Early morning freezing rain made the roads slick for running today. I got out the door by 6:30 a.m. and immediately found my daughter scraping away the thick crust of ice on her Honda windshield. She’d gotten through the top layer of ice but the visibility was still zero through her windshield. I stopped to take the scraper for her and ground away as the ice turned to powder and fell like little bits of snowstorm on the now-bare window. It turned from black to white ice before our eyes.
That was all I needed to learn about the conditions outside on the roads. The footing was not going to be great.
It took quite a bit of concentration to keep my stride even as I made my way down the back streets. I wasn’t worrying about how fast I was going. My plan was to just keep going and see what the morning would give me.
The route I chose was along Orchard Road where the salt trucks had already traveled past. Under the glow of the traffic light ahead, one could see a clear line between black ice and the wet road. Different kinds of shine.
I ran mostly flat-footed, not quite forefoot-striking. I used the pad of rubber for gripping all I could on the alternately slick and sodden road. That meant my shoes sometimes skritched from the crunch of salt and squeaked as rubber met wet asphalt. It was a very tactile experience, running in such conditions.
Days of ice dreaming
This was certainly not the most extensive ice storm I’ve ever seen. There was a massive ice storm in Pennsylvania when I was a child. It laid down a coat of ice an inch thick even on the streets. It looked as if the entire world was encased in rippled glass, as if the world had been cloaked in some sort of icy dream.
We lived next to a golf course, yet the first thing I saw while dragging my sled out toward the sledding hill was an older neighbor who could ice skate gliding up the center of the small street behind our house. Then he stopped, stepped over a chunky snow bank and skated away across the fairways of Meadia Heights Country Club. The world was one giant skating rink.
Making the grade
I was in third grade or so when the ice storm hit. There was no school for several days, so we were free to explore the icy world at our leisure. As an experiment, we took our red Coleco sleds out to the head of the practice range of the golf course. There was perhaps a 2% grade leaning toward the creek in the valley. We didn’t know what would happen when we pushed off from our spot on Niblick Avenue. To our surprise, we quickly gained spiraling speed as our sleds whipped across the ice layered on top of snow. The sensation was was both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Had we chosen a steeper grade, we could easily have been killed by losing control of our sleds and running into a tree.
As it was, we slid down the entire length of the 400-yard practice range, picking up speed as the incline increased toward the creek. Fortunately we’d aimed luckily and wound up spinning our way down a wide open fairway. It finished with a long cascade downhill. Our sleds roared across the ice down toward the valley until we bottomed out and went slinging up the other side. In summer that hill was a steep one to run up or climb. But in icy conditions, the physics were ideal for us to come to some sort of sliding, sideways halt. We lay there on our sides laughing and somewhat out of breath. I think my friend and I had both been holding our breath for most of the run.
White ice fever
We’d covered close to a half mile on what amounted to white ice. But then came a long, slippery trudge all the way back home. “That was fun,” I said to my friend. “But let’s not do it again. I’m exhausted from walking back.”
After a couple days, school beckoned and the streets finally melted after multiple applications of salt from snow trucks. But even after we returned to school and life got a bit back to normal, talk around school centered on all the cool things we had done. The sensation of being freed from normalcy stuck with us a while. Even the teachers indulged us in conversations about the ice storm that had changed the world for a few days. We all had white ice fever.
Back to reality
Thoughts of that ice storm ran through my head as I ran 4.5 miles on the slick roads this morning. I treasure those memories about the ice storm in Pennsylvania. Then it struck me that they date back five full decades. Yet they still contribute to the sensations I still feel today. How miraculous and wonderful is that?
Admittedly, I have grown much more cautious when it comes to encounters with black and white ice these days. I learned some hard lessons over time. Twenty or so years ago while out running on a cold morning in February, I got frisky and elected to hurdle a low-hanging chain blocking the entrance to a forest preserve. Unfortunately, on the other side of the chain there was a large patch of snow drainage that had frozen overnight into a layer of clear black ice. My lead foot went out from under me and I crashed to the ground. In trying to catch myself during the fall, my hand and wrist jammed into the hard ground. That resulted in a sprain whose effects lasted for a full year.
So I took no chances while out running this morning. Even stepping up a curb level was risky business, so I stuck to flat sidewalks and where possible, ran on the crunchy snow left over from yesterday’s snowfall.
The world is a slippery place in both literal and abstract terms. The dangers of black and white ice are not exactly yin and yang. They can combine to make danger and turn the world into a grey and dangerous place.