Sisyphus Of The Frozen Walkway


February 20, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

Even after a week of relatively benign weather, I find it hard to avoid thinking about the spate of terrible storms that have clobbered this region since the beginning of the year.

I would like to think that the worst of the winter weather is behind us, but my wife keeps reminding me that historically the storms ** that drop the most snow always seem to come in late February and March.

She remembers these types of things. I try to blot them out of my memory. Despite my best efforts, I am having great difficulty forgetting the five storms that pummeled us this year. They were just too horrendous to forget.

I remember the freezing rain that fell the morning of Jan. 4 because that was the first time I fell this winter.

I was beginning my new exercise regimen and got up before sunrise because I wanted to get to the athletic club before all the lanes in the swimming pool filled.

As I stepped off my front steps onto the walk, I noticed there was a shiny sheen on the concrete. Just about the time this thought was registering, my feet went out from under me.

It happened so quickly I fell flat on my back and didn't have any time to stick my arms out to break my fall. I landed hard, but luckily was I bundled up against the cold and the layers of clothing cushioned the fall. I got up and returned to the house. I didn't venture out again until the sun rose and melted the ice.

That was only a preview of things to come.

A couple of days later, I was driving my children to school. A combination of rain, sleet and snow had fallen the night before. As we headed down a hill and I braked lightly, the wheels of the car locked and we skidded into the curb. My kids thought it was great fun. I thought how lucky we were that we were going 15 miles an hour rather than the posted speed of 25 mph.

While driving on snow-covered roads has been a challenge, it hasn't come close to matching the difficulty of digging out after each of these storms.

As I was shoveling my walk for the fourth, maybe fifth time, this year, I started to feel like a modern Sisyphus.

Like the Greek mythological figure, who endlessly pushed a heavy stone to the top of a hill in the underworld only to see it roll back down, I have been condemned to spend this winter clearing our front walk. No sooner do I clear it down to the concrete than it gets covered again.

I never thought too much about the consistency of snow until three weeks ago when I tried to dig out from the region's first bad ice storm. I thought I was really smart to leave the snow on the front walk and let the freezing rain drizzle over it. I figured I wouldn't have any trouble digging up the stuff because in the past a base layer of snow was always easy to pry up beneath a hard crust of ice.

But much to my dismay, the freezing rain was so heavy that it permeated the entire layer of snow. Then the temperature dropped belowfreezing. I ended up with a walk that was a solid block of ice.

My wide metal snow shovel became useless. As soon as I hit the icy surface, the shovel recoiled backward. There was nary a scratch in the ice's surface. A steel garden spade was only marginally better.

The only tool that was at all effective was a heavy pick, but even that was not up to the task. The ice would crack but would not separate from the concrete walk.

After swinging the pick against the ice for more than an hour and having very little to show for it, I threw in the towel. My brow was sweating despite near a zero degree temperature.

Rather than break up the ice, I decide to spread some fertilizer on it. Yes, I know that the fertilizer will eventually wash into the Chesapeake Bay and add to the abundance of nutrients that are choking the estuary. But I had no choice. We had run out of salt, and there was none available at the hardware stores I visited earlier in the day.

The fertilizer did its job and started to melt the surface of the ice. The problem was that the ice was about two inches thick. Only the top of the ice melted, making it even more slippery than when it was completely frozen.

Rather than wait until the spring thaw to use the walk, I decided to put an abrasive on the ice. From a friend, I heard about Barn Grip.

Before returning home, I stopped by Southern States to buy some. I ordered a bag. The cashier looked up quizzically and asked, "Is that all you want?"

I thought one 50-pound bag would certainly take care of my walk, and responded, "Yes."

It was only after I pulled up to the loading dock that I realized most of the other customers were buying bags in multiples of 10.

That evening, as I carefully made my way up the walk, I sprinkled the powder on the ice. Barn Grip worked nicely in the ruts of the footprints that had been frozen into the ice. However, the fine powder would not stay on the ridges. Walking remained treacherous.

Not to worry. By the next morning, another storm had rolled into the region and covered the walk with a new layer of ice and pebble-like sleet.

I didn't even bother with the walk. Why waste my time?

As soon as I clear it, it will probably snow, sleet, hail or rain again anyway.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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