Marta Hepler Drahos: White-knuckling winter sans 4-wheel drive | Local News


The word flashes in giant capital letters and insistent exclamation points in my mind as I tune in to alarming predictions for the area’s first winter snowstorm.

It’s the first “up north” winter in more than 25 years during which I’ll be steering a car without 4-wheel drive. And I’m dreading it as I might a combined visit to the doctor and the dentist.

I live in a snowbelt area where the white stuff is annoyingly plentiful, and in a neighborhood that traps it like a Swiffer mop traps dust. A narrow dirt road winds a half-mile to my house, hugged by woods that give the snow that piles up nowhere to blow.

My drive to work is fraught with winter peril, starting with the blind curve just past my driveway, and the hill beyond. In good weather the hill is more a gradual incline, barely discernible. But on powdery, snow-packed or icy days it has defeated many a friend and delivery driver without 4-wheel drive.

Our housekeeper — back in the days when we could afford one — quit because of that hill.

It comes immediately after a right turn, making your chances of ascent poor to none. More likely you’ll shudder to a standstill partway up, then glide down backwards until you reach a level spot. From there the strategy is to gun the motor and get a running start. Should you get to the top, the snowbanks piled high on either side of the road — reducing it to the width of an English country lane — act as bumpers as you negotiate the rest of the neighborhood.

Next is a mile of paved road on the border between two counties. Each seems to cede maintenance responsibility to the other, meaning the stretch gets a cursory plow now and again.

After successfully making it to the stop sign, you’ll tackle 12 miles of state highway mostly bordered by open fields. Blowing and drifting snow can make it treacherous on windy days, while on clear days glassy “black ice” or strips of packed snow like washboard ribs catch your tires and shoot your car in directions you’d rather not go.

Just when you think you almost made it, THE HILL looms. It’s one you can coast down in fine weather without ever touching your gas pedal. But in winter white-knuckled drivers ride their brakes relentlessly, making for a miles-long string of red lights. Even confident drivers lose their nerve when…

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