January 25, 2012

When you leave the North Country for a winter trip, be prepared for anything

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — When you leave the North Country and head out driving to Colorado, you'd better be prepared for anything, especially in the winter time.

With gifts wrapped, bags packed and truck washed, Toby and I left for Colorado Springs in mid-December to enjoy the holidays with our youngest daughter, Carrie, and her family.

Anybody who knows Toby knows he washes his truck a lot, which he did the night before leaving. A few miles down I-87, Toby noticed that the truck-bed cover had opened. We stopped to close it only to find out that the cover track had frozen. We had to tie it shut until we got nearly to Albany where it was warmer. I had the greatest urge to say, "So, wash your truck again in freezing cold weather, and see what happens," but I didn't. We had a long trip ahead, and I thought it best to shut up.

The rest of our first day was relatively calm. We had a good laugh when we saw a very expensive Porsche with Christmasy reindeer antlers on each window — a posh Porsche and redneck antlers?

Our first overnight stop is Austinburg, Ohio. This year, we opted to try a new hotel in that area, America's Best Value Inn. The guidebook gave it four check marks, indicating a good place to stay. The room was great with a recliner, queen-size bed, color TV and a real philodendron plant, not plastic, for less than $60. The manager and his wife were on-site, and a continental breakfast rounded out the perks.

The next day, we veered southwest, to Anderson, Ind., to visit our granddaughter Emily and her new husband, Jared. The back roads we took were beautiful. We drove for miles past huge, pristine farms and quaint country homes. In very rural Mooreland, Ind., we were surprised to find a sign at the four corners informing us that Wilbur Wright was born there (April 16, 1867).

It blessed our hearts to hear Emily play her clarinet and sing Christmas carols at her church and to see Jared in a play he had helped write for the youth group. Our time was all too short, but we had more than 1,100 miles left to drive.

No problems driving through Missouri. Toby is used to six lanes of traffic, all going the same way at 75 mph in St. Louis. On into Kansas with light rain, which slowly turned to mushy rain, then quickly turned into a full-blown blizzard. The Weather Channel didn't warn us about this.

We drove for more than 200 miles, Toby singing with Waylon Jennings and David Alan Coe, and didn't see a snowplow. When we did see one, there were five of them, one after the other, all going east, and we were headed west. The road was like a skating rink, but finally, we saw a plow making a U-turn. I thought, "He'll get ahead of us and sand." He waited until we passed by, then pulled out, crossed over to the ramp and went into town, probably for coffee.

Several times I said to Toby, "Let's get off at the next town," to which he would say, "No, it's not that bad. I drove tractor-trailer for 40 years in weather like this." My reply: "That was the Adirondacks. This is the flat, treeless plains of Kansas!"

There were tractor-trailers in the ditches, travel trailers and SUVs backwards in the road and almost no vehicles around us except when a "country boy" would pass us with a hiked-up truck doing 75.

We literally drove in whiteouts for about 100 miles at 30 to 40 mph. I could not understand why they didn't close the interstate. Kansas has gates that come down over the road, and it's mandatory to exit. No exiting for my retired trucker husband.

Finally, we made it to Hays, Kan., our planned stop. We checked into a hotel and stayed there for two days. By morning, our truck looked like it was a snow sculpture. The roads in Hays were like a washboard with layers of sleet, ice and snow. We ordered pizza delivered and ventured out very little.

The day we left for Colorado Springs, it was sunny, clear blue skies, and you'd never know it was so horrible. Such is the experience of traveling cross-country in winter. More on our road trip next time.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at