Blogging friend Kate commented yesterday that she kind of cringed for poor Merritt and hoped nobody from there reads my blog. I will say that I am almost certain that nobody from Merritt does read my blog, but just in case they do I decided I needed to do some backtracking.
As I thought through my reasons for classifying Merritt as one of BC's armpits I realized something. Those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with the city itself. No, my opinion of Merritt has been entirely shaped by the fact it is the only city located along the Coquihalla, the major road from Kamloops to Vancouver. It is a road that goes over high mountain passes, is dangerous even when the road conditions are good (due to a deadly combination of transport trucks, inexperienced drivers, and speeding), and one that I have blogged about before.
If my experience in that blog post had been my only bad one on the Coquihalla I might not harbour such bad thoughts about that highway and, because in my mind the two are connected, the city of Merritt. However, there are three others to go along with it. I'll spare you a lengthy post and just tell you about one.
My worst ever winter driving experience happened about twelve years ago on what is called the Coquihalla Connector. This is a high mountain highway that connects Kelowna to Merritt, where it then joins the Coquihalla. It was one of my many trips with Alexandra from our home in the Kootenays to Children's Hospital in Vancouver. We were partway along the Connector when a huge blizzard hit. The snow was so thick it was impossible to see the road. Lest you think I am exaggerating, my friend Barb opened the passenger side door to see if she could make out where the road's edge was. An edge, I might add, that dropped off a steep embankment.
There was nothing. The whole world was white. I couldn't see the road. Barb couldn't see the edge of the road. There was no visible centreline. Just nothingness. We were like a plane in a fog bank, except we didn't have the ability to navigate using instruments. My first instinct was to stop. But there was a problem with that plan. Since the visibility was zero, there was no way a car, or worse, a transport truck, could see us stopped in the middle of the road even if I had my hazard lights flashing. In the end I moved forward at a snail's pace. My hope was if we started over an embankment I would be able to feel it in time to stop before we plunged completely over. It was the best I could do.
This went on for about ten minutes. Looking back on it I wonder if I even breathed during that time. I remember being more terrified than I had ever been in my life. Even writing about it all these years later makes my stomach feel icky. The thing that probably saved us is the fact both Barb and I are good in a crisis. I might, in fact will, fall completely apart after the fact, but in the moment I usually manage to keep a cool head. (In this case I literally had a cool head since I had opened my window and had my head stuck out as I crept along, hoping I might at least be able to hear an oncoming vehicle even if I couldn't see it.)
An hour later we arrived in Merritt, shaken but alive. We still had about three hours of the Coquihalla ahead of us, but the conditions the rest of the way were much better. Every once in awhile when Barb and I are talking this story comes up. I think the terror of that trip has left its mark on both of us. In my mind it began the association of Merritt with bad things, which is, of course, very silly. It isn't Merritt's fault that bad things happen on this highway.
Even more than that is has left me with a much healthier respect and fear of driving in winter than I might have otherwise had. The respect is a good thing, the fear not so much so. I try not to let it cripple me to the point I won't drive that highway from November to April, but to be honest I have to force myself to do so. It is also why I harass certain family members who think All Season tires are good enough for winter driving. They aren't. They are for all seasons except winter. So my heartfelt apologies to the citizens of Merritt. It really, truly isn't your fault and I need to stop blaming you.
At least I didn't have to worry about winter conditions this past weekend for the meat-up. A warm front has moved in, melting the snow on the mountain passes and in our backyard.