A week ago, I was feeling pretty calm about the impending long journey home. Now I’m wondering if we’ll even make it to the start line. Since arriving back in Alsace from our Belgian trip, the count-down to our departure home has begun. It’s been a bit emotional, but until yesterday I was still feeling pretty confident that I could pull off this return journey.
I’ve scheduled on the calendar all the tasks to be done to get us out the door, packed tight into the Peugeot and on our way to the airport to return the car and catch the flight. Tyre exchange booked-in to swap the snow tyres for the originals: check. Children registered for after-school care on departure day: check. Unwanted clothes and toys dropped off at second-hand store and “new” toys purchased there for the aeroplane journey: done. “Merci” cards acquired for writing messages of thanks: in train. I was working my way through the list and thought I had pretty much everything covered.
But what I haven’t counted on is snow. Lots of it.
It started off as rain on Sunday night, but by yesterday morning a thick blanket of white lay over Geishouse. It was still snowing heavily as I worked my way around the car with the broom. I had the engine running in an attempt to de-ice the front and back windscreens, and the headlights were giving me some illumination in the pre-dawn light. I felt pressure to get down the hill because it was my turn to do the car pooling and I knew there would be two children waiting for me in the car park in Thann in just over half an hour.
So I welcomed the arrival on the scene of our neighbour, wielding his big snow shovel, come to dig me a path out of the parking spot. The snowplough had just been past and left a mini-wall on each side in its wake that needed to be removed for me to reverse out. I was hopeful the snowplough’s recent passage would clear our way along the mountain road, but with the snowfall so rapid, a fresh cover of white already lay over the street ahead.
I went through my plan in my mind. I’d done the maths on revs and gears with my engineer dad. “Get into second gear,” I said to myself “and ensure at least a 18km/hour speed up the hill to get up the incline.” Our chalet is connected to the main route down into the valley by a narrow road that winds itself around the internal cleft in the mountain in which Geishouse is nestled. This road begins with an uphill rise that I’d never really noticed before the first significant snowfalls. I’d had trouble at this spot the previous time it had snowed like this, loosing speed, accelerating at the wrong moment, careening into the banked up snow on the side of the road. I’d managed to free myself but it had been disturbing. So yesterday morning I approached the incline with resolution.
“No! Not again!”
Despite my technically perfect plan, the execution failed. Again I lost speed and the power drained from the engine in that deadening diesel way. I stalled. And try as I might, I could not regain traction on the snowy road. We were stuck. With Delphine whimpering in the backseat, I had to react fast. “OK, Silas,” I said calmly, “You need to run back and get Monsieur. Explain that mama est coincée dans la rue.” I waited. The window wipers rhythmically batting away the snow. The engine revving as I kept on trying to gather forward momentum.
A friendly face appeared at the window:
“Merci Monsieur!” I exclaimed in relief “I don’t know how this happened, again. I stayed in second like everyone said. Would you be able to drive us out?”
“I’m happy to try Madame, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to succeed either.”
I moved to the passenger seat and let this veteran of decades of mountain living take over behind the wheel.
Putting the car into first, he applied his foot to the accelerator with a fortitude I’d never have dared. We shot forward through the dark. Engine growling. Up, up and up to the flat.
“You just have to give it a bit of juice” he said as he stepped out of the car to let me take over.
We made it down to school to drop off Silas but the journey home with a sick Delphine in the backseat was sobering. Even more snow had fallen and, for the first time, I slid on the main route. The snowplough couldn’t keep up. Even the main route at the top was becoming snow-logged.
I knew I’d exhausted my driving ability. I’d need help to go and get Silas. In the end, in my neighbour’s absence, another Geishouse local came to our aid and drove me in our car down the hill. It was enlightening when he too almost stalled on the same part of the road that had been my undoing in the morning. “When it snows like this,” he explained, “everyone finds driving difficult.”
I felt both better and worse. It wasn’t just me! But equally, what will happen if it snows like this the day of our departure in just two days time? How will I get us all safely to the bottom of the mountain if I encounter just the same scenario as the frightful morning I’d just experienced.
It snowed for the rest of the day and the night. After his impressive performance saving us that morning, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see my neighbour pull in at around 8pm. He’d done in the dark and in more snow the drive I hadn’t been willing to attempt in the daylight.
“Bonsoir Madame” he greeted me when I popped my head out the door to give my thanks again for his help that morning. “I wouldn’t try going down the mountain tomorrow. Best to stay at home.”
When I expressed my concerns about my impending departure and fears for getting down the mountain, he responded with his usual “bah,” “I will help you. Please don’t concern yourself, Madame.”
This morning, the day dawned clear. A celestial sky presided over a magical white fairyland. Presented with such uplifting beauty, I feel almost able to share his confidence that my concerns are unnecessary and that all will be well. But I’m keeping a close eye on the weather report, just in case.