see anything? Your tailgaiting me makes me go slower, not faster. It’s counterproductive. It’s a blizzard, for [x]‘s sake. Don’t be a fucking ass because you drive an SUV. Other people don’t.

I understand the limitations of my particular car and drive accordingly. It’s not a winter car. I had no business being on the road today. But since I foolishly chose to be so, I drove within the parameters that it is capable of meeting under such conditions. You’re just going to have to wait for me, or use the other lane to pass me. Your tailgating is not going to make me drive in a manner that my car can’t handle.

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So we got shunted onto Highway 12, and I stopped at the next gas station to use the facilities and to clear the ice off my windshield wipers. The passenger side one had been caked with ice since shortly after the Menomonie rest stop and my driver’s side was almost holding its own, but every now and then I had to open my window and grab it and try to smack it against the windshield as it made its pass.

The nice lady at the gas station recommended taking 12 to Wisconsin 53 to Osseo WI, where there is a big junction with I-94. It was while driving on 53 that I realized that was the way to go. The road surface may have been less clear than the interstate, but I had more confidence in it, and I quickly realized major advantages. On the less major roads, there was far less traffic, and trees, property, and any other stuff is closer to the road which allows you to more easily keep your bearings during blizzard driving, and it provides more interesting viewing while you’re driving so you don’t get fatigued by white white white white. I was delighted once again by Mother Nature’s beauty.

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I took 53 to US 10 just west of Osseo, where I stopped at the SuperValu for the bathroom and a snack. I decided to stay off I-94 and rejoined Highway 12 about ten miles further east. The snow began to ease and the clouds became less thick, and for a while, there were some really interesting quality of light things going on. I don’t know if these photos do it any justice.

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At Black River Falls WI, I decided to get back onto I-94. The lanes were pretty clear and I was fairly confident pushing the needle to 40–45mph. Quality of light continued as I moved into the “wintry mix” portion of the weather. Thundersnow was forecast for south-central Wisconsin. The clouds were alternately thick and dark, and looser with the sun almost poking through.

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Shortly after Black River Falls, there was a rest stop at which I paused. Just as I pulled in, it started to hail. Okay, so it was really tiny and probably technically large sleet, but I’m calling it hail. They were very discreet, peppercorn-sized balls. I took the opportunity to eat one of the sandwiches I had packed. I’m very glad I packed sandwiches.

Well, within about half an hour, darkness began to settle on the situation. I passed Tomah WI and began to have thoughts of hitting up California Rob’s Madison brother for a place to crash, because it was becoming apparent that it would be after midnight by the time I got to Chicago, or fourteen hours on the road in stressful conditions.

I tried to push on in the darkness, but it rather quickly became obvious that with the liquid precipitation that was now falling which was likely freezing rain, and all the semi-trucks that were whizzing past me in the left lane, temporarily blinding me each time, I was operating under very unsafe conditions and was rapidly becoming fatigued. I decided I couldn’t even make it to Madison and exited at the next lodging opportunity, which was Mauston WI, which is from where I’m now writing to you.

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I had a reservation at a Super 8 in Chicago, so that’s what I chose in Mauston, hoping I could transfer tonight’s booking here. Because of the extremely cheap rate, I couldn’t do that and had to pay here, too, but no matter. What’s my safety worth? Certainly more than the cost of a hotel room. And it’s a really nice room, too, well worth the $55 (my Chicago rate was $43).

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However, unlike its neighbor, the Country Inn Suites, it does not have a bar. So I went next door to DJ’s, and hung out for a while. Though I could have chosen the 16-ounce cans of Keystone Light for $1.50, I instead opted for the $3 Hacker-Pschorr Weiss and $3 Guinness Draught. I brought two cans of Guinness back to the Super 8 with me, which I have enjoyed while recounting my tale. So that was (ahem) five beers and a frozen pizza for $20 plus tip.

My safety, priceless. I will forge ahead in daylight tomorrow.

One Response to “The day in snow: Blizzard roadtrip!”

  1. Sara Says:

    Yikes! Now that’s dedication. I hope our show is good enough to justify all that crazy driving. 🙂 Stay safe on leg 2, and we’ll see you tonight!!


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