So, the other day I was coming home from Kansas City and had a rear wheel drive rental van at my disposal because my Jeep was in the shop for repair. When I got back to the airport in Pittsburgh, it was snowing like crazy and I was treated to an adventure in driving on the way home. The two wheel rental van was less than optimal to say the least and I really was looking forward to getting my Jeep back.
I have been driving four wheel drive vehicles since I was in my early twenties. I used my mom’s Buick in my teens to go to the mountains with heavy snow tires and sand bags in the trunk. I had some driving adventures in Western Pa. and West Virginia but the moment I went to four wheel drive, I felt a lot more secure………..in certain instances. My first vehicle was an International Scout. It was a heavy, reliable bucket of bolts which I used to haul my friends out of trouble with my trusty tow strap. I thought that since I had a four wheel drive, especially an International, it was my responsibility to haul everyone out of the mud or snow when they got stuck. One time up in the mountains, I saw a black limo standed in the ditch at the entrance to Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I pulled in front of the guy in a raging blizzard and got under his vehicle with my ski school uniform on and proceeded to hook up my tow strap to the vehicle. I went to the window and the driver said,”thanks man” and kept looking straight ahead. I managed to pull him on to the road and when I went to the car, uniform dirty and greasy from the road, the Mayor of Pittsburgh was in the back seat and gave me a flippant “thank you” and told the driver to get going because he was late. There I was in my dirty uniform at the side of the road, soaking wet from snow, and all I got was “thank you” and basically get the hell out of the way – lubehead. My introduction to the fact that graciousness is not always first and foremost for some people for whom you do a favor. But I continued my benevolent ways with my strap.
When I drove Chevy Blazers, I used them in a slightly different way in that my friend Bob Dresher and I used to set the land speed record to Vermont from Wexford. Not the best way to treat a new engine but 90 MPH on the New York Thruway with the radar detector tuned in made for a short trip to go skiing. Several of those trips were slowed by sleet, freezing rain in Buffalo, and feet of snow going from New York state into Vermont to ski. The Blazers were large vehicles and it was convenient to take every bit of gear with me on the Northern treks. They were great to sleep in as well in the parking lots of ski areas especially with a sleeping bag that goes down to -40. I still have that bag but the Blazers are long gone.
I learned real quickly that four wheel drives climb real well but can slide like a mother when the snow is greasy, especially if you make the mistake of trying to get one more winter out of a set of tires. I had a Mitsubishi Montero for a while and had my son in the car seat when I started to slide down Highland Avenue near my house. I remained calm and aimed the slider towards the first open yard that I saw and came to a rest right in front of a stranger’s house. The same Mitsubishi also almost went over Wagner ski slope at Seven Springs when I began to slide sideways trying to park at the top of the mountain for a mountain bike race. Had it not been for the gravel road right in front of the chalet at the top of the slope, I proably would have had to bail out of the vehicle and watch it roll over and over towards the ski lodge. The good Lord was watching over the kid that day for sure. Yikes!!
My Honda was a fun vehicle and one time my family and I were traveling to ski up in Western New York with some friends. It was snowing like crazy again when we started our trip north and we watched four wheel drives flying by us on the way up. My son was a young teenager at the time and I was already starting to tell him about the virtues of driving cautiously. I asked him to mark the vehicle in his mind when they passed us and predicted that they would have an issue with the roads ahead. Sure enough, every one of those drivers were in the berm in the middle of the interstate stuck up to their doors. The tow strap did not come out in those instances for a number of reasons but suffice to say that my son got the message about four wheel drives and their supposed invincibility.
Currently I am a Jeep man and there is something about driving a Jeep. You kind of have a swagger like ,” yea- I have a Jeep and I load it up with firewood and mulch up to the ceiling” ” It is a manly vehicle and even though it is like all of my other four wheel drives with the musty smells and mud from mountain bike excursions and wood chips constantly raining from the seats, it fits my personality. I like tough vehicles and in my Walter Mitty mind, it makes me the true mountain man. My wife says I kill our vehicles but it is better than me driving a Cadillac or a Lexus. That would be like putting slippers on a hog. I am a four wheel drive guy.
Three years ago I had finished skiing with my friends in Tahoe and we all went to dinner in my friend’s four wheel drive van. I was the designated driver that night and while we were at dinner, it snowed 2 feet. Not unusual for Tahoe but it was a challenge to get the van out of the parking lot and on to the road. I white knuckled it down the road and large four wheel drive trucks passed me like I was standing still. Two feet of snow at any one time is nothing for the folks in the Sierra and I got used to the fact that driving is driving and if you respect the conditions and the limitations of the vehicle, you can make your way. It is all relative and the more you drive in the winter, the better you get. But as I tell my resident 18 year old driving expert in my house that he needs to be careful on the roads when it snows, I do need to let him experience what my folks let me experience. Driving the ’64 Buick in the winter taught me a lot and when I graduated to the four wheel drive world, I was a happy guy. So, be careful driving in the winter and respect the conditions and the limits of your vehicle. But enjoy the winter and be glad that there are vehicles out there that you can enjoy and get to the places that you love. Think Snow and drive safely! When you see my son, tell him the same.
One final reminder- if you follow my blog on WordPress, make sure you click on the title to see the pictures. Otherwise, you will only have my drivel to visually enjoy. Thanks for following.