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Driving in South Dakota's winter weather is not for the faint of heart. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Driving in South Dakota's winter weather is not for the faint of heart. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Our Favorite Winter Sport

Jan 3, 2013


Remember that old pioneer tale about the guy who gets trapped in a blizzard? He's lost, can't get a fire started and is unable to find any kind of shelter. As a last resort he shoots his horse (or in some versions, a cow) in the head, cuts him open and survives by utilizing the warmth of the animal.

Luckily, no one had invented animal rights yet. Aside from that, I've always had problems understanding that story. What exactly is the procedure here? Do you climb in the animal's stomach? Or do you just stick your head in for a while, then alternate with your feet? Maybe you stick your feet up through his neck, running your torso through his stomach, which would put your head right about ... no, that can't be right.

Doesn't the carcass freeze up after a while anyway? So there you are, covered with blood, your head (or whatever) stuck where no man has gone before, and you're still freezing.

Right about then, more than one immigrant probably thought, "Geez, I should have stayed back in Europe. Starving to death in a potato famine wouldn't have been all that bad."

Unless some of those pioneers were world-class liars, which is a possibility, somehow it got done, and here we are. When we think of stories like that we sometimes feel a little twinge that we whine about such piddly things — we wonder if maybe that pioneer gumption hasn't been diluted by central heat and factory-rolled cigarettes.

In defense of modern men and women, though, just let me say this: Sleeping inside a dead animal is an accomplishment, all right, but there are few things that will test the mettle of humanity more than today's favorite winter sport, Getting The Car Stuck.

There are all kinds of variations on the theme automobilae immobilicus, winter variety. There's one which happens right outside your home that even novices can enjoy since this version doesn't require you to do anything at all. It occurs when you awaken to find your car — or rather, a tiny portion of your car — peeking out from a gigantic drift.

If you live in a city, and your car is parked on the street, you'll find that for the first time in history they plowed your street early, piling up additional snow and leaving you a $25 ticket to boot.

If you live in the country, you'll notice you parked your car with the engine side north. This allowed snow to blow in, completely filling the engine compartment and insuring your car won't start even if you do get it shoveled out.

For advanced grief, there 's nothing like The You Bet Your Life Whirling 360 Spin Of Death. All you need for this is a plain old road, a coat of ice, and the foolish belief that you absolutely must be somewhere else. Someone who 's enjoying this activity is easy to spot: They' re in the ditch with a pulse of about 210, clutching their steering wheel, repeating their favorite expletive over and over. And over.

After the heart attack phase, you sit there thinking should I try to walk for it or not? Every expert says stay with your car, but you know that advice is bogus. They assume you've packed an emergency kit in your trunk. but of course you never got around to that. Besides, anyone stupid enough to accumulate experience being stranded in cars doesn't sound like someone you can depend on for advice.

You'll try to get a tow truck, but there will be three bozos in front of you. You'll try not to think of yourself as a member of bozodom but it won 't work. That delay will leave your car out there becoming encased in its very own drift. Which will hide it from snowplows.

As you sit in the gas station drinking vending-machine coffee you'll ponder them —large steel blades welded onto 20-ton trucks whose drivers have been living on caffeine for 48 hours. And your car — your nice, barely half-paid-for car — on the same road.

"Boy, I wish all had to do was sleep inside a dead horse," you'll say.

Then there's plain old garden variety getting stuck, invariably following the thought "I think I can make it.” This situation is (a) a major pain in the caboose (b) embarrassing and (c) often costly.

First, you'll mentally run down the list of people you consider bosom friends to help you in your hour of distress. Or, people you barely know but who own four-wheel drives and a tow rope. Then get set for physical activity that, when people do it on flat ground in front of their house, frequently causes heart attacks. You'll be asked to shovel around, over, behind and under — especially under — your car.

When you need a break, try pushing the car. Strain your back, arms and legs in one easy motion. Occasionally fall down and get sprayed in the face with snow and gravel. Work up a good sweat then stand around in the cold. Repeat until dizzy.

As the smell of burning rubber wafts up from your 60,000 mile deluxe radial that now has 134 miles left on it, take heart in your heroic part of a continuing frontier saga.

This year, in a bit of nostalgia, I am encouraging all my friends to do their winter traveling with a large, live animal in the trunk. Then, during winter emergencies, they can recreate their pioneer past. You can too.

Either that or join Triple A.


Editor's Note: Contributing Editor Roger Holtzmann's column "Seriously, Folks" regularly appears in South Dakota Magazine. This column is revised from our January/February 1993 issue. To subscribe, call us at 800-456-5117.

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