Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lessons in Ranch Living for City Girls #211

  In Montana, even on a sunny day, you can be blind.

So, up here in the great white north, we have something known as a "ground blizzard".  Coming from Oklahoma, I never even knew this existed, but apparently, it's a common occurrence in areas with a lot of wind and snow, both of which Northwestern Montana has in abundance.  Conditions have to be cold enough so the snow stays nice and fluffy and blowable, also not a problem up here in the Arctic.  Up at the ranch, the wind is sometimes a factor, but the drive down the mountain to the east is where you may become airborne and blow to Kansas, or at least to Chouteau or the Steiner Ranch.   It's the wind that'll get you every time...  My daily drive consists of the ranch side of the Divide (as in the Continental Divide), the Summit, and the other side of the Divide.  Far and away, I would choose the ranch side every time.  At Bear Creek, the snow is lovely when it falls, and not so lovely when it doesn't stop falling and we get a heck of a lot of it.  But the road guys are on it like birds on a worm and The Horseman is on the driveway in the same way - he uses it as a form of winter exercise since he's an exercising fool.  It certainly can get dicey.  Slush, ice, curvy roads, Canadians.  But you can take your time and provided you're not a Hyundai SUV driving woman who passes me way too often, going way too fast, you're not likely to meet your maker on our little stretch of road up to Marias Pass and the Summit. 

It's the OTHER side...  You're driving along, minding your own business, singing badly to Adele, wishing you were snug and warm in bed, and until recently, you're also in the dark.  Suddenly, and with little warning, you simply can't see anything at all. Not just in front of you, but ANYTHING. In any direction. Except white.  That’s a ground blizzard. Using your brights isn’t an option - that just reflects a crapload of snow right back at you and you feel like you're in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon hits warp drive, or hyper-drive, or whatever, and you get that star field thingy.  You know what I mean.  So you slow and tense, until you clear it, and you pray that the snowplow driver who nicely pulled over (love those guys) so you could pass just a couple of miles back, or the SUV driving maniac woman (I've stalked her to the post office so I can see what crazy looks like), for that matter, don't slam into you.  Because you can't just stop since the people who may be behind you can't see either.  I've wanted to just stop where I am, cry, and take my chances, but thankfully the self-preservation instinct kicks in and I keep going.

Driving back from East Glacier one day with the beloved, we went through a true blizzard up from EG to the Summit and, although I'm thankful every day for him, I have never been so thankful that he was with me and doing the driving.  We had to roll down the window on my side so we could just make out the reflectors so we wouldn't fly off the road into oblivion, or at least into a snow bank.  And the windshield was icing since there was no way that the defroster could keep up.  Haven't been that tense in a while, but he got us home safe and sound, with nary a broken sweat, although he’s told me since then that he was a bit tense himself.  We heard later that a truck jackknifed up there just after we went through and that several people pulled over at stayed at the Snow Slip Inn because they just could not keep going.  Smart people.

On the curvy, mountain road, the blowing waxes and wanes and passes.  The road from East Glacier to Browning is another matter entirely.  The terrain is flatter, rolling plains out there, and as much I love those powerful plains that lead up to the Front Range of the Northern Rockies, that drive scares the crap out of me and I've feared for my little, insignificant life on more than one occasion.  Again, it's the wind...  My car, Flash, is little.  And while that's fantastic for gas mileage in Montana where a three and a half hour drive is “not bad”, it's not so good when you're driving in a ground blizzard with "range livestock" running around (there was a horse just the other day, cruising along, having a wrong-side-of-the-fence munch-fest, and I see cows out and about and gossiping over the fence on a regular basis).  Flash is light.  And so he literally blows sideways on ice in those not uncommon 70mph winds.  He's also vertically challenged, so when the big trucks and SUVs are above the fray, Flash and I are in the thick of it.  That's a new and not a good feeling.  I've been advised to "ride the rumble strip".  Uh, huh.  But, "make sure it's your right wheel and not your left, because that could be bad".  Yep.  I've also heard of a doctor and his wife, on their way to work, who kept going in those white-out conditions, again because you have no choice, wondering why they hadn't made it to Browning yet.  They eventually stopped, and discovered they were out in a fenceless pasture...  I guess they missed the rumble strip.   Conditions were that rough and they apparently were going very slowly, but it’s THAT kind of blind. 

So, when I make it to EG on the way home, stop in at EG Trading Company for some steak, I pry my fingers out of the grooves they’ve made in the steering wheel and share my harrowing saga of almost hitting Sasquatch or a horse or a FedEx truck or a cow or an Albertan (who just seem to cruise along in any kind of weather).   I get "oh, it's not so bad" and I'm a bit worried about what might constitute "bad"...

Obviously I have no photos of the harrowing drives since that would be insanity.  I'm crazy, but not THAT crazy...

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