How many times have you taken the same route home, only to wonder sometimes how you got there? Something so familiar–almost too familiar–so much so that you begin to question when you passed that namesake landmark, whether or not you stopped at one of the lights, how fast you made your last turn, etc. My point being that out of habit, we often drive about somewhat unconsciously not paying full attention to all that we should: our minds wander, our stomachs rumble, our heaters/air conditioners soothe, our favourite music plays, our speed increases, our phones distract. Sure, in a perfect world, we all know better and we even try to redirect ourselves when we find one or some of the above interfering with our concentration, but ultimately, I am sure that we have all been in this situation at least once or twice. I will reluctantly admit that my focus has wavered while driving now and again, but last week I had a drive home like none other before (and hopefully, never again!) and as a result, I have gained a whole new respect for what it means to drive consciously, surroundings and all.
My husband had texted me during my weekly yoga session to say that the fog was once again settling into our area and to be careful driving home, as it would be later in the evening by the time I’d set out. Living out in the country, it was nothing new to hear and certainly, the temperatures and conditions the past while had seemed to be the perfect mix for the thick, white blanket to continue to hover. I didn’t think much of it, other than to know that I would have to drive more slowly and watch for oncoming traffic once I hit our undivided stretch of highway–that was always the worrisome part. Luckily, it wasn’t snowing out and the roads were clear of ice, which for this time of year was a bonus. Yes, it would be another foggy night’s journey into the abyss of the outskirts of town, a journey which I had made countless times before. Or, so I thought.
By the time I reached the major roadway which led to my first section of highway, I could see that my husband meant what he had said. The fog was definitely thick!! I had called him on my bluetooth to say that I was on my way, and then hung up quickly as my visibility had already worsened considerably. Off the hop, I had great difficulty even finding my first merge lane, but was grateful when it appeared as though I could at least see the orange-coloured beams of others’ headlights coming up beside me, as I veered off. It didn’t take long for me to realize that staying focused on my lane and my upcoming turn-offs would be a challenge. This was clearly not the kind of fog that I was used to, and I turned down my radio to echo the need for quiet concentration. Somehow, as I furthered myself from the city, it was clear that I was the one who was leading the pack, as others tentatively followed behind me leaving me to wish that it was their tail lights that were guiding me instead of the other way around. (I am not the most experienced highway driver being that this is only my fourth year out in the country.) Visibility was literally next to none, and as we turned the bend over the last bridge deck, the overhead lights of town disappeared immediately. Yikes! It was one thing driving with some sense of lighting, without it however, was a whole different kettle of fish. It was all that I could do to see the yellow line at my passenger side. I was doing between 40 and 60km per hour, braking reluctantly when the odd cloud of fog completely obstructed my view. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I would have to rely on some sense of instinct, as no signage or landmarks were even remotely visible. ‘Where would my turnoff be? How would I know?’. I lost all sense of distance due to my lowered speed and intense focus. This was no joking matter. My heart was definitely beating faster and my eyes were wide and searching.
It had briefly crossed my mind to turn back and head to my parents’ house, but where/how could I turn around safely? The answer is that I couldn’t, not to mention that I would have to go back through the very depths from which I had just maneuvered. Nope, I would just have to forge ahead, like it or not and NOT it was! After what seemed like an eternity, I saw a dotted left turn lane and a highway sign out my driver’s window (thank God it was placed close to the roadway) which indicated that my undivided corner was nearing. Remembering that that intersection also had overhead lights, I was partially relieved until I figured out that crossing three lanes of oncoming traffic with windows down for pavement noise was pretty much my only go-to for making it to the other side. After waiting momentarily and watching for any signs of headlight beams, I gunned it across–eyes glued to the triple lanes in the hopes of no cars. ‘Whew, made it!!!’ Then, came the stretch of undivided highway that I was dreading, ditches and all. As I desperately watched for that familiar yellow line to follow, I found myself hitting pockets of zero visibility once again. ZERO. VISIBILITY. The odd trucker/vehicle was coming toward me with flashing hazard lights on in an effort to be better seen, prompting me to do the same. It was sketchy when they passed and it was all that I could do to stay on my side of the road, meanwhile avoiding the ditch. Though the pitch darkness and sparing traffic made it all the more scary, I knew that it was likely a good thing given the circumstances. Once I approached and passed the last lit intersection, I was on the final stretch home…but where exactly was the stretch?! Now, I was getting a bit panicky, which up until then, I had managed to keep myself relatively calm, all things considered. I had NO idea where our turn was or how I would even begin to Recognize it, as all of my usual markers were hidden under this completely, enveloping white cloud. The otherwise known rise and dips in the roadway became one, and I completely lost my sense of equilibrium until I saw remnants of a yellow sign, located just past our turn. (I had sensed I was close, but I had no idea where our township approach was until I caught the tail end of it, along with the sign.) ‘Darn! I missed it.’
At that point, I realized that I might have to drive to the next nearest town and call my husband–at least there were lights at that turn, though it would mean crossing traffic again. Just then, a green sign came into view indicating the next township road after ours. ‘Yay, I could try to find that turn.’ And, I did. But, driving on a country road with NO lines was another story yet again; one I had no desire to partake in by this point in time. Even more slowly, I tried to keep in line with what I thought was the centre of the road and then, it happened….I panicked. I flat-out panicked! ‘Where was our range road?!’ I couldn’t see a thing and I had no clue how far down the road I’d even driven. Reluctantly, I did a six-point turn on what was hopefully the roadway, as I called my husband to say that I was officially lost, just a mile or so from home. I felt embarrassed and scared and my shaky voice was a dead giveaway for the now hour-long ordeal. Hearing his voice was comforting, though, and he told me to go back to the corner of the highway and try again. I was NOT getting back onto the undivided pavement. Rolling down both windows, eyes glued downward, then upward for clues of our corner, I finally found it. By this point, my husband had wandered out to our gate with a flashlight in hand, as I tried to navigate the rest of the way. At one point close to home, I knew I had gone too far to the left and figured that I was awfully close to the ditch (no navigation unit could help with this), but I managed to find middle ground again as I aimed for the bumpy tracks of the grater guy, who always cleared our roads. Normally unhappy with the rickety ride left behind by his handy work, I was suddenly grateful for every bump I felt. Soon, I recognized our neighbour’s place, as the fog opened slightly, and then I saw my husband’s flashlight. I was never so happy to see him or our house and have my rubbery legs hit the ground. NEVER. SO. HAPPY.
Never so happy with a newfound appreciation of every little thing that led me home that night, along with a heightened sense of my surroundings. Lesson? Pay attention! Always pay careful attention, especially while driving on those so-called familiar routes. Navigation systems are great, but not when you can’t take your eyes off the road long enough to see them, and we all know how accurate and frustrating the voice instructions can be. (Sense my sarcasm?). Needless to say, I have now taken exact measurements of my route, and made better mental notes of all that is around me. A careful watch of Mother Nature, though somewhat ironic in this case, is helpful too:-).