The fact that I am a good driver may be due in part to the two bonus years of driving I have under my belt. These bonus years came about because I grew up in
It only took my driver's ed teacher one lesson to figure out two things. One, that I had driven before. And two, that the girl I was taking lessons with- a neighbour who shall remain unnamed- had never sat behind the wheel of a car in her life and, in the interests of all other vehicles on the road, perhaps never should be allowed to do so. What followed was a series of terror filled Saturday afternoons with me sitting in the back seat of the driver ed car the entire lesson while the instructor desperately attempted to teach my friend the difference between the brake and the accelerator. Those lessons didn't teach me much about driving, but I sure learned a lot about courage. Fast forward four decades.
Monday morning I had planned to drive down to Vancouver. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. Rebekah had taken the bus up to Kamloops to visit for the weekend and I had promised to give her a ride back, and there was an event at the Vancouver Public Library on Monday evening that I wanted to attend.
I had kept a close watch on the weather forecast and although it didn't look ideal, it didn't look dreadful either. The Coquihalla Highway is long, high, and when weather conditions are unfavourable, treacherous. One can never be too careful. Just before we headed out the wind suddenly picked up and in a matter of minutes the temperature dropped from -6C to -9C. I was actually happy to see this change, thinking to myself that the snow would be dry and light- the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up.
As we headed out of town I checked the overhead sign that has the latest highway information flashing across it. Conditions on the Coquihalla were described as "compact snow and limited visibility." I could live with that. After all, this is BC. If I stayed home every time there was compact snow or limited visibility I might as well give up and become a hermit. Here is where the "no cure for stupidity" part comes into play. I had neglected to check the road report on the Drive BC website. Apparently they were not painting as optimistic a picture of the conditions as the overhead sign. I had just committed a critical driving error by not keeping abreast of the latest conditions.
It turned out that I was right in my predictions of the snow being the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up. Those features almost became our undoing. Because the snow was not slippery vehicles were going at almost full highway speed, this in spite of the road being covered with snow. The fact that the snow wasn't sticking to the road also meant every time a vehicle went by we were enveloped in a cloud of snow swirling around us, making it extremely difficult to see.
If it had just been what you see in the picture above everything would have been fine. The problem was the transport trucks. At one point I looked in my rearview mirror and saw one barreling up from behind and knew we were in serious trouble. Sure enough, as it passed us we were immersed in a white hell. For a full three seconds we couldn't see a thing. It was much like looking out of an airplane window when the plane is in a cloud bank. Except for the fact that I didn't have radar to help me out. I was driving blind at 90 km/hr (55mph).
It took another five or six seconds for the snow to swirl away enough for me to be able to see where the road was, or at least where it was supposed to be under the snow that was covering it. Five or six seconds might not sound like very long, but I challenge you next time you are a passenger in a car to close your eyes for that length of time and imagine being in the driver's seat. Although not as extreme as when the truck passed us, the picture below gives you some idea of what it was like.
The sun did come out for a short time and provided a glimpse of winter beauty. Unfortunately I was suffering from post near accident stress disorder and couldn't muster up my usual appreciation for such sights.
There were three more horrific incidents on the 355 km (221 mile) trip, but I will spare you the details. Let's just say that by the time we arrived in Vancouver, a full three hours later than we had anticipated, I was a wreck. It was the second scariest driving experience of my life, and the only time I have actually started crying while driving. Keep in mind this is from the person who developed nerves of steel all those years ago while sitting in the back seat of that driver ed car.
The trip home was, I am happy to report, uneventful. The roads were still snow packed, but without the visibility problems of the previous day.
Maybe, after all, there is a cure for stupidity. The next time I head out on the Coquihalla in the winter I will be checking the Drive BC site for the most current conditions because they weren't kidding when they put up these signs.