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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Just Skiddin', Folks!

Normally, I have lots of photos to post on this blog, being a true believer in the motto "a picture is worth a thousand words..." and all that... and also having a friend tell me once, "love your blog, but I only look at the pictures..." 

Well, this time, because I was too darned scared to get any photos, I have decided that the post will be all about... 
product endorsements!!

But let me start with a little story. A scary bedtime story, if you happen to be reading this at bedtime... or just a plain scary story, any time. Val and I were Up At The Bluff starting New Year's Day, planning to return to the city today, Sunday Jan 13th. But on Thursday evening, the weather turned unseasonably weird and warm. 
It began to rain. In January. In northern Minnesota. 

I ask you: how odd is that? The total precipitation, per the weather web site, Wunderground, didn't seem to amount to much, about 0.2 inches from Thursday to Friday... but rain and winter in Minnesota is a bad mix, and rain, winter and an 18% grade hill is a REALLY bad mix. (add a howling cat, and it gets even worse... more on that later... with product endorsement...)

As previously documented on this very blog, we got out there and started spreading sand on the worst sections (read: steepest) of our road earlier in the week, in anticipation of this nastiness... but the sand disappeared underneath an ever thickening layer of ice. So on Saturday morning, hearing that the temp was about to plummet into the single digits and more stuff from the sky was heading our way, we got into high gear to get ready to leave the Cabin On The Hill ASAP. I got everything tucked into shape indoors, and Val started lugging additional 60 pound bags of sand (on our toboggan, which was VERY tricky to control on the ice) to the hill, cutting them open and spreading away... I joined her to help... We would have been completely lost at that point without: 
(product endorsement #1)
ICE Trekkers, courtesy of the local Joynes Ben Franklin store, the place you can buy anything you need for the northland in one shopping trip...
Do you remember the cartoons from when we were kids, with the bad guys going "whooop whooop whoop" and flailing their arms in the air while their feet slipped out from under them... That would have been us without ICEtrekkers. We wouldn't have been able to stand up much less haul sand without those babies strapped on the bottoms of our boots! 

At about noon, already tired out from hauling and spreading sand, trudging up and down the driveway (sort of steep in its own right, even before you get to the Big Hill), frantically cleaning, shutting down and packing, we were finally set. With Ursula the Explorer all fitted out 
with her four new snow tires, we were nearly ready to roll... I mean... skid. Actually just getting the car from the garage to the doorway was an exercise in silent screaming and trying to remember which way to turn, into a skid or away from it?? Because of course, why bother to sand the fifty feet from the garage to the door... how bad can it be?

The time came to shut off the water pump, clean the litter box (always the second to the final step) and FIND ROSIE (the final step)!
Of course, Rosie was well aware of the madness and mayhem, and had picked right up on her Moms rather anxious moods. And she didn't really want to be found, much less trapped in a car for who knows how many hours. She has all sorts of great secret hiding places, and wouldn't you know, she was in THE LAST PLACE I LOOKED... why is it always the LAST place... oh well... I grabbed her and got settled in while Val locked the cabin door, and now we get to product endorsement #2:
THUNDERSHIRTs for cats (really, for small dogs, but it works...)

And here is the one photo I have of real events... taken on a previous trip in the car when Rosie got anxious... and pissed... this is her wrapped snugly in her Thundershirt, behaving a little more relaxed... Let's just say that Rosie wore her T-Shirt nearly all the way back to the city, and if it helped some, I'm glad of it, because she was crazy even WITH it on for about 5 full hours... 

Which leads me to product endorsement #3: SNOW TIRES! Specifically, Finnish snow tires, which came highly recommended:
Our new set have a name (Hakkapellita) that reminds me of the witches in "The Golden Compass" novel... and all I can say is, 
Without those wonderful tires, we might not be here. We might be wedged sideways in any number of places along our road, frozen solid, with a really pissed off cat... 

For those of you who have not been visitors to our humble abode on the Bluff, the "driveway" is 1/2 a mile from our doorway to our property border, then another 3.1 miles to the county road and the first public plowing service. We hire a local guy (correction: a local genius and the bravest guy on earth) Casey, to plow and on occasion to sand... but you can't plow ice, and looking back we doubt that even Casey could have helped us get out... because THE ENTIRE 3.6 MILES from our doorway to the county road was one solid thick slab of ice... and only thirteen 60 pound bags of sand, the best snow tires on the planet, and extreme caution got us out of there in one piece. 
Momentum is your enemy on steep hills (and btw, for those who are saying, 18% grade, what's the big deal? keep in mind that 15% is considered VERY steep...) Val did the driving and I did the Cat Controlling (and I have the scratches to prove it) and we crept VERY slowly down the first 0.25 miles... the odometer read 0.1 (doesn't record skidding) and reached the bottom of the hill 30 MINUTES later. 30 minutes to travel 0.25 miles. Yikes. Holey. Moley. Rocky.
Fortunately, the rest of the road is not nearly as hilly (though plenty bad, let me tell you...) but unfortunately, the ice continued every inch of the way. Which leads me to product endorsement #4

Their company motto is "Nothing Else Is Even Close" and boy, is that ever correct! I can't figure out how in the world the Zamboni company got one of their ice polishing machines out on to Cascade Bluffs Road, but I swear they did! Every shining inch of that road looked JUST LIKE A HOCKEY RINK!! I kept expecting the Olympic Ice Dancing Team to appear around every curve... or maybe the Minnesota Wild careening around the bend... 
Finally, after about an hour, we came to the gravel pit and knew that the end was in sight. I swear that gripping the steering wheel (or the cat, as the case may be) is a form of vigorous isometric exercise, because when we finally reached Pike Lake Road (the plowed and serviced county road) and saw that it was pretty much ice free, we both felt so exhausted that I wondered if we'd actually carried the Explorer the entire 3.6 miles! 

And that's the story of our trip Down The Big Hill and Out The Long Road... big sighs all around, please. We had our winch, our special winter emergency kit including three ways to start a fire, our box of hernias (so named by our neighbor and friend Stan, and full of heavy duty chains, a "come-along" and winch cable) and we didn't have to use ANY of that.


Stay tuned, because, of course, you know... we won't be able to stay away for very long!


  1. So very glad you made it down in one piece. Loved the pictures as always. Be well. Rox

  2. Yikes! I have been monitoring the weather up North and thought of you two. I hate freezing rain and have decided that there is nothing that can make me leave the house until it clears off. The joys of retirement! Also, stockpiling supplies so I don't have to leave!