Extreme Shoveling: A Mile to Go Before Spring

In a light moment at a meeting last winter, I introduced myself as “owner of the longest hand-shoveled driveway in Waldo County.” It wasn’t said very seriously, but over time I’ve kinda wondered. How many people are there out there who still shovel their own driveways? Do any of them have a driveway as long as mine?

Today, I used a measuring wheel to check the length: 330 feet. That’s more than 100 yards. If we have 16 storms this winter, I’ll shovel a statute mile. I am eager to hear from any readers who shovel a driveway longer than that — and will respectfully cede my self-awarded title and provide a gift certificate for donuts and coffee to anyone who does.

Ultimately it’s not the length of the driveway that matters. It’s the dedication, year after year, to that demanding and unpredictable task. (With lawn mowing, once you finish, you have at least a few days before you need to start over again). It’s also the appreciation of the subtle aesthetic of the hand-groomed driveway, one that a plowed driveway can never match.

You have to be a shoveler to understand what it is to practice our craft. But I know I’m not alone. There are others out there, often the same time I am. We are a quaint and silent fellowship, unbeknownst to each other, braving the biting wind, the questions from our neighbors (“Why don’t you just give in and get a snow blower?”) and the stares from passing cars.

During the two hours it took to clear the snow from the recent 14-inch storm, I had plenty of time to revisit the question, “Just why do I shovel this driveway, anyway?” Maybe because I did last year and I don’t want to admit to anyone, especially myself, that I’m getting older. Maybe because it seems silly to pay $40.00 plus to have it plowed and then go for a workout at a local gym. Maybe because I’m stubborn or cheap or both. Maybe because I enjoy a challenge, especially an outdoor one. Maybe because it’s great strength training for those spring kayak races. (Whitewater racing season begins here in late March.) Maybe simply because, in the words of the great mountaineers, “It is there.”

I don’t actually shovel the driveway, of course. I use a snow scoop. In my early years at tending this driveway, I learned that using a shovel for that big a project soon resulted in wrist tendonitis and back pain. The snow scoop, like the bicycle chain, is one of the world’s great efficiency inventions. This is true especially if, like me, you have a driveway that is narrow and slopes downward from the sides.

After a snowfall of 8 inches or less, I can take the scoop and make 4 – 6 sweeps down the long gradual grade of the driveway and have the snow pretty well cleaned up. Bigger snows like the recent one require a different approach. Relying mostly on my legs, I push the scoop in diagonal cuts across the driveway, then tilt it forward and lift with my arms and knees to dump each scoopful before backing up and starting the process again.

Ruminations on shoveling technique seem pretty pedestrian to most of us in Maine — at least until you take a look at the earnest and well-meaning “How to shovel a driveway” articles folks have put up online. There is even a YouTube video of a smug homeowner who has “discovered a better way to clear his driveway of snow” — spraying it with a hose. Anyone care to try that here?

Have these people ever seen a real snowstorm? One must wonder. For that matter, the same could be said for the designers of the typical snow shovel. That design is all wrong, or wrong at least for shoveling snow that is more than ankle deep. The blade of the typical shovel is too wide, resulting in strain on the wrists in order to keep it balanced. Additionally the handle is narrow, which compounds that problem. I find the what is often sold as a grain shovel, with its longer, narrower blade and larger diameter handle to be much more user friendly.

The tools of my trade are now at rest, leaning up against the house. But not for long. Tomorrow I’ll clean up any drifted snow, extend the turnaround, and widen the driveway along it’s entire length. After that, I’ll shovel paths to the barn, the woodpile, and the doghouse, and then rake the roofs. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get all of that done and have time to go cross country skiing once or twice before it snows again.

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