SHOWING little respect for the calendar, winter arrived on British Columbia's Chilcotin Plateau on the afternoon of November 1.
I'd left Prince George a day earlier than planned, to avoid snow that was forecast. Until 100 Mile House it had been a fairly easy road trip. I was sitting at a Tim Horton's, sipping a cup of comforting chemical broth, or pseudo-latte, when the first snowflakes began to fall. The nice lady who served my beverage said truckers had reported that, past 70 Mile House, the snow was starting to stick to the road.
I was towing a trailer full of advanced driving school equipment, using a Volvo S70 equipped with new winter tires. The trailer has remote electric brakes and, as the road became more slippery, I eased off on the application adjustment to keep the trailer wheels from locking -- having the shiny green Haulmark become the lead vehicle would not have been much fun.
Around midnight, I decided to stop at a rest area and wait for the snowplough. My winter sleeping bag was tucked in behind the passenger seat. Cloaked in its warmth, I closed my eyes and slept.
It must have been an hour before the harsh grating of an approaching snowplough signalled that it was time to move on. I stayed a few hundred metres behind the flashing lights, and enjoyed the improved traction.
The snowplough finished its section, and I carried on into the night. It was a struggle to maintain 60 kph. Passing trucks were throwing waves of slush at my windshield, while blowing snow and fog hampered visibility the rest of the time. Things got worse as I started the climb into the Coast Mountains. There was one set of old tracks on the road, and they were filling quickly with fresh snow.
We made it up the first pass with occasional wheelspin, but that was the traction limit. On one of the longer straightaways, it became apparent we were not going to get much further. I put on the warning flashers and went around back to get the tire chains.
Outside the car, I could hear avalanches rumbling off a distant ridge. I'd already dodged the debris from several rockslides. Anyone who has tried to put on tire chains in sloppy weather knows it's not much fun. It took about 10 minutes to get the drive wheels properly dressed for the occasion. I got back in the car and cranked up the heater, put the gearbox in winter mode, and eased on a bit of throttle. The chains bit deep, and off we went, rattling along at a splendid 25 kilometres an hour.
I got home just in time for breakfast, then headed for bed to catch up on sleep. Considering the conditions, it hadn't been a bad voyage, though the normal eight-hour trip had stretched to eighteen. My car-control skills are good because I'm teaching advanced driving courses year-round, and racing as well. Still, there's nothing like real winter to put you to the test.
In truth, that road trip was a test of my preparation as much as anything else. I had actually debated a moment about packing the chains along, but extra clothing, water, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher and emergency food are always part of my travelling kit.
In British Columbia, as in much of Canada, help may not be just a phone call away. Some 80 per cent of this country's landmass still does not have cellular phone service, and satellite phones are not completely reliable either. Just like any other backcountry traveller, we need to be prepared for self-rescue.
It's easy to assume that living near a metropolitan centre eliminates the need for any sort of emergency travel preparation. But every year, in both winter and summer, storms show the foolhardiness of that sort of attitude. Had the mountain road been impassable, I would have either settled down in the car or more likely gone back to the trailer and climbed into the bunk that doubles as a cargo shelf. With a warm sleeping bag, reading light, and a good snack, the enforced camping would have been quite pleasant.
Welcome to winter 2013-2014.
Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca.