Oh the weather outside is frightful, but my Jeep is so delightful…
I had my first Jeepgasm yesterday.
Southwestern Pennsylvania was putting down some constant snow yesterday morning during my drive into Pittsburgh. The drive usually takes 50 minutes to an hour.
It took me 2.5 hours.
I’m an expert snow driver. It’s one of the few areas of my life where I have absolute confidence in my skills. Not cockiness. I still know that icy roads can get the best of anyone. But I know that I’m as good a snow driver as anyone out there, except maybe one or two dudes on Ice Road Truckers, and I’d take them on, too.
And that confidence was before I had Henry, my 4 wheel drive Jeep.
I don’t panic in the snow. If you grew up around my paternal grandpa, you learned to overcome panic. When I was about 9 or 10 we were heading down the road in his little Datsun pickup truck. Pappap was driving, Gram was on the passenger side and I was riding the middle hump.
The roads were covered in snow and it was coming down everywhere, and we were approaching one of the last hills before their house. Pappap reached over and yanked me up onto his lap and took his hands off the wheel and said “Steer.” Gram started yelling at him from the passenger seat and he refused to put his hands back on the wheel. “Other way!” He corrected, when I tried steering away from a skid. I could barely turn the wheel let alone follow instructions to steer into or away from a skid. This was the 70s. He didn’t have power steering. I was pulling on that wheel with the force of my entire body to get it to turn. He was laughing. Gram was hollering, and my buckeye was puckered tighter than a juvenile pine cone packed with resin.
The hill had a curve and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. The only vehicles I had ever steered were my Green Machine and a neighbor’s old fire engine pedal car. In what felt like forever, but was probably less than 30 seconds, he took over the wheel again and I managed not to piss all over his leg. It would not be the last time I’d be put on the spot to steer his truck over ice. Eventually it became a fun game, and I knew he would never let it get so far that he would let us wreck.
While I would never subject a child to that same teaching experience, I do think those early times of learning to steer on slick roads with the safety net of someone strong and confident at the wheel made me the kind of winter driver I am proud to be.
Pappap would continue putting me in situations like that for years before I was old enough to get my learner’s permit. Other times he took me up to the pine tree field on his property and got out of the truck, leaving me at the wheel of his stickshift, with me practically standing up to use the gas and brake and clutch. He stood almost directly in front of the truck hollering what to do, and I remember one lurch almost plowed him over.
Then there was Mom. Mom hated driving in big cities, and on ice. And on top of that, she felt it was her duty as a parent to raise us to be independent, and that meant driving. With my brother and sister out of the house seven and five years before me, Mom had me drive on every road trip, through every city, and behind the wheel all winter long.
I learned young how to steer into a skid and accelerate instead of brake. I learned to steer with my back end in rear-wheel-drive vehicles. I emphasize “learned” because it’s sure as hell not instinct to do those things, and I see people following those poor instincts every time the roads get bad. There is a feel to snow driving, and there is practice. And I am grateful every winter that I have both.
Any remaining fear I might have had of driving in the snow was removed when I moved to California in the early 90′s. I was driving across the country and stopped to visit my cousin in Denver. We heard a blizzard was coming in, assumed it was coming from the west, and so I headed south to go over Raton Pass and into New Mexico to avoid the storm.
The blizzard was coming from the south. :-/
I drove that I-25 like my life depended on it, and it maybe did. People died in that blizzard. A state of emergency was declared and the roads closed but I didn’t know it then. I just kept driving on, using every skill my Pappap taught me, every confidence my mother gave me. I passed cars and trucks that had spun out off the road. I got lucky more than once. At one point I hit a patch of ice on an overpass, whipped around several times and stopped inches from the edge. I needed an exit and to get off the road. But I couldn’t see any exits.
I could barely see the road. It was a white-out. I adapted to tailing truckers but they were few and far between, and moving too fast for my little Chevy Citation to keep up. The wipers were sticking every few minutes. I passed Trinidad (the last exit before Raton Pass) without ever seeing the exit signs. I was suddenly heading up and over Raton Pass. I made it to the other side and into New Mexico, found an exit and a motel and ended up being stuck for a couple days until the weather broke. My car was frozen shut when I went out to check it in the morning. I couldn’t unlock it or open the doors.
I have never feared snow or icy or winter weather since. I will always compare every driving experience to that harrowing blizzard drive, and while I respect the weather and the roads, I never fear it.
But holy cheese and rice. 4 Wheel Drive, where have you been all my life?
I popped Henry into 4wd before leaving the driveway, and with only a single lane on all the major roads and nothing plowed, salted or ashed on any side roads, that Jeep handled like a dream. It took snow driving to a whole new level. I passed in the unplowed passing lane without even the an inkling of a pucker in the buckeye. I felt one or two slick spots and felt all of this machine underneath me responding to my turns and acceleration like he was anticipating it. I was watchful but comfortable. My grip was relaxed and I realized I was having FUN!
Before I was halfway to Pittsburgh I got all tingly with giddiness. I had no idea my girl parts could get so worked up over the thrill of kick-ass driving in a 4wd Jeep.
I thought I was in love with Henry before, but now… all I can say is you have to experience a Jeepgasm to really get it, and I don’t think you can experience it until you’ve had him on all fours in the slick of it.
Yee freakin’ haw, Henry! That was one FUN drive!
I just hope all this newer, easier way to maneuver my vehicle doesn’t make me forget all the nuance of handling a less remarkable vehicle in winter, the way a GPS seems to make me forget my sense of direction.
In any case, I’m going to enjoy this 4wd snow-driving, probably my last winter driving for a couple years, since I hear the climate near Johannesburg is similar to southern California. Kurt tells me all the guys have Jeeps and Landrovers over there, so maybe I’ll get to learn some mud driving as well.
In the meantime, let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow!
P.S. The last couple days have been real life cardio and an arm and oblique workout. Sweeping our driveway, depending on the snowdepth, takes 1-2 hours and believe me, you feel it when you’re done, and the next day. I’m missing the gym, though, even though this winter wonderland is amazing. We let Baxter have a good long run today. He had quite an adventure and both he and his daddy are now crashed out on the couch while I’m getting ready to haul wood and make us a nice fire for the day.
Hope your weekend is safe and warm, friends!
P.P.S. This was my 200th post!