January 22, 1965, 8:30 PM. I was all of 18 years old and casually asked my father if I could borrow the car to go to the “bridge.” He was okay with that, as the GWB was only about 12 miles away; but would soon discover that my intentions were a little more ambitious and the bridge in question was actually in Niagra Falls, NY, some 400 miles away. I loved the recent liberation of being a licensed driver and anticipation of seeing and experiencing new adventures. I was also very aware that a winter snowstorm was intensifying over western New York State and consequently about to learn winter driving skills that would last throughout my life.
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There are no photos of the night. I had no boots, no gloves, no sense and no ambition to try and take pictures of featureless, blowing whiteness at night. There were few “interstate” roads, and I scoffed at the idea of paying money for THE toll road, the NY State Thruway. So it was secondary and tertiary roads with little traffic all night, except for snowplows, a few trucks, an amusing Corvair, and speeding Cadillac. I hated it when snowplows passed me – made me feel inadequate and messed up my windshield!
Snow had begun falling about 150 miles up Rt. 17 before midnight and began accumulating rapidly. Around 3:00 AM I pulled into a deserted rest area just past Corning, my tires clogging and squeaking to a stop in the deepening snow. An hour later, with chattering teeth, I wiped the fresh snow off the car, rocked it to get some traction, and plowed my way out to Rt. 17.
Around 280 miles into the trip, 4:30 AM, I was on Rt 15, a two lane highway now heading north following the tracks of a patrol car who in turn was following a truck in heavy snow all doing about 30 MPH (48 km/hr.) Coming down a hill, still behind them, I cleverly decided to drop the car into low gear to slow down, and promptly spun out, sliding sideways in a panic. I quickly (yeah, right, like skillfully??? I was only 18! …okay, I luckily) got the car under control by putting it back into drive, just one of many lessons learned tonight.
Continuing in the snowy night, Rt. 15 heads west at the little town of Springwater in the western Finger Lakes region. There really was no town there, at least I couldn’t see anything. Rt 15a continued straight. I took 15 because it was a short-cut, and in a half mile came to a gradual hill. As I continued the climb, the wheels started to lose traction until I …stopped forward motion. So I backed slowly and very carefully down the hill while learning more lessons… this time about simple coeficient of friction and its relation to losing traction and then forward motion! (I was struggling thru Physics I class at this time, after all!) This “experiment” was tested several times before a guy in a light truck stopped and suggested sarcastically that I wait for dawn and the snowplows. Instead, I scoffed, imagined hearing him utter something offensive about kids, and, after backing down the hill for the third time took the longer and flatter Rt 15a.
A few miles north was Rt 20a, just a simple, two lane east-west, single path roadway in the shadow of the New York State Thruway, a half dozen miles north. In the pre-dawn snow storm, this was an interesting stretch – heavy snow falling, the long white un-plowed lane in the headlights of the car. For a while I was following a small Corvair. On the sides of the two tire tracks were about 8 or 9 inches (20 -23 cm) of snow. Occasionally, he would swerve into the deep snow throwing a white-out cloud of powder over the Buick.
While on 20a, the sky started to brighten, not very much, speading an eerie blueness over the landscape. Snow was coming down as hard as ever. There were several modest hills, some with larger trucks trapped before the summits. I needed to keep strongly focused with the car square in the tracks. Not too much later, a large Cadillac whooshed by at about 60 Mph (100 KM.Hr,) scaring the hell out of me with a blinding cloud of snow engulfing my car in its wake.
I eventually came into the town of Lancaster around 7 AM, found some breakfast, and then to Niagra Falls after going through near deserted Buffalo. Later in the day, I would car-surf on “waves” of snow drifts along a road skirting the southern edge of Lake Ontario; stop and skitter up in my white sneakers across high drifts and stinging gale winds to catch a glimpse of the lake – its just barely visible shoreline marked by enormous blocks of ice showered with angry, spraying wind-blown waves of frigid water.
The long day ended that night, me sleeping well at an $8 motel in Bath, NY, 658 miles since beginning. Part of that afternoon was not without more adventures, but that will be noted on a short follow-up post including information about the camera and photos. I was back to New Jersey on the following day, after a total of 967 miles.
Please see Part two, the return, at: http://wp.me/p37YEI-1tl
Thanks for visiting, and as usual comments are always welcome. M 🙂