I first experienced the deceit of Rabbit Ears when Joel and I drove from Denver to Craig on a balmy June day. New green waved us on, and the air flowed warm under an immense sky, until Rabbit Ears.
As we began to climb, fat moist flakes fell through sunshine; I had to stretch out the window to knock clumps of snow off the struggling wipers.
When I described our trip to a long-time Craig resident, he warned me: “It’s always bad on Rabbit Ears.”
Fourteen years later, I’ve accepted his truth and experienced it all: slow speeds and tense shoulders, white-knuckles and mild profanity, freewheeling spins and whose-idea-was-this.
On one snow-bound trip, frozen roads glistened ice-slick in the sun as I maintained a safe distance from the car in front of me. The driver behind also kept a sensible distance and showed no interest in passing. Our caravan traveled the mountain without difficulty.
As we neared the descent to Muddy Gap, an SUV came up from behind and leapfrogged us, one by one. The driver — holding the steering wheel, a hot dog and a giant slurpee — saluted dismissively.
We passed him later talking to a patrolman, gesturing at his SUV buried in a snow bank, and mopping away slurpee.
I censored my salute.
I have a love-hate relationship with snowplows. On occasion, I’ve followed their lights slowly, but safely, across the mountain and felt gratitude.
But I’m panic-stricken when a snowplow barrels around a curve toward me at night: lights flashing, snow plumes towering, blade crowding my lane. The mammoth machines cause the butterflies in my stomach to abandon their flutter for an Irish jig in hobnail boots.
Sometimes when winter conditions are normal on Rabbit Ears — berserk winds, inscrutable snow, cars playing pinball — Joel and I pass parking areas thronged with happy people unloading snow machines, snowshoes, or skis.
What are they thinking? They’ve driven in these conditions to play in the snow?
Must be from Craig.
Last year in mid-October, we drove home from Fort Hayes, Kan., in our rear-wheel-drive car without snow tires or chains. Blue skies guided us. Then, five miles before Rabbit Ears, a blizzard exploded over iced roads.
Joel slowed, concentrated, and kept us on the road, moving up the first incline. We thought we might miss Christmas, but didn’t doubt we’d make it home.
A pickup passed, it’s rear-end sashaying like the backside of a puppy. It cleared us, then spun out, forcing Joel to tap the brakes. We slewed off the road.
The truck righted itself and continued shaking its booty around the curve. We sat stalled, momentum lost.
Joel, capable of vocalizing angrily over minor irritants, becomes calm and efficient when faced with a problem. I become tense and speak in squeaks.
“Janet, get over here. You’ll have to drive while I push the car onto the road, and we get going. It’s in gear, but it won’t go anywhere until I push. Just steer and take it easy on the gas once we’re straightened out.”
Squeaking agreement, and thinking the matter urgent, I climbed from my seat to the driver’s side, rather than going around, a feat hampered by my long legs and terror.
Once in place, I clutched the wheel while Joel slid the back-end onto the iced road. I straightened the wheel and tenderly pressed on the gas. Nothing happened. Joel pushed. I gave it a little more gas. We didn’t move.
“Did you take it out of gear?” Joel thundered.
No, I hadn’t. Not deliberately. But I must have kicked it out during my plucky seat- crossing.
Gears engaged, we tried again: Joel pushed; the car inched forward.
Through the open window, I heard huffing and puffing, then calm instructions: “OK, a little more gas.”
The car began to move at a steady pace. I gave it more gas.
Wow. We were going to make it.
A desperate roar ended my self-congratulations: “Janet, what the bleep are you doing? I can’t bleeping walk up the bleeping mountain! Stop! S-T-O-P!”
I looked in the rear-view mirror at a tiny, open-mouthed figure, waving its arms and fading from sight.
It’s always bad on Rabbit Ears.