Posted by: powellpjc | January 18, 2009

Hard to believe. Really.

The Bizzard Wagon


I had to be out of my house on January 16th and I was, after four furious final hours of packing the car and revisiting the rooms I’d lived in for the past 9 years. I know I forgot something but tonight I don’t care. All caring thoughts were erased by my tortured drive of today.


Thunder Bay to Sault Saint Marie is about 700 km. I had a place to sleep in ‘The Sault’ as it is called and ‘The Soo’ as it is pronounced, so I figured about 8 hours with a full, heavy car and no reason to hurry. The first five hours went well. A clear and cold day. I expected nothing less in January. Minus 20 degrees and brilliant sunshine—the Canadian Deep Winter. I listened to tunes and obeyed the speed limit for the first time in my life. I gassed up in a place called Wawa and after that things turned to shit, as they are wont to do.


It might have been a final test. Of patience; of winter driving skill; of the steel nerves; maybe even of manliness. I passed the test, but not because any personal fortitude. 

It started snowing just after Wawa. And I mean Biblical snow, as only the North Shore of Lake Superior can dish out.

At first, only two centimeters on the highway—just enough to raise a blinding gestalt and trigger a tentative feel on the brake pedal. One does not want to STOMP on the brake pedal in new snow at -20 degrees. One feathers the brakes, looking for the coefficient of friction –otherwise known as ‘catastrophic loss of traction’—and hoping, always hoping, not to find it.

I was comfortable in those conditions and thus passed a number of cars. I was raised in this winter shit and I’ve driven for 100 years, so get out of my way.

I did not have snow tires on the car. I walked a lot in Thunder Bay and saw no need.


The two centimeters turned to 20 in no time. We are talking about heavy, wet snow driven horizontal by fiendish winds off the Great Lake, Superior. 50 km/hour. It turned into Hell, if Hell is cold. I will find out, some day.

I couldn’t listen to music any more—I had to really concentrate. I let a few guys pass me in their big, fat SUV’s—and I really hate letting people pass. It has something to do with riding a motorcycle.  I assumed the aggressive idiots knew the road and were manly enough. I would follow.


Round about Old Woman Bay I knew the conditions were epic. There were no cars in front of me and none visible behind me. I was alone, at 40 km/hr, in silence and profanity, and left to find my way. As the visibility deteriorated to NOTHING, I started slewing from one side of the road to the other, looking for a snowbank. When one loomed in front, I knew it was time to adjust the steering input.


The car began complaining again as we plowed through snow drifts on the highway by slowing down. I gave it more gas. I knew they were drifts and not ditches and I wanted to keep my speed up. A large drift would beach us and I would spend the night –if lucky—huddled in my car with a bottle of Vodka and no mix. Or –if unlucky—flattened by a transport trucker who didn’t see me parked in the middle of the road.

As I cursed, a guardian angel appeared with his two bright red lights high up on stalks, two blue rotating beacons and no end of flashing yellows. Yes, a snowplow chugging along in front of me. I tucked up in close formation and followed the high red lights. I couldn’t see anything else when I closed up. If this angel were to go off the road, I would be the first to arrive at the scene of the accident and in the same ditch. We crawled along at 30 km/hour and I was happy as a clam. Music back on.


Then the windshield started to ice up. We were going too slowly and the snow piled up. And then the windows, inside, fogged up. I could barely follow this giant beast in front of me. I had the blower on full, the windshield wipers in frantic mode and my window open for fresh air. If I lost the snowplow I’d be spending the night on Highway 17 and still no mix.


The highway gradually tracked away from the demon lake with all its moisture and devilwinds. The night cleared and the snowplow turned off. I was left alone once again and I floored it. I knew where to buy mix.

My nerves were shot.



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