I want to talk for a minute about something that captures a lot of attention and hawk-like focus during the month of March, especially around these parts.
Something that’s pleasing to succeed at, but gut-wrenching if you don’t get it right. And it’s not just the men who pay close attention to it; everyone does. Teenagers through septuagenarians, guys and girls of all ages and backgrounds.
I’m not referring to the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m talking about the REAL March madness: the spring thaw. More specifically? Potholes.
(Now that I’ve written it, that was a really crappy analogy, but I digress.)
As it turns out, winter isn’t the only weather learning curve I’ve got coming to me in Maine. No sirree! The average temperature feels like it’s raising ever so slightly and steadily, the sun is staying in the sky for a little longer each day thanks to what felt like a premature start to daylight savings, and the enormous snowbanks I’ve grown used to over the past three months have started to recede a lot quicker and more noticeably.
So as some stupid kid from Australia who’s spent three months nervously edging his way across frozen parking lots and front yards, this has gotta be good news, right?
WRONG, I SAY.
You see, what I didn’t anticipate or know anything about is how roads react to such changing climates. Don’t get me wrong: coworkers had mentioned it to me a handful of times over the winter as they drove me to work. But experiencing it from behind the wheel is a whole other barrel of laughs. And by laughs, I mean pained grimaces akin to having a tooth removed. Through my eye socket. I turned a corner off Augusta’s main drag just an hour ago and literally said “Jesus Christ, that thing is fucking RIDICULOUS.” I thought I’d driven nose-first into the Grand Canyon.
According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) via a very stern-sounding publication from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory (p. 34), this is how they happen.
In areas subject to freezing and thawing, frost action can damage a pavement and create openings for water to enter. Spring thaw of pavements accelerates this process when thawing of upper portions of the soil structure in a pavement cannot drain past still-frozen lower layers, thus saturating the supporting soil and weakening it.
FUN. Right? There are also things called “frost heaves” which make awesome bumps in the road when warmer soil (I guess?) causes the ice to grow (!) towards the surface of the road, shifting the blacktop. HOLY HELL.
I’ve already learned to change my route to work from the main road populated by businesses (and drive-thrus, thankfully for my waistline), since I destroyed a tire driving that way to the office five days after getting my car. I’d love to send that $140 invoice to the city, but I feel like they’d probably just laugh at my naivete.
And before any of my Mainer readers or colleagues chime in, I’m fully aware that the worst is probably yet to come. I mean … the weather is warming up. All that frozen snow has to go somewhere, right?
I better get some big ol’ boots. And waders. And learn to embrace mud.