Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snowlandia: My Slow-Ass Commute During Snowpocalypse 2014

Portland, Oregon is one of those cities that shuts down when we get an inch of snow. People freak out, grocery shelves go bare, and news coverage goes 24-7 for two days before and two days after the storm. When I first moved here from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, I thought this snow reaction was laughable. "OMG, snows! I freaks now!" However, this city has a lot of hills, only a handful of snow plows, and doesn't use salt. The other thing is many Portlanders are not used to driving in the snow and sometimes go too fast, too slow, or, well, not at all.

For instance, on Thursday my place of full-time employment told us we should probably leave early, and I knew the commute would be as slow as molasses in January February. I drove my AWD Subaru WRX, which is equipped with studded snow tires. If anyone was prepared to drive in inclement conditions, I was.

I headed towards my usual route and sure enough, I-405 was gridlocked—a damn parking lot. Although it would've been the flattest way home, I'm piloting a veritable snowmobile. So hills be damned, I'm going to snake through downtown.

Many of the side streets downtown were indeed much more traffic-free, although the main thoroughfares were backed up. I called my wife who suggested going up Broadway and through the hills near OHSU Hospital. Again, I am not concerned about making it up the hills in my WRX. My WRX laughs at hills. It scoffs at geography. It guffaws at the snow! So, I get up to Broadway which is quite packed with cars, but so be it. As I wait for the stoplight to turn, I noticed the car next to me, a front-drive Pontiac Vibe, spinning its tires but not going anywhere. Then the light turns green.The car in front of me, a new Subaru BRZ on stock tires, also not moving. I look over my WRX's dashboard only to see the BRZ is also stuck in one place, rear wheels spinning. Shit. It suddenly occurred to me that while I might be able to get home easily, it was everyone else that was going to impede my snowy trek home. Double shit.

I went around the BRZ and decided to turn onto a side street to calculate my next move. I flip on my phone's navigation, and it tells me to go a back way home. Perfect! I'll again avoid the traffic ... hopefully. Oh, and now I've got to pee. Great.

Fortunately, this was a better way, for certain. I did have to go around the Californian in the mid 1980s Mercedes SL on summer tires who was attempting forward progress by standing on the throttle. I also followed a group of other AWD vehicles as we went around several front-drive cars on summer tires that were obviously not accustom to driving in the frozen precipitation.

Then I found myself on SW Corbett Ave. This is a very hilly area that slopes down towards the Willamette River. Unfortunately, there are other cars around and I fear getting hit by an out-of-control driver. I turn a quick right, not exactly knowing what street I'm turning up, and find it's SW Hamilton St., possibly one of the steepest roads in southwest Portland, and the site of my wife's snowpocalypse 2008 wreck when she got hit by a sideways-sliding SUV while in her Civic. And just as I realize where I'm at, I see a guy in a Chevrolet Cobalt sliding sideways down the hill. I crank the WRX wheels to the right in case I need to zoom out of the way. Luckily he goes on by, and I bust a U-turn (when clear) and go back down Hamilton to Corbett again.

OK, new game plan. At the end of Corbett Ave. are two steep hills that parallel each other and are separated by a median. They're sparsely traveled even in good weather; the streets are usually only driven by the people who own homes on that stretch of road. If I can make it to the snow-covered hills, it'll eventually dump me out onto the main road, Barbur Blvd., and I should have an easy trip home since it's all flat.

Our Suzuki during Snowlandia 2014
It doesn't look bad since I just finished shoveling the 
driveway, but we've got 8" of snow here, and more on
the way!
My prediction was right—there was no one going up or down these inclines. I get a bit of a running start and scoot up the snow-covered slope. A 90-degree right (and a twinge of Scandinavian Flick), and I come to one more hill. Here, a Ford Econoline van and a mail truck are at the base unable to go up. The mail truck has its hazards on (maybe he was just delivering mail?), and the van was turning around to go back down the hills. Again, the WRX easily zooms up the snowy road.

Finally, I make it to the stop light on Barbur Blvd. As I wait at the light, I keep a close eye on the vehicles going through the intersection. As the light turns yellow, an early 1990s 2WD Nissan pickup starts to lose control, and slides sideways through the intersection, sliding to a stop just past the stop light. Damn it—just let me get home!

Sure enough, I was able to make it home safely. My usual 20 minute commute had taken me two hours and had reminded me why I stay off the roads in Portland during a snowstorm. I also learned the WRX appears to have a RWD bias when it gets slippery, and when the turbo kicks in, the ass-end likes to kick out. Good to know.

It's now Saturday, February 8, and as I type, we're under our third winter storm warning. We've got about 8"+ inches of snow at our house. I did take the WRX and the Sidekick to fuel up, since there are hardly any other cars on the road and the gas station was open. Both cars did admirably in the deep snow, but frankly, I'm going to stay off the streets unless I have to go out.

1 comment:

rubicon4wheeler said...

I grew up at 7,500 feet elevation in the Lake Tahoe area where 2-4 feet of snow falls in a normal storm and we locals laughed it off and went about our regular daily activities. Then I moved to West Virginia, and was amazed that a little 4-inch snowstorm would completely shut down the entire state! Unlike your story about Portland, Huntington becomes an absolutely ghost town, and I'd have the roads all to myself!

It's not the snow that impedes me or scares me - it's the other drivers who lose their minds while simultaneously demonstrating that they have absolutely zero training in car control. If you don't know how to drive in snow, STAY OFF THE DAMN ROADS until you've properly equipped your car for snow conditions and passed an actual car-control driving school.