Saturday, January 19, 2013


The winters in Minnesota were cold and brutal.  I was never in a "state" that I could be happy - geographically nor emotionally.  Perhaps with a title "studs" you are looking for an article with a bit more spice.  No, I am really talking "studs".  Studded snow tires.  A novelty to those in the mid west.  And, chains...too.  I think these two items are as foreign to midwesterners as "bars" and "hotdish" are to westerners. 

I recently moved my business and self to Oregon with my fiancĂ©.  The weather was claimed to be milder, not much snow - except in the mountains.  And, sunny.

Right before Christmas, the "severe weather" warnings started.  Snow fell beautifully upon our 1970s ranch roof and coated the surrounding pines like frosting on a gingerbread house scene.  Quiet chatter in the shops and gas stations (you don't pump your own gas, here!) was about the road conditions.  I couldn't understand why our street wasn't plowed by 10 am.  I ventured out anyways and was quick to be unpleasantly surprised that neither were any of the major roads.  Cars were sliding all over the roads.  I had a rental car at the time (surely, this is another "on" article!) and was headed to the rental car company to turn it in for one with front wheel drive, as opposed to the rear wheel drive which compounded any snow driving difficulties that I was experiencing.  When I arrived, they said that there was one car left with front wheel drive - due to all the accidents and the Christmas holiday all 30 of their cars were rented out!!!  Plows are not dispatched here as they are back in Minnesota.  Neither is salt.  What they do here is dispense a reddish type of ground volcanic rock.  Apparently this is friendlier to the roads and cars than salt.  Obviously, volcanic rock might be hard to come by in Minnesota.  So, the way that the winter residents handle the snow and ice situation when it does happen is to have studded snow tires, or to put chains on the tires.

I was sure that driving in an area that didn't get much snow would be no problem for someone coming from Minnesota....where we plug our cars in, carry our own salt, shovels, and strive to own cars with remote start and heated seats.  But, I found that I was "white-knuckle" driving on sheets of black ice and slippery packed snow.  The snow falls during the night, melts during the day with the warmer temperatures, and then freezes at night causing the black ice, more snow on top...and repeat.  The volcanic rock helps, but does not do a perfect job so you never know if you might be on ice or not.

With the last front wheel drive rental car in Bend, I headed out to finish the Christmas shopping.  The car handled much better, but the driving conditions did not improve... and I was still tense.  Throughout the next few days we drove (in Steve's studded tire car) through Mt. Hood to Portland.  This is where I saw the positive effects of studded tires and chains.  A previously totally foreign concept to me.  Because the mountains go up - duh! - the weather changes drastically.  It is raining in Portland, yet less than an hour away it is snowing and "snow pack" is deep up on the mountain.  Talk is of the weather conditions on the "passes".  A "pass" is the road that goes through the mountains - don't laugh Oregonians... many midwesterners don't know this.

The passes tend to be "impassable" often in the winter.  They can close, too, and people get stuck on either side of the mountain.  On the trip to Portland through Mt. Hood, we came to a dead stop.  People got out of their cars and walked along the line of cars to see what the hold up might be.  Upon returning they shared that there seemed to be no accident, just people "chaining up".  Apparently, if the road conditions get icy, drivers will stop mid-road and put chains on their front tires.  These are people who have chosen to use chains once in a while instead of investing in studded snow tires for the season (by the way, there are specific dates that your car can wear the studs).  This chaining up takes time and causes mile long back ups.  Yet no one seems to get overly flustered about this.  It is just part of the "way it is".  It seems to be accepted as normal.  My feeling would be that the studded tires are required.  This coming from a girl who poo-pooed the whole concept of studded tires.   I have not done the investigating yet on why the tires are not required.  I would guess that they are expensive, and possibly not good for the roads.  They make a clicking noise when you drive on the pavement - I must say that this is a sound that is annoying - at least to me.

After about an hour stopped on the "pass",  the cars start to slowly advance and as we move through this packed snow and ice with Steve's studded snow tires, and pass the people on the road adding chains to their tires, and pass the people who did neither and are in the ditch or stopped on an upward hill - it is then that I think that I would give up the frustration of the sound annoyance in exchange for getting across the mountain pass.
Moving to a new area gives one new experiences.  It is natural (but not nice), to tease the ways of those in other areas.  I must admit that I rolled my eyes on more than one occasion at the concept of needing studded snow tires in this milder climate. I was sure my Minnesota experience would cover any issues in Oregon.  Perhaps the eyes rolling regarding studded tires, or any other experience, is a sign that further investigation is needed and perhaps further empathy or further understanding as well.  It just might be you who does not understand.  When I get my car back from the collision specialists, I will replace the tires with studded tires for the winter season.   And, keep rolling...the car, not the eyes.

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