Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snowbound in Duluth?

My strategy seemed sound when I conceived it.  I was going to save a few bucks by flying to Minneapolis, renting a car and driving to Duluth for a meeting.  I’ve done this in the past when the meeting was in central Wisconsin, saving something like $300 or more on travel costs.  Last year the temps plummeted on the final day and I drove back over icy roads, but nothing bad happened and it all worked out OK.  I even stopped at a local cheese shop and bought cheese curds for home consumption, which everyone loves.  So, this year the meeting is in Duluth.  It will be fine, I thought.

On the way up I saw what must be a promotional billboard which said, “Those that can, do.  Those that can’t, Duluth!”  I’m still not sure what this means…

Watching the weather channel and checking weather cams for Duluth I knew that there was a storm raging here.   It was rain for a while, but by the time I landed at MSP airport it had changed to rain.  The counter agent at Enterprise said to me, “Well, at least you aren’t driving to Duluth!”  I said I was, and he admitted to being from that august city, and had been receiving photo messages from friends showing that the snow level was already at 12” and deepening.  I had rented a Ford Focus, a basic economy small car (part of me cost savings strategy), and he offered a 4 wheel drive for only $20 more per day.  I declined, and we walked out to the cars.  We walked around a small one, and he said, OK, how about for $10 per day?  Alright, I said, and I rented a Kia Tuscon, a 4 wheel drive small SUV.  My savings margin shrank, but my feeling of security increased.

The drive turned out to be 160 miles.  For the first 100, all I saw was rain and wet roads.  Then it started to get a bit colder, and snow showed up on the road margins.  As soon as there was actual snow the plows were out and doing their jobs.  People forget that in this part of the world snow in the winter is a reality, not just a curiosity as in so many places.  Either you deal with it early and often, or it consumes you.

The last 30 miles were the worst.  As I approached the city the cars were lined up behind a plow that effectively blocked the road.  We marched down the steep hill into town on the interstate at 40 mph, a respectable speed, and then the plow turned off.  At the exit to the hotel I finally hit snow at about 6-8” deep, and the car did fine.  I now have to go and clean it off because we need it to make the mill tour this afternoon as the bus has cancelled on us.  My 4 wheel drive is now the only way we can all get to the mill and back.  Others have them, too, so there will be a bit of a caravan.

I’ll write more later and tell you how the tour worked out…