March 4, 2018

Snow White Fear

I was commuting to college with my brother-in-law. He was used to Manitoba snow, not necessarily the messy, wheel-sucking sludge that afflicts British Columbia roads. He steered one way and the car slid another. He attempted to correct the sliding and we got turned around and started going backwards over the edge. I was screaming my head off, convinced we were going to die. The car bumped down the embankment, and stopped. We looked at each other. We decided to risk opening the doors and climbing out. It appeared the car had been hung up an a sharp rock which had punctured the undercarriage, bringing us to a halt.Thank God!We climbed up the embankment and hitchhiked back to Nelson where I lived with my parents and he lived with my pregnant sister and their little girl. It was the first car accident I had ever been involved in. My brother loaned us his car until my brother-in-law's insurance got sorted out and they bought a new one. I did a fair bit of the driving to college for the next while.

A couple of years after the accident with my brother-in-law I was going on a ski trip to Banff with a boyfriend. He had been up for 24 hours for his shift at the hospital and was exhausted. We never should have left that night. I think I pushed him to leave, saying I would help keep him awake. By Kootenay Pass he was too tired to drive, and said I would have to. I didn't have much experience driving a standard, but I was willing to try. I wanted to get to Banff and start our week of skiing. The night was cold and clear and gleaming with stars. We climbed the pass at midnight and began the descent down the other side. We hit black ice. The truck did a 180 and hit the guard rail, which sent it spinning in the other direction. Fortunately, we hit the guard rail again and the bumper hooked onto it, stopping us completely. The bumpers were destroyed. My boyfriend was awake enough to take over the driving from there while I sat quaking and apologizing. I think I remember checking in at the police station where he reported the accident.  Our relationship was never the same after that night. I felt our age difference keenly as he took a tone with me that pointed out my immaturity. I confess to having a bit of a wild streak back then, and somewhat of a fearless mentality when it came to risk. I think the proper term for it is youthful stupidity.

They say as we age that we lose our risk-taking tendency. We know the consequences of injury and loss of wages too well to gamble them for an adrenaline rush. I, for one, have taken this theory a bit further when it comes to winter driving. For years now I have found the combination of being a passenger and an unwilling driver on snowy roads terrifying and anxiety-inducing. Oddly enough, I had no difficulty driving snowy roads when I was in my thirties. We always had four-wheel drive and lived in mountainous areas. If I wasn't comfortable driving my husband would and he is an excellent driver - I was, and continue to be, always in good hands. I know the memory of the winter accidents described above haunts me somewhat, but my irrational fear cannot be completely related to those incidents of long ago. There must be some other explanation.

My intense fear seems to have originated from our move to the Lower Mainland. I think moving here made driving a much more intense experience than when we lived on the Island or in the Kootenays. I have been driving since I was nineteen, but I still consider myself a relative novice when it comes to Freeway and city driving. I wonder if I'll ever be completely comfortable moving along at 110 kilometerss an hour with hundreds of cars, semis, and motorcycles jockeying for position all around me on the Freeway. And the addition of snow merely intensifies this discomfort. If I can go slowly and carefully, I am alright, but it seems no one else has time for that. So, I would rather not drive. One would think I would be content enough with my husband doing the driving, but I am not thrilled with that scenario either because I have no direct control over the vehicle. I have taken to breathing slowly and deliberately like a yogi while we drive to and from the mountain resort where he works (and which is our second home) in order to calm my anxiety. To be honest, I am getting pretty sick and tired of this crazy fear of mine.

Last weekend was a particularly snowy one. My husband was coming down in the 4X4 on Friday night to pick up my daughter and me, my sister and her daughter. My little car is not equipped for the snowy mountain roads and I would never attempt the trip at night in any case. I had expressed my fear the night before in a phone call with my husband and he had calmed me with some well chosen and often heard words. I decided the next morning I would change my approach to the drive. My mantra for the day was going to be, "He is an excellent driver who knows the road. I am in good hands." I know it sounds crazy, but it worked for me. I had decided to stop being so afraid. It snowed all day down here as well, and I drove my twelve minute commute to work, both ways, without incident and without fear. That night, he arrived about 7:30. We packed up the truck and picked up my sister and her daughter from their house. The snow fell heavily until about ten kilometers before the resort, but I remained calm, chatting happily with my sister and our daughters. My husband was an excellent driver who knew the road. I was in good hands. When we arrived at the resort I said to my husband, "I did pretty well, didn't I?" He just grinned.

Will I be fearless on the snowy roads from now on? I highly doubt it. My soul is too well acquainted with fear to merely flip the record over and change its tune. I like to think I am developing some coping mechanisms, however, which will hopefully make me stronger than my fears in the future. My life involves a lot of snow now, so I may as well become friends with it again. Returning to skiing is helping me reacquaint myself with the ways of the white stuff, too, and I am loving it. At the end of a day on the slopes or the tracks, I am too content and tired to worry so much anyway.