386 - How D2, a cell phone, and the Internet can keep you safe

I left work in Seattle at 5:30PM last night knowing there was a very bad storm (some might call it a blizzard) coming from the north towards the city. I decided to stay off the freeways where there would be no sign of lane markings and no real escape route should thins get ugly, which I assumed they would.

Things were low but decent as a slow but steady amount of snow continued to fall. Then, I got to the end of SR509 South and stopped. For a long time. I waited. Cars were perched along the top of the curving offramp afraid to proceed for fear of sliding into the guardrail like the four cars crashed into it ahead of us. Rightfully so I suppose as they slid through the ramp themsleves.

I do have a CR-V with “all wheel drive”, but I like to think that AWD alone is not what kept me from sliding too much too far, because I did slide a few times. What helped me was slow and steady application of gas and a healthy dose of D1 and D2.

Those are the low gears in an automatic, and the first ones to get hit in a manual. I have an automatic and stayd under D3 for the rest of the trip home. They allow an amazing amount of traction and are essential for situatins like this. If you’re reading this, tell your friends and family to use them. tell them to tell their friends and family. I want to get home a bit faster and a lot safer next time.

I finally get through the ramp and off after swerving the serpentine of stopped cars that just will not move. I don’t know if they were paralyzed with fear or what, but they coul dmove if they wanted, but they did not. I mean, if I can serpentine through 5 “stalled” cars on ice, surely they could have at least followed one by one in a single file line…?

It’s now 8:00PM and I’m hungry, tired, and starting to get a bit cranky. I hit a cruising speed of 20 MPH and head down Internatioanl Blvd South through Tukwila and past Seatac airport. I think things are going good, but know in my heart that they’ll go to hell really quick.

You see, we live in Maple Valley. Emphasis on the word valley there. That means the most direct rout e is through Kent and my choice of one of three hills. Two are massive and entirely unsafe, so I choose the third ahead of time. I hit Kent at 8:30 PM. It took me an hour to get to Kent Station from 516 via Meeker street. Once I was there it was almost over. I came inches away from pulling into a parking garage and sleeping in the car. Only problem was I left the car over night once before (without me and in good weather) and got a ticket for leaving it over 24 hours. I was told I’d get towed if I did it again. Bummer…

Lightning is lighting the sky and the thunder cracks are getting closer to the strikes. The storm is getting closer with every lightning strike.

It’s now 9:30 and traffic is stopped and people are walking around the streets trying to figure out what to do. Those people walking around are the drivers of the cars that are stopped and empty. Yes empty. A woman yells at me for not backing up into a car so she can turn right from the left lane. It sparked a thought though. I turned left into Kent Station myself.

I had no idea how to get where I wanted to be from where I was, so I called my wife on the cell phone (one of 10 calls it later turns out). The stopped cars were going east, trying to go up the hills. I would go south to a freeway and try to do an end run around Kent thhrough Auburn.

It worked. Traffic on cross streets did not exist. I was able to get directed over the phone via my wife’s google maps query to Central Ave which got me to 277th S which got me to 167 South. That highway was molasses, but it was moving. I finally went the two exits it took to get to my exit and pulled onto 18 E at about 10:00 PM.

Now you’ll never believe the site I saw. An open road with no traffic on it at all. AND it was clear of snow. The closer I got to home, the lighter the snow was. I was able to go the rest of the way home without any stoppages, trouble, or trauma.

End to end it took about 5 hours to get home. I slid very little thanks to actually using my low gears. The thing that frightens me most is the other drivers that just have zero knowledge about how to drive in the snow. These are the folks that brake for rain. Throw some snow at them and look out! These people were stopped in the road, afraid to proceed as things got worse. I almost had to sleep outside because of them.

This was the string of the most horriffic traffic sites I have ever seen, and I grew up where a storm meant two feet of snow. I checked the traffic cams at MIDNIGHT last night to see the snow, and I-5 S was STILL bumper to bumper.

There’s no way I can fathom it being any stretch of safe to drive to Seattle from my house for the next few days while this winds its way out of the area. I have kids that need a dad.

Like I’ve always told my wife; (who grew up back in the NE as well) it’s not us and our ability that scares me in storms, it’s all the idiots that don’t know how to drive that scare me. 4WD helps you, but it won’t help them…

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