Sledding toward Boston

February 26th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Yesterday was our first overtly dangerous trip on NY’s Taconic Parkway. From my teens, I have tooled up and down between NJ or NYC and more recently from Boston to and from New England and Canada. It’s always slower than an Interstate, rife with rolling hills, low traffic, scenic and free. Friday though, it was a setting worthy of a 50’s movie, wherein the hero and heroine confront nature and out-of-control situations.

Thursday, we were on 90 West from Boston and up to Amherst, then back to 90 and down 50 miles on the Taconic. Headed to Poke (Poughkeepsie), we passed the real points of interest on the Western pike — the Ty-D-Bowl blue ice formations on the road cuts, colored by minerals in the rock. Then just over into NY, we turned South on the Taconic.

As though they were declaring truth in advertising, several deer families were by the watch-for-deer signs, only 10 or 20 feet off the road. The occasional still-golden willows were undulating delights. Locals have direct access to the road, giving us amusement at some of the green signs — BULLS HEAD ROAD, NINE PARTNERS ROAD, NEXT ROAD, and RIGOR ROAD. The parkway’s visual surprises more than paid us back for dropping into the 50MPH world.

Overnight though, the rain came quick and stayed hard. It shifted into sleet, teasing us with a half hour of snow, but returning to freezing rain. The tour guide at the CIA repeated, “Watch your step!,” “Hold the rail!,” and “It’s slippery here.” By the time we headed back on 44 from Poke toward the Taconic, we were in driver-training horror.

We saw a heavy panel truck that had simply skidded off 44 into two feet of roadside snow and ice head first. A trooper was headed — slowly, cautiously, with lights — to the rescue as we passed.

I drove down, the longer day given the side trip, but dry and safe. My wife insisted on sharing the duties and taking the wheel back. Haar.

The Taconic was slippery at best. We saw a Suburu that waddled all over a lane, while going maybe 15MPH. We passed several guard rails with obvious impacts in the packed snow. Clearly at each indent, a driver had lost control but was able to back out and proceed.

The parkway was iced over with that sleet and 30 seemed the maximum safe speed.

Then coming down those formerly pleasant rolling hills, our van seemed to hydroplane on the ice. She shifted into a numbered gear on the automatic and slowed.

Not everyone was so cautious and at several points we saw the effects. At one, a Suburu SUV had taken off nearly half a Toyota’s rear bumper. The car had its hazards on and took the right lane, immobilized with hanging parts, while the SUV had pulled off ahead. At another point, three cars had collided. It seemed no one was injured, but the local firefighters used flares and were stopping cars to insist they drive at 5MPH maximum. The three cars with their drivers and passengers were all stuck, two embedded into guard-rails on the left and one off its wheel on top of a snow/ice mount on the right shoulder.

Occasionally, some fool would tool by at 60MPH, sliding past the rest of us. We could see their vehicles wobbling and fishtailing. We did not see them in piles farther ahead, so they either managed the trip or disappeared off the road entirely.

At the top of the Taconic is Route 90, which becomes the Mass Pike a short distance East. It was plowed and fairly passable, except for occasional patches of 100 yards or so. In MA, the sleet became rain, which in contrast to the previous 90 minutes seemed very safe indeed, messy and requiring wipers and regular washer squirts, but 65MPH worked.

We didn’t see any deer on the way back. They surely had more sense than the drivers and waited out the storm.

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