Snow Bound –from Max

by Asymmetrical Saab

Before we were married, with our first child on the way, my wife and I purchased a 9-5 Estate just after she announced she was pregnant. Filled with excitement, joy and anticipation, we needed a car for our growing family and we needed something well suited to extended road trips to our far-flung parents.

I had always had a fondness for Saab since my dad first plopped me in his friend’s 900 when I was a boy. There was something about the “awkwardness” of the design that attracted me. The apparent build quality, safety and dependability would be an added bonus as an adult with a family of my own soon on the way.

Four days later we were on the road to spend the Christmas holidays in France, a 1500km trip from our home in Prague to the French Riviera, straight through the snow-swamped Alps. I was still waiting for my driver’s license so I took the navigator’s seat with my pregnant wife as pilot. How I love this woman.

This is what one might call a 3000km baptism by fire that included a stretch of the Monte-Carlo Rally course on the way to my parent’s idyllic country village, and a close call with a truck.

My lovely wife was not so keen on passing the massive trucks on the narrow roads. One was plodding along and while passing, she erred a bit far to the left. The left tires bit hard into the snow and ice causing a startling “crunch” sound followed by hard breaking at 100 km/hr.

The adrenaline jolt was a gentle reminder that snow is not to be trifled with. With such climatic conditions outside, we were grateful to feel safe and warm inside our wheeled shelter. At the end of the trip, though, there was a surprise I had kept silent to my wife. The last 18 kilometers were definitely “the” challenge, which would test the skills of a rally pilot. I safely navigated the missus through to the finish. Little did she know that it was only the beginning!

After our excursion into France, we still had a second leg to the Ukraine for holidays with her side of the family, which would become challenge part deux.

We, or she, rather, powered through the 1200km of heavy snow in 24 hours, driving all the way through the slush of Slovakia and Hungary until we reached the Hungary-Ukraine border. I love this part of the world and photograph it extensively. However, if you’ve never made the transition from the pristine Hungarian highways to the shredded and unmarked roads populated with Ukranian drivers, you’re in for a treat. Welcome to the Wild East.

The first time driving in the rural Ukraine, you think everyone is drunk. You later realize, however, that people are just trying to avoid the HUGE potholes that lace the roads like craters on the moon. Often the battered pavement will expose wavy cobblestones last tended to the Kingdom of Hungary. Then there’s the ongoing mix of mud, stones and gravel. You really wonder whether you are driving on a road with holes, or just around a series of holes with chunks of road scattered about.

We of course had a few “surprises” but these were partly due to my foolishness. One of those happened when I opened the driver’s window to handle our passports to the Ukrainian border guard at the boundary. The window-opening button broke and we were stuck for two hours on a bridge with the window open. It was 5 degrees outside and heating pushed to the maximum, as we were not allowed to get outside of the car on the Ukrainian side until we would reach the overcrowded Hungarian border side.

That was quite a dismaying moment as we had another 900 km ahead of us, and no Saab service in these remote parts. But once we cleared the border, I phoned the seller who sorted me out and we were rolling in comfort again. The takeaway for me was our new Saab swallowed all these challenges with a seeming compassion for our new family. In fact, I’d say on this trip, it really became a member of our family.