We got some snow last night and the trip to church this morning was more like we are used to this time of year. We have been basking in Spring-like weather the last few weeks...but no more! Three inches of snow is managable but the deep-freeze temperatures are startling after such a mild autumn. The roads were very icy and slick. Listening to the cars in the neighborhood spinning their tires and making that "zzzzzzz" noise reminded me of a night more than twenty-five years ago.
The town of Baumholder sits in the hills north and west of the city of Kaiserslautern, Germany. When we lived there in the eighties, it was the home of the largest concentration of Army combat units outside the United States. There was a complete Brigade of the 8th Infantry, a couple of artillery battalions, some engineers, some MPs, some medics, and other support units. There are also a large number of artillery and tank ranges, small arms and machine gun ranges, and manuever areas as part of the post. The area around Baumholder looks more like the Central Texas hill country than you would imagine Germany to look like. It is really a beautiful place. .
We were out late one evening; we had been to some sort of activity or meeting or something, I don't really recall what it was. I just remember the ride home that night. The drive from Baumholder to Kaiserslautern (K-town to GIs) usually took about forty minutes; it was secondary roads a lot of the way. That night it started snowing and freezing rain while we were inside. When we came out into the parking lot we immediately began to worry about the ride home. With good cause.
The first part of the trip was "wiggling" through the town to get to the autobahn; it was slushy and slick in places but we were able to get through it without much problem. Luckily there wasn't much traffic. We got to the autobahn and entered; it was just a little slick on the ramp. The snow was packing on the autobahn but we were able to keep a steady 30 or 40 mph. We crept along, not much traffic on the "bahn", either.
At the Freisen Ausfahrt (I swear to Buddha, that is the German word for "exit"), our troubles got more serious. The secondary road we needed to use was very icy and the snow was getting deeper. The road curved up the side of a pretty good-sized hill.
We were driving our 9-year old Cutlass Vista Cruiser, a mid-sized station wagon; it was actually a great car for Germany. First of all, it had enough seats for all the rumps in our family; second, it had a 403 CI engine with enough power to run the autobahns with authority. And additionally, with the extra weight over the back wheels, it did very well in snow and ice. But not so much that night.
We turned onto the secondary road, felt the the slickness of it, and I decided to try to get up enough momentum to get us up the hill. I got rolling as quickly as I could. There was a little fish-tail action but the old wagon picked up speed and we started up the hill. The first curve goes to the left, we got no more than a few hundred feet before we started losing traction, the wheels spinning intermittenly, the car slowing. I feathered the gas, tried to find some way to get more traction. I tried steering out of the slick stripes made by others who had spun that way before us. Eventually we came to a stop while the back wheels still thought they were going places...then we started sliding backwards. I backed down the hill almost to the autobahn ramp.
Second attempt: we tried a different approach. We started up the hill at a crawl. I concentrated on trying to steer into the fresh snow, hoping for a little grip there. We didn't even get up to the first curve.
The next time I backed past the ramp, up under the overpass. I stood on it, hoping to get a good head of steam. This time we got around the first curve and part way through the second curve before we started to slip. The zinging sound of the rear tires spinning filled the night as we showed 80 mph on the speedometer but our ground speed was probably closer to 10 mph. But this time I determined that I wouldn't back down again; we would just keep spinning as long as we were still making forward progress.
The hill seemed to be a little gentler into the second curve; we were still spinning but progress was being made. We could see the top of the hill ahead. The motor roared, the tires squealed, the smell of burnt rubber filled the car...but we were making progress; painful, slow, noisey, smelly progress, but it was progress.
At the top of the hill we were crawling along at less than 5 mph. But we made it. When we topped the hill we started giggling and joking and being silly. I hadn't realized how hard we were concentrating until then; we had been totally focused on making that heavy old wagon keep moving. We used up a lot of gas, probably put a couple thousand miles of wear on the rear tires, and my hands and forearms ached from gripping the steering wheel so tight, but we made it.
The rest of the ride home was uneventful. What was normally a thirty to forty minute drive took us more than two hours that night. We got snow all that night and woke up to a winter wonderland the next morning. I looked out the window at the beautiful white landscape and marvelled at how different I felt about it, standing in my kitchen and looking out at it while warm and safe... and chuckled to myself about how much easier downhill was than uphill.