Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No Cure For Stupidity

One hates to be the subject of one's own blog when the title is "there is no cure for stupidity." Especially when the stupidity occurred in an area in which I consider myself to be quite competent, i.e., driving.

The fact that I am a good driver may be due in part to the two bonus years of driving I have under my belt. These bonus years came about because I grew up in a state with no consideration for human safety Idaho. I have no idea if this still holds true, but in the 1970s you were allowed to obtain a daylight only driver's licence when you turned 14. Scarier yet is the fact that I had actually been driving (off road of course) for a couple of years prior to being legally sanctioned by the state.

It only took my driver's ed teacher one lesson to figure out two things. One, that I had driven before. And two, that the girl I was taking lessons with- a neighbour who shall remain unnamed- had never sat behind the wheel of a car in her life and, in the interests of all other vehicles on the road, perhaps never should be allowed to do so. What followed was a series of terror filled Saturday afternoons with me sitting in the back seat of the driver ed car the entire lesson while the instructor desperately attempted to teach my friend the difference between the brake and the accelerator. Those lessons didn't teach me much about driving, but I sure learned a lot about courage. Fast forward four decades.

Monday morning I had planned to drive down to Vancouver. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. Rebekah had taken the bus up to Kamloops to visit for the weekend and I had promised to give her a ride back, and there was an event at the Vancouver Public Library on Monday evening that I wanted to attend.

I had kept a close watch on the weather forecast and although it didn't look ideal, it didn't look dreadful either. The Coquihalla Highway is long, high, and when weather conditions are unfavourable, treacherous. One can never be too careful. Just before we headed out the wind suddenly picked up and in a matter of minutes the temperature dropped from -6C to -9C. I was actually happy to see this change, thinking to myself that the snow would be dry and light- the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up.

As we headed out of town I checked the overhead sign that has the latest highway information flashing across it. Conditions on the Coquihalla were described as "compact snow and limited visibility." I could live with that. After all, this is BC. If I stayed home every time there was compact snow or limited visibility I might as well give up and become a hermit. Here is where the "no cure for stupidity" part comes into play. I had neglected to check the road report on the Drive BC website. Apparently they were not painting as optimistic a picture of the conditions as the overhead sign. I had just committed a critical driving error by not keeping abreast of the latest conditions.

It turned out that I was right in my predictions of the snow being the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up. Those features almost became our undoing. Because the snow was not slippery vehicles were going at almost full highway speed, this in spite of the road being covered with snow. The fact that the snow wasn't sticking to the road also meant every time a vehicle went by we were enveloped in a cloud of snow swirling around us, making it extremely difficult to see.

If it had just been what you see in the picture above everything would have been fine. The problem was the transport trucks. At one point I looked in my rearview mirror and saw one barreling up from behind and knew we were in serious trouble. Sure enough, as it passed us we were immersed in a white hell. For a full three seconds we couldn't see a thing. It was much like looking out of an airplane window when the plane is in a cloud bank. Except for the fact that I didn't have radar to help me out. I was driving blind at 90 km/hr (55mph).

It took another five or six seconds for the snow to swirl away enough for me to be able to see where the road was, or at least where it was supposed to be under the snow that was covering it. Five or six seconds might not sound like very long, but I challenge you next time you are a passenger in a car to close your eyes for that length of time and imagine being in the driver's seat. Although not as extreme as when the truck passed us, the picture below gives you some idea of what it was like.

The sun did come out for a short time and provided a glimpse of winter beauty. Unfortunately I was suffering from post near accident stress disorder and couldn't muster up my usual appreciation for such sights.

There were three more horrific incidents on the 355 km (221 mile) trip, but I will spare you the details. Let's just say that by the time we arrived in Vancouver, a full three hours later than we had anticipated, I was a wreck. It was the second scariest driving experience of my life, and the only time I have actually started crying while driving. Keep in mind this is from the person who developed nerves of steel all those years ago while sitting in the back seat of that driver ed car.

The trip home was, I am happy to report, uneventful. The roads were still snow packed, but without the visibility problems of the previous day.

Maybe, after all, there is a cure for stupidity. The next time I head out on the Coquihalla in the winter I will be checking the Drive BC site for the most current conditions because they weren't kidding when they put up these signs.


  1. I'm so sorry, Kristie. I've twice been caught in unexpected weather and twice had accidents, so my hat is off to you that you made it safely.

  2. Ice and snow on the winter roads - the same here in Latvia. But my only one serious accident (I really hope it will still remain one forever) happened in summer. That's why I hate gravel covered roads more than those with ice.

  3. Wow! That's a long time to be engaged in such tense driving conditions. Don't be too hard on yourself, from the sound of it conditions on that road change so quickly you could check the update and still get caught in bad weather. I'm just glad you and R made it--a testament to your driving skill. I'm sure she had complete faith in you.

    I almost never share links to old posts of mine, but I end up doing it here a lot--I guess your stories inspire me! Anyway, I have a old "driving in the snow" story I'd like to share with you. It's so long I put a warning in the title. =) I didn't face the danger you did, but it was one strange day.

  4. That is scary. I remember a horrible experience from Dec 2009, when I returned home from town (usually it takes 20 min, if I drive slowly), but it took me 1.5h. We had black ice and a few kilometers long line of cars, literally bumper to bumper. And every time I had to move forward for few centimeters, my car's back side was totally out of control. I almost had an accident in few instances. When I came home, I was totally shaken up. I can relate to this experience of yours very well. I'm glad you're safe and sound.

  5. @kate- Well, at least I made it in time to go to the author's event at the VPL. I had visions of showing up after all of that only to find the event had been cancelled.

    @Leva- Yes, I imagine Latvia has roads that are just as treacherous as here in BC. Gravel can be every bit as slippery as snow and ice. Hopefully nobody was hurt when you were in that accident.

    @Ric- Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I am not sure I deserve it after this latest road trip. :-) And thanks for the link to your old post. I will read it in the morning. I'm off to bed early tonight due to still being in post trip recovery mode.

    @MKL- Black ice is horrible. There is absolutely nothing you can do to control your vehicle when you are on it. That must have been very scary, especially with a long line of cars ready to slide into you. It is hard to explain that shaken up feeling to someone who has never experienced it. It's definitely nice to be home safe and sound.

  6. I'm glad you made it home safely. My rule of thumb - don't leave the city between October 31 and March 31. And even then you can get caught out, like a snowstorm in mid-April in Kelowna I experienced once.

  7. Oh, wow. When we have snow in the UK we just all give up collectively. And you weren't stupid. The other drivers who were all going fast were stupid! You got there and back in one piece! You're a great driver ;-).

  8. That was a real near miss!! Glad you were OK!

    We had severe weather in this province yesterday and some huge pile ups on Hwy 400. I have had the drifting and blowing snow and it's scary for sure. aour main highway is the Trans Canada (hwy 17) and we have the same thing happening with transports. Not good but I'm glad you were alright!

  9. @Maureen- That is a good rule of thumb, but I am quite certain you have not always followed it. Just saying....

    @Susie- I smiled at your "we just all give up collectively" comment. That is what the city of Vancouver does as well.

    @amelia- Hopefully you were able to stay home during your storm. I am sure you have to deal with blowing snow way more often than we do here in BC. Not fun!

  10. Wow, sounds scary! (Also, wow that you can/could drive from the age of 14 in Idaho. In Norway, it's 18..)
    Thanks for the nice comment on my blog! There will be prizes, to be announced sometime this month. I'm not getting my hopes up though, there are a lot of great fixes here:

  11. It's always interesting to read about how other see and feel things I have to deal with on a daily basis ;) The driving you described is how we have it for months here. And living out on the country side means we have very bad roads due to bad ploughing :( And after 14 years of driving, I still hate to drive during the winter!

    You asked me if I read books in english more than norwegian. Well, I read books in both norwegain and english. Books are very expencive here in Norway, even in pocket verison, so I usually buy books in English. A english book can be around 3 times cheaper than if I buy the translated version in norwegian.
    But I do buy books in norwegian if I know they are very good - you know, the one you know you'll keep. And I use the library a lot to ;)
    But I think it's a great way to learn english by reading books. You learn so many expressions and words you don't learn in school. So I'll make sure my kids will try out some books in english soon ;)

  12. Trucks in rain are definitely better than trucks in snow. I've had the same scary driving experiences in Montana, so I absolutely sympathize.

    Of course, having "driving stories" is half the fun of living in the wide-open western portion of North America. :)

  13. @Retrobaby- The driving age is 16 here in BC, but I think it should be raised to 18 like it is in most of Europe. 14 was crazy!

    @Hege- We deal with it off and on for months. Somehow it never seems as bad close to home even though we get much of the same weather in the city I live in. Maybe it is knowing if something goes wrong there is someone right there to help out. Poor plowing would make a bad situation that much worse!

    I wonder why books in Norwegian cost so much more. Have you thought about trying an e-reader? I wonder if books would be cheaper that way.

    @Voie de Vie- I have been to Montana many times and I have to say that there does not need to be snow to make a driving experience there scary. Does Montana have a speed limit yet? When I was growing up and we would go there to visit relatives there was not a posted speed limit. Very scary!