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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snowy Commute

It snowed heavily a couple of weeks ago so I took some photos of my commute. I took these pictures when the snow was about 12 inches deep. I use roads that are less traveled. This is good and bad. The good part…no traffic and the scenery is spectacular. The bad part…the roads are not cleared when the snow falls. When I drove in the snow for the first few times in Japan, I was nervous/ anxious. I wasn’t used to blazing my own trail in the snow. Now, I love driving in the snow! It’s fun! Everything is so quiet, peaceful, and refreshing. Oh, it’s also cold. Thank goodness for studless tires and 4WD. I prefer driving in the white stuff with the “K” truck since I have more clearance than the Moco.
Driving on icy roads…no thank you. I have learned from my limited experience with living in the mountains during the winter months that some people are not prepared. Usually, it’s the people from the cities that are visiting or they just want to experience snow. They drive up to the snow line and find that they can’t keep their cars on the road. The roads are steep (11% grade) and if they don’t have the right kind of tires and 4WD, they don’t have much of a chance. For some strange reason, when they break down, it often happens in the middle of the road. This makes it very difficult to get by them. A few weeks ago, the black ice was severe on one of the mountain passes near Shonai. I had climbed the pass very slowly only to find on the downhill side that seven cars were strewn across the road. The road was slick and it was impossible to stand. I saw people on their hands and knees trying to crawl across the road. I managed to sneak my way through the maze of cars. It was senseless to try to use my brakes. I think that was the mistake they made. I used “Low” gear and nursed my way down the hill. The road was closed later because of the treacherous conditions.

I find it nerve wracking to drive on some of the mountain roads. The Japanese like to frame the roads with uncovered drain ditches. Some of these ditches can swallow a small car. Also, when the snow sticks to the bamboo, the branches tend to bend towards the road making a narrow road even narrower. I found myself weaving through tunnels made of snow laden bamboo branches (I’ll try to take pictures next time). Couple this with the fact that the roads are covered with black ice or snow…this makes for an interesting commute. Spring is almost here and I’m looking forward to some uneventful commutes.


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