Driving when we shouldn't

 As I write this, there's some ribs smoking on the grill. The mashed potatoes turned out just right. The squash needs a little more time in the oven. 

It isn't Thanksgiving yet, but it could be. 

A light dusting of snow coats the ground. The sun hangs low in the sky at four in the afternoon. The swamp is frozen over, but not yet solid. 

Sometimes the transition to winter is tough. This year, however, after an extended, beautiful and fully satisfying fall, we can't complain about what we always knew would happen next. 

Last week, the temperature sank into the low teens. The car sounded hoarse when it first started in the morning. Out came the stocking cap and mismatched gloves from the storage bin in the garage. 

I was hoarse, too. The change in the weather has caused a spate of early-season colds. The body takes a while to adjust. 

Another adjustment: It was a jolt last week to feel the car lose its grip on the road. After months of dry roads and sunshine, it is tough to tell in the dark whether the road is wet, covered in black ice, covered in frost, or is just dry tar that looks frosted due to salt. 

Within half-an-hour, the old instincts and bad habits returned. As long as there was the thinnest sliver of dry road for traction over near the shoulder, I drove sixty.

Even still, a Schwan man zoomed past me in a cloud of snow that blinded me for a hundred yards. 

I suppose the poor rural Schwan drivers have to drive fast to win sales contests against drivers who putz around suburbs jammed with people too busy to cook. Can't blame them.

The empty, arrow-straight roads of the Red River Valley make it easier to cope with winter driving and motivated frozen food salesmen. 

When blinded, just stay the course and you'll come out all right. Don't hit the brake or you might get hit from behind by a semi loaded with windows, snowmobiles or wood stoves. Or ice cream. 

Just let the foot off the gas until you can catch the white line on the right, or perhaps the orange center line. Then get a wheel on back on your sliver of dry pavement and press "resume."

During the summer I lay awake and think of how crazy it is to drive on bad roads in winter. Next winter, I tell myself,  I won't be caught out in the middle of nowhere meeting semis in clouds of snow at night on ice. I swear I'll be safe and just spend the night in a hotel. 

Broken promises. 

One dark evening last week, I found myself 110 miles from home. Visibility was low on the prairie, at least when oncoming trucks stirred up the loose snow. The roads were icy. And off to the left stood a nice hotel. 

I pulled into the left turn lane. I knew that it made sense to check into the hotel. I knew I was tired. I knew the three hour drive would dry out my eyes and probably stretch into four. I knew I would get home near midnight. 

But the thought of a warm house and my own bed overcame all good sense. I stepped on the gas and pressed onward in risky conditions, tugged by the comforts of home. 

It wasn't just the thought of sleeping in my own bed. It was the thought of getting up the next morning and being in my house instead of having get dressed and drive three more hours to get home only to have half the day shot before it started. 

It was also the thought of brewing coffee in my own coffee pot, adding my own flavoring, slipping into my fuzzy slippers and looking out the window at the cold while sipping from a warm mug. 

No hotel has matched the charms of home in winter yet. 

I made it home. When I awoke the next morning, I was glad I took the chance. 

After all, it isn't as if fifteen degrees above is life-threatening. And I always had a cell phone signal. And I saved $67 plus tax on a hotel. 

So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for safe travels in stupid conditions. 

And I am thankful for comforts of home that compel one to make dubious decisions.