Sliding uphill

A truck attempts to climb 10th Avenue E in Duluth despite evidence of an uphill slide found just below 9th Street.

Heavy snowfall makes winter driving in Minnesota a real pain, but drop a light dusting over Duluth hills and dangerous driving is taken to a new place: The uphill slide.

A quick YouTube search shows how cars, trucks and buses are no match for ice-covered avenues that tilt down at black diamond angles through this city. Vehicles skid, swerve and ultimately free fall down the roadway.  They bounce off parked cars and smash into utility poles, fire hydrants and parking signs. It’s frightening, but not all that unusual.

I mean, anyone who has grown up in a winter climate knows something about a downhill slide. Kids race down the golf course hill on toboggans and sleds. It’s fun. Later, we learn to ski or snowboard on bigger hills or mountains. More fun. Good exercise. Drinks in the chalet.

Yes, most Minnesotans have taken a downhill slide, and some pay big money to enjoy the activity. Sometimes a downhill run is unwanted, as seen in the aforementioned video, but the even the unwanted experience is familiar.

Few have experienced the uphill slide, however. It’s never fun and always painful.

What is an uphill slide?

While the downhill slide celebrates the laws of gravity, the uphill slide serves as a cautionary tale to those who ignore its power. The downhill slide happens when gravity is challenged with bravado and inadequate technology – like bald tires.

Here’s the scenario: A driver attempts to climb a steep, snow and ice-covered hill. The vehicle moves forward at a diminishing speed, looses traction, and even though drive wheels spin forward, the vehicle slides backwards. More speed applied to the forward moving wheels only increases the rate of backward movement. The uphill facing vehicle commences to slide backwards out of control.

The uphill slide is a slow, frustrating and anxious experience. Like trying to drink beer while hanging upside down on a trapeze. There’s lots of movement, you get a little bit of what you want, but ultimately gravity wins, the beer spills away and all is lost.

Of course, sometimes an uphill slide is successful. The driver actually reaches the top of the hill. But this comes at high stress levels. With engine loud and steering wheel gripped tight, the vehicle wiggles back and forth. The speedometer might read 50 mph but forward progress is more like 5 mph.

Traction is the only hope.

Traction and the thought that someday the sun will melt all this miserable snow and ice.

Only spring can stop an uphill slide.

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