Ice On The Road!
The basement bonus bedroom was dark and quiet. Julie asked me, “What time is it?” I looked over at the little nightstand and touched my Apple Watch to activate it. “Nine-ten,’ I said. “We have to get up!” she exclaimed.
Our Thursday morning was already starting late. We had hoped to leave Minnesota early and avoid the predicted snow. I quickly got dressed and headed upstairs where I was greeted by my in-laws, and our hosts the Petersons.
The large granite island in the kitchen already had breakfast laid out in a buffet style. Yogurt, frozen berries, fresh fruit, homemade granola, juice, an oatmeal bake. I spooned up some yogurt and tossed onto it a large scoop of frozen fruit. I grabbed a couple clementines and headed to the side counter for the coffee maker and a mug of strong black coffee. I sat at the big rectangular table and chatted with my relatives, as Julie came up the stairs and headed for the coffee. Grace appeared, followed by Kathryn. Will was still missing, and so I sent Grace down to rouse him awake.
Breakfast now done, we repacked the car. It was 10:30 AM and Julie reminded me that we had promised Will that he could go to Ragstock at the Mall of America. Ragstock is a hip Goodwill type of store that Will likes. The chain is Minnesota based, and there is no Illinois outlet.
I hate malls, but the trip to Ragstock was part of Will’s Christmas gift. The five of us piled into the Flex, and I dialed in the M of A on the car’s GPS touch panel.
The Mall of America has a Tim Hortons. As we passed it, I told the family, “After Ragstock I get coffee.” I wanted a little Timmy’s out of the deal. The family agreed.
Shopping and coffee completed, we got back into the car and drove towards the parking lot ramp. I could feel the Flex slip and slide. “Oh crap,” I thought. We were 8 hours away from home, and the roads were icy. We entered the expressway, which was moving at a snail’s pace. Despite the slow speed, there were cars in the ditch. I pressed the wash button on the car’s wiper control dial and heard the whir of the pump; no windshield washing fluid appeared. My windows were starting to salt up from the road spray, and the windshield was turning a pebbly opaque.
Car slipping, poor visibility, no place to stop. We moved on because it was the only option. Eventually, I was able to pull over and clear the ice from the wiper cowl. I could now get washer fluid on the window, but only from the passenger side nozzle. Some of that fluid would mist over to the driver’s side giving me a 1-inch swatch to peer out of. Double crap!
Into Wisconsin, we traveled and saw more vehicles in the ditch. Some looked like they just ran off the road, others squashed and belly up. We saw two semis abandoned; the second one was partially off of a bridge. Police prowlers with their Mars lights ablaze were everywhere. I could feel my jaw tightening as I consciously tried to stop grinding my teeth. I positioned my torso to the right to increase my view. This caused my back to stiffen up.
A December trip to Minnesota is always a game of chance. Sometimes we have clear sailing, at other times we face white outs and black ice.
On past trips, we have spent nights in random hotels in unknown towns, and even ate our Christmas Eve dinner at a truck stop. As the family’s main driver I do a minute to minute risk analysis. The tipping point is usually determined by my stomach. When I feel that it is in a permanent knot I know it is time to find refuge.
Yesterday’s trip was right on the edge but never crossed over the line, so I kept on driving. As we were about to exit Wisconsin, the windshield fluid ran out. Luckily, there was an exit ahead. I felt smug because I had an extra gallon of wash fluid in the car. I popped the hood, but I couldn’t figure out how to release its safety hatch. A wave of panic hit me with enormous force as it was injected with the stress of driving over 300 miles in abysmal conditions. I put on my “doctor” hat and forced myself to calm down. “Think logically. Give yourself a few seconds to gather yourself. Your panic is preventing you from accomplishing a simple task,” I told myself. With my terror down a few notches, I pulled out my iPhone and typed in, “How do I release the hood latch on a Ford Flex.” The 4th result on the search page gave me the required answer. Up went the hood, in went the fluid.
As we crossed the Wisconsin/Illinois border I pressed the windshield washer button for what seemed like the millionth time. Holy cow, both jets now worked, I could see out of the entire window!
I drove the final 100 miles back home. The road was less slippery, my windows now clean. The remaining trip was not stress-free; it was less stressful.
Dear reader, I write you today to remind you to be prepared when you drive in adverse conditions. We had proper clothing, blankets, food, and washer fluid. Yet I didn’t pre-check the window washers, and I didn’t even know how to completely unlatch the car’s hood.
When traveling in winter, dress appropriately, have an ice scraper, and a cell phone with you. Do this even if you are going a mile down the street to your grocery store. Remember, to use common sense, and trust your gut. Slow down in slippery conditions. Stay home, turn around, or seek refuge if you feel that it is too dangerous to drive.
Will we drive back to Minnesota next Christmas? Probably, but we will have food, sleeping bags, gloves, and anything else that I can think of to keep a stressful situation from turning into a dangerous one. Of course, I will check the windshield wipers.
Happy winter you ol’ Midwesterners! The rest of you don’t know what you are missing.