Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ice the Season

‘Tis The Season,

I don’t know why I like that phrase so much, maybe because it is popular and exceedingly rare at the same time. The use if ‘tis is not seen often at all, but it has a certain magic.

And of course, being Canadian, the word “season” has special meaning, as do all terms relating to weather. It is a mystery to no one that we are passionate about our weather. As a case in point, yet again last week, there was a weekly comedy series on a French channel (Radio Quebec) that expounded on the hardships of 400 years of Canadian winter to an exchange professor from Rwanada, no less.  

Even on good days, Canadian weather is right there, in your face, all the time.

So it was on the eve of December 23rd. There was a forecast of freezing rain - the dreaded, for the afternoon. My wife and I were planning our trek to Montreal in the afternoon, to visit with family and friends. Upon hearing the freezing rain advisory, we decided to pack up the ice-tire shod SUV and leave in the morning.

Yes, our 4Runner can get through anything, which is the main reason we bought it, but freezing rain? Well that’s just something else entirely. Ask any Canadian driver who has been forced by circumstance to drive in that shit, and you will immediately get a sombre thousand-yard stare and rush of hatred.

Nothing so completely takes away any illusion of control over your own life quicker than a mere ½ centimetre of freezing rain covering the countryside.

You can’t see the ice, but you can feel it in the pit of your stomach. You tread on it, and you hope all is well, but in the back of your mind, you know full well that your purchase over ground is nil. In fact, any depression or incline will send the back of your mind splattering to the front. In a vehicle, the stability afforded by four rubber pylons will actually become a liability when trying to stop before hitting the curb, or the city bus in front of you.

We scraped the windshield and fired up the rear defrost. Keep in mind that we are in a 5000-pound juggernaut equipped with the best-money-can-buy full-on ice-tires. None of that all-terrain crap, none of that 4-season-which-are-actually-only-2-&-1/2-season tires either, I am talking the best ice tires that engineers at Yokohama could come up with.

We left my in-laws place at around 8:00pm, hoping that the main roads would be salted. We returned at 8:10 after thrashing our way around the block. This is in east-end Montreal, where a block is maybe 100 yards long. So we travelled some 500 yards in 10 minutes, and by the time we got back inside, my nerves were shot and my hands already crisp from the grip-o-death on the steering wheel.

For those uninitiated, a 4-wheel drive can launch off a corner, even an icy one, but it won’t stop any quicker than any other vehicle on the road.  On glare ice, I never gear-up the 4-wheel drive feature anyway and leave it in rear-drive only, as I did this time as well.

The 4Runner is equipped with off-road ABS, which makes them hyper-sensitive to back pressure, such as you would get on slippery mud or wet grass. Freezing rain is actually so slick that there wasn’t enough pressure for the ABS to even kick in, not that it would help anyway. So we had 4-wheel lockup as soon as I would touch the brakes.

“Enough of this shit”, I though to myself, and turned back to sleep over at my in-laws. Even with my bad back, the carpet in the living room would be better than trying to confront this mess outside. We managed beds for all.

It was safer to check out the road in the truck, rather than walk the 150 yards to the main road if you can believe that. Each incline in the sidewalk will have you smashing a body-part against ice-covered cement, if you are lucky.

I’m assuming the salting trucks never made it out of their depot.

So we waited it out overnight. The next day was pissing rain, but the temperature had risen a couple of degrees, just enough to wash the ice and turn it to a thin sludge. We call it “slush”, yes, just like the sugary drink that will give you a brain freeze if you drink it too quickly. Freezing rain gives you a whole other type of headache.

It is against Quebec law to equip your tires with studs, which would solve the problem of course. Also, the use of chains is proscribed. I guess their reasoning is better to stay home and wait for it to pass.

So this was the opening to our Christmas celebrations. Every year we get at least one day of obtrusive road conditions, at some point, during our holidays in Montreal. We felt fortunate that karma took care of it on the first day, and left us well enough alone for the rest of Christmas.

We are back at home now, safe and sound, for a couple of days back to work.

And the New Year family celebrations are starting in 2 days.

I wonder what the weather is going to be like?  


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