The Best Car
by Laurie Bogart Morrow – The Best Car
It was the worst kind of snowfall—heavy and wet enough to coat the roads with an icy veneer. What’s more, it was coming down fast and hard; visibility was almost nil, maybe thirty yards. Living as I do in northern New England, you get good at gauging winter storms. But on a scale of one to ten, with ten being “gosh-awful,” this storm was an eleven. The Best Car
I should have run errands the day before—milk, eggs, dog food, a bit of banking, you know the rote. Weather forecasters had predicted a robust nor’easter, but it was expected later today—not now, before noon. The nearest grocery is sixteen miles north by a rural route that winds around several lakes. When blanketed in snow or pelted by sleety rain, driving to town can be a formidable task. But there’s a seldom-traveled dirt back-road that goes over the mountain and cuts off a mile. It practically lands me in my own backyard, so on my return home, I decided to take the road less traveled—the back-road.
No worries, I was driving a 2013 Jeep Patriot.
My family are diehard Jeep enthusiasts. We own three—a Wrangler, Grand Cherokee and Cherokee Sport—and there have been plenty of occasions they’ve gotten us out of some tough scrapes, including storms even worse than this one. I know what a Jeep can do.
I was only about three miles from home when I turned onto Horseleg Hill, about as wide as a one-ton truck, and drove up its seemingly vertical incline. Maintaining a moderately slow but consistently steady pace is the secret to negotiating treacherous roads like this. I carried on a mile or so to the “T” intersection, where the Old Meeting House stands alone, bereft of human habitat, or neighboring houses, or life. How lovely it looked behind the veil of falling snow, like a picture postcard or the scene in a snow-globe! Built in the early 1800s, this one-room, white clapboard building was once church, school and courthouse to a budding, thriving community; but around the time of the Civil War, South Eaton was annihilated by typhoid fever, wiping out entire families. Indeed, their weather- and time-beaten headstones stand as testimony to that tragic time, perched side-by-side like dominoes, in the forgotten churchyard below.
I drove past the pond where ducks are always found but, wisely, the resident flock had sought refuge from the blizzard and was nowhere to be seen. Here begins the steepest segment of Burnham Hill Road: up and up it rises, and then levels for a spell; then up before it levels again, and so it goes, to the summit. Yankees call this a “thank you, m’am, road.” The level bits were measured by the length of a horse-drawn wagon, so the poor beast could pause from pulling his heavy load uphill and rest a bit.
Just before the hill, the road veers sharply to the right and lofty tree limbs drape overhead like ostrich feathers in those hats the Crawley girls wear in Downtown Abbey. As picturesque as it was, the branches nonetheless impede a clear view of an oncoming vehicle—if, perchance, you come upon one—and the starboard shoulder plunges treacherously into a deep ravine.
No worries, I was driving a 2013 Jeep Patriot..
The darkening noon sky appeared like dusk. The woods are strangely still on wintry days such as this with not a whisper of wind to break the silence—just the soothing growl of the Jeep climbing uphill. I don’t recall when I first noticed the loudening roar, or came to the realization that I was not traveling alone on the backroad, when suddenly, a timber truck carry a full load of harvested trees loomed on the horizon, taking up the full breadth of the road, barreling toward me, shutting out the marginal daylight like a drawn curtain. The oncoming timber truck loomed larger and larger, rocking back and forth on the rough and corrugated dirt road. I could tell from the driver’s determined path that he dare not brake on the snow-slick surface, nor could he change his course. Should he veer to the side of the road, the truck would plunge into a deeply dug,
run-off ditch, and with that heavy load, fall over.
I glanced to my right; if I maneuver the Jeep along the top of the drop, I thought, and avoided tilting the car more than forty-five degrees, I might be able to eke out four or five feet without rolling into the ravine. It was my only chance. I took my foot off the brake; that and the uphill slope decreased my speed without causing the Jeep to lose its footing on the ice. My coffee sloshed in the cupholder as I angled sideways toward the ravine, and I prayed the soft verge had been hardened by the cold. The truck was hard upon me now, and I could see the driver’s white-rimmed eyes staring straight ahead, his jaw set, his hands clenched on the wheel. The timber was stacked like cigarettes in a box and the heavy, clanking chains that held down the load were all-in-all like those borne by Marley’s ghost.
The timber truck barreled alongside, driving snow through the open crack of my window, shaking the Jeep—just missing the rear view mirror by a fraction of an inch. The instant it passed, I gunned the accelerator with the wheel hard to the left and gained the road—and safety. As I turned to study my tracks, a fallen tree trunk buried under snow broke loose and tumbled into the ravine. Had I not rested the rear tires on that tree, had the four-wheel-drive not been engaged, then my story would surely have had a different ending.
No worries, I was driving a 2013 Jeep Patriot. The Best Car
The 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4 with Hill Start Assist and Brake Assist as standard also offers a “Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group” package. If you too travel the backroads of life, then get this option—small money for P215 OWL All Terrain tires, brake lock differential, hill descent control tow hooks and trail tow wiring harness and a continuously variable transmission with off-road crawl ratio—which in real terms means—to me, at least—that gave me the edge to pull out of danger. At twenty-one miles per gallon, which is about what I pretty much get with all my Jeeps, that’s good going for a mid-sized SUV. Base price is $22,880; with all the optional bells and whistles, MSRP $26,220—a small investment in your safety and the safety of your family.
This post first appeared on Open.Salon.Com on February 14, 2013