Pre­pare for road­side emer­gen­cies, even in city

Wel­come to win­ter 2013-14

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - ALAN SIDOROV

SHOW­ING lit­tle re­spect for the cal­en­dar, win­ter ar­rived on Bri­tish Columbia’s Chilcotin Plateau on the af­ter­noon of Novem­ber 1.

I’d left Prince Ge­orge a day ear­lier than planned, to avoid snow that was fore­cast. Un­til 100 Mile House it had been a fairly easy road trip. I was sit­ting at a Tim Hor­ton’s, sip­ping a cup of com­fort­ing chem­i­cal broth, or pseudo-latte, when the first snowflakes be­gan to fall. The nice lady who served my bev­er­age said truck­ers had re­ported that, past 70 Mile House, the snow was start­ing to stick to the road.

I was tow­ing a trailer full of ad­vanced driv­ing school equip­ment, us­ing a Volvo S70 equipped with new win­ter tires. The trailer has re­mote elec­tric brakes and, as the road be­came more slip­pery, I eased off on the ap­pli­ca­tion ad­just­ment to keep the trailer wheels from lock­ing — hav­ing the shiny green Haul­mark be­come the lead ve­hi­cle would not have been much fun.

Around mid­night, I de­cided to stop at a rest area and wait for the snow­plough. My win­ter sleep­ing bag was tucked in be­hind the pas­sen­ger seat. Cloaked in its warmth, I closed my eyes and slept.

It must have been an hour be­fore the harsh grat­ing of an ap­proach­ing snow­plough sig­nalled that it was time to move on. I stayed a few hun­dred me­tres be­hind the flash­ing lights, and en­joyed the im­proved trac­tion.

The snow­plough fin­ished its sec­tion, and I car­ried on into the night. It was a strug­gle to main­tain 60 kph. Pass­ing trucks were throw­ing waves of slush at my wind­shield, while blow­ing snow and fog ham­pered vis­i­bil­ity the rest of the time. Things got worse as I started the climb into the Coast Moun­tains. There was one set of old tracks on the road, and they were fill­ing quickly with fresh snow.

We made it up the first pass with oc­ca­sional wheel­spin, but that was the trac­tion limit. On one of the longer straight­aways, it be­came ap­par­ent we were not go­ing to get much fur­ther. I put on the warn­ing flash­ers and went around back to get the tire chains.

Out­side the car, I could hear avalanches rum­bling off a dis­tant ridge. I’d al­ready dodged the de­bris from sev­eral rock­slides. Any­one who has tried to put on tire chains in sloppy weather knows it’s not much fun. It took about 10 min­utes to get the drive wheels prop­erly dressed for the oc­ca­sion. I got back in the car and cranked up the heater, put the gear­box in win­ter mode, and eased on a bit of throt­tle. The chains bit deep, and off we went, rat­tling along at a splen­did 25 kilo­me­tres an hour.

I got home just in time for break­fast, then headed for bed to catch up on sleep. Con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tions, it hadn’t been a bad voy­age, though the nor­mal eight-hour trip had stretched to eigh­teen. My car-con­trol skills are good be­cause I’m teach­ing ad­vanced driv­ing cour­ses year-round, and rac­ing as well. Still, there’s noth­ing like real win­ter to put you to the test.

In truth, that road trip was a test of my prepa­ra­tion as much as any­thing else. I had ac­tu­ally de­bated a mo­ment about pack­ing the chains along, but ex­tra cloth­ing, wa­ter, first-aid kit, fire ex­tin­guisher and emer­gency food are al­ways part of my trav­el­ling kit.

In Bri­tish Columbia, as in much of Canada, help may not be just a phone call away. Some 80 per cent of this coun­try’s land­mass still does not have cel­lu­lar phone ser­vice, and satel­lite phones are not com­pletely re­li­able ei­ther. Just like any other back­coun­try trav­eller, we need to be pre­pared for self-res­cue.

It’s easy to as­sume that liv­ing near a met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­tre elim­i­nates the need for any sort of emer­gency travel prepa­ra­tion. But ev­ery year, in both win­ter and sum­mer, storms show the fool­har­di­ness of that sort of at­ti­tude. Had the moun­tain road been im­pass­able, I would have ei­ther set­tled down in the car or more likely gone back to the trailer and climbed into the bunk that dou­bles as a cargo shelf. With a warm sleep­ing bag, read­ing light, and a good snack, the en­forced camp­ing would have been quite pleas­ant.

Wel­come to win­ter 2013-2014. Alan Sidorov is an ex­pe­ri­enced au­to­mo­bile racer, prod­uct tester and free­lance writer. You can reach him at

www.spdt.ca.

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