Saturday, September 10, 2011


Yesterday, I was late to my job for the first time (by a painful 5 minutes), but I had trouble feeling apologetic: the drive to work was goddamn amazing. Right now it's sunny, but it had been raining in northern Virginia for several days thanks to all that tropical storm and hurricane activity; yesterday's rain was even more intense than it had been previously, which meant that many of the roads were flooding. My drive to YB Near, which starts out west in the mountains and heads eastward toward DC, wasn't too bad for most of the way, but as I got closer to my exit, the rain picked up and I found myself hydroplaning.

I've hydroplaned before. It's an exhilarating experience, especially when there are cars all around. But yesterday I discovered that, when there's enough water on the ground, it's possible to hydroplane at slow speeds-- in my case, at 45 mph (approx. 73 kph for my metric-brained readers). I normally travel the freeway at an average of 75-80 mph, so this was something new. At first, I tried to push ahead of the crowd, but once the hydroplaning began, I realized the futility of pretending my car was bigger and more powerful than it actually was.

For those who've never hydroplaned: imagine hitting a patch of ice. Hydroplaning can be slippery like that. The water in front of your tires has built up to such a point that the buildup has moved under your tires and lifted your car off the road. Your speedometer goes crazy: you're doing only 50 mph, but the needle shows you revving up to 70 mph. You can't blame the speedometer for this: it doesn't measure actual ground speed. Rather, it measures the rpm of your wheels. If you've been lifted off the road such that your wheels are spinning freely, your speedometer interprets this as a sudden increase in velocity.

The best thing to do is to ease off the accelerator. As your car slows down and the horizontal vector decreases, you'll immediately start pressing more firmly against the road surface. Traction is God: without it, you can't drive.

What made yesterday so exciting was the number of times I hydroplaned: at least five or six times in the space of ten minutes. That's never happened to me before; I've hydroplaned on straightaways (never on a curve, thank God), but those previous incidents were all of the one-off sort. So although I apologized to my bosses for being late (they were cool about it; most of our students turned out to be late, too), I was happy to have gone through yesterday's experience-- easily my most interesting driving day ever.



Bratfink said...

Hydroplaning scares the SHIT out of me.

It's like black ice.

Charles said...

So I'm trying to figure out if you thought this was a good thing. I mean, it kind of sounds like "Awesome! Hydroplaning!" My reaction would be more like "Crap! Hydroplaning!"

Anyway, glad to hear you made it through OK.

Kevin Kim said...

You mean "goddamn amazing" and "exhilarating experience" and "so exciting" weren't positive enough expressions? Shirley, you jest!

OK, let's put it this way: I'd love to do this again, weather gods willing. Heh. It's scary stuff, but it sure makes you feel alive.

Charles said...

I do not jest. And don't call me Shirley.

Seriously, though, try wakeboarding. It's way more fun than hydroplaning and way less likely to end with you being wrapped around a tree.

Anonymous said...

The operative expression is "having gone through this experience", I think. Fun if you survive it intact--not so much if abrupt decelerations become involved. Congratulations on arriving in one piece, adrenaline flowing and cheeks glowing (I'm inferring the last bit.).