"I'm sorry, but Canada is closed due to bad weather. Try again next month."
Walking barefoot in the snow makes for a cool poetic image, I suppose. The reality is merely cold. I hadn’t really considered how far into the back yard my friends’ hot tub is; I generally only use it in warmer weather. I remove my towel and join a small group. The wind whistles and I feel like a funnel, my shaved head letting out heat. Our resident med student suggests I wear my towel on my head. She has a good suggestion, but I’m on the American side of the border and have some concern that I might get shot at.
I remind myself that I grew up 500 miles north of where we live, and that I’ve driven through blizzards before. Of course, back home, I knew where I was going– and at Christmas, coloured house lights provide guidelines so it’s clear when the streets change direction. We’d both decided the weather wasn’t so bad, and with only an hour more to reach home, we would take the backroads, since the stretch of highway has been closed.
Ten minutes later we face a whiteout. I pull us from the edge of the road after we skid just off the edge. I find the way again, only to face oncoming headlights.
The blizzard has frosted the branches, the trunks, the coniferous needles, transfiguring trees into dreamscapes. Clean white fields and cleared blue skies throw farmhouses into stark relief. Ghost cars haunt the roadsides and ditches. A snow-covered eighteen-wheeler rests against the trees into which it ploughed the night before.
Saturday started warmer and positively seasonal– at least for us. A local immigrant family had lost everything in a fire, and we’d been searching out donations, older winter clothing and such, requested by the Red Cross. In the evening, we had a Yuletide party to attend.
Our Michigan friends have great parties, and the Canadian contingent always stays overnight. That’s usually four of us– my wife, myself, and two guys from Sarnia. The guests run the range of SF fandom, from shy junk food junkies with Hugo Gernsback dreams to bisexual tomboys, to successful computermeisters, a man with a collection of sports cars, two international flight attendants, and people who can from memory identify every continuity deviation found in Enterprise; a woman who once modelled ware for the Sluggy Freelance online store, one moderately famous fantasy artist, and a guy whose website was mentioned in The New York Times and elsewhere back in the early days of the ’Net, because he was one of the first people to put terrifically pointless things online. In short, it’s kind of like the E2 chatterbox, except in the real world.
With a hot tub.
The wind whistled, providing the appropriate cliché. Even from our ersatz hot spring, we all could feel the temperature dropping. Having no hair atop merely makes me the canary in the cold meiny.
I was the second person to leave, making the barefoot trek across the yard, warming up while reporting to the catbox. The other computer in the room played an endless loop of Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice." Throughout the house, general merriment continued.
After breakfast, my wife and I drove north to the border. The youthful guard informed us that the highway had been closed. "Bad weather," he said, without elaboration. The alternate routes, he told us, the rural roads remained open, however. The sky looked fairly clear. With so little distance to home, we decided to continue.
This proved a poor decision.
A tense, slow-moving half-hour followed. Visibility ranged from poor to non-existent. Headlights appeared and disappeared as the vehicles passed. We arrived at a place where several cars and two transport trucks had stopped. An accident had blocked passage, and the rerouted transports had no way of turning around.
The people who accumulated behind us simply turned and disappeared back into the storm. That left three vehicles.
A young woman on (or, arguably, off) route to the small town of Forest. A family of four. My wife and myself.
Bill and Sandy proved the perfect people to meet in this situation. They looked to be in their early thirties and must have married young; their oldest child, a daughter, had reached her early teens. They had a calm demeanor; Bill worried mostly about his aunt and uncle, whose car had the bad fortune to be between eighteen-wheelers and accident. The older couple chose to remain, since they didn’t want to leave their car, and help of some sort had been contacted. Bill knew the roads well, and offered to lead our three-vehicle convoy in the general direction of Sarnia, Ontario.
"So we'll stop if any of us go off, the road?" I said. Teenage daughter winced. "Not that anyone's going off the road."
Bill's vision proved more acute than mine; he stopped for a half-buried car which I never would have spotted. It had an occupant, Jim, a grizzled old guy in a union jacket. He’d gone off the road and was waiting out the storm. He’d been there about two hours, he said. A passerby had offered to go for a tow truck, but never returned.
We tried to move him. Back wheels sunk through snow to dirt and the wheel spun a nice coating of mud on my right-hand side. Beyond that, we accomplished nothing. His car clearly wouldn’t be moved without mechanical aid, and not until the storm had passed. I could feel my face freezing.
"He could ride with us," I said.
Along the way, we passed another group gathered at a crossroads. We drove on. They had five vehicles, enough to form their own Donner Party.
Fortunately, conditions have improved since 1846.
Sarnia sat just on the storm's perimeter. Lodging was easily had, and at cheaper storm rates. Jim insisted on buying us dinner, and took care of the cost before we could head him off.
This morning no new snow had fallen, but the temperature remained crispy cold, so that last night’s snow crunched underfoot.
The drive back proved uneventful.
Our holidays have started.
Call it a snowlogue.