When you grow up or live a long time in snow country, you most likely have a winter driving horror story. I know, I do — several of them, matter of fact. I appreciated the editor’s note in the “Methow Valley Winter 2022-23” supplement to this newspaper. “Be attentive to winter driving conditions, which can be challenging and change suddenly (a codicil: look out for deer!).”
With the freezing temperature of late, there is always the chance of black ice and icy spots that can send a vehicle into a tizzy. Hence, the warning from the editor, “Take it easy, there’s no need to be in a hurry here.” Of course, unusually slow drivers can be too slow and should take note when they have a long line of cars behind them. However, the fast drivers who get their grill right up in your rear view mirror are just as irksome.
Recently, I encountered one of my all-time worrisome winter driving conditions — fog — on a return trip from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I always take the state roads that cross the state north of the freeway. The weather forecast called for rain, which I thought I could handle. However, shortly past Davenport, the rain clouds were very low with reduced visibility, but not yet what I would call “fog.”
Rolling along “OK,” I pulled over on the western edge of the little town of Creston to see if the Washington State Department of Transportation website would give the current road condition between Creston and Wilbur (where I intended to eat, gas up, and use the facilities). Unfortunately, the report for that section of road wouldn’t load, so I forged ahead.
The first car approaching me about a mile out of town had its flashers on. I thought that was a good idea in the conditions, so I turned mine on. Two miles out of town, I saw flashing lights ahead and the car in front of me stopping suddenly. Since my speed was low, I stopped without a rear-ender and quickly looked in my rear view mirror hoping the FedEx truck driver behind me saw the hazard. She did and pulled safely behind. Some of the subsequent cars were not so fortunate, experiencing being hit from behind or veering off into the barrow pit to avoid being hit.
Then we all sat, waiting for direction. The first authority to come to the driver’s side window was a National Park Service ranger. I had to wonder where he came from, being unaware of any national park in the locale. He reported multiple accidents ahead in the fog were blocking the road and aid cars had been requested. Soon the stream of ambulances, fire trucks, sheriff cars, State Patrol and then tow trucks began. The park ranger came back and thanked us for our patience (who said we were patient?).
I was regretting my decision to not gas up, use the facilities, and take the dog out for a potty stop back in Davenport. I thought about a tennis friend I had many years ago who lost her leg when she stepped out of the car in dense fog on the way from Idaho to Salt Lake City and was hit by the car coming behind. I did not want to set foot outside the car.
After more than two hours sitting there, the state patrolman began checking the cars that were in the ditch and/or rear-ended. I leaned out to get his attention and asked if I could turn around (since I was only the second car in line) and go back to Creston for relief. He agreed, if I followed him, went very slow, and had my flashers on. The dog and I had our own patrol escort.
Back in Creston, the town was full with stopped cars, semis and school buses. A football team was standing outside their bus, wondering if they would get to their game somewhere on the other side of Creston. The Town Hall bathroom had an endless line. With some forethought, I had called the two motels in Wilbur to reserve a room knowing that I would have little stamina to complete the drive home. One was full; the other had a room.
After sitting for over three hours in the car, the roadblock was finally removed and we were allowed to creep ahead. By the time I got to Wilbur, the fog had lifted. Isn’t that the way? Well, I’ll never pass through Wilbur that I won’t think of the night the dog and I landed there and had a Billy Burger for dinner.