Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Don't Like Winter

As anyone who's been reading here long will know, I had no intentions of being here for another winter. Winter in the mountains is not pleasant, and I had great hopes of escape. Not that the weather is that much different three hours down the road where I was hoping to be living by now, but the desired location is much more sheltered, in a river valley, and the amount of snowfall is significantly less, as a result.

So while I've become used to snowy winters, this one is earlier than most. Usually it's Christmas before the first snow of the year begins. January and February are pretty yucky, and sometimes March, but December is usually fine.

Not this year. The snows started in early November and haven't let up. I'm not pleased. Not pleased at all. It was even more jarring because we had an unusually warm fall, the weather not getting chilly until mid-October. Two weeks of fall and winter set in. Not pleased about that either. I like fall.

So this last weekend, I headed down to see Little Girl's Christmas play on Friday night. I had no plans for Saturday, and there is a place just a couple hours away from there that I've been wanting all fall to get to, to do a bit of research. So bright and early Saturday morning, I decided it was the perfect time to make the trip. It was chilly, but sunny and clear, and off I went, little suspecting the nightmare that was to come.

I intended to keep the entire trip a secret from my mother. The last time I planned on going out there, she and my aunt threw an absolute fit and forbade me to go, saying it was highly dangerous and I would get murdered. I didn't go, but on further reflection, I decided they were nuts, and I'd be fine. I let my sister know where I was going so if I didn't come back, they'd know where to send the search party, but had no intentions of letting anyone else know until I returned. ;)

So watching me head out the door, my mother told me to show my grandmother the video from the Christmas play the night before, thinking that's where I was going. I hesitated. "I'm not going up there till later this afternoon," I told her.

"Where are you going?" she questioned. "Oh, just running some errands," I replied.

"What kind of errands?" she pursued. Good grief, it's the Christmas season, I live in the boonies, and am finally in a real town that actually has stores other than Walmart. I figured she would just ASSUME I was going Christmas shopping! But no. She had to play 20 Questions. :)

"Just some errands," I repeated, and she stared at me and said, "You're not going to xxxx, are you???"

HOW did she KNOW? I hadn't even mentioned going there since October!

She went on and on about me getting killed again, and appealed to my father for support, but he agreed with me that she was overreacting and I'd be fine. We both assured her that the kind of people she was concerned about would all be in bed sleeping on a Saturday morning. It's not like I was going out there at night, after all. So off I went.

It was an easier drive than I anticipated, and the time went by quickly. I was surprised when I neared my destination and noticed some snow flurries, as I had not seen any snow predicted, other than a few flurries expected late that evening, which -- being out of the mountains -- I did not anticipate to be anything to worry about. The snow skittered along the surface of the road and billowed into smoky wisps. I've never seen anything quite like it. It wasn't sticking to the road though, and I kept going, assuming again that this was nothing to worry about.

Good old Zenobia, my GPS, piped up and told me to turn before the personal directions I had been given instructed me to. I hesitated, but wanted to see the area anyway and get to know it better, and so I thought okay, if it's wrong it's no big deal, I can turn around and come back and it will be nice to see what's out this way anyhow.

My destination, by the way, was not a city or a town as you may have assumed from the murder warnings, but way out in the middle of nowhere. Absolute nowhere. But it was critically important that I get out there and see it. I needed to be familiar with the area for a project I'm working on.

So. I took this road and Zenobia tried to tell me that my destination was a mere 3.5 miles down it. I was skeptical -- my handwritten personal instructions from someone in the area told me to stay on the main highway for another ten miles or so, then out another road for five miles, and then another one for two. If Zenobia was correct, that was certainly a much shorter way there, and I really didn't think the person would direct me the long way unnecessarily. Due to my past history with Zenobia, I doubted she was right, but again, it was just 3.5 miles and I wanted to see the area anyway. So off I went.

Well, when I reached the pinpointed destination, I knew I wasn't at my desired location, but I did feel like I was close. Unfortunately, there were three road choices, all hilly, and the snow was sticking to the road now. I tried to use Zenobia's map to figure out which one might be correct but to no avail. If there hadn't been snow, I wouldn't have minded experimenting, but these were back roads, and in a rough terrain, and I didn't want to risk it in the snow, not knowing just where these roads might lead me. So I turned around and went back to the highway.

(I checked google maps when I got home to figure out where she'd taken me, and determined that I was a mere two miles away from my destination, if only I had known which of the three roads to take. It's a really really rough two miles of road, because I've driven a mile of it before from the other direction, and all along its edge are steep cliffs. The snow was so limited at that point I probably would have been okay to have taken that route. If only I had.)

So back to the highway, on to the "town" (if you can actually call it that), and now began the part of the directions that read, "Go over two hills and across a bridge, then turn left."

Those were no hills.

Treacherous. Steep. Windy. No, not hills.

I wasn't even sure what constituted a "hill", as it wasn't like you go up and down, then up and back down again, which to me would be two hills. You wound around and up and down and around and up and down and I had no idea what the two hills were supposed to be. I arrived at a bridge, but the only option there was to continue straight or to turn right. I thought perhaps the left turn was just ahead, so continued straight.

And I drove and I drove and I drove. By this time, there was a good couple inches of snow on the road, and did I mention twisty, winding, up and down, and treacherous? I decided I'd gone too far, and turned around and drove it all again, back to the bridge. Then I checked Zenobia, and consulted the hand-drawn map, and determined that actually that wasn't the case at all. I hadn't gone far enough yet.

Back over those mountains again I went, this makes three times now I've taken the most treacherous portion of the trip. Still I was okay (praise the Lord for four wheel drive or there is absolutely no way I would ever have made it out of there alive) and finally made it to another bridge, where indeed there was a left turn.

Out two more miles to my destination, and I pulled over to do my looking around and take my pictures. On the bright side, I got to see what the area looked like in winter. I've only ever been there in the summer before, and with all the leaves off the trees, it really looks quite different.

I didn't spend a lot of time, obviously, as the snow was still pouring down and I knew I had to get back over those cliffs, or else be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

And did I mention my cell phone wouldn't turn on? I don't know what was wrong with it. It shut itself off and absolutely would not turn on for anything, even when plugged in. I don't know if I would even have had any reception if it had worked, but the fact that it wouldn't even turn on made it completely useless.

And then back across those mountains I went. Lots of skid marks all over the roads. Some cars along the edge of the road, where they didn't make it up, or didn't try. A couple of wrecks. Passed a couple of ambulances. Just the kinds of things you want to see when you have to navigate a treacherous road in the snow or else be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no phone.

The first steep hill was the worst. The road turned sharply and then immediately went straight up and around, so you couldn't take that sharp turn slowly or you'd not have enough force to get you up the mountain. So I held my breath, clung to the wheel, and went for it. Thankfully nobody was coming down as I was going up, because I slipped and slid all over that road despite the four wheel drive, but I just kept pressing the gas and praying hard to get to the top without slamming into the wall of rock on one side of me or going over the edge of the cliff on the other, because I knew once I started slipping backward, I was doomed.

And obviously, since I am writing, I made it. The worst was over, it was mostly downhill from there, and that's so much easier to do in snow than uphill, and the uphill bits that I did have weren't anything near as bad as that first climb.

Once I got over those "two hills" and back into "town", the road had been salted and so I was able to make the long drive back in relative ease. But on that cliff, I sure thought I was going to be a goner for sure.

So while my mother's fear that I would be murdered was way off the mark, the trip turned out to be quite a dangerous one that I feared I wouldn't survive after all.

The rest of the weekend actually wasn't much better. The hill going to my parents' house was quite dangerous as well, and even on the interstate before I got there, there were wrecks everywhere. I sighed with relief as I got to my parents' house, and called my sister. She was to go to a Christmas party that evening, and I was supposed to babysit Little Girl, but I was certain she wouldn't be going out in this weather. Wrong. She had every intention of going.

I decided the safest thing to do was for me to go ahead and go over right then, if I could still make it out, and then spend the night at her house rather than try to come back over the hill at night. It was a wise decision, my dad was crazy enough to go out later that evening, and he said the hill was in even worse shape than it was when I'd driven it, and that was pretty bad.

I really wasn't looking forward to spending the night at my sister's, however, because although I like the old-fashioned life and all, I don't care for it in the winter. My grandmother's sister passed away a couple years ago and my sister has been living in her house ever since, looking after it for her son who lives out of state but wants to return and live in it when he retires in a couple years.

I couldn't do it myself, even for the free place to live. The house was built around 1920. It is huge, very poorly insulated, and heated by one little gas floor furnace that my sister has nicknamed Hoss. That means that even when Hoss is fired up as much as he can go, the house is still downright chilly. And I don't like a chilly house.

Then there are the plumbing issues. There is no shower, only a cast-iron footed tub, which is actually kind of neat, except that I really prefer a shower. And the biggest problem with the tub is, there is lime or something built up so thickly in the pipes that only the slightest trickle of hot water comes out, making it take forever to fill the tub.

And I do mean forever. It took an hour to get enough water in it to give Little Girl a bath. At that point, there was no way I was emptying that water and taking another hour to fill it for myself. Like the pioneers of old, I decided to just use her water. When I suggested it, my sister said that's what they do all the time -- they all three just use the same water. Ick. I could stand it for one night, and it was just Little Girl, how dirty could she be? But all the time?

And I could never ever live full time without a shower either. Or in that cold house. They do have a little electric furnace downstairs, named, of course, Little Joe. And a small electric heater in each of the bedrooms. But it's still cold. And drafty. And did I mention cold?

Anyhow, I survived the icky snowy cold weekend and made it home safely, where more snow is predicted for the weekend.

At this point, I don't even mind skipping Christmas. I just want it to be spring.

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