Long Driving Trips in Winter Weather

Here the roadway was clear, but the countryside was covered in several inches of new snow.

  Hunters going on Western trips throughout the U.S. often have a several-day drive to their hunting locations. Driving, rather than flying, is often the best option because of the amount of gear that needs to be carried and the vehicle also provides a means of getting the meat back (See earlier post on safe transport of meat.)

Snow-covered truck in Sheridan, Wy.

  It is an asset to have someone go with you, but I most often go alone as I did on my most recent elk hunt near Kellogg, Idaho. I have driven this distance in three days, but four days is the more usual drive. It can take up to five days (or longer)  if you are caught in a Winter storm.

  On the trip out I ran into freezing rain 80 miles west of Mitchell, South Dakota, and slid off the road twice. (Two people died as a result of accidents related to this storm.) My Dodge Dakota pick up stayed upright, crossed a grassy medium and I was able to drive back up on the roadway because the ground was hard frozen, but not covered in deep snow. With the snow tires on my truck, a 40-50 mph speed was all that I could safely maintain. This set a benchmark for me. Whenever the road was snow packed or icy, that was my maximum speed in this relatively light-weight truck.

 I also had a blow out in South Dakota this was changed after I called AAA, and the person who changed the tire also operated a tire dealership, and I had a new pair of snow tires put on the truck. For an older guy like me, 70 years old, having someone more agile than I fooling with the tires was an asset. The lugs on these tires had been overtightened, and a compressor powered wrench was needed to free them. I could not have taken the wheels off with hand tools. This AAA membership has paid off for me many times over the years.

  Temperatures dropped to below freezing and I had to put anti-icing compound in the windshield cleaning system so that I could periodically clear the road-skim off the windshield with the wipers. While in snow country, I also purchased a set of chains to fit my tires; although I did not use them.  

  On my trip back I had to change the wiper blades, because one of mine was torn and it was not clearing the windshield. Although I had not seen them before, they make a special snow blade that has a rubber cover to help prevent ice build-up on the blades. It was an asset that I had some rags to use on the windshield to get the road-skim off of the glass when I stopped.  

  For winter driving you want to make sure you have good snow tires, put antifreeze in your windshield wash fluid, keep and eye out on your wiper blades and make sure that your engine antifreeze is good down to – 10 degrees. Do not use cruse control in iffy conditions, look for winds that may blow up to 45 mph (terrible for trailers, visibility and driving in general) and above all take your time.

  Keeping the tires on the roadway and the windshield clear enough to see through, were the principal challenges on my last trip that exposed the truck to about every winter condition that exists from deep cold to blizzard conditions, blowing snow, slick roads, black ice, snow plows, other drivers and having to drive over eight mountain passes.

  My once silver truck was covered in grey road scum and dried salt by the time it returned to Georgia. Among the first things I did was to give it a thorough wash on both the top and undercarriage.

  Depending on road conditions, wind and visibility my speed ranged from 25 mph to 75 mph each of the days where I was driving in snow under varying conditions. 

  Start with a reasonable vehicle with good tires, get it ready for Winter, take your time, be alert all the time, make sure your cell phone will cover you where you are going and drive safely. It is better to arrive late and alive, than arrive on time and dead. I often listen to audio books on these long trips to help keep me alert.

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