Surviving The Whiteout

Heading out to run the hills proved to be more than an adventure: it turned into a reminder about some of life’s most valuable lessons.

The drive after work Friday gave little hint to the challenge before us, especially since the temperature was decent and no immediate signs of precipitation. We planned to revisit one of our favorite running routes in Minnesota, which would buy us more time from inclement weather. The route is a 10-mile loop, including tackling the Manmaker Hills, and if all went well, I planned to tack on a 4-mile loop for good measure.

After running about 200 yards down the gravel road, we knew it was going to be an interesting challenge. During the last few miles of the drive out, we encountered some mist. Moments later, the wind pushed us down the road and the snow flew past. It would be an interesting run back to the truck.

The first few miles felt difficult, but once I settled into the run, it felt good. And on the far end of the loop, I convinced Tim to tack on a few extra miles while we were on the highway. To that point, I had been battling the idea of skipping the extra loop and making up for them with a longer run on Sunday.

Heading back west, we discovered the storm’s force. The snow wasn’t really falling down, it was a cyclonic fury of horizontal snow, with flakes and pellets poking us in the eye. Every now and then, despite my best attempts against it, snow pellets drove into my face. It felt like tiny pins jabbing at my corneas.

The blinking headlamp lulled me into a trance as I kept my head down, and often I turned my head in hopes of shielding my eyes from the snow. After 10 miles, I decided to skip a plan to modify my return route, forgoing the extra mileage. The 27-mile drive home would be difficult enough, and extra time out running would only make the roads worse.

That was the first smart decision I had made.

Once we arrived back at the truck, a bit more than 12 miles completed, I changed into dry clothes and enjoyed a recovery drink. Soon we were in for an adventure of another kind.

Less than a mile down the road, driving proved to be dangerous in whiteout conditions as the snow whipped over the farms and hills, swirling over the ditches and bringing me to a crawl.

Still, there were some decent stretches once I returned to the main road. Both of us thought it would be worse there.

Not long muttering those words, it did get worse. In those conditions, I simply thought, “The tortoise beats the hare.” Going in the ditch meant I’d be out there all night. We crept along, looking for signs of the roadway and ditches, and picked up the pace in places offered a little cover by roadside shelter belts.

Halfway back to town, I had counted more vehicles in the ditch than on the road. A few drivers wanted to go faster so I let them pass, with one nearly rear-ending me.

For most of the people in the ditches, it looked like someone had stopped to offer assistance. If it hadn’t been so dangerous to back up on the roadway, I would have pulled 1 or 2 out myself. As I approached Dilworth, there was a pickup stuck in the ditch, facing the wrong direction. It’s driver had seen me coming and flagged me down to ask for a ride.

By then, a trail of cars had reached me and waited as the guy jumped in the backseat. He was a mile from home, but now he’d be going the wrong way and spending the night at a family member’s place.

The man commented on how it helps to have a spotter to help navigate. It certainly helped me, but he didn’t respond when I said it pays not to try going too fast. If you can’t see, there’s no sense moving forward. He was a friendly guy, grateful for the lift to town, but he’ll be getting a tow truck to help him today.

The drive home took as long as the run itself. Patience paid off, but I’m still a little surprised to have made it home. Sometimes slow and easy is the fastest way to get where you’re going.