O What a Night
It was one of those strange snowfalls where it is snowing and sunny at the same time, so the snow on the main roads was melting pretty quickly, so it was a simple matter of using a little extra caution in case there were slick patches but, otherwise, an uneventful drive home. When I got home, Bobby was still tinkering with the Internet, so I did some reading in the living room. It kept snowing ... and snowing. When Bobby got the Internet running, the first thing he did was check the forecast. "Less than an inch," it said. (2.5 cm for you sensible, metric-using folks.) We had plans to drive to Hunt Valley (about a half-hour away) to get dinner at Cheeburger Cheeburger and go to a specialty grocery store to stock up on organic/vegetarian food, and since the forecast was unimpressive and my experiences driving home from the library had underscored the fact that the snowfall was really uneventful, then we set out around 6:30.
As soon as we passed out of Manchester township, it became clear that the roads were pretty much untouched and snow-covered, so we decided to call off Hunt Valley for the night. Instead, we figured, we'd stay close to home and have dinner at Genova's, then go home and potter around on the new Internet and watch some movies. So we turned around and headed back into Manchester and turned onto Route 30, which is one of about a half-dozen "major roads" in Carroll County. ("Major roads," of course, are those that actually go somewhere directly and are used by multiple people in any given hour and on which one is less likely to get stuck driving behind a tractor or combine.) Route 30 was pretty backed up, but this is Maryland (even if we can spit into Pennsylvania), and as soon as Marylanders see a snowflake, their cars spin out of control and get into accidents. It's just a reality in this state; we didn't think much of it and joined the queue of cars lining up to head south on 30.
Our part of the world sits in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains so, by its very nature, is quite hilly. When we were looking to buy our house, our next-door neighbor pointed out that one is unlikely to find such a large flat piece of land in Carroll County. He did not jest. Heading south on 30 from Manchester, the road dips about thirty feet into a gully and then rises just as quickly to resume its former height. As we crept through town and approached this point, we realized that the backup wasn't caused by an accident but because this gully--the uphill and down--was frozen into a solid sheet of ice.
It seems that our little snow shower earlier caught the Highway Administration by surprise. The day was nice and warm and sunny enough to make--and keep--the roads wet, but as soon as the sun went down, the temperatures dropped well below freezing, and the roads froze before the State had a chance to send out salt trucks. We made it into the gully just fine. Once we started up the other side, though, we weren't doing so well. We were fishtailing from side to side until Bobby managed to get over to the side of the road and put on his emergency flashers. We were soon joined by other cars; one guy in a Mercedes pulled in front of us and got out of his car and proceeded to slip and slide as he walked into the street.
We pondered our options. We were about twenty feet up from a driveway into a dentist's parking lot; we decided that it would be best to try to pull the car into there. In any case, we weren't going any further up the hill; Bobby tried twice with the result that the car turned perpendicular to the direction of traffic as soon as he let up on the brake.
By now, we were both famished. We'd had Subway sandwiches for lunch some seven hours earlier, and Subway doesn't stick with a person for long. We managed to back down the road and into the parking lot and weighed our options. We could walk home where--by virtue of having been on our way to the grocery store--we had very few palatable dining options, or we could walk the mile or so south on 30 to Genova's. Bobby and I truly enjoy walking--when we lived in Ellicott City, we used to make the three-mile walk to our favorite restaurant for the fun of it--so we decided to do this.
Meanwhile, both sides of 30 were barely moving on account of people heading both north and south getting stuck in that gully. As we walked, people seeing that we came from the direction of the hold-up rolled down their windows and asked what was going on. I told Bobby that we should have made sandwich boards for ourselves before leaving the car that announced THERE IS NO ACCIDENT BUT ICE ON THE HILL. I felt terribly sorry for most of the drivers; it was clear that they weren't going anywhere for a while, and it's one thing to be stranded in the ice a mile from home, as we were, and quite another to be stranded in the ice an hour from home in a backwoods farm town that doesn't even have a motel. As we traipsed through the snow on the shoulder, a middle-aged couple pulled up next to us and asked if they could give us a ride.
They were also heading for Genova's so we gratefully took their offer. They had been heading north to Hanover and had passed Genova's a half-hour earlier and hadn't even reached Manchester yet when they decided to make a U-turn and go back. Genova's is about a mile from Manchester; that is how slow traffic was moving. Bobby had talked to a guy coming from Hanover earlier, in the dentist's parking lot, so he told them what he knew of Hanover, which was none too good, much to the dismay of our saviors.
Genova's was packed; I suspect that a lot of people (especially locals like us) had the same idea. We had hopes that the roads might have cleared by the time we were finished dinner, but as we left the restaurant, we saw that was certainly not the case: Traffic heading north was bumper-to-bumper and no cars were heading south except for those frustrated by their lack of progress north who were hooking U-turns.
We started the walk back north. Luckily, because I loathe the cold (in sentimental moments, I affirm that the only reason I am not running half-clad through a jungle on the Equator but was born as offensively far north as Maryland is because Bobby was born first and born here, and so I had to be born here as well), I was dressed in my usual garb that resembles what Laura Ingalls would have worn while schlepping to the barn in the winter. I had on a floor-length layered skirt with a slip underneath, boots that come almost to my knees, a thermal shirt, a full-length coat over top of it all, gloves, and a bandana to keep my hair tame but also convenient for pulling down over the naked tops of my ears. Walking briskly to keep up with Bobby, I was quite comfortable.
In fact, it was a rather nice walk. The night was cold and crisp, and there were farms to the right of us and, most importantly, we were not in the interminable line of unmoving cars heading north on 30. I have been stuck in traffic before where a pedestrian on the shoulder outwalks the waiting cars, and I've no doubt that Bobby and I earned the curses of a few drivers trying in vain to get home tonight. It seemed no time at all before we reached the point where we turn off of 30 and head for home.
Here, the fun began. Our house is just down the road from the highest point in Carroll County, which means that no matter how you go to our house--unless you get airlifted onto the hilltop just up the road from us--you are mostly walking uphill. Now, as I said, Bobby and I like to walk, and we're not discouraged by uphill treks, but when I'd chosen my shoes for the night, I'd had in mind going to Cheeburger Cheeburger and walking around the grocery store for a half-hour. The boots were wonderful for keeping my lower legs toasty, but they also have a low heel, and by the time we had started up the mile-long hill for home, my baby toes were starting to feel a little raw. We were also now walking into the wind; my coat kept blowing open and my wrap-around skirt as well, and the wind was having its way with my naked knees. And my face and ears, despite the bandana. About a half-mile from home, the climb gets steep, and I kept my eyes on the top of the hill and my strides long and fast and tried my hardest not to think of my poor toes, which felt like ground meat by now inside of my boots.
I always thought that, one day, I would like to walk with Bobby to Genova's for dinner and then home. I just did not expect it to be on a below-freezing night with the roads a sheet of ice while wearing boots with low heels and after leaving the car abandoned in a dentist's parking lot. Alas, sometimes life deals interesting cards.
We made it home. I was never so happy to see our Christmas lights at the crest of the hill. I was cold and sore and exhausted by this point, but when I took off my boots and peeled off my socks, there was no blood, which was good, just a lot of raw skin scraped away in places. My cheeks are bright red and windburned, and my knees burned with a feeling like sunburn for a half-hour as the mostly frozen skin got re-acclimated to the warm temperature inside of the house.
But, as Bobby and I said, we had an adventure that we will remember for some time now.
It's funny to think that that a light snowfall could cause such a mess but, as we walked home, there was a cop parked at the bottom of the gully with traffic stopped both ways, a tractor trailer facing the wrong way, cars stopped and turned helter-skelter coming down the hill. It was just the perfect storm: the roads newly wet at a time when they would have literally frozen beneath the wheels of people driving home as the sun set. And, as near to us as Baltimore, they got only a dusting of snow and no ill effects, at least according to my in-laws.
To make the night even stranger, when we let the Goldens outside upon arriving home, Bobby went to the door to find Alex standing on the patio with a freshly killed rabbit hanging out of his mouth. It's the first animal either of the Goldens has ever caught and killed, to the best of our knowledge. We managed to lure him (with dead Bugs) into the house with a promise of canned dog food, and Bobby tossed the ex-bunny into the trees in the side yard for some other critter (probably another neighborhood dog) to make a meal of.
In the end, it was as the forecasts promised, and we have less than an inch of snow.