If you ever take a trip up north, take an espresso machine. That is the lesson I learned this Christmas.
So my wife and I are making a habit of making an annual winter trip up north to see snow. Well this time we went to visit some friends in Boston and then head up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Only we never made it to Halifax and I will explain what happened.
One of Alia’s Law school classmates once said: “Whenever I check my grades, I start drinking a couple of hours beforehand, then if my grades are really bad I just keep drinking.” Yes, Law school is that bad sometimes. We started going on these winter trips in an attempt to
keep Alia sane. Law school is an intense experience which usually brings students to the brink of tears during finals, so to help keep my wife in good mental health I find that taking her someplace different helps calm the nerves. This year we looked at a map and thought we would check out Nova Scotia…well that WAS the plan.
First thing though, this is a blog about cars, so let me tell you about my preparations for this winter trip. We originally wanted to take our Mercedes ML320 for this trip; we took it last year to Montreal and it was great. All Wheel Drive, traction control, heated seats, and a high driving position make it ideal for this sort of thing, but sadly it is in the repair shop right now so we had to take the Subaru instead. With All Wheel Drive I knew my WRX would be up for the challenge. A Subaru is as comfortable in the snow as a middle aged woman is at an Enya concert, it's perfect. In order to get my car ready I did the following things to it:
- Got new tires
- Added antifreeze
- Ran fuel antifreeze in the gas take to remove water
- Replaced the driver’s windshield wiper and rear windshield wiper
- Waxed the car with a Teflon wax
- Got cheap clear mats to protect my carpet from snow, salt and ice
- Treated all windows with RainX
- Filled the washer fluid with RainX washer fluid
- Added a Prestone windshield washer antifreeze to washer fluid
- Treated the inside of all windows with RainX antifog treatment
- Packed a tool set, jumper cables, etc.
- One waterproof ski jacket
- One wool coat
- Pair of waterproof pants
- Pair of Nike ACG boots
- Pair of Timberland boots
- Two winter hats
- Waterproof baseball cap to wear over hats
- Espresso Machine (Yeah, I brought an Espresso machine, that’s how I roll.)
- Two electric blankets, one with dual zone control so my wife and I can set it at different temperatures
- Backup prepaid Cellphone from Tracfone (These things get service anywhere I swear)
- Lighter and pocket knife (I watched too much Survivor Man with Les Stroud to travel without these two things)
So as you can see I was well prepared for the cold and my trip. I had begun writing this list of things I needed to bring and/or do a couple weeks before our trip. In addition to the things I brought for the cold I also brought a bunch of things for my entertainment. When you are in the cold it becomes difficult to get out, so you need entertainment for the indoors, so I brought the following:
- Xbox 360
- Surge Protector
- Ethernet Switch and four Ethernet cables
Of all the things I have listed above the only things I did not use were the lighter, knife and book. But other than that I used all these items multiple times, including the Espresso Machine thank you very much.
But for all this planning there was one thing I did not plan for, namely the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. This is the State Department’s deceptive name for something that should be called “Make it a Pain in the Butt for Americans to go places in the Name of Border Security and Anti-terrorism Debacle.” Normally I keep both of our passports in my briefcase in the same spot, so no matter where I go I have them, just in case. Well recently I had to switch briefcases because I was using a different laptop and I forgot to move the passports over, so somewhere in New Jersey I remembered I forgot the Passports, thus making Nova Scotia a much less likely destination. We had a backup plan to have our friend Nathan FedEx us our Passports, but we never executed plan “Nato Save our Butts” as I called it.
The first three hours of the drive went without any problems until we hit the traffic nightmare that is northern Virginia. The traffic in Northern Virginia is the worst I have ever seen, it is always slow, no matter what time of day. Here is a list of things I find more enjoyable than driving through Virginia:
- Running my garbage disposal.
- Smelling my trash and trying decide whether it is
- time to take it out.
- Organizing the vegetables in my freezer.
- Scrubbing my bathtub.
All of the above listed activities have one thing in common, when you are doing them you are always making progress, unlike driving in Northern Virginia. When driving through that area you need to add at least 90 minutes to your travel time no matter what time of day or year and no matter which direction you’re heading. It really is that bad. Always stop at a rest stop and use the bathroom about forty minutes north of Richmond when heading north, or thirty minutes south of Baltimore when heading south. Otherwise you may find yourself pulling over and watering random bushes in Northern Virginia out of desperation, not that I have any personal experience with that.
When driving North Alia and I like to guess which state we will first see snow in. I guessed Pennsylvania and Alia correctly guessed New Jersey. I can say this about New Jersey, considering how populated the state is and the potential for bad traffic the Turnpike is pretty good all things considered. It allows you to drive straight through the state with relative ease. There are a few decent Rest Stops with gas and a food court, so the trip is manageable. I like to enhance my New Jersey experience by listening to Bon Jovi and Whitesnake while I drive, don’t ask me why but “Here I go Again” and “Living on a Prayer” are the perfect songs to drive to while in New Jersey.
Everything was fine and dandy until Connecticut when it really began to snow pretty heavily late at night. We were outside Meriden when we began to see cars spinning off the road left and right. What was amazing was that we saw multiple 4 x4 trucks spinning off the road. People make the mistake thinking that All Wheel Drive stops you from sliding, but really at highway speeds you can lose traction to all four wheels. Having All Wheel Drive is most useful for getting out of your driveway or driving up a snowy hill, but driving at speed on the highway requires a lot more than just sending power to all four wheels. After seeing one truck stuck teetering on a guard rail we decided to get a hotel for the night and head for Boston in the morning.
Our Hotel, the Residence Inn, had a free warm breakfast. It was nice, there was a fireplace and a large window facing a pretty courtyard where you could watch the snow fall gently on the trees. It was such a serene scene, you could almost hear Winter Wonderland playing in the background. Sleigh bells ring…are you listening? It looked like a true winter wonderland outside. Then someone would open the door and you could hear the true sound of winter: people screaming “Push harder, we’re still stuck!” and “Oh my God is that a Jeep stick on a guard rail!!!?!?!?” I eventually had to go and face the horror myself and dig my own car out.
Here is where all my preparation first paid off.
By treating all the windows with RainX water did not freeze into frost on my windows, it really made a big difference. Also, my car started instantly thanks to gas lines that weren’t frozen because of the stuff I put in the gas tank. My windshield wiper was clear too because I had replaced it with one that has a silicone coating that prevents ice from forming on it. Because there was a fresh coat of wax on the car the snow and ice brushed off with ease. Thanks to the All Wheel Drive I easily backed up and drove to the front of the hotel to load the car where I took this picture.
Once we got onto the highway the snow was falling pretty hard still. The roads were plowed earlier but still treacherous. Here is where being familiar with Rally racing came handy. As a obsessed Subaru owner, I have watched a number of Rally races in the snow, so employing some of their techniques can be quite handy.
First you have to know the capabilities of your car and your driving skills. If you feel the car slipping at all you need to slowdown until you are sure all four tires are maintaining constant traction. Then you need to watch your lines when you are driving. Sometimes it is good to follow a large truck or something that leaves good tracks so you know the snow is melted, but other times you might find a layer of ice under the snow so you will need to drive on freshly fallen snow instead to have more traction. What it all boils down to is being able to know where you have maximum grip with the road. A lesson which I saw many people learn the hard way, including an Audi which I saw slam into the guard rail, I am sure the driver was over confident and thought that Quattro drive system would keep him from sliding, but it didn’t. That car had the most advanced traction control and all wheel drive system in the world, and it still slid into the rails.
After about an hour I began noticing that the Passenger’s windshield wiper began to make noise, I had not replaced that one and ice was forming on it. This was annoying, but since the driver’s side had no ice I was OK. But I saw dozens of people stopped on the side of the road cleaning off their wipers because of the ice problem. We stopped at a Rest Stop and almost everyone was trying to get the ice off of their cars, especially their wipers.
We took our time driving to Boston, averaging around 45 MPH thus making a trip that normally takes two hours more like three hours. Once we got into Boston though it was great that it was snowing, there was little to no traffic at all. Perhaps this is the only blessing of a snow storm in Boston. My friend Colin lives in Somerville, which means you have to park on the street, and in the snow that is a royal pain in the uh...snow? Many cars were stuck in their spots, and the spots that were clear were covered with huge snow piles left by the plows. Colin lives on a small hill, and there was a Ford F150 stuck in the snow trying to get up the hill. If your truck is not four wheel drive it is the worst car to own in the snow because all the power goes to the back wheels but there is no weight on top of the wheels when you have an empty truck bed.
I eventually found a spot and parked for the night. We had tickets to the Knicks/Celtics game so we had to find a way to get to the Garden. Our options were as follows:
1. Drive to the bus stop, stand out in the cold and wait for a bus.
2. Drive downtown and look for parking
3. Call a cab
We opted for number three and it was great. The snow would have made it a serious pain in the butt to look for parking, and I was in no mood to stand in the snow waiting for a bus, with Colin’s eight month pregnant wife, I would have felt horrible making her stand there in the cold. It was snowing pretty hard that night and we needed to get there easily.
Now cab drivers in Boston are probably among the most highly skilled snow drivers in North America. Boston has some truly awful roads, and when you put 24 inches of snow on top of them it makes it almost laughably bad. The overwhelming majority of Taxis are rear wheel drive, so that means they can be terrible in the snow. But the two drivers we had seemed to be quite at home. One of our drivers was a guy from India who had been driving a cab in Boston for 25 years. The way this man handled the snow in his cab you would swear he was Norwegian or something.
In the morning I had to get my car out of the snow again, but I was not nearly as bad off as some other people. Boston was a mess to drive in, and I was battling it just fine but then I noticed something. My steering wheel was shaking like it was having a seizure every time I got any kind of speed. We pulled into the parking lot of Target and I looked at the tires wondering how they could get so out of balance, then I saw the reason. There was tons of ice and snow all in my alloy wheels. I dug it all out by hand and the problem was solved, but I can’t imagine doing this every morning after snow, but I am sure there are plenty of people in Boston who go through this every winter.
We left Boston to venture even further north. We settled on Kennebunkport, Maine figuring if it was good enough for the Bush family to vacation there, it should be adequate for us. I also was craving some lobster, so on Christmas night we got lobster fried rice at a Chinese restaraunt which was just awesome. What I appreciated was how people that lived in that area would still purchase cars that they have no business buying. If you live in New Hampshire you should not be buying a Miata...ever. I guess if it was your summer car, then OK, but I believe cars should be driven, and if you can only drive your Miata with the top down for three or four months a year, well you should consider moving south.
But there is one thing that you should not buy at all when living in heavy snow states...rear wheel drive sports cars. Now they may be some Ferrari owner living in Boston claiming that it is great to own such a car in Beantown. But here is what it looks like when you own a 350z without a garage:
But I appreciate this person, who has accepted that their New England accent prohibits them from pronouncing the letter "r" correctly and got a vanity plate for their BMW aka "Beemer" that reflects the peculiarity of their vernacular:
If you want to drive a high performance car in a snow state, then buy a proper one for the job. May I suggest a Subaru WRX? How about a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo? BMW now makes their coupes in an all wheel drive version, so that would be an excellent choice. But is you must have an Italian exotic then I suggest this:
On the way home we encountered heavy fog, and we saw a number of cars and trucks on the side of the road. Again we hit terrible traffic in Northern Virginia, which was a bummer but by now we just expect that.
So where should we go next year? I hear Switzerland is lovely in the winter.