The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

12 January 2016

Of winter roads and Canadian bridges

The Lighthouse is in Canada, as you know. As you probably also know, Canada does, from time to time, get winter. Not even Sohoe, where I live, escapes entirely.

Winter landed on us with a thud overnight. I woke to a winter postcard tableau outside the front door, meaning the front steps needed clearing and the car needed scraping.  Ahhh... scraping the car... every Canadian's favourite winter hobby.

In most of the rest of the country, folks deal with winter enough - the arctic temperatures, freezing rain, mountains of snow, slick and slippery roads - resulting in sensible, practiced drivers.  In my neck of the woods, a wee bit of snow is enough to make people lose their minds, outraged at what nature hath wrought, huddled in layers, and utter menaces on the roads.  Probably because of brain freeze.

I think Those Who Decide decided to hope that noon-time sunshine would melt the snow, and so did not send plows out to clear all the roads.  Where I live the roads are swoopy and windy, through gullies, up hills and down hills. The swoopy and windy roads are also narrow, leaving no room for error. Or for skidding on ice.  Or for getting out of the way of a fish-tailing pickup hauling a trailer with his baby snowplow in it. Those Who Decide didn't count on it continuing to snow beyond the appointed melting time, making getting home as much as fun as was getting to work.

As someone who used to live in the land of Winter before making good her escape to Sohoe (where 'winter' is a charming concept we dabble with now and then), I spend the first few days of winter driving every year encouraging other drivers under my breath with "it's only snow, you can do it! It's only snow, you can do it!"

Here are some winter car facts you may not know:
~ winter requires a whole 'nother set of special tires. That's why we don't spin out all over the place when we drive on slick roads.
~winter also requires a brush/scraper contraption, supposedly designed to remove ice and snow from hood, roof, trunk, and windows of car, but always seems to cause said ice and snow to make itself at home on my coat and trousers, and inside my boots.
~salt.  Salt everywhere. Salt turning the side of the car grey and then rubbing off on the calf of your leg. Every single time.
~pushing the seat back to make room for Big Winter Coat bulk.
~remembering to factor in an extra 10 minutes to warm up the car. If you live a litter further north, you actually plug in the car overnight to keep the battery warm.  If you live even further north, you bring the battery into the house overnight, and when you get to the store you leave the car running.
~you know it's cold when you sit in the car and the seat doesn't give one little bit. It's like perching on frozen cement.  Nice, eh?

Thinking of being Up North brings to mind a story that's been in the news the last couple of days.

The story takes place in a little town called Nipigon, It isn't the sort of place that would be known of, in the general way of things, but it just happens to be the place where one half of Canada meets the other half of Canada.  Not because it's the middle point, or where some political breakthrough took place. It is literally where the eastern and western portions cross over to the other. It happens on the Trans Canada Highway, which in that part of the world, is the only highway.

Canada is a large country - the second largest, in fact. In population, though, we are quite small (a tenth, I think, of the US) and  much of our land makes for very uncomfortable living. This has resulted in the bulk of us living within a hundred miles of the 49th parallel and the rest is left to wild, wide open space. That, combined with unendingly long and unendurably harsh winters, means we are not building roads far and wide.

And so it is that there is but one road that skirts Lake Superior, and but one road joining Ontario to Manitoba and that one road passes through Nipigon.  Every Canadian who has made the trek across country knows Nipigon and the bridge over the Nipigon River. No matter where you start from in Ontario, more than half of your journey to reach that bridge is going be be through the North Country... Canada in it's wild state, unpopulated, unsettled, largely untouched still, making it easy to imagine what it was like for the first settlers as they battled nature for survival. It's a full day's driving to cross the province, 12 hours from Toronto, 13 from Ottawa, and 13 from Sohoe.

Imagine then, that you have planned your trip. You are appropriately provisioned, and you are mentally prepared, for the isolation you will experience requires hardiness of mind. You've left in the weakest morning light and arrive long after sundown because you are now so far north that the sun gives up earlier, curling up somewhere warmer before trying again the next day. Then you find out the bridge is broken.

That's right, the bridge is broken!  This happened for real.  It's a new bridge, hardly driven on and it heaved. Or buckled. Whatever it is that bridges do when they break.  It seems it was made with Japanese bolts.  Japanese bolts don't like the cold, apparently, and they, like the sun, decided to give up early.

If you consider the transporting of goods, the travel of tourists, and the daily lives of folks in Nipigon, that bridge is vital. The nearest alternative route is at least six hours away in Sault Ste Marie, and that route takes you through the States, meaning you need a passport, and a change of currency - a painful thought in this time of the below-70-cent-Loonie.  How this happened I do not know but I truly do feel for all those who found themselves stranded in Nipigon just as winter is hitting its stride.

The mayor of Nipigon was on the radio, talking about how the residents of his town were throwing open their homes, providing food, shelter, and fellowship to stranded travelers. Isn't that lovely?  It might be colder than cold up there, but the people are warm and kind.

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