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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: What I think about when I’m under my car

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I would not consider myself a particularly weather-sensitive human. While I run a little cold, this justifies a dresser full of Merino wool attire. This is part of my long-term plan to argue for a small farm. It will begin like this:

“Wow, that 200 weight Smartwool shirt costs more than an entire sheep!”

“Uh huh,” will say my unsuspecting future spouse. “I bet one could get enough wool to knit several shirts in the lifetime of a single, happy sheep!”

“Uh huh,” he would nod. He’d probably be thinking about a flash sale at the outdoor store (Oh, Mountain Gear, how we will miss you), but when you are married, “Uh huh” is the equivalent of a contractual agreement.

What with all my wool clothing and my love of the great outdoors, one might think I’m one of those “there is no bad weather” kind of folks. But there is bad weather. I know because I was laying in it last night at about 7 p.m. when my champion Subaru got stuck on a hill we really ought to name Treachery Pass or Try Your Luck Incline.

This part of my road is responsible for elevations in blood pressure for most travelers and inspires the oft-asked question, “Do you live here year-round?” The great thing about that pulse-rocketing stretch of cliff-edge adventure is the way you have to commit or risk sliding all the way back down or plummeting off the edge. The best method is to grip the steering wheel, clench your teeth, mutter a few prayers, then slam on the gas and commence some sort of Jackie Chan choreography as you Kung fu steer your way to the top. If you get that far.

I recommend most visitors have at least basic rally driving experience before winter trips to our casa. And also chains and a shovel, prayer beads and helicopter insurance. And real chains, not these sissy things the tire store sold me last year. Lying in a foot of fresh snow while warm rain soaked through my wool, I unpacked what looked like dainty tire jewelry, thinking, “My car is not going to prom. What the hell are these?”

Also, I never put chains on unless at least half my car is submerged in snow and I had to crawl out the passenger window. Therefore, I need chains that don’t require I move my vehicle to install them. It’s cute to think of people pulling forward and backward on flat ground to put chains on. I’m usually turning off my fancy tire traction stuff and yelling something like, “HOLD ON! I think we can make it without chains!” as I peg it. Honestly, I need to consider a commute soundtrack. Perhaps “Dukes of Hazard.”

I hear that some people put chains on prophylactically, like when signs flash warnings that say: “Chain Up Area Ahead.” I imagine there is a warming hut there with hot tea and Vivaldi on the radio, and they don’t even get frostbite. This is what I was thinking about as I lie on my back, my head precariously jammed between slush and the axle because the inventor of these flat lander chains clearly never had to dig a tunnel under a car to put them on. I was also thinking, “If I had sheep, I could work from home.”

I need to make a sign for my trunk kit to go along with the tire baubles and shovel. It will just say: “Chaining Up Now. Cover Ears of Small Children.” I could probably use a few sticks of dynamite in there, too. And some spare chains, because I lost one last night and I don’t expect to see it again until spring. Not that it was any help.

“Are we going down the whole hill sideways?” asked B. “If we’re lucky!” “You need better chains.” Also, maybe a chain-up area at the bottom of the hill. Actually, there is one and whenever people are there putting chains on, laying them out neatly, patiently pulling backward and forward, we blaze by and yell, “Learn how to drive in the snow!” But with the windows up, because those are the same people I’m going to have to call to pull me out in a minute.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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