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Redusernab Asks: What’s Your Scariest Drive?

Deartháir October 31, 2011 Redusernab Asks 50 Comments

"No, after YOU."

Growing up in the mountains of British Columbia, and living in a town with a penchant for building houses into the sides of hills, I had the opportunity to experience a large number of very strange roads. Having now taken CaffeineFuelled along a few of those roads, it actually surprised me to have her bracing herself against the seat, saying, “You can’t take a car up that road! It’s not possible!”. To me, this was normal. These roads wind back and forth, following the contours of the mountain, with houses looming ominously over top of the street, and a cavernous drop just below your side mirror. There are occasionally small wooden fences along the side of the road which maintain a certain pretence of protecting the roof of the house, fifteen or twenty feet below, from a wayward car that might slip off the edge.

Many of these roads have long since fallen into disrepair through lack of use. They no longer serve an official purpose, now that main roads have been built far below and there are no houses up that far, and for myself and several of my friends, they served the purpose of a great miniature rally course. We would start at one end, with a convoy of strange and interesting cars, and drive at speeds that were horribly inappropriate for the road. In most cases, this might only be 50 or 60 km/h, but since the roads were technically closed, we could push our own skills to the limits without putting anyone else at risk. I’ve driven those roads in an old Rambler, a ’74 Mazda RX-2 with the 4.0L V6 from an Explorer, a ’72 BMW 2002, a ’73 VW Superbeetle, a ’63 Impala with a 400 hp 350 SBC, a ’76 MG MGB with no anti-roll bars, and the remains of a 1970 Lotus Europa.

Yet none of those drives scared me quite as much as last year when I borrowed a vehicle for an Old Car Review for here on Redusernab. That vehicle was a ’64 Volkswagen T1 Transporter, and in order to get it home, I had to take a series of back roads. But for a very brief run, I had no choice to take a quick dash along Highway 2 just south of Edmonton. Pushing that vehicle to its absolute limits, I managed to achieve about 90 km/h. In a 110 km/h zone. At that point, the engine was roaring as only a clattery flat-four can, and I was sawing at the steering wheel through the wind gusts cast towards me by other traffic, just trying frantically to keep it travelling straight. I have never been as frightened for a two-kilometre drive as I was that evening, just a short distance from home, hoping feverishly that I’d make it there alive.

So in honour of Hallowe’en, what is the scariest vehicle or road you’ve ever driven?

  • pj134

    A rather new Sonata to work every day… I'm too young to die inside.

  • SSurfer321

    That's easy. The move down to KY last February. Mostly my fault for pushing the life of my tires as I had 38k on the 33" Terra Grapplers.

    The movers loaded up the truck in Toledo, OH Friday evening and headed out for Lexington at 4am Saturday morning to meet the Mrs. who was already living in KY. I decided to sleep in a bit and not rush myself to get down there and got on the road around 10am. Little did I know that the weather would change drastically during the course of my drive. I hit rain in Dayton changing to flurries in Cincinnati. Then I crossed over into KY and everything changed. 30 mph winds, gusting to 60mph, from the west with rain/sleet and snow. The wind would pick up my truck and move it over an entire lane every time I crossed an overpass, since they were icing over.
    I stopped in Georgetown, KY after nearly sliding sideways on one of the overpasses, to change my shorts. This was a mere 20 miles from my new home. I called the Mrs. telling her I was close but taking my time getting there.
    I arrived 45 minutes later, hands shaking from fear, glad to have finally finished the drive.

    Two weeks later I had new rubber on the truck.

    • jeepjeff

      I've driven from Cincinnati to Harrodsburg, KY (my uncle has a farm near there), and there are some roads in KY that would be pretty frightening in a snowstorm, even with good tires.

  • Recently, I have been having some electrical problems with the Duc. If I hit an especially hard bump, all the electrics would go out, and I would roll slowly to a stop.

    This happened again last week on my commute to work, in heavy traffic. I managed to pull it off to the side of the road without getting plowed by Suzie SUV. With vehicles whipping by me, I popped open the tail, and checked the connections (it was still dark, and my cellular phone barely lit up). Everything looked fine, but I decided to check the fuses. It was very hard to tell, but it looked like the master fuse blew up. I was so glad there was a spare 30. I dropped it, found it, and plugged it in. I turned the key, and it worked.

    God, I was so thrilled. If that happened just about any other place on my commute, I probably would… well, lets just not think about that.

  • Guillaume

    Lost in some Australian mountain track with a 25 years old Toyota Hiace, very low on fuel (had to use the spare fuel in jerrycan for top up), overheating engine, night falling and completely inaccurate map (and of course no satnav, no mobile coverage). And of course no sign of life in the previous 2-3 hours … The panic from my copilot was the scariest thing though.

  • I haven't driven any scary vehicles. Sure, I've been scared in vehicles. Like driving to work after an ice storm last winter in my Mustang. The Mustang didn't scare me…I knew it's limits. It was the other drivers around me that scared the bejesus out of me. I was sure I was going to die. So I turned around and called in. As a point of reference, my wife in her 4WD Escape did the same thing for the same exact reason.

    The scariest road I've been on is Route 550 from Silverton to Ouray in Colorado. My dad was driving and having a blast. I wasn't scared so much as concerned. No guard rail, a 100 ft. or more drop off the side, and the remnants of cars and equipment (we saw two snow plows) that didn't make it. I am planning on taking a Great American Roadtrip in a few years, and this is on my Must Do List™.

    • Oh hey, I have done that road twice. Good gravy, it is intense, but the views are amazing. When you do the Great American Roadtrip, I suggest hitting up Mesa Verde if you are in the area. My wife and I did that trip for Labor Day. It was awesome.

  • mallthus

    Going to have to go with my childhood rally efforts here. There's a plethora of near death experiences my Chevette (yes, joke all you want, but it was the '80s, it had a cherry bomb exhaust and rear wheel drive) on fire roads in the Southern California mountains. Nothing scarier than an rwd econobox drifting at 50 mph on the dirt with no guard rails and a 1000 foot drop off the side.

    Of course, the drive home was sometimes scarier. Imagine darkness on a mountain road. 17 year old driver with no experience driving in winter conditions. Long curve at 60 mph then…black ice. Spin. Spin. Spin. Spin. Stop. Pointing backwards on the edge of a cliff without a guardrail. Drive home at 35-40. Chastened.

  • P161911

    Had a few scary drives in my old K-5 Blazer. It was always fun when the steering stabilizer went a little flakey with 33" tires. There was the straight through drive from Atlanta to Detroit (Formula SAE 1996) after being up for about 27 of the last 30 hours. Then there was driving it in the Blizzard of '93 in Atlanta. All four wheels stopped and sliding into the other lane of traffic on a packed and ice covered I-75/85 (It was final week and my college didn't cancel classes!).

    Then there was the time I was a passenger in an Astro van and we drifted all the way up a cloverleaf entrance ramp onto the highway.

  • Guillaume

    Oh yes also my housemate has a 2000 Hyundai Atos. First corean car I drove. I s*** on myself in the first corner. This thing is taller than it is wide, so you understand why. And I'm used to drive European hatchbacks too. I later noticed the car has been upgraded with 175 wide tyres instead of 155. I can imagine why.

  • dukeisduke

    Scariest vehicle? Probably the '73 Fiat 124 sedan that I was test driving for a friend, back in 1979. The owner wasn't at home, and his wife handed us the keys. When we started it up, the brake warning light was on. The lady said it was just something with the handbrake, but after a couple of stops, it was apparent that it had only two-wheel brakes. I promptly t-boned a '72 Impala with it, permanently taking the Fiat off the market. I had the sense of mind to put on the lap belt, so all I got was a bloody nose when I hit the steering wheel, along with a sore neck and back, both of which went away after a couple of days.

    The owner showed up at the scene after the cops and the ambulance. He reached into the car to try to start the engine, which caused one of the cops to jerk him away from the car, to prevent him from starting a fire. Needless to say, the owner was pissed. The guy was asking $1495 for the car (ridiculously overpriced, considering its condition), and I expect the insurance company gave him more than he could he could have gotten for it on the market.

  • PotbellyJoe

    I watched a tractor trailer break through the guardrail and go airborne cab-first into the median ravine on I-80 in PA. It was raining a horrendous amount and I could feel the front wheels losing grip from hydroplaning in my Protege (manual transmission) when the Semi came bombing up on me and switched lanes. about .5 miles later going down that hill/mountain he didn't make the curve and went flying. I called the state police and pulled off at the next exit and got out of the car (in the rain mind you) and caught my breath. I can't see how it would have been survivable, but i never looked it up to see, i just don't want to know.

  • Crossing Wyoming at night during a blinding blizzard that followed freezing rain. The road was a sheet of ice and there were rigs in the ditches all across the state. I was driving a 2WD Toyota pickup towing a very short three-rail trailer loaded down with three motorcycles and no trailer brakes. Every time I so much as touched the brakes the trailer would fishtail wildly. Fortunately, I had a CB and was in communication with the trucker ahead of me. He told me to just keep his taillights in sight and he'd get me home. The two of us crawled across the state at about 15-20 MPH. The longest night of my life.

  • OA5599

    I had bought a complete car lots of heavy stuff from two parted-out cars from a guy about 180 miles away. I had borrowed a buddy's dad's 302-powered 1980 F-150 Supercab and pulling a 22 foot trailer, and every square inch of both was loaded to the max.

    The neighborhood had one road out, and it was uphill to the intersection with the highway. I stopped at the stop sign, and when I started to go, the engine revved without much forward momentum. Finally, the truck started inching forward, but by that point, I noticed a car on the highway zooming toward me. I needed to turn left and further uphill, but knew there was no way to get the truck and trailer out of the path of destruction quickly enough, so I turned right instead. It was about a 20-mile detour before there was a safe place to turn around, and during the first mile, I realized the trailer was too tail-heavy when it started fishtailing.

    Ultimately, I made it home around 45 mph, but even at that speed, I had a couple of scary fishtailing experiences.

  • skitter

    A couple of years ago, I took a weekend to go to the 12 Hours of Sebring from Louisiana. First, I got a flat in Gulfport, Mississippi, and it took these jokers three hours to fit a new tire and send me on my way. It would up taking me fifteen hours to get to the motel in Orlando, on top of a full work day. I had serious road burn, I was wired wide awake when I arrived at 6AM, slept an hour, then got up to go visit a friend I only see every couple of years. That night I went to the track, stayed up again around the fire until about 4, then watched the race the next day. I had to follow my friends "just a couple more hours" to where we were staying that night. I saw an overpass at a constant distance, receding in front of me for those last hours. I saw a tree morph into a horse's head and lunge at me. I saw the Edge, and I never want to see it again.


    Scariest… Lawrence, KS to Galveston, TX in the worst January blizzard the Midwest had seen in a decade. 16 hour drive took me a white knuckled 26 hours complete with spinning, guard rail brushing terror. Amazingly it left a small scratch, and we carried on through the black wilderness of Oklahoma. The lead car in our minor convoy (a Subaru Legacy wagon) said it made a pretty light show.

    Stupid non-refundable cruise tickets.

  • Devin

    Scariest car? '93-ish Grand Am. Well that doesn't sound very scary you say? Well, when I was driving home after dark, after leaving city limits, the headlights decided suddenly that they were too good to actually light the road. So, I had to make my way back to town using only the hazards to see in front of me. Super fun.

    Scariest drive overall was a snow and ice storm. It was also dark, and the snow was also sticking so bad that I couldn't wipe the windshield. When you can't see and there are constant drifts and other hazards fast approaching, and you know you really can't stop either, it becomes an extremely harrowing experience.

  • Devin

    Scariest car? '93-ish Grand Am. Well that doesn't sound very scary you say? Well, when I was driving home after dark, after leaving city limits, the headlights decided suddenly that they were too good to actually light the road. So, I had to make my way back to town using only the hazards to see in front of me. Super fun.

    Scariest drive overall was a snow and ice storm. It was also dark, and the snow was also sticking so bad that I couldn't wipe the windshield. When you can't see and there are constant drifts and other hazards fast approaching, and you know you really can't stop very quickly either, it becomes an extremely harrowing experience.

  • OA5599

    Crap. How could I forget being run over and dragged by a 2.5-ton Cadillac? Technically, nobody was in the driver's seat, but I'll take the credit for driving because I was the only person touching the car.

    The ride was only about 40 feet, but during that relatively short trip, I knew I was going to be dead in about 5 seconds. Fortunately, the real outcome was better than that.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Idaho, I think it's Trail Creek Road, NF-408. Nothing spectacular, until it's dark…and you're driving a 40' motorhome pulling another vehicle, for a total length of about 58'.

    All was fine, albeit dusty/lumpy until I saw there was no way in Hell I was turning around. I didn't panic, naturally, figuring, worse comes to worst, at least we have quarters until daylight.

    Beware of "shortcuts". Microsoft Streets & Trips didn't indicate this was unpaved, unlike Rand McNally.

    Needless to say, I cross-checked the rest of the travels. Took dirt intentionally, in some cases, but I knew it was coming.

  • There was another time, more riding than driving, but it was the most afraidest I have ever been.

    My grandparents and cousins were on the ranch at Mt. Taylor. There are a griptonne of fireroads, and it is easy to get turned around. I took a ATV out with my cousin to go to one of the many lakes on the mountain and fish. We set out, I got us quite lost, and 6 hours later we found our way back in pouring rain. I thought my grandpa was going to kick my ass. Everyone was just glad we made it back.

  • suju89

    Driving my last '89 Falcon with a dying battery at night in the wet. I had to turn the headlights off and keep my foot on the gas constantly to keep the engine from dying, when I braked for a corner the tail lights would cause the engine to stutter, so I would give it more gas to keep it going, than when I jumped off the brakes the engine would be roaring back too life. I didn't quite make it all the way home.

  • It was just a fleeting moment of panic and stupidity…

    Driving up Mt Washington, decided to take a picture while driving. Not paying attention, I had to jerk back to the right – I wasn't THAT close to the edge, but I decided to hold off on any more photos until the car was parked.

  • $kaycog

    Besides a few scary roads while 4-wheeling in the Colorado mountains, the most scariest ride I ever had was on US 95 between Yuma and Quartzsite, Arizona. A red 18-wheeler with an empty flatbed trailer passed us going quite fast. A few miles down the road, the guy was stopped on the shoulder checking his tie-downs on his trailer. My ex gave him a couple of toots on the horn as we passed by. Evidently, the horn honking angered the trucker. After about 10 minutes, my ex saw him in the rear view mirror, and he was gaining on us rapidly. So, we sped up…..probably 90 to 100 mph, and got way ahead of him. This went on for almost 70 miles until we finally kept it at 100 and arrived in Quartzsite where we hid behind a building and watched him go by. Nothing has ever frightened me as much as that experience.

    • ptschett

      Hey, I think I encountered that guy while I was trying to merge onto the freeway today! I was rolling along at a good clip waiting for a hole and running out of merge lane thanks to a red semi w/ flatbed whose driver seemed to be thinking "LOL, merging pickup, how cute. no gap in the lane for you", an opinion apparently shared with the Explorer SportTrac driver behind him. (Whatever happened to common courtesies like letting the merging cars zipper into the through lane? Some people's kids…)

  • JeffieWasHere

    Scariest car? VW Beetle. The one I drove was probably not well kept together, but that's pretty spartan transportation.

    Scariest drive? While taking a vacation in the Cumberland Gap area (where KY, TN and VA meet), decided I wanted to drive as many cool roads as possible. One mountain road at the peak of a mountain range north of "The Gap" between US119 and KY221 caught my eye, so we headed toward that. I was driving a '94 Dodge Colt 2 door at the time, small, tossable fun. Two problems with the drive:

    A. It was one lane… at the top of a friggen mountain… with no guard rails. This is not terrible, because the views could have been spectacular.
    B. It was foggy. Never have I had a more white knuckled ride. I was awaiting death at every turn, but fortunately nobody come from the other direction.

    I've driven the Tail of the Dragon since, and that was child's play.

  • Gene

    The absolute worst driving experience I've ever had was on a motorcycle. My fiance and I rode my Ducati ST4 from Cincinnati to Indianapolis for the first MotoGP race at the speedway. That was the weekend that the remants of Hurricane Ike came through and the 250cc race was cancelled because of high winds on the circuit. We (foolishly) opted to ride home at that point, and proceeded to ride through 70+mph crosswinds for the 100 or so miles back home. Nothing like getting hit by a gust of wind and being blown across two lanes of traffic.

  • highmileage_v1

    Hmmm, scariest? Sitting in the front of a cab in Larnica while the driver decides that a third lane can be created by going up the middle of the road.

    Semi-scary? I used to live in a house in Germany that sat on the top of a hill. The road into town was built to a gradient that was a lot steeper than North American normal, ended in a "T" intersection in the main part of the village (large building across the intersection) and had parking lanes on both sides. I left the house after a snowstorm and drove to the top of the hill and stopped to check the road before trying to descend. Due to environmental laws no salt was used to help clear the road and no gravel or other traction aids were put down. I walked back and forth and the road surface seemed fine, just a few inches of powder snow. Well I started down slowly and about half way down I realized that the powder now covered glare ice. I tried all my usual winter driving tricks but none of them worked and the car accelerated downhill. I couldn't even steer off to the side, the vehicle simply wouldn't react to brake or steering inputs. So here I sat in a 2 ton curling stone just waiting to embed myself in a building. Luckily the car slowly arced over into the parking lane and used a Fiat (Panda? 750?) as an arresting barrier. This only partially worked as I ricocheted off it into the rear end of a Mazda and shunted it about 2 meters before I finally stopped. The Fiat was folded in two, the Mazda had some superficial damage and the Crown Vic? Well, not a ding.

  • Van Sarockin

    It's probably the day I drove an old FC Econoline to its final resting spot. It was a warm sunny day on a straight piece of interstate. The problem was that there was so much play in the steering linkage that I had to saw madly at the wheel, just to keep it in the lane – for more than two hundred miles. And with a pretty full road full of folks going at a good clip, in the expectation that I had any control over the truck. I shook with exhaustion and relief for about half an hour, once I finally got off the interstate and onto a curvy, slow state highway. That was more stressful than any other trip that involved blizzards, icy roads, almost driving off a mountain in the dark, accidents and collisions, hurricanes, blown tires, or mechanical failures.

  • P. Frere

    Scariest car? Back in 1990 or 1991 a friend bought one of those Korean-built Pontiac LeMans. This was a brand-new car, mind you. He offered me the keys for a test drive. It was a nice-looking 5-door and seemed perfectly okay in an economy car mode. And then I tried to pull up short behind traffic at speed. Scary car right out of the box.

    • jeepjeff

      I did something similar with a rental-special Chevy Cobalt. What a piece of junk. I was used to my wife's Civic Hybrid (which, admittedly, has excellent brakes), so I piled into a corner and used the same braking distance and pressure I was used to. I did not quite get any oppo, but my wife didn't let me drive for the rest of the trip.

  • MrHowser

    946 miles from Phoenix to Boise, in a truck with a bad vibration, later discovered to be both u-joints on the rear driveshaft.

    I'd already packed up all the tools, and was afraid to dig into it, so I just prayed and drove. I don't think I ever really relaxed all 17 hours of that drive.

  • topdeadcentre

    Never, never take up a friend's offer to go up a Jeep trail named "Rattlesnake Gutter Road" in central Massachusetts in anything less than a vehicle designed for offroading.

    A 1973 Dodge Charger in stock form is not designed for offroading.

    Rock slides have now permanently closed the "interesting" parts of this road on the glacial ridge and boulder gully in the middle, leaving a flat residential section at each end.

    However, best street sign ever!
    <img src=";

  • tonyola

    Scariest as a passenger? Sitting in a back of an old Ford Econoline whose already-bad brakes had faded beyond all usefulness. That's bad enough in itself but the situation was worse – coming down from the top of Pikes Peak. I still wonder how we made it down either without hitting anything or going over the edge.

    Scariest as a driver? Taking my '65 Mustang through the mountains of southern Mexico in rainstorms during the mid-'70s. While that sounds like fun, you never knew just what you might encounter around any blind corner – a sheep or goat, a person walking in the road, or a truck or bus drifting into the wrong lane. The roads were usually quite narrow with no guardrails. Nearly every curve marked "Curva Peligrosa" had at least one white wooden cross on the side of the road to mark where someone had died. The more crosses, the spookier the situation.

    Scariest vehicle? Truck #23. A 1970 Chevy shortbed 4WD stepside with at least 250,000 rough miles on it and nothing powered whatsoever. It was my daily driver for nearly two years when I got my first real job as a surveyor/soils tech. Being the newest kid in the company meant that I got the truck no-one else wanted to drive – it was nearly a decade old when I got it. If you looked at it hard, you could tell that it was blue once. The thing was really beat with gaping rust holes everywhere, the bed sat 20 degrees out of kilter with the cab, only a couple gauges worked, the gearshift would jump out of gear with a violent thunk in 2nd unless it was held in place, brakes worked in maybe two of the wheels, flickering lights, leaks everywhere, the windows would routinely fall down into the doors – the list of problems went on and on. However, the beast also had a 1/4-inch skidplate underneath and a steel I-beam for a front bumper, so it was fairly unstoppable off-road. Florida used to have safety inspections, and once I went in with eight known problems and left the inspection station with 14. I left the inspectors laughing.

  • FrankTheCat

    Scariest vehicle? my sister's former car, a 2001 Honda Civic coupe with very poorly repaired massive crash damage on the front left of the car (I estimate that the bondo was an inch thick in places). The fact that the left side of the car was shorter than the right, and the steering wheel was tenuously connected to the wheels (it had what my sister described as 'ponderous' steering), made it hard to drive on a good day.

    Last winter, my parents were moving said sister from one apartment to another, so they required the use of my (mini)van. Okay, I said, I'll just take the Civic to my girlfriend's house. Said day had a stiff breeze, and snow was falling in light amounts.

    I drove 1 white knuckled mile of wrenching the steering wheel around to avoid plowing into other vehicles and snowbanks, before I pulled over, called my dad and told him to get the car because it deserved to be in the maw of the crusher and not on the road. I then called my girlfriend and told her to get off her ass and get me in her not crash damaged, and snow-shoed car.

  • Maymar

    The closest to a scary car I've driven were a series of work Chevettes – poorly maintained, gutless beasts. But they were predictable in their excrimentitude, so the only scary part was having to keep out of the grill of the thousands of 18-wheelers that pass through Windsor every day.

    Likewise, Southern Ontario doesn't have much in the way of scary roads – thanks to a general lack of geography, and the Brits who parceled everything up into nice even rectangles, our roads are almost ruler straight to a fault. We have no shortage of terrible drivers, but most of them are just slowly meandering towards abusing yellow lights.

    That said, I'm a fairly inexperienced motorcycle rider, and try and keep that in account whenever I try something out. So a couple years back, I went to the local Harley dealer for one of their demo days, intent on trying out an XB9. But no, they only had the XB12. Already I'm a little wary since the last bike I had ridden was a Honda CBR125R, with about a tenth of the displacement. So as we're being run through the pre-ride briefing, I'm told, 'careful with the throttle – these wheelie very easily, and if you do that, we'll have to take you off the bike." It's followed up with, "oh, and you only need to give it two fingers of brake – these Harley guys, they're not used to brakes this sensitive, and if you go on one wheel, we'll have to take you off the bike." At this point, I'm convinced I'm going to kill myself. As it turned out, the bike was only running on one cylinder, which made it interesting in its own right, but at least a ~600cc thumper isn't so intimidating.

  • B72

    I was driving south in icy weather on route 91 in VT, and decided to slow down a bit because my old FWD Subaru automatic didn't feel right. As soon as I backed off the gas, the car was sideways. So I stepped on the gas again and it straightened out. I was backing off on the gas really slowly when a Saab went by at a significant clip. I crested the hill to see the Saab in the breakdown lane. The driver had his head in his hands, and was mouthing what looked like "Oh my god".

    Later in the trip I pulled over to check on the occupants of a minivan that had taken an unplanned side trip into the waist deep snow in the median. I put the Subaru in park, set the emergency brake and and got out. As I shut the door, the Subaru began to drift sideways off the crown of the road, toward the guardrail. The car slid not forwards, not backwards, but sideways, based on only on the force required to shut the door. The crown of the road was not steep. I stood on the guardrail and pushed it back, sideways. The occupants of the minivan were physically OK, but hadn't yet accepted their situation, so I left them there to calm down and wait for the next good samaritan.

    There were plenty more wrecks to see on the rest of the trip. It was so cold and rural that there was nowhere to stop. Luckily I made it through. I think my knuckles were white for a week.

    • topdeadcentre

      I-91 in winter, ahh, what a drive. There's a reason the median strip is wide enough to leave room for everybody to slip, slide and skid in when the roadway gets icy… I do not miss driving up that way to get to Burlington from Amherst MA, in February, in a half-dead Pinto that died completely and permanently just before I was about to make the trip back.

  • jeepjeff

    Yeah, lots of snow stories. Winter conditions, particularly blizzards, get scary fast. Last winter, I worked a season as a ski instructor for Sugar Bowl. I did it full time and lived in Truckee. Anyway, I learned many interesting things about winter driving, mountain storms and California traffic rules. I had my Jeep up there (2001 Wrangler Sport. 4.0, 5speed, oversized wheels, upgraded axles and no ABS, basically, the opposite of scary, a wonderful, capable machine).

    Anyway, California has three levels of Chain Control. Chains on drive wheels (except 4×4/AWD), Chains on drive wheels (except 4×4/AWD w/M+S tires), Chains on drive wheels (all vehicles, This Means You). However, they never use the third level. The rule of thumb the DoT uses is, if R3 is required, time to just close the road.

    It turns out, if they close all the roads to a resort, and you have an employee badge, they'll let you on anyway. This got me onto I-80 during some extreme fog/whiteout conditions a couple of times, while they were plowing. When they don't expect anyone to be on the road, the snow blowers they use to cut the road edges will just blow onto the road. They send out a thick stream of snow with some big ice chunks in it (it hits your windshield hard). But even that was more cool than scary. I was in 4hi and I knew almost no one was coming up behind me, so even when I lost visibility, it wasn't a big deal.

    There were more than a couple times where I was driving up the hill and near white-out fogs had settled in over I-80 near the pass. That was always frightening. Also, driving by looking out your door window and judging your distance from the edge to stay on the road and your lane is an interesting experience, particularly going downhill on an 11% grade with a couple inches of compacted ice on it. Oh, and rich jackholes in luxobarge AWD SUVs who think that their traction control makes them invincible add that special spice to your morning.

    But that wasn't the truly frightening drive. None of those made me think, sweet jesus, I'm going to die tonight, and no one is going to find me for days, at best.

    However, one day in late December, during the peak storm season, I was at work late for a training and a storm was rolling in that evening. The day had been nice and sunny, but around 4:30 some evil clouds rolled in, the light went flat and snow began falling. By the time I took off from work, the sun had set, and wind and snow were tearing through the pass. My big mistake was taking my normal route home, this stretch of old 40:

    So, I drive off, turn onto 40 from the access road, and I've got a tenth of a mile or so uphill to the top of the pass. Once I drop down off the top off the hill, I know I'm screwed. I can barely see the road, and the wind is whipping back up the face of the ridge in a vicious eddy. I can't see more than 30 yards at the best moments, and as I'm rounding the sharp twisty just past the bridge and the wind kicks up and blows a cloud of snow in front of my jeep. The snow refracts all of the light from my headlights back into my face. It isn't just a white out, it's actively blinding me, I can't see the side of the road out the window. I can't see past my hood, and I'm going downhill, around a sharp bend to the left and I know there is a sheer drop to my right.

    I do not understand how I did not lose complete control of my bowels. The thought running through my head was "I am going to die. You know this curve, just hold your steering angle, keep your speed in check with the throttle and try to plow into the uphill bank if you lose it. I am going to die."

    Unfortunately, that moment was not even half way down the hill. Shortly after that, with more than a few nasty turns left, I ran into traffic ahead of me, and someone came up behind me. So on top of everything else, I had people in front of me that I couldn't be sure what they would do when the snow came up again. Would they panic and stop? Would they sack up and keep going so as not to get hit? There was no margin for brakes, you just broke loose if you tapped them, and of course, I had someone behind me, so I didn't want to have to brake and get rear-ended down the cliff. We all went very slowly, and we made it. Somehow.

    They closed the road at 6pm—a half an hour after I drove down it. I think that decision was based more on when could the CHP get a truck to the gate rather than whether the road had been safe to drive on at any point after 4:30pm. I don't think they opened it again for nearly a week. They were too busy keeping I-80 open.

  • jeepjeff

    Oh, and scariest vehicle: A year and a half ago, I got to flog an early 90s Ford Aerostar with 325k on the clock down Highway 6 east of I-15 in Utah. It had a broken shift linkage, dodgy A/C and we'd had to get the brakes fixed in Reno the day before. However, it is only scary in hindsight. Highway 6 in Utah from Provo to I-70/Moab is one of the most amazing stretches of road I've ever driven. It was too excellent to do anything but have a ridiculous amount of fun. And I was driving an automatic Ford Aerostar beater. I need to plan a trip to go back, that canyon carve would even be fun in the Jeep. And having my Wrangler in Moab… I could go back and drive the Shafer Trail (there's another good scare the **** out of you drive, but I haven't done it, yet).

  • crappy focus but red

    Any time I ride with my brother. He has never been in an accident mind you he just has this certain style of driving that in involves hitting the rumble strip every couple of miles, over the yellow line, too fast in the corner, why don't you steer with your hands and do you really need to text your girlfriend right now? O ya and we are ridding in a full size (flaming turd) van or 67 chevy pickup with bad brakes or dagen a 5000 pound jet boat with a 73 blazer with the top off. Never a dull moment. One of these days he's gonna have to pull over so I can puke up whatever I just ate.

  • danleym

    1988 POS Honda Civic. First car, I'd had my license for about 3 months. 11 pm, leaving work, giving a coworker a lift home before I went home. As we're getting close, he asks if I want to take the challenge. What challenge? I ask. The challenge is to start at a specified point on the 2 lane road to his house, and see how fast I can get to by the time I pass his house. I hit about 65, and decide to keep going. Eventually I hit 80ish (as fast as that thing would go). The road was under construction, too, and the lanes shifted unexpectedly. At this point I managed to get the civic sideways at 80 mph, narrowly miss a guy on a bike, and put it head first into a construction ditch, and catch the rear tire on the curb, which catapulted the entire car into the air and flipped 4 or 5 times end over end, back end first.

    So yeah, that was pretty scary. More of the self-induced stupidity based fear than due to weather, the road, or the car, though.

  • ptschett

    Last Thursday afternoon, I was back home on the farm driving an 18-wheeler semi going 55 on a township gravel road, while a pheasant hunting party was leaving the cornfield they were in. The first vehicle had plenty of room and got away cleanly, but the second one got to the approach, hesitated, then went for it without nearly enough room. (How could one in broad daylight not see a white International semitractor with a white trailer kicking up a quarter-mile-long dustcloud?) They were lucky that the truck was empty and I was expecting stupidity, so that I was able to scrub off half my speed with the brakes while wasting precious air pressure on the horn, and still come out with a following distance about equal to the length of the single-hopper grain trailer I was pulling.

  • ptschett

    For my passengers though, it might have been taking the switchbacks of the Berthoud Pass on US-40 one morning in May around 8 AM, in light snow, in my Thunderbird, on a trip where my time behind the wheel had started 800 miles away at 6 the previous evening. I was fully awake and actually having fun, drifting it through the corners just a little bit. I'd guess the view of the dropoff was better on the right side.

  • A two-for-one on the scariest vehicle and road:

    <img src="; width="450">

    The Bee, at Oregon Raceway Park. Don't get me wrong, it was also among the best vehicles and roads I've experienced, but nonetheless quite the introduction to racing. Functional mirrors would have reduced the terror level considerably….

    Still, I shouldn't complain too much. At least I had driven my own MGB on the street before. Immediately after my stint, my niece (seated in the photo) took to the track, also with no prior racing experience but additionally without any MG experience, other than the static introduction to the controls captured above. She did fine.

    For anyone keeping track, that's me with my arms folded and Pete holding his nose. Good times. I've said it before, but thanks, Pete.

  • sporty88

    Depends on whether we are talking about Good Scary or Bad Scary.

    Good Scary: We 15 years ago, a friend's brother bought this early-mid 70's Corolla – out of rego, bald tyres, manual transmission with worn synchros and no shifter boot, no exhaust, back seat or inside door trims, water-pipe rollbar, rust pretty-much everywhere – I think he paid about $80 for it. We took it out one afternoon, hooning around some fire trails near this new estate at the outer fringes of suburbia, 3 of us crammed into it, one of us hanging onto the roll cage, all taking turns to see how much abuse we could heap onto it before the poor thing expired. Somehow it survived all of our worst excesses, and we nicknamed it "The Cockroach", because we figured the only things left after a nuclear attack would be cockroaches and this car. My friend's brother sold it on to somebody else a couple of weeks later because he was attracting too much Police attention with it.

    • sporty88

      Bad Scary: Travelling up the F3 Freeway, north of Sydney, in very wet conditions, on a motorcycle. Visibility was down to the point where the traffic was travelling at about 50km/h crossing the Mooney Mooney Bridge, then it got worse. At one point the only thing I could see was the faint glow of the tail lights of a semi-trailer about 20 feet ahead. I found the first exit I could and sat out the next 2 hours drinking very ordinary coffee at a truckstop.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    Probably the scariest experience I've ever had in a car was in the passenger seat of a maroon-and-primer '94 LeSabre with a scrap of rope restraining the hood. The fellow driving, a friend's father with a remarkable physical resemblance to , was easily clearing double the speed limit on roads that I might have considered attaining such a velocity on during a clear afternoon, but this was a foggy early-winter evening. I trusted him, but it didn't make the journey much less terrifying.

    My own browneye-puckering moments have been entirely my fault, caused by excessive speed or dedication to a single traffic-related goal – being stuck in a turn-only lane at 35 MPH on a city street in my 244 and having the truck left of me refuse to let me in, forcing me to cut him off without slowing (in lieu of striking a curb at 20 or, worse, another vehicle) and lock up all four, landing two feet shy of an RX300, is probably the most dangerously aggressive thing I've pulled off. Typical Lowell at rush hour, I learned, and managed to predict and avoid such things in the future.

    Oh, I had the 244 on two wheels once – tried to make a sharp right at 35 that would've been okay on dry pavement, but not so much so on black ice. Crossed onto the other side of the (unoccupied, rural) road, went up a snowy embankment, came back down on my two right tires, then got it back onto the ground, corrected left, and slid neatly into the opposite lane's snowbank at a 30-degree angle to the road. A quick call to AAA and a two-minute yank with the wrecker, and I was on my way, undamaged save for my hurt pride at being unable to completely recover… That car's hilariously understeer-prone handling probably saved my bacon a few times, as I only managed to get it into serious oversteer on clear pavement once – an accidental and ultimately harmless 180 over the crest of another tiny back road.

    Now, I've managed to pull off scarier and even more poorly-advised things, but there were more extreme emotions and circumstances involved then.

  • Threw the county's Dodge one ton dump truck in neutral going down a steep hill towards the maintenance office of the park. For some reason this turned off the engine and we later had the truck taken to the dealership to have the engine computer replaced. No idea if this is related, but it was indeed scary piloting an 8000lb+ truck without the vacuum assisted brakes or hydraulic steering at over 40mph. I was able to get it to a safe stop and it was a paved road but that first realization is tough.

  • Oh yeah also tried to pass a heavy equipment truck on some road leading out of Adirondack Park one rainy night this summer. I was headed to Utica to sleep at my sister's and was tiredly/impatiently following this truck at probably a few miles under the limit. I was determined to drive 10 miles an hour faster than we were and attempted the pass- right before a blind curve being driven by a newish Dodge Ram. Well we all locked up, the heavy equipment truck thereby preventing me to get over and I had to cross the Rams path onto the opposite shoulder. I stopped in time as did he and the big truck kept on truckin, but the Ram would be sure to give me a piece of his mind before doing the same.

    He drove right up to my bumper, got out, and cussed me out plenty good then offered to fight me. I apologized, politely declined the offer to show off some of my best hit-taking abilities and sped off at the mention of cops. He happened to get my plate and make a 'complaint' to the troopers who showed up at my sister's house not a half hour after I arrived. The officer was friendly enough and wanted to make sure I just wasn't drunk or worse. I've never made any claims of being a good driver, mostly just lucky sometimes, and I've been more careful since.



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