Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sudbury Ontario to Cambridge Ontario

Tomorrow, Kim and Tom's sister-in-law Agnes will be holding a baby shower for Heather in Kitchener. There was no way that Sandy was going to miss this so we were headed south. After a frigid week, it was a mild -8 C this morning but they were forecasting -29 C again for tonight.

We left the driveway at 7:15 AM and made a stop at Tim's on the way out of town. The radar showed a solid wall of blue indicating heavy snow to the south but I figured that between the four wheel drive and a reasonably cautious driving style, we should be OK. Unfortunately, as we reached the southern outskirts of town, the overhead electronic Compass sign announced that Highway 69 was closed.

We returned to town and stopped at the nearest Tim Horton's where I used Sandy's tablet to access the Ministry of Transportation road conditions web page. It showed Highway 69 closed from Estaire to Parry Sound, a distance of over 80 miles. It also showed many other road closures but I was able to see that Highway 17 to North Bay and 11 south to Barrie were supposedly passable, so we opted to take the longer route.

By 8:05, we were headed east on a snow packed two lane Highway 17. The snow was blowing as we covered the 75 miles to North Bay. Before Sturgeon Falls, we encountered the first SUV off the road. For a while, the drifting was heavy enough that I was guessing where the lines were on the road and sometimes where the road was.

Highway 17

Recent snow fall created a winter wonderland

In North Bay, we swung south on the four lane divided Highway 11. As we left the city, we drove under a black cloud that started adding new snow to what was already drifting. The road cleared a bit and the first plow we saw was actually plowing bare pavement. But we were soon back into snow pack and it wasn't long before there was a semi rolled over in the median. Near Powassan,  we came into some clear sky but were back into squalls by South River. Periodically, we would see someone who was either not as cautious or more unlucky than we were.

Passing plows was tricky

Clear sky south of Powassan

Moving cautiously along

Northern winter scape

Zigged when he should have zagged

Back into the snow

We were experiencing complete whiteouts due to strong winds blowing the fresh snow by the time we got to Gravenhurst. Interestingly, the exit number for Highway 169 is 169. I know I'm not supposed to be eating at the Golden Arches any more, but it was the closest place to the highway and I was hungry. We got our usual choices to go and I cleaned off the licence plates and lights. Sandy got a picture of me out in the snow in a golf shirt. At -8, the wind actually felt kind of comfortable.

Cleaning parts of the truck in Gravenhurst

The snow and blowing almost stopped as we moved on south. I was surprised to see gas in this corridor priced at $1.209 per liter compared to $1.326 in Sudbury. I never knew this was such a low cost area. We passed Webers Hamburgers and I made a promise to myself that I would come by this way when the weather was a little nicer and give one a try.

Bad day for a lineman

A future lunch stop

We were in and out of snow until Orillia, where the skies cleared and the six lane road looked pretty good, but a faint glint of sun reflecting up from the road surface was a warning. I don't know what happened to the truck that was supposed to spread salt between Orillia and Barrie but it never got to the road. I drove slowly and didn't make any sudden moves but a lot of people became victims of the black ice that looked just like 15 miles of good dry pavement. Any application of brakes caused the ABS to kick in and the slowing effect to be negligible, so I stayed loose and left lots of room. We saw a few northbound vehicles going sideways.

The road looked good...

Minor incident

A little more serious

Another one bites the snow

They lost it going the other way, too

Cruiser parked crosswise to shield the wreck

And another

This jackknife shut the highway down

The black car out the rear window is sliding

One more little one

You wouldn't have been able to walk down this hill

Once we got to Highway 400 in Barrie, the black ice was behind us. They obviously had gotten salt down here so the road surface was wet and slushy but the traction was pretty good. I could visualize the Toronto crowd going northbound and transitioning from this to glare ice with no warning. It was a surprise there weren't more in the weeds.

So we were back on a road where we could steer and brake but we weren't out of the woods yet. Not far south of Barrie, traffic slowed to a crawl behind a pair of snowplows. There was a single in the left lane and a Tow Plow taking up the right two. They were moving at a sedate 25 MPH. I hoped they would break formation at the Highway 89 interchange and let the traffic go by. They didn't. Then I hoped for 88. When they showed no signs of getting off the freeway, I did.

Lined up behind the plows

Traffic was light as we took Highway 88 a couple of miles west and then took Highway 27 south to the multi-lane 427. It was a pleasant drive after what we had been going through all day. We made it down to the infamous 401 and headed west again. The road was adequate and the traffic was moderate. In Milton, the wind was generating drifts off the buildings but it wasn't getting down to our level. Someone in a car found that you really should yield to big trucks.

Blowing snow at roof level

This truck suffered a little damage...

...but the car was the big loser

Best roads all day

Cambridge doesn't use salt so the streets can be a little tricky, but we pulled into Kim and Mike's at 3:08 PM without incident. Mike was snow blowing with his neighbor's machine. It was the first time he had operated one of these residential units, although he had experience with bigger tractor mounted ones back at the homestead in Aylmer.

Mike moving snow

We had some time to visit with Jolene and Robyn before we all piled in Kim and Mike's new Caravan (Mike says it is more practical than the Dodge Ram) and headed to Beertown for supper. Mike takes a lot of business clients here and was greeted like a VIP. The kids behaved perfectly. I had the Ultimate Mac + Cheese dish and found it to be excellent.

Jolene, Mike and Robyn at Beertown

Mom and Grandma

Beertown's Ultimate Mac + Cheese

After supper, we slipped and slid our way back to the house where Mike went shopping while we played with the kids. Robyn's Barbie doll has more shoes than Imelda Marcos. Mike had set the air bed up in the family room so that is where we turned in relatively early.

Today's Route (346 Avalanche miles):

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