Whiteout


And then it was Neil’s turn to drive through the crappy weather. I handed over while it was snowing and blowing and settling. Visibility wasn’t good, you could see the yellow line from time to time, occasionally a bit of tarmac so you knew there was some road under there somewhere. I went to bed. Sleeping while the truck is moving has become strangely comforting now, although there is still an awareness of odd things happening. I half awoke at one point in the night under the impression we were reversing, put it down to a wacky dream turned over and went back to sleep.

At about 1 in the morning the truck stopped. “the road’s been closed by the police” advised Neil, apparently it had all got a teensy bit worse. The whiteout was now total. He had been directed to park in the car park of a little motel and garage just by where the police had cordoned off the road. And it wasn’t a dream, we had been going backwards. Shortly before being forced to stop anyway Neil had been contemplating the same after losing traction completely going up a hill. As the truck ground to a worrying halt, he observed that the tarmac on the other side of the road was a bit better ploughed, so had reversed back down a way in order to try going up again on the wrong side of the road.

Neil went to sleep and I promised to check out the lay of the land when my shift began at four in the morning. I duly arose at four and looked out of the window. The police car was still blocking the road. Yay, can’t go anywhere, more sleep. In need of a wee, I hopped out to investigate the facilities and landed in a knee-high snowdrift. The loos were closed. Having sorted out that little problem in ways that wouldn’t be polite to specify in a nicely brought up blog, I was thoroughly wet and cold anyway, so decided to nose about a bit in search of practical ways out of the car park as and when. There was another truck parked close in front of us. I would need to take a bit of a sharp turn to get round him, which would bring my wheels directly into some nasty snowdrifts. Sharp turns are fatal for maintaining traction. It looked a lot like a recipe for disasters of a stuck-in-the-snow variety, so I made a mental note to wait for him to move off ahead of us when the road finally opened.

I snoozed for an hour, looked out of window, road still closed. Snoozed for hour and a half, looked out of window, road still closed. At about 8ish I spotted a trucker striding purposefully towards the motel with coffee cup in hand; and naturally I followed. A real loo trip and a coffee later I was all perked up and ready to drive. Road still closed. I wandered around the truck, checking tyres and brushing snow off lights and reflective strips, we would be ready for the off as soon as they let us through.

Eventually the road opened. All the trucks arriving after us had been lined up on the hard shoulder, and set off in a cloud of freezing exhaust fumes, but the truck in front of us remained stationary. I went and hammered on the door. Several times. A sleepy face appeared and grimaced at me as I pointed out that the road was open and we could move but he was in my way. “Ok, ok” and he disappeared. We sat, we waited, we watched. As I drummed my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel and the truck in front of us didn’t move, people began to emerge from the motel and dig themselves out of the snowdrifts they were now parked in. The first to leave was a little U-Haul van. He made a desperate attempt to run the snowdrift that now filled the entrance to the car park but failed miserably
We were still going nowhere but at least there was now something to watch. People came and went with shovels and cups of salt. A little snowplough arrived to shovel the car park and tried to push the van forwards into the road. Then he tried to push it backwards into the car park. He gave up and began ploughing the bits he could get at, bearing in mind the two dirty great tractor-trailers and the lodged van in his way. An hour or so later a tow truck arrived and finally pulled the little van into the street and on his way. The snow plough driver hastened to clear a bit more of the exit while we waited for the truck in front of us to move off. He’d gone for a cup of coffee by this time though, and while I yelled ‘Noooo’ at the top of my voice, at nobody in particular, another car attempted the impossible and got itself stuck between the truck and the exit.

People, shovels, cups of salt, little plough trying to get round them and clear piles of snow away. By the time this car had been shifted, the car park was a mass of ridges of packed snow. “If he’s got any sense” I said to Neil, referring to the truck in front of us “he’ll wait for the plough to do that bit over there before he tries to get out.” As I said this, truck in front of us gave me a cheery wave and headed off out of the car park, to get his trailer wheels well and truly stuck in the snowdrift he’d not avoided by trying to avoid the bit that wasn’t ploughed yet.

People, shovels, ploughs etc. The combined nuisance value of a truck stuck in the car park and lots of delayed residents alerted the local police, who sent a little patrol along. He very helpfully dug out another car or two while commandeering a couple of highway snowploughs, one to widen the exit from the car park and the other to tow the truck out of the snow bank. We sat and watched. Another hour passed. I took a few photos.

Eventually, there was nothing between me and the road except for a lot of mangled snow. “I think I’m going to tell the little plough that I’d like to sit here for another five minutes while he finishes off the middle there” I told Neil. “We’re so late now, it won’t make much of a difference and it’ll be easier to make the turn.” “I’ll go, I’ve still got my boots on.” So Neil wandered over to the poor little man who’d been trying to do his job all morning, in between digging people out, and told him we’d keep out of the way for a bit. Five minutes later we were out and on the road.
It was slick, icy and slippery. The ploughs had been by and mashed the snow down into a solid layer of scariness.

The road east from Marathon, Ontario is windy and uppy and downey. We managed about 80 kph on the straight bits, a lot less on the hills and bends. Not very fast at all on the hills with bends at the bottoms and when the whiteouts whipped up. A bit pathetic, other trucks with presumably more experienced and less wimpy drivers flew past us when and where they could. After a couple of hours we were stopped again. Another police cordon, another road closed. Popping into the handy truckstop we’d been corralled in, we heard the gossip. A truck had ‘parked in the ditch’ in front of us. Behind us, the road was now closed again due to a seventeen truck pile-up with fires and people killed. All of a sudden I didn’t mind being the sort of wimp who drives slowly in ice and snow. Arriving in one piece any old how seemed to be sufficient achievement.

It took all day and half of the night. They winched the offending truck out of the ditch eventually and off we all trooped. The road remained slick, it snowed, the whiteouts came and went, blowing up without warning as the road wound around the lake. We emerged from the Lake Effect Winter Storm exhausted, stressed out and late. But we emerged, which is more than some did. Over-cautious? Moi? Probably.

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