By Shawn Strasburg
"S#@*! C$&%! F#@&*!" OK, so the last one was five letters. What I said was, "SNOW! COLD! FROST!"
Yes, it is almost that time of year again and for those of you who grumbled, “You didn’t have to remind me." Well Ha! Seriously though, it is getting late in the year.
I remember an October twelve years ago when I was playing miniature golf in Dallas, Texas. I was decked out in my plaid cabby hat, concentrating on a long drive. FORE! And yes, you can tee off in putt-putt golf. I was sweating and wondering what had become of fall on that sweltering day. Much too soon it was time to go home, and by evening when we reached I-70 the Interstate was closed. I spent the night at the Golden Roses motel and for some reason nothing was golden or even came close to smelling like roses. Honestly it was great, I had the privilege of spending some of that money you don’t have called "plastic” and my friend somehow got the only bed.
When I finally arrived at my house I found that I no longer lived in a house, but in a towering snow drift. Most of the house was engulfed in snow, leaving only the front side peeking out like an Eskimo under her hood. Three feet of snow had fallen, true blizzard style, in early October. This was two and a half hours south of North Platte, and honestly, I always thought it was warmer when you lived closer to the equator. What I am trying to say, is that weather differs greatly from region to region and can change in an hour. Soon we will be traveling for holidays or just for fun and I want you to be prepared.
First off you should know the condition of your vehicle. Antifreeze should be tested for proper freeze protection. Those racing slicks are no longer the tire of choice. If you don't know the reliability of your battery, then it can be tested at Advance Auto for free. Fuel filters, fuel, wiper blades, washer fluid, exhaust, engine, and drive train could all be in question on your vehicle. If checking these items sounds like work and you have the money, then many repair shops will do a winterization check less than $100 (repairs are generally extra).
To drive or not to drive, that is the question, or at least the next question. The phone number for road conditions is 511 or 1-800-906-9069. If you have traveled much you may remember a time when you spent most of your money and needing to hurry on the return trip. If you decide not to heed road conditions because of time or money, then you may find yourself in the ditch.
Last winter after visiting my brother, south of Lincoln Nebraska, I chose to get a motel because blowing snow had greatly reduced visibility and was drifting across the road in areas. I was in a good four-wheel drive SUV, but I chose to stay two days and left in the evening when the wind calmed down. In 30 miles of Interstate by York, Nebraska there were still around thirty vehicles in the ditch that had not been towed yet. I didn’t count the spots where you could see cars had been towed from, and it was dark so I could only count cars on the westbound side of the Interstate. This shows that even though I paid for a motel and waited two days, I was back on the road while many drivers were not. Danger aside, the owners of the stuck vehicles had incurred more cost and time loss by trying to press through.
The final aspect of winter traveling is what to bring on a trip. Now I am sure most of you have a few things in the car for those long road trips. CDs, an IPod, trash, unopened text books, perhaps even a friend that lives your way, or if you’re lucky a special someone to introduce to the parents. Before you leave, you might make a quick trip to the gas station and emerge with a Red Bull, Doritos, Mountain Dew, beef jerky, a Snickers bar, three scratch tickets and an empty wallet. So you’re all ready for the trip!
By the time you pass Sutherland the chips and drinks are gone along with the Snickers that you only got one bite of. The beef jerky that tasted like moldy gym shorts gets thrown out the window a mile later.
By Paxton your passenger’s strong urge to pee becomes irrefutable and you stop for a quick break. Then it’s back on the road and you cruise along at 80. Because it is I-80, isn’t it? A little snow starts to fall but you ignore it and decide to take the shortcut from Roscoe to Keystone because it is more scenic. I’ve never “seen” a cop on that road either.
About halfway to Keystone your tire goes flat and you pull to the edge of the road and turn on your hazard lights. Unfortunately there is so little shoulder on the road and so much snow on the ground that you can’t get your jack to hold the car up without slipping. So you grab your cell phone and call for help. What, it isn’t working? Well, on your scenic trip through God’s country you forgot that God doesn’t need a cell phone so no one has bothered to put up a tower there yet. It gets dark awfully early when there are no street lights, and you climb back in the car after a few choice four letter words. After all this you find out that the three scratch tickets are not winners.
I am not going to bore you with the whole story of everything that could go wrong in that scenario. I will tell you one vital thing you did do right, and that was to stay with the car, it is often times the best bet. A vehicle is better than a tent as it is insulated and blocks the wind. Also when a search party starts looking for a stranded motorist they usually start at the car. However, just imagine that you had a can of Fix-a-Flat, you more than likely could have filled up the tire and driven to a nearby tire repair shop and the ordeal would have been over. Knowing that, here are a few items you should throw in the car for the next SNAFU.
Gloves 1 pair thin, 1 pair thick
Stocking cap, face mask
4 pairs of thick socks, at least one wool
The equivalent of at least one Gallon Water and a few empty bottles
Food: pop tarts, beef jerky, canned fruit, canned beef stew, spam (yea, kind of gross but your roommate won’t eat it) eating utensils, ECT.
LED flashlight, extra batteries
Cell phone charger
I know that’s a lot of stuff, and yes you may not be able to fit it all in. Remember to add items in direct proportion to the number of your party. You can reduce the list by some because you may have duplicate items, although I do know a guy that refuses to wear a jacket or coat in the winter.
In a “Stranded” situation you are suppose to run your car for short intervals (enough to stay warm) and always make sure that the tail pipe is not blocked by snow. When you check the exhaust pipe it is a good time to brush the snow away from your hazard lights. It is also recommended to leave a window cracked to allow for ventilation. Well, the heat from running a car for 15 minutes will probably be gone around minute 17, when it all escapes through the open window. The heater more than likely will not blow warm air until around minute 11, so that leaves you with 54 minutes of freezing every hour. If you hate to be cold, then don’t skimp on warm clothing. You will want plenty of socks as wet feet get frostbite fast. Remember movement aids circulations so try to stretch and flex fingers and toes often if you want to keep them around awhile.
One key to staying warm is to never get too warm; sweat or moisture of any kind is your enemy in cold weather. In contrast water is very important to have as dehydration occurs in cold weather a lot quicker than many people think. The best way to get water after you have used your supplies is to melt snow in bottles under your coat. Eating snow cools your core temperature and that would be dangerous when stranded.
Food is good for energy to keep warm and this is the time for high fat and high calorie foods. Get some sugary foods, but stock up on plenty of substantial items also. Canned goods should be the pop top kind that doesn’t require a can opener for. If you’re really feeling into it, make some pemmican and hard tack.
Next I will group the flashlight, books, and magazines together. You are going to be bored and unless you are careful you may discharge your car battery by running the radio and dome light, which would make things even worse. So read away, you could even read that textbook that has been on the floor board all semester.
Signal flares are good for signaling. Duh! But honestly, Wal-Mart sells a flare gun and how much cooler is that. Heck, you might even be able to bring down a deer and signal for help all at the same time. The biggest sand shovel that will fit in your trunk can be used to dig your vehicle out of a snow drift (snow shovels and corn shovels often will not fit beneath a car).
And last but not least a cell phone charger….wait, the cell phone isn’t getting a signal anyway, or the tow truck would have shown up. In this case I would also recommend a CB radio, it has so many more uses: Karaoke mike for those really long trips, yelling at truckers when they cut you off (and then hoping you can out run them), or calling for help on channel 9.
I intentionally left a few things out. Every Boy Scout or Girl Scout should have a knife and a lighter and so should you; however, they may not be as handy as you think in this situation. For example, you can’t make a fire in your car and you cannot eat your car. So if you bring the items on the list, you will have food, and unless you drove to the top of Mount Everest, the clothing and sleeping bag will keep you sufficiently warm.
So today, not tomorrow, stock your car while you still can. Who wants to be the next person remembered for centuries in place of the Donner party? A few items in an old suitcase in the trunk could come in handy in a worst case scenario. It is better to be prepared and never need the supplies, than in a situation where you can only wish you had them. And remember, you can always donate the canned spam to the local food bank, someone, somewhere is bound to eat that stuff.