Monday, February 24, 2014

Frostbike 2014: The Trip

A Windy, Snowy Landscape
As I watched the storm develop on Thursday, I could see that heavy rain had pushed up ahead of the cold side of the system and later it turned into snow. Here in town, I listened as all night long the wind rattled the rafters and it sounded really wicked out there. We were to leave Friday about noon to drive up to Frostbike, where I hoped to catch a party at a motel that afternoon for the QPB brands and dealers showing up for Frostbike.

Here in town we received very little snow, but a sheet of ice had formed over the side streets. We packed up the vehicle and headed out of town, and at first, it wasn't bad at all. I was in contact with Ben Witt, my friend from Northfield Minnesota, and he told me that the interstate highway was closed in Minnesota due to snow. I guess that they received far more snow up that way, and that blizzard conditions had prevailed overnight. I decided to cut off that section of Interstate 35 by going up Highway 218 instead, which, if I was right, would bypass the closed section of interstate entirely. As we went further North, things got progressively more icy and snowy.

 Heading up Highway 218, it was getting downright treacherous. The highway was completely covered in snow, and speeds were about 40mph at the top to keep us safe. There were very few cars on the roads! We reached the town of Osage without incident. I was noticing how it appeared that the folks there were just getting around to digging out. Hmmm......not a good sign!

Just North of Osage on HWY 218
 The winds were stiff from the Northwest at 20-25mph with higher gusts. Up north of Osage, the drifts were immense. We met a road grader with a massive "V" shaped plow that was ramming through 10-15ft high drifts to allow for the passage of cars and trucks. At one point, it was a one lane passage through, and the snow was so deep that I feared we would get bogged down and stuck, but the Highlander pulled through it.

Not long after, we hit the remains of what the maintainer left behind after punching through another huge drift, and the car started getting sucked to the right toward the big drift, which at this point was taller than our SUV! I cranked the wheel hard left, let off the gas, and the vehicle traveled more or less straight through, saving us from getting stuck. One more of those and I would have turned back, but that was the worst of it, as far as drifts went.

Onward to the North, we were going 20mph at times due to the wind, blowing snow, and ice-snow covered roadway. Finally we reached Austin Minnesota, and crossed Interstate 90, but immediately we saw a "Road Closed" sign, and a long line of semi-tractor trailer rigs lined up waiting to get through. Check!

A couple of interesting things here. (Click to enlarge)
I told Mrs. Guitar Ted we would try going West on I-90 at that point, so we doubled back and went down the on-ramp. There was no signs that this was a closed road, but in fact, we found out later that it was. I should have guessed, since it was largely a deserted stretch of road, which is highly unusual for any interstate highway in the Mid-West.

The roadway was badly rutted ice, probably made that way by traffic running through slushy snow before all hell broke lose with the wind. Cars and trucks littered the ditches on either side. We saw a sedan on its roof! Caution was the order of the day so far, and now I redoubled my efforts to not take any chances at all. (Well, other than to be out driving at all, which was a huge risk in and of itself at that point!)

We reached I-35, and although I suspected it was closed, as Ben had warned, there were no barriers, no officials to stop me, so I took the right hand on-ramp to I-35 and continued Northward. It was super sketchy until we got much closer to Northfield. Normally, it takes me about 3 hours or slightly less to get from my home to Northfield, but on this blustery day, it took over 5 hours. We checked into the motel we were to stay at for the weekend, and I was so tired and stressed out from the drive that I crashed on the bed for several hours only to be awakened later by Mrs. Guitar Ted to go have Mexican out with the Witts. Afterward, a few beers with Ben and Marty at The Cow, a bar in Northfield. We couldn't do the usual Mike's Bikes gig, since our chaperone was out of town. But that was okay, because I wasn't too up for anything but a couple IPA's and more sleep anyway!

Next: The show goes on.....

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