Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Gauntlet Strikes Back

This has been a strange winter. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived in the area, and after Dude’s entire life here, we can’t remember a year that has been this difficult. Yes, we’ve always had sub-zero temps. Yes, we’ve always had heavy snowfall. Yes, we’ve had horrible, icy wind chills. But we’ve never had all three for this long. Blame it on the Arctic Blast, but we’re all begging for warmer weather and bright, blue skies.

Big Pig hung
Well, we got the skies finally. Today was beautiful! Clear skies, no fog, sparkling snow. So different from the last six weeks of grey and dark and fog and blowing snow. It started before Thanksgiving. Temps began dipping, and never quite going away. It was cold and miserable, and I was worried for the barn kitten who’d lost its mother and still hadn’t found the water and food at the front porch. I prayed every night, all night, that God would protect her until it warmed up a bit.

God protected her (she now lives closer to the house and is almost tame), but the cold didn’t go away. It lingered. It hung around. It dragged on. And on. And on. Pretty soon we were nearing Christmas. The first snow came the day we butchered the big pig; wouldn’t have been so bad, but for the icy wind that had us sipping peppermint schnapps in big mugs of cocoa while skinning the beast. But it was okay – it’d be gone in a few days max, and we’d be able to butcher the others without losing fingers from frostbite.

Bones with schnapps
Nope. The second big snow happened a few days later. Dude and I went to Mega-City for groceries and appointments. Munchkin had the 4-wheel-drive at school, so we took the little pickup. Before we had completed all our stops, people were sliding all over the road and my blood pressure was going through the roof with fear of landing in a ditch or worse. It took four hours to crawl home (which normally takes an hour and a half). We saw major crashes, minor slips off the road, and huge lines of impatient drivers behind us as we crept slowly up the major grades (we later discovered we knew some of these people). Idiot drivers hugged our bumpers on slick roads, and one numbskull pressed his fat SUV nose between us and one of the idiots, while going 30mph through town. Crazy! We tried taking a side valley to bypass another big hill that we weren’t sure we could get up and back down safely, but couldn’t get traction and had to turn around. We went back to a nearby tiny town and followed a highway up past a lake – the kind where the highway is barely a foot from the surface of the freezing waters. Crossing a bridge, we found white-out conditions as the winds blew the snow off the lake and directly into our faces. I didn’t think I’d ever been so happy to be home that night!
Horrible night roads

Bones and Curmudgeon were home over the hill, but weren’t real happy about it. Their hunting cabin had frozen water, frozen septic, and lack of heat in general. They began visiting our place daily just to engage in necessary behaviors, like showering, filling water tanks, doing laundry and just using our facilities. And there didn’t seem to be any end to the cold in sight. We all began praying it would warm up to just freezing so the pipes would thaw. Much like the water troughs…

Yet another snow buries road
And then it happened. Just before New Year’s, we had a week of thirties to low forties. One day even teased us with low fifties. The pipes thawed. The horse and animal troughs thawed. The animals began wandering the property again instead of huddling together behind windbreaks. There was joy and celebrating and songs of praise for God’s salvation of our cold carcasses. Systems were upgraded, projects got done.

And then the cold hit again two days ago. We now had a good eight inches of snow, without enough warming to solidify it into encrusted mounds. The horrible winds started yesterday, driving the wind chill to maybe -15 degrees and blowing all the loose white fluff into the streets. Which, if you remember, is why we call the Gauntlet, the Gauntlet.

Giant snow berms on our road
Today was the first day of school of the new year. We borrowed Bones’ rig, since the brown truck is incapable of handling this kind of precip and no one seems to be selling a good 4-wheel-drive truck this time of year. Dude headed off to work in the jeep-ish thing, but finished early, turning back onto our road by 10:30am. Munchkin ‘s school called a 2-hour delay, effectively leaving her with only 2 ½ hours of one class and yet 2 hours of round-trip travel time; she was headed out about 10:30 as well. It was a blessing in disguise because a huge series of drifts had covered the cattle guard on the hill and the poor girl had gotten herself and the SUV stuck in the2-foot berm. Dude and Munchkin traded keys, and she raced off to school, only arriving five minutes late and to the amazement of her classmates and school administration.

Gauntlet almost buried
Dude was still stuck and called Curmudgeon for help. The county road crew was out evaluating roads because they couldn’t get any of the trucks down to our area (were they plowing elsewhere? Were they stuck in drifts too?), despite assuring us they wouldn’t get to us for some time. They pulled Dude out and left. Dude turned around, called Curmudgeon back to cancel the help, headed back through the berm, and promptly got stuck again. He called Curmudgeon to re-request help. Curmudgeon drove up with his truck, backed up to the SUV to pull it out, and promptly got stuck himself. Understand that these drifts spread for 20 feet down the road.

Ice dunes
So counting us 0 for 3, the guys managed to get the truck out and came back to get me and the backhoe, leaving the SUV in the middle of the cattleguard, blocking all traffic. The backhoe wouldn’t start, it being unhappy weather out there, and had to be put on the trickle charger for a while; this gave the guys some warm-up time, at least, and me some time to change out of jammies and into snow gear. The charge didn’t take. So Curmudgeon jumped the backhoe with his truck, and we let it run for a bit. Dude donned ski goggles and headed up the hill, Curmudgeon and I following behind.

Dude dug out the SUV as best as he could, with a blade that can’t turn sideways. All in a row, I moved the truck backwards, Dude moved the backhoe backwards, and Curmudgeon moved the SUV forward until we were all clear of the snow mountains. Dude stayed, continuing to plow out the cattleguard, Curmudgeon stayed to make sure Dude didn’t get into any more trouble, and I headed home to pick up Bones from the animal pens where she had been doing chores and get her into the house for heat and something warm to drink.

 Berm vs Backhoe
She wasn’t there. She was making snow angels at the top of the hill overlooking the long road in. I got her text saying this as I was peeling off gear, so I put it back on and drove out to fetch her, finding her just below the house at that point. Turn around, don’t get stuck, park again. Pretty soon, the guys were back and warming up too. It took quite a while to get the timeline of the day’s events all sorted, such was the chaos of it all.

The chaos made me forget that the horse trough is frozen over again, as well as many other chores like eating lunch. And with another week and a half of snow and cold, it looks like there’s no end in sight. Two more drivers must tackle the Gauntlet again in the early hours of tomorrow. Please, Lord – we’re ready for spring.

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