Hay’s Daze: Driving with your coat over your head

At least one of us was white-knuckling. Or at the very least chewing fingernails (preferably their own). Or cowering with their coat over their head.

Sometimes a breathtaking drive through the most epic mountains in the world can make you forget to breathe – and not necessarily in a good way. Like when there’s a lot of snow on the road, and I mean a lot snow on the road. And mountains of snow sliding down the actual rocky mountains onto the road. And also snow whipping out of the sky right at you, riding on howling gale force winds.

Combine that with temperatures in the minus a million range and you also have black, blue and crystal clear layers of sheer ice on the roads, either just lurking under the layers of snow, or replacing the asphalt altogether. It’s like driving on the bobsled track in the Olympics, except there are sheer cliffs on either side about a million meters deep, and also there are cars coming at you from out of the squall, playing chicken with you when there’s barely enough width for 1.5 cars on this particular bobsled track.

This was intended to be a nice relaxing trip. “Let’s go to Jasper,” I said to the Better Half. “We haven’t been to Jasper in a long time,” I said. “And, hey, let’s go in February! That will be, like, SO relaxing!” Ok, so I was a tad off in judgement, as I so often am.

Oh, it was beautiful all right, especially on the way there when the sun actually came out for a rare visit and the sky cranked up the Alberta blue and the mountains positively ROCKED, so to speak. But the roads? Not so much.

Even the snowplows and sanding trucks looked depressed as they rattled by, knowing full well there’s was an exercise of abject futility. And then there are the moron motorists who assume the ice and snow are figments of their deranged imagination and who enjoy tailgating one meter or so behind your back bumper through the most treacherous stretches of the five hour automobile slip ‘n slide marathon until they decide to fishtail past you at 130 kms an hour right when the road drops away on your passenger side to a cliff waaay down into a bottomless pit of doom. When the ensuing man-made maelstrom spews at you from the large half ton attempting to pass, you somehow resist the urge to cover your eyes with your gloved hands but since you are the one driving you realize this might not be a good idea. This is the point in the journey where the Better Half first has her coat over her head. It won’t be the last.

Everyone who lives, visits or perhaps even thinks about a trip to Alberta has had or soon will have at least one winter driving nightmare story. Like the time our reprobate rock band was on the road in our big red bus. It was in Saskatchewan in February which as everyone knows is a match made in hades. The blizzard was so intense and the snow so deep and the visibility so non-existent that we bundled up Al, our trombone player, with three or four of our parkas and at least two toques and half dozen scarves and sent him out to WALK in front of the bus so that we wouldn’t drive off the road. And this was on the TransCanada highway!

As for Jasper? At least I didn’t have to bundle up the Better Half and send her out to guide the car on the highway. But I was thinking about it.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.

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