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Saturday Sentinel: A white knuckle ride all the way

Published: Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 3:09 p.m. CST

It was a white-knuckle ride.

By the time I rolled into Dwight on my way home from the Class 2A St. Joseph-Ogden Girls Basketball Sectional on Monday, my adrenaline was kickin' out the jams, as well.

Back here locally, nobody probably thought anything of the weather — a light snowfall that slowed people down minimally. But I'm here to tell you, and likely speaking for all the Seneca Fighting Irish girls basketball fans, that the Champaign area got hammered with snow that night.

I knew the forecast called for snow that day, but nobody seemed to know for sure how much. I guess because we've had such a mild winter to this point, I probably brushed it off as nothing significant.

Who knew?

The Seneca girls played Prairie Central in an 8:10 p.m. game at St. Joe-Ogden that night and I left in a somewhat casual mood at about 5:40 p.m. Now, online map directions said the trip would take slightly over two hours, so I was fine. Even when it started snowing when I reached Forrest on Route 47, I was still casual.

That all changed by the time I got to Gibson City and ordered a double Quarterpounder with cheese at McDonalds. I was still tracking well as far as the time element goes, and I wanted to eat at the Dairy Queen right off the St. Joseph's exit along Route 74, but I didn't want to chance not getting to eat before the game. As a side note, the Dairy Queen in Gibson City was closed at the hour I went through or I would have stopped there.

Anyway, the snow continued to fall heavier and heavier all the way to the point that when I hit Mahomet, I was growing concerned. Right away I knew it had been snowing for a while down there since Route 74 was travelable, but anything but pristine. In fact, I ended up not chance passing a car going 55 mile-per-hour over the final five miles before sliding up the St. Joseph exit ramp.

I was right on time for the game, but the snow outside was as relentless as the Prairie Central girls in the first quarter of the game on the inside. PC led 16-2 heading into the second quarter en route to a 37-30 win over the Irish, by the way.

After getting a couple of interviews, I bolted out the door and got on my way back down Route 74. The road through Champaign was actually not too bad and I cruised through at about 60 mph, but that didn't last long. By the time I reached Route 57, the passing lane was impassible. I know this because there were zero tire tracks visible at all.

I pulled off at the next McDonalds to file my story, download my photos and sent them before the real fun began.

By now it was 11 p.m. and Route 47 was brutal. Still, I was able to do about 50 miles-per-hour until I was slowed by a freaked-out truck driver ahead of me and my speed reduced to about 40-45. There was no way I was going to attempt to pass so I sat behind him.

After passing the first S-curve and the flashing red light, the trucker let me ahead of him and I resumed between 50-55 mph again — this time with much trepidation and whiter knuckles. Another slower traveling car guided me all the way through Gibson City to Sibley at about 45 mph (again, no way I was passing anyone) before he stopped there and I mounted another attack at the 55 mph level.

Then came Strawn and whiteout conditions — the scene where road and sky look exactly the same.

"This is stupid," I said out loud to myself as if that helped anything by speaking the obvious.

In the back of my mind I kept thinking that nobody said anything about a big snow storm hitting the Morris area. Logically, then, the closer I got to Morris, the better the road conditions would be, right?

Not so.

I finally saw my first snow plow on the ride home at Forrest and it was ironically cleaning up the 25-mph zone through the town. I was thinking, 'well, at least the humble people of Forrest who will be driving between 1-6 a.m. would be safe'. Meanwhile the whole corridor of 47 from Mahomet to that point was in abysmal shape.

By Saunemin, I saw another plow and then another before getting to Dwight and a third as I went through Dwight. Somebody at IDOT must have figured out that Route 47 was trecherous.

Then you know what happened?

In the time it took to get from the south side of Dwight to past Route 55, the lanes went from completely covered in snow with no chance of seeing the road to clear as a bell from shoulder to shoulder. And it was pretty much that way all the way back home to Seneca.

Nobody back here could believe that the conditions were as bad as they were downstate. For my own peace of mind, I looked up the inch totals for snowfall in the Champaign area and Livingston County and I came up with 1.9 inches before midnight on Monday and another .9 inches through the morning hours.

May not sound like much, but if you don't believe that the ride was anything short of harried, come see me — my knuckles are still white.

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