Shortcut

On the way home, we were retracing our route down the Taconic, in that No-Man’s-Land of Dutchess County almost all the way up into Columbia County, where the roads are little gray squiggles on a map and the lakes are real. Further south, it’s all reservoirs, enslaved to the water demands of The City. My car’s navigation system had assigned us the route where we’d be doubling back at the end, with a sharp, pointed “v.” I was thinking there had to be a shortcut. I’ve never trusted the navigation system in the BMW anyway.
I had had only one beer at the bar right around 8 o’clock. I’d had a Coke around 10. When we left it was probably 11:15, although that’s a guess.
Traffic was sparse. It was a Saturday night. I came to what I thought was just the road we needed and cut across the other lane. My husband was on a bit of a nod himself, having had plenty of beer and cultivated a regular disinterest in issues of navigation. It was a narrow, snowy, one-lane road, with a small, green, rectangular sign: Seasonal Access, Road Maintained Apr.1 – Oct. 1. Something like that. It looked like it has been plowed at some point and had about six inches of fresher snow on top of that. There were tire tracks through it, and, down the middle of the road, a set of dog footprints, made by a huge, trotting woodland beast.
It was perfectly beautiful. Snow lit the floor of the woods. Trees surrounded us. The path was narrow and straight.
Woods in Winter, Dutchess County, NY
I cracked wise about how this might turn out to be a terrible idea.
He said, “You’re fine.”
I have snow tires. It’s an all-wheel drive car. He was probably right. There had been confusion over our bar tab. He had had three beers, maybe four. When we paid the check they charged us for four, but they missed the Coke, so we over-paid, assuming they missed a beer, too.
I said, “I just got that full adrenaline rush, the one when you’re like, scared shitless.”
“You’re fine.”
The road descended into a valley, so I slowed the car even more. We hadn’t yet lost traction, though the way was very noisy with the snow under our tires. My car is no SUV so it doesn’t have high clearance.
“I’m starting to worry about the way out of this,” I said. “What if they’ve plowed over and left a lot of snow?”
“You’re fine.”
“What if we have to back all the way out?” I asked. “I don’t want to have to back all the way back through this.”
“You’re fine.”
When we saw that the road rises to meet Route 199, and the depth of the snow at the top, deposited by plows just as I had feared, but made much worse by the dip in terrain, he said, calmly, “Punch it.”
I punched it, hard.
We made it most of the way up before we began to slip sideways and to the left, and sort of backwards. With some encouragement I backed up as far as I could without getting even more stuck. I tried again: more slipping, spinning, and sliding.
“I can’t do this.”
He hopped out and walked around the car. The road was black in both directions, but I knew it was199. A single car went by. If they saw our headlights shining from below the grade of the road, they didn’t care and they didn’t slow.  He examined all four tires, the snow, and the whole situation. I took off my seatbelt and climbed over to the passenger’s side.
He got behind the wheel. “I think we’re fucked,” he said simply, gunning the engine.
The car lurched forward, the tires spinning, and we slid sideways some more. He got out and looked at the situation again. He got back in, backed it up, and made another go of it, this time wedging us on the other side of the road, setting off all the automatic seat-belt warning tones. He got out and reassessed.
“We’re fucked,” he said, kicking the snow off his shoes and getting back in.
“Should I call AAA?” I asked, digging out my mobile phone.
“Yes,” he said, putting the car in gear.
“Put on your seatbelt this time,” I said.
I couldn’t find AAA in the contacts on my phone, so I pulled out my wallet to get the number off my membership card. I didn’t have that, either.
Ok, I thought. I can just look it up.
But of course I couldn’t look it up because I had no service. I looked at the clock. It was11:45 p.m., on a Saturday night. We were on an unmaintained service road, who-knows-where, stuck in the snow. Only one other car had gone by since we got stuck, and they didn’t see us or slow. We were going to have to get out and walk or wait and flag someone down.
I was now intensely upset with myself. We were not getting out of this easily. Before this moment, I might have shrugged off the error. Oh, whoops! Right? No. I am supposed to be a responsible adult. Really, I’m just a jackass, thinking I can just drive anywhere I want in my fancy car with my fancy snow tires.
He put the car into low gear, and was gunning the engine. There was acrid tire smoke and dark exhaust swirling up from us. The car was moving, a bit, here and there. Another car went by, in the opposite direction. Again, they did not slow. Suddenly with a lurch we were almost at the crest of the rise. He braked and got out.
Sometimes when I’m upset or angry or frustrated I just cry. I was always a cry-baby as a kid and was teased mercilessly for it. I always thought I had deserved it, the teasing. But now, here in the woods, I don’t cry. Mostly, I just felt really stupid. Why did I think it was a good idea to take an unmaintained service road as a shortcut in the middle of the night in winter when there’s a foot of snow on the ground?
He was out there stomping around, kicking snow and sizing up the situation, stomping and kicking. I opened the door and offered to help, “I have boots on.”
“No, I got it.”
He jumped back in. I insisted on the seatbelt again. Shifting to low, he really gunned it. The engine roared, the tires spun, the snow groaning and crunching and fighting us as hard as it could.
And then we were up on the pavement, tires squealing and spinning, snow and ice flying, and we were absolutely free.
“I gotta pull over. I might be over the limit.”
“Ok, but not here in the middle of the road.”
He gestured to a bit of shoulder.
“No shoulders,” I said. “We need to find like a road. Or a driveway.”
Up around the next bend we found a dead end road and traded places.
“I can’t believe you did that,” I said.
“I though we were fucked,” he said.
We went another quarter mile and I realized we were going the wrong way. We turned around again and made it home in about ten or fifteen more minutes.
It was, actually, a shortcut.

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