A: They don’t. Because they’re too chicken.
On Saturday I attempted to drive from Hysham to Bozeman with my three little kids, my mother, and my 90-year-old grandmother in the car. The occasion? My dear cousin Morgan’s college graduation party in Bozeman, which we all six desired to attend.
So I attempted to get us all to the party. But I failed. Because I’m a big chicken.
In my defense, road conditions weren’t perfect on Saturday. It’s 218 miles from Hysham to Bozeman; I drove about halfway to Bozeman before crying uncle and turning around in Columbus. I never accelerated over 60 MPH the whole way to Columbus and back. (I had to drive, of course, because I am suffering from Mom Who Hasn’t Slept in Six Years Anxiety and therefore can’t stand to sit in the passenger seat on the interstate. My spunky 90-year-old grandma probably would’ve been game to drive but instead was a prisoner in the passenger seat, and my mom — who before I was born sufferered a broken back in a car accident on slick roads — chewed her fingernails in the backseat the whole way but mostly behaved herself.)
The truth is, the road was slick in only a couple places. But the passenger lane was snow-filled, and because (it would seem) I drive slower than 99% of the other drivers on the road, I was in the defensive driving position all day long as truck after truck after truck after truck passed me and left me choking and squinting through swirling snow in my efforts to stay on the road.
Our troupe left Hysham at 10:30 and first stopped in Custer to pick up Grandma at her house (she was dressed to the nines, as usual, and scoffed at my jeans with a hole in the knee because her mother wouldn’t have even let a person out of the house wearing pants like that! — but what Grandma didn’t realize was that I was dressed for interstate warfare, not for partying). I white-knuckled my way to Billings from there, made a short stop in Billings to improve my wardrobe prognosis, then got back on the interstate and persevered to Laurel before the baby’s screams and a low-visibility snow flurry forced us to pull off. We enjoyed Taco Bell in Laurel while the storm passed, then ventured back out on the west-bound lane knowing full well we didn’t have a lot of business being there.
Because we are native Montanans, we are not allowed to say the divide between Laurel and Columbus consists of “mountains,” because they’re actually only high hills, but I’ll tell you what: if I was anything less than a Montanan, and after being on top of them in a wet, blinding blizzard, I would sure say that I’ve had enough mountain to last me the rest of my life.
The flakes were big and melty. The visibility was zero. Traffic was creeping along; most vehicles had hazard lights on and even the dummies had decided this was no place to be in the passing lane. Inside the car the defrost was going full blast, wipers were at top speed, and there was just a narrow peep hole through which I could see the road. Her voice rimmed with panic, Mom (from the backseat) instructed Grandma to clear the dash of all paraphernalia. There was a pickup and trailer ahead of us which I would periodically catch up to, only to have to cram on the brakes before we slid into its rear gate, and I worried about the big rig behind us neglecting to hit the brakes and instead running us over.
Out there on that crowded interstate of death, it started to seem crazy that I was on the road in zero-degree weather with three little kids, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and a hole in my jeans. The Bozeman Pass, the real mountains, still loomed ahead of us, as did the wind-warning zones around Big Timber and Livingston. I was traveling maybe 35 MPH and still had over a hundred miles to go; the party would start in an hour and a half. Sure, I could putt-putt all the way to Bozeman from here, but we were already going to be late… and what about the other crazy drivers on the road who were clearly threatening our safety and general well-being with their bonehead notions of speed and passing? (I’ve always been a homebody, I’ve never thought driving in inclement weather was a good idea, and especially since becoming a mother I for the most part think we’re all best off if we all just stay at home. All the time. I kinda think the only time to be on the road is in an emergency… and then only if the weather is good. I figure: if my job is to keep these kids alive, can’t I most easily accomplish that if we’re all hanging out in the living room?)
For miles and miles of snowstorm I swore I would be heading back home just as soon as I could pull off on an interchange. I was going no further on this mission of insanity, I declared, and I wasn’t letting anybody else drive, either — so Mom and Grandma were basically prisoners in the car with me. The interchange didn’t come until we got to Columbus, and I pulled off (along with about half the traffic off the interstate), endured a traffic jam as travelers waited to park at the gas station nearest the exit, then drove straight through town and turned back east on the Old Highway, which was covered with snow but blessedly free of traffic and which I traveled all the way back to Park City.
You know I like to pretend I’m tough. But when it comes to bad roads, I’m a big chicken. I know there are some fearless women out there who could’ve skied all the way to Bozeman that day without batting an eye. As my renowned-road-warrior-of-an-uncle Cody admonished me, “You just have to stay ahead of the semis. Never let them start passing you. And it doesn’t matter how slow you’re going. If you’re gonna have a wreck, you’re gonna have a wreck.”
He’s right, and there are certain risks associated with life which I approach with a similar cavalierness. For instance, there exists the possibility that an airplane might crash into our living room while we’re sitting here minding our own business. But I can’t control that possibility. So I just take my chances every day.
So far, so good.
© Tami Blake