Tuesday, February 05, 2013

North from P.C. to T.C.

Dick wrote this essay about our trip north:

 This trip back to Traverse was unique. Because of the medical false alarm, we left Palm City a little sooner than we had originally planned. We wanted to get home to a doctor and a situation we trusted. The problem was the weather.

There were storm conditions moving across from west to east bringing rain in the south and snow in the mountain's and Ohio River valley. We decided to drive up 95 toward Columbia, SC on Friday and look at the weather that night. We had an option to go west from there to 75 or even to Nashville and 65, or continue north to Charleston, WV. As a result of our indecision, for the first time on our Florida excursions, we did not have motel reservations. One result is that on this trip we sometimes we went further that the 250 - 300 miles we usually schedule, we went as far and as long as we both felt comfortable.

The weather on Friday in Florida and Georgia was fantastic and the traffic was reasonable so after breakfast with Chip and Laurie, we pushed a bit further than usual. We stopped for lunch in Kingsville, Ga. because we were low on petrol. Jack's Bar-B-Que was spotted on, of all places, Scrubby Bluff Rd. What a colossal disappointment! It seems to me that ribs in a restaurant, especially in the south, should at least taste as good as the ones I cook on my smoker.

Back on the road, the traffic was light and we made it all the way to Columbia. Good lord, it's like we are in our 50's again.

 The Weather Station Saturday morning convinced us to continue north toward Charleston WV. We have had some bad experiences on this route in the past, many semis chugging up the mountain in the far right lane and then racing down the other side and "blowin' your doors off". On past trips we have seen a number of accidents with lanes blocked and trucks piled up over the edge. This day however was a breeze. We cruised through North Carolina and into Virginia. We entered the mountains and for the first time we saw snow. In spots, there was a dusting on the side of the road in the shade. As we continued north it became more noticeable off on the sides but with increasing frequency.

 We passed through the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel

 and on the other side, the amount of snow on the ground increased. A second tunnel,  the East River Mountain Tunnel. and we were in West Virginia.

 Now the snow was falling from the sky and for the first time, affecting the road. It was getting nasty and folks were driving crazily. Our target had been Charleston but we decided to call it a day at Beckley. We were anticipating that the road crews would get the plowing and salting done in the morning. Michigan played Indiana that night and lost. Nancy watched to the bitter (and it was bitter) end but I couldn't take it.

 Sunday morning we watched the weather and news, most of the churches in the Beckley area were closed and so we thought that if God had forsaken so many of the West Virginians this day, what chance did we have. We waited for a time in the room. About 3 inches had accumulated on our car. Finally, about 9 we decided to give it a try, maybe go as far as Charleston.

 Actually, as we drove out that morning, there was little or no snow until we reached the WV toll road. Although it was snowing steadily the roads were in fairly good shape until we hit the Ohio border. I just hung in the right lane and kept a good distance back of the car in front of me. Dick Dokas had sent me a forecast indicating that there was a weather advisory for SE Michigan so instead of heading north through Columbus (not one of our favorite towns) we decided to go to Lima which would give us the option of continuing on to the west. In the good old days when we were rolling south or returning from spring break in the Smokies on 75 with Neuperts and Sniders, Lima seemed to be just out the front door.

 It was Super Bowl Sunday and we watched it in the motel room. We both had a hard time deciding who we would pull for but decided that we would go with the 49ers, coach Jim was the M QB when Jana was in school and wrote her a nice note, Belleville grad and M linebacker Tink Nunley played for them and their current center Jon Goodwin is also a Michigan man. As usual, our support turned out to be the kiss of death.

 Monday was decision time, the radar showed a clipper system moving across from the west, we decided to drive west into it rather than north along the front of it. If we had to we could hunker down in Fort Wayne. The road across Ohio and into Indiana, US 30, was snow covered and it was coming down heavily. However, traffic was light. It is a 4 lane road but not limited access, a speed limit of 55. I was happy to cruise along 5 MPH or so under the limit. Once again I was upset with the folks (often in white or silver cars) who do not turn on their lights. I get very nervous when I suddenly realize that mysteriously, suddenly, there is a car sitting on my back bumper.

 We crossed into Indiana and the road conditions worsened. We decided that when it comes to winter maintenance, in the contest between the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes win. We spotted quite a few plow trucks working the road in Ohio, once we crossed the state line, we saw none. Outside of Ft. Wayne, the snow let up and I 69 was not bad as long as you stayed in the right lane. I kept an eye out for an escape route in case something happened up ahead. Although at times there was a ditch or guardrail on the right side, the median was usually wide and flat. We figured that we would at least get to Angola, maybe cross the Michigan line before fatigue and road conditions took over. As we approached the toll road crossing, the snow picked up and there was an accumulation of snowy slush building up between the lanes. Changing lanes was getting chancy and so some folks got out in the left and hung even if they were only going 45. There were a lot of folks swerving back and forth. Trucks rolling in the left lane threw the slush back across the adjacent lane.

 We crossed into Michigan and we were both happy. Now we'll see how roads should be treated in the winter, now we'll see the salt trucks.  Not!   Soon we hit a stretch of concrete which had been grooved longitudinally. This is supposed to increase skid resistance and eliminate hydroplaning in wet weather. In this case, with the road surface frozen it appeared to have the opposite effect to me. I felt a lack of traction and control. Our car seemed to be slightly drifting back and forth in the lane. As a result, I throttled down and decided to just hang in the right lane. We wondered if perhaps our tires had become snow packed but that didn't stand the test of logic. Cars were passing us so others didn't seem to be having any problem.

Up ahead, a truck put on his four way flashers and began moving into the left lane. I stayed put. Further up the highway, we saw 3 or 4 vehicles off on the shoulder with people walking along side, I cut the speed further, down to maybe 30. To the far right, maybe 75 to 100 feet off the road we saw a car flipped on it's roof. Then we lost traction. Our car began sliding off the road. I got off the gas and lightly tapped the break pedal but had no control, we just kept sliding toward the shoulder and the guard rail. At least we won't hit hard, I thought. Then, when we were off the concrete and on the asphalt shoulder, the tires regained their grip. I hit my flashers, slowed to a near stop, got a grip on myself and then, when traffic cleared, eased back onto the pavement.

We were less than a mile from an exit, we pulled off and spotted a MacLand.

We made a potty and beverage stop, grabbed a booth and made use of their Wi-Fi. We discussed calling it quits for the day, the medical pressure was gone but like the horse, we were heading for the barn and wanted to push on if we could. I looked at the radar and saw that the snow was just in the southern part of the state. We decided to bag the expressway and drive the surface streets for a while, let's take Michigan Ave. to Battle Creek and see how it goes.

It went well, speeds were less, traffic was less, stress was less. When we got to M66 we turned north, there was no traffic! The only thing we saw was a farm truck hauling a trailer load of hay and when we caught up to him he pulled over to let us pass. We had never driven this part of 66 before, it is just open farmland. There is only one little town, Nashville, where we stopped for lunch. I think we were the only non-locals they had seen, everybody else knew each other. Each person who came in (4 or 5) spoke to the other people who were already there, booth by booth and discussed their health, kids, families, etc.

 Back on the road, the weather and roads cleared just as we had hoped looking at the radar. When we got to I96 it was pretty clear and traffic was flowing well. We hopped on, made the turn at Grand Rapids and were in the clear. After we made a MacStop in Big Rapids the sun came out. We hadn't seen it since Virginia. A quick stop for soup fixin's in Kingsley and then home.

 Kathee from the visitor's center had come out and she, her husband John and McLenithan had the drive cleared.

We pulled right in at about 5:30. I had laid a fire in the wood stove before we left so it was lit, the thermostat was dialed up and after an hour of thrashing about, the car was empty and we were home. The house is always cold soaked when we get home so it takes a solid 8 - 10 hours of the furnace running to get it up to comfortable but this time I had only dropped the thermostat to 55 so it wasn't that bad. The outside temp is in the low teens and there is 6 - 7 inches of snow on the ground. We both slept well.

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