Van calamity (by )

Last Sunday, we attempted to go to Cheltenham in the van, as Sarah had a WoPoWriMo launch meetup to attend.

We're used to having to deal with ice on the hills leading out of our valley, as water from the farm fields tends to run off into the road; so if it gets cold, it turns into sheets of ice. There were a few patches of ice on the way up, but nothing like what I've managed in the past, so imagine my surprise when I turned a sharp bend onto a sheet of ice that spanned the entire road. The van promptly lost traction, so I stopped and attempted to gently reverse back around the corner to try a different route.

Sadly, the steering had no effect, quickly followed by the brakes; the van began a slow, graceful, unstoppable pirouette until it ended up like this, with the nose wedged into the bank:


That's looking down the hill from above. As you can see, I'd already done a bit of salt-spreading by the time that photo was taken; before I spread the salt, the ice was so slick that I couldn't actually stay standing if I got out the driver's side, I had to climb across Jean and get out the other side.

Sarah had a deadline, so headed off on foot to try and catch a bus, leaving me with Jean to try and free the van. I could reverse it as the rear wheels just span, despite me shoving some road salt underneath. I tried letting the rear tyres down, in the hope that a larger surface area in contact with the ground would help me get traction, but no luck.

So I proceeded to salt the ice sheet; if I could find somebody with a tractor of a 4x4, perhaps they could pull the van from above and get it free of the bank, then I could complete the turn and head off down hill. The salt began to melt the ice, and then salty water started to flow underneath the ice sheet, creating pretty patterns; and allowing me to wack it with my folding shovel to break it, at which point I found out it was a good half inch thick, even after being partly dissolved from beneath:

I wasn't treading on thin ice.

But the one tractor-owner I knew the number of wasn't answering, and another that a passer-by knew couldn't help, so I continued to try and get it free myself. I gave up on being able to drive backwards, so I took the folding shovel (it's actually a military surplus trenching tool. Good job I carry a military surplus trenching tool in the van, isn't it?) and dug the bank away to release it.

After making sure the ice was well gritted. I didn't want to be downhill of a tonne of van, working away at the one thing holding it in place, while it was on a slick icy surface.

After much digging (indeed, it was now two hours after getting stuck in the first place), with the steering wheel on full lock to the left and the rear wheels spinning, I managed to get the van out forwards, and set off down the hill. Surprisingly, the front of the van wasn't ruined, as I'd thought it might be:

Luckily, not much damage!

Jean was surprisingly patient for a four year old strapped into a stranded vehicle while I worked away; I figured she'd be safer strapped in than running around on the ice with me, even if another car came and hit the van.

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