Tags: travel

In costume as Dread Pirate Roberts

Snow Adventure!

I'm officially awesome :)
Plan A failed - we got caught in a blizzard, in a sportscar. Adventure ensured right on cue!
With 4WD trucks sliding around (and off) the road, it wasn't safe.
After sensible backup plans were exhausted, it came down to spending the
night in the car under snow, or clear holes for the windows and trust my driving to
not only make up for not having a 4WD truck, but to succeed where the SUVs failed.


Vicky and I were going to a mountain / lake / hot springs resort for a getaway weekend.

Before we left, I checked the weather forecasts and the altitude of our route, and we weren't supposed to hit snow. But weather forecasting is a fuzzy thing, and as we approached Bellingham, snow had begun and was getting very thick. Then it was starting to stick. Then we were all but blind with all the snow swirling in the air. Then vehicles around us were sliding. The snow is compacting to ice as cars drive over it. Time to get off the road!
Within minutes of stopping, we were in a snow-cave - all the windows opaque with a growing layer of snow.

We had reservations at a resort, so spending the night in the car was not a very appealing alternative! (We would also be charged for the resort regardless of whether we made it)

We changed into boots, and headed off on foot, using phones and other people to find out if it was snowing for hundreds of miles, or if it was just localized, and also if we could acquire some chains... in the middle of the night... during snow... for a sportscar. By this time, there were no cars on the road, just trucks and SUVs. I located a place nearby that was open and seemed to have the odd-size chains I needed, but I checked the car manual just to be sure. The manual said "DO NOT USE TIRE CHAINS!", then went on to explain that there is insufficient clearance between tire and wheel-well on these sportscars for chains, and listed a range of catastrophic death-inducing things that happen if you use chains. So, no chains then. On the brighter side, it seemed like the snow was somewhat localized. I had planned for the possibility of getting trapped in the car, so we had all we needed, but... compared to a nice warm room in a resort? So... do I stay or do I go?

By now, the roads are deserted. That means less chance of another car sliding into mine if I drive. That's a good sign. Also, the locals clearly aren't braving the roads, that's a bad sign.

I'm going to try to make it. I get out, and shovel the snow off the windows. By the time I've cleared the last window, the first is covered in snow again. I decide to melt it off. Got back in and cranked up the heat. Eventually got the windows clear, and sliding a bit, I got back on the road.

Apparently it was only 3 inches of snow, but it seemed like more than that! But of course it was the ice under the snow that was the problem.

Working against me: Sportscar. Very low ground clearance, rear-wheel-drive (the worst for snow - you want 4WD or at least front wheel drive), wide tires (you want narrow tires that concentrate the weight and sink/cut through the snow to the ground beneath). No visibility (too much snow in the air). WAAAY too much power - in the low gears needed to go slowly, it can break traction on regular road, so on ice, even riding the clutch, it's very difficult to keep traction. The higher gears with less torque can't be used because to go fast enough to engage them would rule out stopping and turning, which you need! Our route has left the freeway for minor roads, so much more snow on them.

Working for me: Sportscar - active handling, stability control, limited-slip differential, the car is designed with the expectation of pushing traction envelopes. Nav system and HUD was fantastic for driving blind in the blizzard - on the nav map I can see the corners coming up in time to ease into them and stay on the road. (But the traction control isn't worth a damn because it's "sporty" and intentionally lets you spin a bit before kicking in. Yeah, thanks for that). Empty roads are a plus, and all-season tires.

I'm kinda awesome, but driving past trucks and SUVs crashed off the side of the road, hazard lights blinking, road flares, tow trucks, fire trucks attending, etc, I wondered if I was really up to succeeding where so many failed despite far more suitable vehicles.

We made it. And Vicky was impressed :) The car was still covered in snow when we pulled up to the resort. I had only just cleaned it the night before, it had been so pretty! Now it was a complete mess. A frozen slab of grit-laden snow and ice. :-(

Here is a pic, taken shortly before arriving. It's about fifty miles beyond the snow, but some of it is still clinging on!
Me as Mad Genius

The Other Washington

This week, I:

Flew over the Pentagon (restricted airspace my ass)
Travelled under the Pentagon
Touched a piece of the moon
Touched a piece of Mars
Touched a piece of Earth (just to complete the set)
Looked inside the Apollo 11 capsule, went inside part of Skylab, and saw the space shuttle.
Read the Washington Post - in Washington DC.
Scoped out security guarding the Hope Diamond
Scoped out the security guarding the White House.
Learned how to identify meteorites.
Discovered that some my childhood toys (which I still have) are modern classics on display in the Smithsonian.

And a whole lot more.

Washington DC is an odd city. The inner city is like a model rather than a real city, because it's not lived in, but perhaps because of that, it works really well – a city that works in practise as a city should work in theory. It caters to tourists and politicians and diplomats and businessmen and students and military and administrative and security, and it does this very well because they're the only people there. It's clean and functional because everyone there has a purpose, the infrastructure is designed to assist and accommodate that purpose, and once they are done, people leave. In effect, it solves the biggest problem that cities struggle with – having people living in them.

The architecture and look of the area very much draws on that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It's iconic and also ironic – it achieves the grandeur of Rome at its mightiest, but while this was presumably symbolic of the republic, today it also seems overwhelmingly imperial, the mighty heart of Empire. And it really does feel like all roads lead here, that you are looking at the center of the world.

We spent five days here. We visited all the museums of the Smithsonian that interested us, and briefly checked out the other big touristy places (the White House, Lincoln Memorial, etc.) The Smithsonian is awesome, especially its Air and Space museums. Spending all day every day in the Smithsonian was enough to see most of what we wanted to see. For lack of time we still rushed past exhibits that would have been a major attraction in most other museums, but we had time to see the best stuff unhurried.

Seeing the achievements of people and of humanity in such concentration sorely reminded me of how much my life is stuck in limbo right now, prevented from using my talents for greater ends than my current wasteful treading of water. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do about that right now, or in the near future. :-(

On the bright side, treading water is fun, because it means I get to indulge in living :-)