Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't try this at home

We took a lil' road trip this past weekend straight into the gates of Hades.

This past weekend was to have been the big family Christmas gathering, usually a time of abundant merriment and warm basking-type feelings. It’s about 230 miles from the Tiny House to my Mom’s house. Normally, a car trip between points A and B takes about 4.5 hours, including rest stops. This past weekend? It took 10.

We left on Friday night, thinking we could ‘beat the storm’ that was roaring out of the Gulf of Mexico and that was bearing straight down on our intended weekend’s lodgings. It was a fine plan, certainly better than waiting for Saturday morning to leave, as was the original plan. Ah yes...if only we’d left an hour earlier, we may have been sitting smugly in Mom’s living room at 8 or 9 having thwarted the snow, but instead conditions veered sharply southward about 90 minutes into the ride. Light sleet turned to light snow, then heavier snow, then really truly heavy snow. Just seeing far enough ahead to drive looked to be nearly impossible; the snow was belting at the windshield so hard it looked like we were going into hyperspace drive. After 3.5 hours of driving in steadily crappifying weather and very dark darkness Biff, bless him, had had quite enough thank you of the treachery and pulled into a hotel parking lot just in the nick of time to get what had to have been one of the last rooms available. Sweet relief. Let me tell you that it's been a loooong time since I've been so happy to be sleeping in a strange place. A bonus – there was a WalMart and a liquor store not but a couple of blocks from the hotel, AND there was a restaurant attached so food was readily available. Not a bad place to accidentally find oneself, and a serendipitous choice because further north on 95 there's NOTHING, hotel-wise, for miles and miles.

After a restorative night’s sleep, we haggled about continuing the trip north, as it was STILL SNOWING and wasn’t looking like it was going to let up. Clearly, the weather people had been spot-on in their predictions and we were headed into the belly of the beast. Mom offered to put us up for another night where we were, and we dithered on the point, but made the decision to keep on going, because there were only 80 or so miles to go and how bad could it be?

It is at this point, dear reader, that you realize that the last sentence was blatant foreshadowing.

Friends, it was Bad. Even the full light of day brought no relief. There was slipping, sliding,and rampant douchenozzle-ing by far too many other drivers. It also continued to snow, a LOT. Poor Biff was subject to many of my alarmed utterance as he drove along, for I am perhaps the world’s worst passenger, convinced that nobody but me can see 1) brake lights ahead, 2) vehicles sliding, 3) cars stuck in the median, 4) 18-wheelers swerving, 5) etc etc. Ultimately it was best for me to simply shut my eyes and pretend to nap, saving me from a heart attack and us from a possible fight at my stubborn need to CONTROL EVERYTHING.

When I did take the odd peek, I could spot innumerable wrecks and spin-outs. A semi’s engine blew up right behind us. Tink’s muffler scraped the snow-hump in the middle of the lane on many more than one occasion, and all the while snow keep falling. There was tire spinning, arduously slow progress up hills to avoid having to start again from a dead stop, perilous slides downhill. There was the smart choice to finally leave Route 95 behind after about 5 hours of 5-MPH plugging along, and then there was the 30 minutes spent digging Tink out of a snowbank at a Chevron station in Quantico, where a miracle occurred in the form of 5 Good Samaritans who appeared just as it seemed we were well and truly stuck to dig us out and give us the shove needed to get us, once again, on our way. Sometimes what you need is the kindness of strangers, even if you can't always rely on it.

With snow-caked boots and freezing cold hands, we climbed back in our trusty little car and headed into the last 22-mile leg of the journey just as the sun was going down. Only 22 miles. Only 22. On a road, unfortunately, that hadn’t seen a snowplow in at least 2 hours. It was clear there HAD been a plow by at some point, as the mounds of snow in the shoulders was a good 2 feet tall (and which were truly the only viable road marker at far too many points along the way), but in general there were 5-6 inches of humped and hillocked snow to drive through/over/around. After such a long day of hard travel, those 22 miles ahead loomed large. After about 40 minutes of truly difficult driving, there was brief talk of turning around and spending another night on the road at a hotel we’d passed. But no, once again we decided to press on.

Dusk came, taking with it the shadows that demarcaded where the best-traveling could be had between the snow humps. Every so often there’d be a break in traffic and we’d swing around a slow-moving car, taking up the lead and making progress at a breathtaking 25 miles an hour. I began praying for safety as dusk turned to dark. I know I was clenching my hands together so hard my fingers were cramping. Fear became a very real passenger on that dark snowy road with who-knows-what just over the spindly guardrails.

And then, about 6 miles from Mom’s, a distant twinkling of lights. Was that an actual snowplow? No, it was not. That twinkle was in fact THREE plows. Three gorgeous plows, scraping the road nearly clean. Three beautiful plows, making the last part of our nightmare journey just a little more tolerable. Three stunning plows, easing us safely into home base. A prayer answered? I should think so. They peeled off right at the entrance to Mom’s development, and after that point we only had to negotiate one super-slippery hill, tires a-spinning, to get onto their street.

Who cared that Biff and I and my stepdad had to shovel about 2 feet of snow off the driveway to get Tink a place to spend the night? Not me. (It should be noted that I didn’t do much shoveling, as my stepfather shooed my inside pretty fast) Released from the confines of Tink, released from the fear and worry, I would have shoveled 3 driveways in thankfulness.


Final snowfall total at Mom’s? 26 inches. All of which we drove through. Every single stinkin’ last bit of that trip was, in some way, covered by the super-storm that shut down entire cities and delivered the largest one-day snowfall total in over 70 YEARS on the DC area. Oh, you might say it was a stupid thing to do, all that driving in that kind of weather, and you're probably right, but it makes for a pretty good story that, fortunately, has a happy ending.

The fact that our neck of the woods in NC got NOT A FLAKE will not be expanded upon here. Nope. We courageously risked out necks for family, and thus will have something MAJOR to lord over them for years and years to come. And that, my friends, makes this treacherous story have an even happier ending. Nothing like a good lording-over to make the next family gathering that much more festive.

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