I looked over my shoulder and all there was was darkness. Sheet rain was falling and the road was only slick where it wasn't flooded. I was just cresting a mountain up on New Hampshire state highway 16, and Death was riding in the passenger seat.
Last night I was on my way up to the Mount Washington hillclimb, the Climb to the Clouds. It hasn't run for a few years, it's steeper than Pikes Peak, narrower, and the road washes out to dirt near the top. It's known for its wind, its rain, and its fog. I hit a thunderstorm on my last fifty miles of undivided two lane. Just getting to this hillclimb made me and the mountain's weather very acquainted.
It was one thing to have the darkness, punctuated only by the blinding light of a passing car, rare as that was. It was one thing to have the thirty feet visibility through the pounding rain. But then the fog would roll in.
It might be a patch, creeping out from the trees lining the road, hinting of an invisible forest behind. Then again it might be a ceaseless, endless weight, pulling down your headlights and turning the road into a featureless haze for what felt like a mile. There was no way to tell.
That's how I spent the last fifty miles in my Baja Bug, knowing that the tires would lock up if that steady march of moose warning signs validated themselves. I spotted a speed limit of fifty five. I laughed that thirty five might be safe. And then, driving along at forty, the fog dropped down again and there was no more road in front of me.
I remembered how it was supposed to go, and I turned as I would've, rolling off the gas as I did. I sort of believed that I wouldn't aquaplane right off into the trees, or down some unseen cliff. In a moment, the road was back, but it didn't feel the same.
The trees cleared out around the road and I got a glimpse at the sky. It was too bright for the hour, backlit in a faint electric blue.
The trees seemed to creep closer over the pavement. The yellow dotted lines seemed to work their way tighter, narrowing my lane. I felt the back of the car grow cold. I imagined great big skulls sitting like bouldes in the middle of the road, hidden in the slaps of fog.
And that's when I rolled into Gorham, and roadside signs lit the road back up, and I returned back to some kind of normalcy.
I pulled off into an industrial lot. Let the car run for a bit. Let the nerves run down. Watched a fox dart out from the dark of the tree line to the shadows of some eighteen wheeler trailers.
As a car enthusiast, it's easy to forget the real danger on a lot of roads. I try and find my way to the twistiest lines on maps, but attitudes change when you can't see for shit. When the night rolls in, and the rain beats down and the fog snatches at your eyes.
You start to think about everything in your car that could break at just the wrong moment. You brace yourself when you see headlights coming the other way in the mist. You try and plan for the moment of blindness. You smell the wet asphalt and the danger, and death waiting eager.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove