Have you ever said “there will come a day when…” or “one of these days…” something similar? I have and yesterday was that day.
First some background. We live in the Central New York snow belt and at medium elevation. By medium, I mean higher than the city of Syracuse and the Mohawk valley, but lower than the Tug Hill plateau and the Adirondacks. Our village sits near the top of one of those long hilly ridges that Central New York is so famous for (our house is roughly 1350′ of elevation). Unfortunately that mean my commute climbs the roughly 1000′ of elevation gain on the way home. About half of that occurs in a short stretch right at the border of Onondaga and Madison counties. Certain times of year, particularly towards the beginning of the snow season, this stretch of road can be treacherous for several reasons:
- Afternoon snow: Obviously our winter weather can make any driving hazardous, but when it falls heavily late in the afternoon, it seems to not get cleared as effectively as other times of day.
- Elevation gain: As I said, there’s about 500 feet of rise in a mile or two.
- Traffic: A fair number of commuters use this roadway to return from their Syracuse metro jobs to their Madison county homes.
- Road width: The uphill run on this road is two lanes to allow for slow hill-climbing traffic. This causes some inconsistency in where the ‘optimal line’ gets carved in the accumulating snow. The net result is a hodgepodge of crossing tracks and chunked up snowy slush.
All of this combines at 6PM, late in the commuting cycle, to a very polished slick roadway covered in freezing slushy ruts and snow.
Combine that with the fact that my car is small, light and has some heavily worn semi-performance tires… and… Yesterday was that day when I was unable to make it up the hill.
I was making good progress at first, but as each slushy rut caused a slip, I had to back out of the gas to maintain traction. A few downshifts later and I was crawling up the hill at the edge of stall. A few seconds later I was slipping forwards with my wheel turned about 90 degrees to the right to keep from sliding into opposing traffic. A few seconds later and I was smelling hot rubber. This, as they say, is a bad thing.
I managed to turn around and make my way safely back down the hill to a gas station. I called K to let her know I was going to be a while and took stock of my options.
My left front tire had essentially no tread left on the outer edge, but was fine in the middle and inner edge. These tires actually come with less tread on the edges for cornering, but that is far from ideal for snow. The right side was fine which explained somewhat the wanting to spin on the left… and the spinning didn’t help the left tire any I’m sure. So I filled up the gas tank, which was nearly empty anyhow, adding weight to the car. Then I rotated the left side tires (they’re directional) in the parking lot of the Rite-Aid next to the gas station. Remind me not to rotate the tires in a wet snow-storm in a parking lot again. Finally, I opted to take a different route home. Obviously just as much elevation needed to be climbed, but I was banking on LESS traffic being better for the road conditions (snow being less slippery than packed/slushy snow).
This also took me home past The Manlius Formation in case things went horribly wrong on the climb. On multiple occasions I had to make two runs at hills that followed stop signs or right angle turns, but I crawled my way up the hill and on to the home stretch. Of course, I was not out of the woods yet, because a half mile from home, I hit a tree.
Really. It was lying in the middle of the road and I was pointed at the thin branchy end. Doing some quick calculations in my head (there would be no steering around it while staying on the road) I decided that the branches would not wreck my car. WHACK! as the branches slapped off the windshield and I was through. One small dent on the hood (to add to the collection) and a nice bend in my (long since non-automatic) antenna, but I can live with that.
By 9:30PM we lost power at home and went to bed.
Welcome to old man winter.