Driving in the White Death

Last weekend I had a little inspiration to write the first blog entry in a long while. It might be a rehash of something that gets discussed a million times here in the great white north but it gives me a chance to tell a story that is only funny after the fact. Maybe someone can learn from my mistakes.

My dad and I had ventured up to Price county for a long weekend to try to get at least one more deer in the waning weeks of bow season and to try our luck ice fishing.

We knew there was snow in the forecast for Sunday morning so we decided to get some of our stuff packed up the night before and were all set for the two to four inches of snow that were being predicted for Saturday night.

When I woke up Sunday morning about ten inches of the White Death were already on the ground and I was thinking through in my mind what exactly I would say to the Bush League meteorologist if he had been standing in front of me.

Without wasting any time, we packed the rest of our gear into the truck and at about 8:30AM we started down the long gravel driveway toward a long gravel road. I remember remarking how beautiful and quiet the scene was.

After carefully navigating the twists and turns of the backcountry driveway we came to an open area where the snow had drifted in such a way as to make it impossible to know where the road was.

About a third of the way into the clearing my dad found out where the road wasn’t. We were stuck.

Now, I may have never worked as any kind of automotive expert and I don’t have a PhD in physics but in my short 27 years, I would say that I have developed a keen understanding of human nature. From that I concluded two things: 1) Dad was going to floor it and spin the wheels digging us into an even less navigable rut and 2) I was best to just sit there and not give him any driving advice.

It is here that I will stop to make my first point: While packing up the truck, in the midst of placing it in the bed, I was talked out of bringing a shovel.

No matter how short the trip, no matter how little space there is, there is no reason to leave behind the sorts of things you would need to get unstuck and moving including…

Kitty litter/ ice melt/ salt/ sand
A chain or heavy strap
Jumper cables
First aid kit

After making the realization that we were not going to get out with the current inventory of objects on hand we began the long walk back to the house to get anything and everything that we thought might help get us out.

We grabbed a chain, 2 shovels and a 400cc ATV and we were on our way back. While it made it a lot easier to get back to the truck I had serious doubts about the ability of an ATV to pull a 3/4 ton truck out of anything.

We got back to the truck and found it in the same condition we had left it in. I quickly got to work clearing away as much snow from behind and under the truck as possible. We hooked up the chain to the truck and ATV and using the combined power of the truck and ATV we managed to accomplish absolutely nothing.

We piled back on the ATV and went back to select another vehicle to use.

The next vehicle we tried was a used up Jeep Wrangler. Now, before I get any nasty responses from the many current and former Wrangler owners in the crowd, I must tell you that this thing was a used up hunk of junk years ago. Unable to get it started we opted for what should have been the first option: a 1/2 ton 4×4.

Try as we might, the 4×4 just didn’t have enough hutzpa to get the job done. At this point there was a brief discussion of giving up and spending Christmas in the middle of nowhere.

Instead of giving in to the temptation of hypothermia, starvation, and eventually death I took the 4×4 back to the shed and loaded it down with as much heavy junk as I could find to put in it.

Second point: If you have a vehicle with rear wheel drive, four wheel drive or all wheel drive… for the love of god, put some weight in it over the rear axel. The time you save will be your own.

Low and behold, with the extra weight in the back of the 4×4 more than did the trick and we were back on the road… for all of about 75 yards. It was at this point my mind wandered back to the Jack London short story, To Start a Fire, about the guy who slowly freezes to death due in equal parts to the cruelty of nature and his own stupidity. The frozen legs of my jeans stiffly swayed as I walked back to get another shovel to replace the two we had broken already.

Stuck again and in a deteriorating mood, I got back to the shed in an attempt to start the Jeep, which despite its decrepit condition, did have a plow attached to the front… It was time to work smart instead of working hard for a change. Perhaps getting the Jeep started and using the plow to clear our way was a required means to an end.

Well… it still wouldn’t start. I spent more precious time while the snow continued fall to charge the battery. After getting the battery back in it fired right up after about 20 minutes of carefully pumping the gas to keep it from dying. We were back in business. By this time there was nearly a foot of freshly fallen snow on the ground.

Third Point: Get a decent battery and even if you think you have a decent battery, have it checked out. I know the temptation to save 20 or 40 bucks buying a cheap battery is strong but the cost of missing one day of work or paying for a tow makes up for that difference immediately.

I plowed my way back to the stuck truck to find it in a marginally better position than I had left it. I used the plow blade to push it out and then followed close behind as we made our way to the road.

Much to my surprise the county road crews had made it all the way out to our secluded location and the gravel road at the end of the driveway was relatively clear. I used the plow one more time to nudge the truck on to the road and we were back in business again.

My dad made it about 1/4 mile up the road and, in an attempt to pull over for a county work truck, made friends with the ditch for the third time.

After getting out twice already we were getting really good at it and in no time were free again. After his third strike, I opted to take the wheel and began the slow crawl home.

All told, what is usually a five hour drive took about 13 1/2 due to bad road conditions and getting stuck.

I hope someone can learn something from my tale of woe. And if anyone else has any winter driving tips please feel free to add them.

Best wishes to the WNPA membership for a happy new year and a safe winter driving season.


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