Tim Whyte | An Unforgettable, Snow-Packed, Swervin’ Road Trip

By Tim Whyte

Signal Editor 

There are road trips you’ll never forget. And I think any time you finish an 1,100-mile roadie by going the last 80 miles through a driving snow storm on a two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, dozens of miles away from help should you crash or get stranded, with your kid riding shotgun, it’s one for the memory banks. 

Our daughter completed her first semester as a freshman at Washington State University without having a car on campus. But, as a California kid, she found the lack of a car to be… limiting. 

When she came home for winter break, the full-court press was on. She wanted to bring her pickup to Pullman so she could do necessary things. 

You know. Like driving 6 miles to get to the nearest Dutch Bros. coffee joint, which is actually in an entirely different state, in Moscow, Idaho. Or grabbing dinner at her favorite Thai food place in Pullman. Or getting her nails done. 

Necessities, all.

So we gave in, and let her bring her truck up to Pullman for the spring, with the proviso that she agrees not to drive in extreme weather. I was, admittedly, a bit obnoxious and paranoid about it. 

She’s my little girl. I worry.

We agreed that I would drive up with Brooke, get her settled in for the spring, then fly home. 

Heh. Spring. That’s the furthest thing from anyone’s mind in January in eastern Washington. 

The road trip in its entirety was a blast. There’s a lot of beautiful country between here and there. But those last 80 miles were an adventure of the white-knuckle variety. At least, they were for me.

It started snowing when we had 80 miles to go, and at first it wasn’t so bad. I was doing 55 mph and getting passed by more adventurous drivers. It wasn’t sticking, so the road was mostly just wet.

But after 15 or 20 miles, it got more serious. It started to stick — not enough to require the tire chains I had thoughtfully purchased before the trip, but enough that the tire tracks in front of us were flanked by accumulating snow.

I gripped the wheel tightly with both hands. I made Brooke turn down the car stereo, and soon after that I made her turn it off altogether so I could concentrate and listen for signs of trouble. 

I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road, so I asked Brooke how many miles we had left. 

“Sixty-three,” she said. 

The speeds dropped. The situation felt sketchy to me, a suspicion that would be borne out when we passed two rolled-over cars, wheels up, in ditches on either side of the road. 

At one point I took my eyes off the road and glanced over at Brooke. 

She was doing a word search.

Flabbergasted, I said, “How can you be doing a word search at a time like this?”

“What else am I going to do?” 

Ugh.

“How many miles do we have left?” I asked.

“Fifty-three. You just asked that 10 miles ago.”

And that became the routine, Brooke would point out. Without knowing, I kept asking her, every 10 miles, how many we had left. She seemed at once amused and mildly irritated.

We were, fortunately, tailing a line of vehicles that included a couple big rigs that, although traveling slowly, were plowing quite a path through the snow. 

I stayed in their tracks, until the Prius in front of me decided he was going to turn off the road. But before he made his turn, he came to a complete stop, right in the lane, with me and a long line of cars behind him and several inches of snow on either side of the tire tracks we were following.

I hit the brakes. Anti-locks kicked in. The Prius was looming larger and larger in my windshield. I had to swerve to get around him. The swerve caused me to hit snow, which caused the rear end of the truck to fishtail out from under me.

“We’re going to crash,” I thought.

I steered into the fishtail, first one way, then the other, got past the Prius while I cursed him and his sissy eco-friendly vehicle, then pulled out of the double-fishtail, got the truck pointed straight and fell back in line in the big rigs’ tire tracks. 

The best former dirt trackers in NASCAR would have been proud of my awesome display of car control. 

I glanced over at Brooke. She was calmly gazing out the window at the scenery.

“Must have finished her word search,” I thought.

I tried to calm my nerves, and clicked off those 10-mile intervals, until we finally hit the outskirts of Pullman, a terrific college town that by this point was blanketed in snow. It was picturesque. On the way to our hotel we stopped at Brooke’s dorm to drop off a few of her things, navigating the hills of that very hilly campus as the truck’s all-weather tires struggled to find traction.

After leaving the dorm, I noticed that some Very Creative College Students had built a tall thing of snow. But it was not a snowman. It was a snowman part.

Yes. They built a giant snow penis, with all of the, ahem, accoutrements.

Ah, college.

When we got to the hotel, once I was safely parked for the night, I said my first words about our close call with the inconsiderate Prius.

“I didn’t want to say it before because it would have been bad luck,” I said, “but you have to admit, that was one helluva save back there, dirt-trackin’ and pulling out of those swerves. Your old man did some fancy driving.”

I was expecting kudos from the kid. Something like, “Thanks for saving both our lives, Dad. You’re awesome.”

I love my daughter. She’s the best. And she has a wicked sense of humor.

“I wasn’t that impressed,” she said. “When I was in Big Bear a couple weeks ago, one of my friends was doing that just for fun.”

Oh.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays.  

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