So you probably know I’m with Mister in Bangalore, where the roads are busy, the food is sumptuous, the weather is wonderful and the internet connection really crappy. So much so that this post, which was supposed to reach you on Christmas, will probably be read next year. (Yeah I hate that joke but just couldn’t resist it!)
I’m living in an apartment with Mister, Giggles, Fartsypants, and PepTalk – it’s kinda like living in a Friends episode – and I’m loving it. But more about that later.
First, a long overdue post about a blizzard my friend Paul once got stuck in, in his own words. You know him through the discussions that he triggers on my otherwise drab blog posts. Yeah, that Paul. I had been hounding him to write a guest post for me – and when he did, I made him wait an entire month before I finally posted it.
So without further dilly-dallying, I bring to you the story of a blizzard and a rare form of camaraderie – one that my friends and I share despite the madness and the odd situations we find ourselves in. Thankfully there’s never been a blizzard – I don’t know if we’d survive that.
You will love it!
– by Paul Curran
The huge steel doors the size of a two story building slowly raised upwards as snow swirled into the ferry. The ramp, as wide as two tractor trailers and 20 feet long, lowered into place between the dock and the ferry. We had arrived at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. The four rows of tractor- trailers stowed neatly in lines about 20 units long on the bottom deck began to move forward as directed by the ship’s staff. Cars began to unload overhead on a second ramp from the upper deck. The snow was swirling thickly in a high wind from the west obscuring most of the dock and the terminal as I thumped my tractor-trailer across the ramp. My delivery of mixed produce from Boston was on the far side of the island in St. John’s – 565 miles from here, normally an overnight drive.
Most of the drivers were turning right into the large parking lot, obviously not willing to risk the weather on the highway. There they could safely sit out the storm with access to commercial fuel and a restaurant in which to eat. They all had sleeper berths and could idle their trucks and stay warm. The downtown was also only a short distance and one could have pizza or other fast food delivered right to the truck if so desired. I drove straight ahead and pulled up to the Esso fuel station on the dock. Using my key to activate the fuel pump, I filled my two 120 gallon fuel tanks – it was never a good idea to set out across Newfoundland in the winter with anything less than full tanks.
The weatherman was predicting a heavy snowfall of 6-10 inches – a workable amount for driving, not fun but a loaded truck has excellent traction and is normally only limited in travel by visibility. In the mountainous area of the west coast of Newfoundland the weather changes very quickly and a storm on one side of a hill could be clear skies on the other side. With that in mind, I set off towards St. John’s. The visibility was very poor but by driving slowly I could still get glimpses of the edge of the road. Being a two lane road I could feel the crown of the road in the tilt of the truck, so I knew I was on the right side.
The wind picked up and the snow got heavier – fingers of snow growing across the road in drifts as if a great fist were trying to grasp and strangle the pavement to cut off all traffic. I was part way through the Wreckhouse (a local stretch of road known for its high winds), and thankfully the wind was still from the west, off the ocean and towards the coastal mountains. Had it been from the other direction the Wreckhouse would have been impassable. However, a wind from the ocean brought a lot of moisture and hence a lot of snow. Still the intensity of the storm increased and I was loosing visibility in waves- now you see the road, now you don’t. This was getting dangerous. I engaged the four-way flashers to make my truck more visible as I slowed to 15 mph and turned on the fog lights which were mounted low in the bumper and increased vision somewhat in the storm.
Creeping along now through what had become a blizzard; I knew that I would get no further than the 24 hour restaurant/service station in the town of Doyles – about 5 more miles up the road. Time would be better spent sleeping so I could be fresh and ready to go in the morning. 30 minutes later, the lights of the station glimmered through the screaming wind and snow. There was an empty parking spot right up in front of the station and about 40 feet from the door as I pulled in and stopped. It was flat here, so I only applied the tractor brakes – in this weather trailer brakes would freeze on hard once they cooled, so it was best to leave them off. There were about 10 other loaded tractor-trailers that I recognized from the ferry – drivers with whom I travelled this road regularly. Turning up the idle on the engine so it wouldn’t be damaged by running a long time without moving, I grabbed my coat, ran to the restaurant, and stepped into the warmth and relative silence. The other drivers were gathered together in the center at tables they had moved together. All had arrived just recently and were having a snack, intending, as I was, on sleeping here until morning. We discussed the weather as we watched the blizzard through the front plate glass windows and agreed to have breakfast together at 7 am so we could travel in a convoy when we left. After a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk, I retired to my warm sleeper berth for the night.
At 6:30 am my alarm clock went off and as I awoke, I could still hear the storm raging outside the truck. Standing up while getting dressed, the top windows in the bunk afforded me a view of a surreal white world– all the shapes had been changed by drifts of snow sculpted by howling winds. Dressed and ready to go freshen up with my toiletry kit, I tried to open the driver’s door facing the wind and it wouldn’t budge. I put my shoulder against it, suspecting the wind was holding it closed and it still wouldn’t move. Sliding over to the passenger’s leeward side, the door opened easily and I jumped out into about 2 feet of snow – not so bad. I walked around the front to see what was holding the driver’s door closed and as the wind and snow battered me, I peeked around the fender and realized that overnight a snow drift had formed so that the snow was piled almost to the window – 7 feet in the air. The whole bottom of the door, and all the way down the side of the trailer, was one giant snow drift. That was interesting. Looking up the road I realized that the Federal Police (RCMP) had set up a road block so that no traffic could get further than the restaurant. No plows had passed.
Inside, I cleaned up and had breakfast and discussed the situation with the other drivers – the decision was no longer ours, we could go no further until the road was reopened.
And so the blizzard continued for three days and three nights delivering about 125 inches (about 300 cms) of snow accompanied by high winds. The drift against the side of my truck continued to grow until it was higher than the truck – 14 feet. From the road the whole truck was hidden and in its place was a huge white drift.
The restaurant quickly ran out of food as they could not get any deliveries. So, with permission gotten by calling our customers, we unsealed and opened the loaded trailers and carried whatever food we needed into the restaurant in bulk. We found that between the ten trucks we had most fruits and vegetables, potatoes, chicken, turkeys, beef, juice, milk, cereal, flour and much more – a horn of plenty. Some of the local families also ran out of food and came to the restaurant to eat. Each trailer had about 50,000 pounds of food and we used only few hundred pounds from each load. The restaurant owners kept it open 24 hours for us and whoever else wanted to eat. They charged each of us only a few dollars per meal for preparation and charged the locals a discounted price for meals so the cooks, waitresses and overhead could be paid. We quickly discovered that the small town of only a hundred people or so, had a liquor store open within walking distance and soon the whiskey and beer flowed freely – this we paid for, and kept it reasonable by policing our own. To top it all off, there was a juke box in the restaurant and the owners opened it up so we could continue to play songs for free. Soon a good crowd was bringing their own booze and a party got started.
After three days the blizzard abated and the sun came out, although the temperatures grew much colder. The world became a new place with new sights all in white shining brilliantly in the hard winter sun. Sunglasses were necessary when outdoors or a headache would very quickly develop. It took three more days after that before the highway crews managed to open the highway and even then it was only one lane wide in places. A highway plow came into our parking lot and after clearing what he could, pulled each truck out with a chain.
Once on the road, we would find that the snow was so deep in some places that they had used bulldozers to push the snow down to waiting snow blowers until they found the road. It was months before all the roads got cleared back to the shoulders and in many places the snow banks were higher than my trailer and it felt like driving in a tunnel.
It was rather sad leaving the little group of people with whom we had been stranded and had befriended. And so after our good-byes, we all headed out into a world that was slowly returning to normal.
As my days in Bangalore come to an end, I’m dreading returning to normal. Would you feel the same way after an out-of-the-ordinary few days? Have you ever formed friendships in strange circumstances or been stuck in a blizzard? Oh – and what do you think of Paul’s writing? Should he start a blog?