Having lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and spending several Christmas vacations near Marquette, Michigan (thank you Uncle Rae & Aunt Flossie!), I’ve seen my fair share of winter weather. As kids, a snow day required at least 12″ of snow before the school buses couldn’t run and a winter storm wasn’t usually a big deal: it was, well… part of winter.
However, down here in the south it only takes about 1″ – 2″ of snow to paralyze the region; really. The problem down here is, a light coating of snow tends to become glazed ice in short order and I don’t care how good someone is at driving in the winter: driving on ice surrounded by a few hundred other motorists who aren’t makes it a completely different game. Now, if motorists must only deal with frozen roads every three to four years and the various DOT departments don’t have any snow removal or de-icing capabilities to speak of, when these winter storms hit bad things happen. Such was the case today. Here’s the dealeo….
The weather guessers knew a winter storm was heading into Georgia, but they were adamant the storm would hammer middle Georgia, not the Atlanta metro area and places to the north. School systems & businesses south of Atlanta were uniformly closed on Monday evenings in anticipation of the winter storm while those north of I-20 did not, as even some of the Winter Weather Watches had been dropped on Sunday evening. Come on, do we really think weather forecasting is that good? Being somewhat skeptical about the weather, and because Debbie’s little Honda S2000 is not a good choice for winter road conditions, I really wasn’t comfortable sending her to work in it. Instead, as we had in the past, she’d take the truck while I took my BMW R1100S. The premise was, if the weather turned south, snow started to fall and “stuck” to the roads, Debbie would come and pick me up at the plant and I would drive us home, leaving the BMW at the plant until the weather improved. It’s usually a pretty good plan that’s worked well for us.
Yesterday morning as I made my way to work I had a sense the weather was going to get worse than projected and there were some omens that seemed to suggest, “just stay home”. For example, there was the sudden loss of heat from my electric vest & gloves just five minutes into my 25-minute commute. Given it was about 23°F, at that point I thought about turning around and heading back home but didn’t. I figured it was probably a fuse or a loose wire that I could fix at the office before making the ride home… again, “it probably wasn’t going to snow much” per the latest reports and even if it did, it wouldn’t hit until mid-afternoon. So I pressed-on.
Around 11:00am, after determining that the fuse was fine, I make a quick trip on the motorcycle to Atlanta BMW to see if I could do a check of the heat controller and/or pick up an accessory port adapter in the event the controller was good but the wiring on the motorcycle was having issues. While I was there, Ryan in parts showed me a photo from Canton, Georgia… well north of us … where the roads were already snowed-over. Hmm, that’s not what they predicted. Turns out, the controller was shot. Bought a new one and was back at the office by 11:30. There was just a dusting of snow, nothing to get excited about but all that snow in Canton had me thinking we’d need to leave sooner rather than later.
I think it was a little after noon when Debbie called to say her employer was releasing everyone due to the weather. Based on what I saw at 11:30am, I told Debbie to head on home and tell me how the roads were, under the assumption we were still only going to get a light snow and she’d make good time. Before she could even check-in, a co-worker showed me a photo from downtown Kennesaw, Georgia and while the main road was nice and clear I was surprised to see the secondary road in the background was covered in snow; that wasn’t a good thing. I immediately decided to bail from work on the bike “before” the roads got any worse.
Well, imagine my surprise when I walked out of the factory and found the world outside covered in a blanket of snow. I thought about calling and asking Debbie to come and collect me per our original plan, but pressed ahead on the bike. However, as I left the plant property I could quickly see I’d bitten off more than I could chew; the roads were now gridlocked with cars creating a hard-packed snow that was already icing. Shifting into low gear coming down the steep hill just outside the plant, the rear wheel of the BMW began to dance around and I had to “deploy my outriggers” to provide some added stability, i.e., extend both legs to the 5pm & 7pm position. I made it about a mile when I finally realized there was no way I’d be able to make what was shaping up be a 5 to 6 hour commute on frozen roads instead of a 20-minute ride on lightly snow-dusted roads. However, the roads were so bad that the risk of dropping the bike was increasing by the minute so I pulled off into Cesar Automotive Repair’s parking lot on Fairground Street, where I parked the bike and began a hike back to the plant, as it looked like I’d be spending the night at work.
Once back at the office I called to check on Debbie’s progress and was horrified to find she was now stranded in traffic just a mile out from her office: I thought for sure she’d have been 1/2 way home by then. Leaving my sweetie stranded was not an option, nor was her attempting to make the 5 mile drive to the plant in gridlock. My only option was to set out on foot again, assuming I’d be able to cover the 5 miles in not much more time than it would take her to move about 1/2 a mile in the gridlock.
Sure enough, walking turning out to be about the only reliable, efficient mode of transit. In fact, I passed a co-worker who offered me a ride as I was returning to the plant, 40 minutes later I passed him again on my way out as he’d only moved about 3/10th of a mile in that time. He drove by me again on a back road where he’d hope to bypass some of the gridlock, only to get stuck again in downtown Marietta where I once again passed him on foot about 20 minutes later. I guess it took me about 2 hours to trudge through the 2″ of snow and ice that covered the sidewalks and roads before I’d covered 5 miles along side gridlocked roads: nothing was moving. I finally found Debbie in our truck sitting on the I-5 overpass, but thankfully right at an off-ramp to Church Street extension.
Below is a rough approximation of my travels on foot, Part I of the journey home:
- Point A: Bike parked at Cesar’s as I make 1-mile hike back the plant
- Point B: The plant where I expected to spend the night, until….
- Point C: Where I found my sweetie stranded in traffic after a 5-mile hike
My one-piece, insulated motorcycle suit was about the perfect garment for walking in 23°F temps in the midst of a snow storm, but it was still nice to get into a warm car. We immediately exited I-5 and headed down Church St. Extension (gridlocked) and finally took a short cut over to Cobb Parkway / US41 via EMC Drive as my first priority now was to make sure we had a full tank of gas, both for the added weight and piece of mind. On average we were moving about 1-mile an hour. Our usual way home was purportedly a nightmare so I was compelled to stay on US41. It took us the better part of 2 hours to move 3 miles, at which point I was able to turn right on Barrett Parkway — it was wide open — and sneak onto some back roads that had no traffic and move well past the gridlock on US41. We finally emerged a mile further down the road in about 5 minutes and I was able to by-pass the traffic at the next intersection by cutting through an Advanced Auto parking lot, then cut across US41 to get on “Old 41”. We made great time with very little traffic for the next five miles spending most of our time in low or 2nd gear. However, our progress came to a grinding halt once we were within a mile of the house where the big hills and valleys begin.
As feared, our primary route home — Old Stilesboro Rd — was gridlocked with stuck and abandoned cars and the secondary route — Stilesboro Rd — was blocked at the large hill. I’d anticipated this and hoped we’d make it another 1/8th of a mile to the school parking lot, but that wasn’t going to happen. So, I tucked my truck into a make-shift parking place and we made the final 1-mile trek home on foot. It was a treacherous hike given the conditions as even the sidewalk was now packed-snow and ice from all of the folks who had earlier abandoned cars and walked home, made worse by the undulating terrain. Add to that stupid kids out playing on dirt bikes and four-wheelers running up and down the sidewalks and Debbie’s less than ideal boots with their 2″ heel. But, we were focused and never so happy to see home when we finally walked in the door around 7:00pm.
As before, here is Part II of our journey home once we were reunited in the truck:
- Point A: Where Debbie and I were re-united.
- Point B: Shortcut to US41 & gas stop at BP
- Point C: 2 hours later, we escape from US41
- Point D: Nearly empty, snow-covered but passable backroads
- Point E: My makeshift shortcut around traffic and across US41 to more back roads
- Point F: Stilesboro Road, at last… wide open and very passable.
- Point G: Abandoned truck and hiked the final mile
- Point H: Home at last.
About the same time that we arrived home we were able to confirm Wesley, Julie and the grandkids had all made it safely home. We checked in with our respective parents, as we didn’t want them to worry about our well-being now that we were safe, sound and warm at home. Then began the final check-in with my co-workers.
I’d been in touch with several while stuck in traffic, but was finally able to get a full accounting: six were stuck at the plant with several hundred others, two had abandoned their journeys and found hotel rooms, the rest were at home or still trying to make their way home. At the plant, company managers took over the cafeteria and began cooking up pizza, burgers and chicken for dinner — gratis — and the shipping department distributed large sheets of foam padding for make-shift beds. The contract food service company was able to get a couple of people into the plant this morning to serve breakfast and with any luck people will begin to make their way home around noon as the sun starts working on the ice. However, temps aren’t expected to get above freezing (it’s only 12°F at 9:00am as I write this, but the sun is shinning), so tree-covered back roads — those hilly ones in particular — won’t likely start to clear until Thursday when temps are supposed to hit the 40’s.
In retrospect, while it may have been ill-advised to take my motorcycle to work, I’m so very thankful I did. Had I taken Debbie’s car I may have been inclined to press on in the snow and ice and it would have likely slid into another car or become stranded on icy hills as we saw so many other little sports cars do throughout the day: no weight and the wrong tires. Had I driven the car I would have only worn a top coat with my heavy boots but otherwise had only my wool dress slacks to keep my legs warm. As it was, and with my one-piece, quilted motorcycle suit and jacket liner on I actually overheated on the first mile-long hike back to my office. I had to take off my jacket liner and remove the quilting from the legs of my “onesey” for the longer trek to find Debbie. With my own ability to “drive or ride” home taken out of the equation but warm winter clothing I was able to “quickly” and comfortably make it through gridlock on foot and find my wife, such that at least we were stranded together: a much better situation than having her stranded alone in the truck with limited options. All said and done, while I wish I would have been able to find a way to drive her to the house and have our truck safely in the garage, we got within spitting distance and had a nice night at home in our warm bed. There are thousands of families who didn’t have that luxury last night.
It’s an empty-looking garage, to be sure, what with the motorcycle likely to be sitting at Cesar’s until Friday (spoke to the owner last night to let him know he had an extra blue & white motorcycle in his lot: he was fine with that) and the truck stuck alongside the road about a mile from the house. I’ll probably try to rescue the truck after noon today, in the hopes that at least Stilesboro Road will be passable again. Of course, getting safely into and out of our community with its 1/8-mile long, 8% hill… that’s yet another challenge I’ll have to evaluate.
Ah, now comes the blame game; imagine that. Here’s my take on the bad weather blame game: Employers who have the obligation to make decisions about when they will keep their businesses open or close when conditions could put their employees at risk look to state & local government for cues on how to act. As we’ve seen over and over again, they’re a lousy indicator. Bottom line: Employers and Employees are the ones who must ultimately decide what’s best. I screwed up yesterday: knew we should have headed home at 11:00 when the snow first started to fall. Instead, we waited for my wife’s employer to pull the plug… and got caught in the slaughter with the rest of the sheeple.