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Snow Joke


Walmart Parking Lot
Montrose CO


It looks so decorative in the campground, and sprinkled on the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon.

I really have been lucky with the weather ever since I left the soggy western shore of Washington. No rain harder than a mist, and no snow actually falling from the sky.

I did notice as I drove into Colorado Sunday that starting around Fruita the stock tanks were still frozen over in the middle of the afternoon. A few even had that gritty battleship gray color that indicates you could drive on them, assuming you didn't mind where you ended up. But the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, the road and the fields were dry, and what did I care?

When I came into Montrose it was getting dark. I stopped at a Chinese Buffet on Main Street to fill up. About 6 o'clock I contemplated a KOA in town, but yielded to my usual irrational dislike of commercial places and drove east on Hwy 50 toward Gunnison. My ultimate object is Lake City, and thence to Creede, and then the Spa at Pagosa Springs.

Seven miles out of town I came to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

When I drove up the hill in the dark, the sky was clear and shot with stars. The road was dry. The campground had a couple of sites that weren't crusty with last week's snow. I settled into one of them, surprised to find I could get 3 or 4 TV stations up there. The 10 pm forecast was for a couple of inches of snow in the Grand Junction area.

Allll riiight. More picturesque Christmas decoration to accompany me as I turned toward home.

About 6 am I woke up for some reason. The wind was shaking the trailer, and a fine layer of white stuff had covered the road. No stars, no moon. I got up and made some coffee, watched the flakes flutter against the windows. I even got out and took a picture. After the sun came up the snowfall intensified, so I got ready to leave before it got deep. Got to use that danged snow scraper I've been carrying around uselessly for 2 years.

No problem getting out of the park. There were only a couple of inches on the road yet, and visibility was pretty good.

I did discover that my old strap on chains didn't fit the new tires I put on last year.

What the hell. I stuck it in 4 low and headed down the hill.

When I went past the entrance booth I quickly entered a zone of light fog and heavy swirling flakes. I could see the road, but not far down it. The lower I got, the thicker it was, with drifts maybe a foot deep at the edges of the road. Getting deeper. The road began to twist and turn, descending steeply. I just crawled at a medium walk down the mountain, but more and more aware of the 7000 pounds behind me. I could feel the tires skid now and then when I touched the brakes. I was being pushed faster than I wanted to go.

And I began to think I had found myself a full fledged snow storm.

Touch and go. Touch and go. Very slow, very slow. I got within a couple of miles of the highway, favoring the inside of the curves, barely moving. Then I came to a stop. There was a yellow sign ahead with a big black S on it. I could see most of the snaking road directly below, about a 4 or 5% grade, 30-50 foot dropoffs on both sides and far below a 90 degree turn to the left, with a deep ditch waiting.

There was no damn way.

I was already stopped. Leaving the truck running, I put the gearshift in park, stomped the emergency brake as far down as it would go, put on my coat, and went around to the passenger side of the truck to get the chocks out of the bed. While I was digging in the snow back there to find them, I felt the truck move. What the hell. I was standing on the rear wheel, and it was certainly not rolling. It moved again. I jumped off, chocks flying. The weight of the trailer was pushing the truck down the hill.

And it was beginning to pick up speed.

It was then I found out I can still move pretty fast when I need to. I outran it quickly, clear around the front, briefly thinking it would be really stupid to die here, run over by my own truck.

The humor of the situation escaped me just then. And it didn't slow me down. The whole rig was heading for the ditch at an increasingly rapid pace.

Somehow I managed to get the door open and get in. Gingerly I touched the brakes. Jack-knife. Tried to turn the wheel, but that had almost no effect. By this time the whole rig was moving sideways, like the slow-motion wreck it was about to become, remorselessly approaching the dropoff at an angle.

I couldn't even jump out at that point, since the truck was headed that way. It would just mush me.

I took my hands off the wheel and kept lightly touching the brake, felt it slow a little, stopped when it started to jack-knife some more, then touched it again. Gradually I came to a miraculous stop with the back of the truck about 2 feet from the edge.

Very carefully I got out and walked back to where the chocks had been flung. The truck had traveled perhaps it's own length and a little more. All the time the emergency brake was on and the transmission in park. I chocked the wheels.

I was blocking the whole road. Screw it.

Whew. Right about then I really, really needed to pee. While I was about that chore I had a revelation. Those tires had 80 psi in them, rigidly inflated for hauling the trailer on dry pavement. Hell, they were like skis. I let them down to 30 pounds, unchocked and straightened the wheels to run down hill, put the truck back in 1st gear, and very lightly let off the brake.

The truck shuddered, -chk-chk-chk-chk-chk-, and started down hill, which was alarming, but gradually it straightened out, and then I was able again to pump the brakes lightly to bring it slowly to a stop in what seemed to be the right lane.

Whew again. That was enough for me. This was as good as it was going to get.

This all may seem a long-winded way to convey events that probably only took 3 or 4 minutes from start to finish, but it sure seemed a lot longer. I chocked the trailer, dropped it right there in the road, turned off the propane, left a note on the window with my phone number and the time, and went on down the hill in the truck alone. No problem.

When I got to the Walmart in Montrose, I spent $160 on chains for all 4 tires. Nothing like experience to make you believe in overkill. As it was, I got the last two sets they had stocked in my size.

Of course when I got back to the trailer, two hours after I left it, a snowplow had been by. It was just his first pass, and he left a good deal of snow on the road. But I probably didn't need the chains at that point. I put them on anyhow, back tires only, hooked up, and crawled all the way down the rest of the way to the highway in 4 low, first gear.

All's well that ends well.

Next time I'll have the chains. Hell, next time I'll know a 2 inch forecast means a foot or more right in front of me. I really do have quite a lot of experience driving in the mountains, and off road, and not a little in the snow. But this is the first time I have driven down a steep hill in the snow, on a serpentine road, and been pushed by a 7000 pound 5th wheel at the same time.

It looks like BTID luck again. Better Than I Deserve. I felt a lot better after a seafood chimichanga at Amelia's in Montrose. Not to mention a couple of Margaritas.

I am staying tonight at the Walmart, and hoping for a clear road tomorrow. It's still snowing and 32 degrees at 6 pm.

Wish me luck.


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