Home At Last and More Snow

Made it back home to Baltimore late last night after an all-day drive. Unfortunately, there aren’t any photo’s, as it was a case of racking up the miles and getting home. We left the mountains of Quebec in cold, but bright sunshine. This was actually advantageous, as the morning before, it had been relatively warm and the roads were covered in slush, making for very slippery and hazardous conditions. However, later in the day and overnight, it snowed and then the temperature plummeted to around the 0F mark. Even though the roads were plowed throughout the night, this gave them some texture and made the driving easier. That said, under those conditions, you don’t actually go that fast, especially not on twisty mountain roads, and definitely not in a relatively lightweight Prius on all-season tires. (Winter tires are mandatory for Quebec residents, but not for those from out of Province. That said, we will probably get a set for Diane’s car as we are often there in winter visiting family). Whilst good equipment such as winter tires, 4wd and traction control/ABS certainly helps, winter driving in such conditions still requires skill and concentration. Some people seem to believe that when equipped with such features, they can drive at speeds more suited to good dry conditions . We observed an example of this on Saturday afternoon. Two SUV’s went blasting past us in blizzard conditions whilst we sedately trundled along at a more sensible speed. A few miles along, descending Weir Mountain, we passed them again, one nose down in the ditch awaiting a tow truck. But I digress.

Once down out of the mountains, we made good speed to the border. Ontario highway 401 is an easy drive along the St Lawrence River, but it is one boring road!! After breezing through the border, we made good progress down I-81 until just north of Syracuse we ran into severe lake effect blizzards, which rapidly reduced visibility to whiteout conditions. This is a scary situation, as you literally can’t see anything, but white driving snow. Not the road, not the vehicle in front of you, nothing. You could tell those drivers who had blizzard driving experience, as we progressively reduced our speed as the visibility declined whilst others went blasting past seemingly oblivious to the danger they were causing to themselves and the rest of us. I’m afraid that I had some uncharitable thoughts. Ultimately, as conditions got really bad, we pulled off onto the shoulder to wait it out. We had food, water, extra clothes and a shovel, so were not worried. And there we sat for about 20 minutes with our hazzard lights on (though how much use they were in whiteout conditions is probably open to judgement), until the visibility started to lift, allowing us to gradually move on. Amazingly, after a couple of miles, we were in bright sunshine with not a snow flake to be seen. Lake effect snow does that. It can be very intense, but in a localized area.

After that, it was relatively plain sailing. Diane and I generally swap out the driving about every two hours, so we can make good progress and aren’t too knackered when we get home. As such, we were home by a little after 10:30 that night, which was actually good going, especially with the weather delays we experienced. After getting settled in and being mobbed by the cats, we called it a night, pleased to be home safe.

6:00 am the following morning. My first day back at work. The phone goes off and there is a nice message saying that the University is closed due to heavy snow and not to come to work. Excellent!! I looked out the window and yes, there was the white stuff flying around. OK, it wasn’t quite like Canada or upstate New York, but this the mid-atlantic region and they are not as used to snow here or how to cope with it. Any way, I wasn’t going to complain about an extra day off (though I actually worked remotely for much of it – sigh……). It pretty much snowed all day, so I lit the fire and got on with some work. The cats snoozed on the hearth rug and I got to spend the day with my wife. Excellent! It stopped about 3:30 pm with about 5-6 inches and I went to start clearing it. We have quite a long (~80 ft) driveway on a slope up to the road, so we have to clear it to get out. In addition, if we let it stand too long, it melts and re-freezes as sheet ice, making egress by foot or car nigh on impossible. So it has to be dealt with.

For as long as we have lived here, Diane and I have cleared the snow by hand using shovels. There is nothing pleasant about this. It is cold, boring and back-breaking, especially when you get the heavy wet stuff. With heavy falls (2-3) ft, it can take us up to 10 hours to clear things enough to make access possible. I’ll tell you now, that is a LOT of digging and by the end of winter, you really hate the sight of snow. Both of us had gotten fed up with this silly game and a chance comment to my lawn mower mechanic over the summer lead to me being the owner of a 25 year old second hand snow thrower for the princely sum of $150 (which is cheap – new they can be $800. Or more). The thing is a monster and this was the first time I got to try it out. Oh, what a joy it was. After filling it with fuel and spending a few minutes faffing around trying to start it whilst not realizing that I hadn’t opened the fuel shut off valve at the bottom of the tank, it roared into life. I had that drive done and the parking space at the back of the house done in a 1/2 hour. And had a whole lot of fun making snow jets whilst doing it. Indeed, I was having so much fun I did our neighbour’s drive as well (well, she had looked after our cats all week). And my back is definitely not complaining, since the thing is self-propelled and I don’t actually have to push it. OK, I think I need to make few adjustments, as I think it is running a little rich, but snow is fun again!

So all in all, a successful day. Unfortunately, it is back to work tomorrow, but I’m not really complaining. After all, I had a nice unexpected bonus day and what can be better than that?

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