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Bet that subject line sparked your interest didn't it? Well it gets better. I'd have to say, in the hundreds of cross country trips I've taken in the past 23 years, this trip had to be the worst for driving conditions. I left the morning of December 23. Right off the bat we knew about the big snowstorm in the midwest. We are in West Central Illinois and we didn't get any of it but we were watching the Weather Channel. By the time I was ready to go, we knew I-64 had been shut down. That sucked because that was part of my main route. So the plan changed to driving down to Southern Illinois and picking up I-57 at Vandalia and taking that down to Memphis, picking up I-40 and taking that all the way to the NC coast where my folks live. Be it known that I usually stay the first night in Lexington, NC with my good friend Brent Jarrett. From the farm to there is 13 hours. It's another 4 out to the folk's place so I usually drive like hell to get to Brent's. Spend the night and go the next day. It's not out of the question to do the whole trip straight through but you run the risk of getting very tired while driving through some heavy traffic areas and it's better just to not chance it. With the change of routes, even making it to Brent's was looking like a slim chance. So around DuQuon, I called Deb and told her to let Brent know I might not make it in.

Southern Illinois was socked in. The storm had blown through, dumping in excess of two feet of snow which had not been cleared yet. The further south I went, the worse it got. I stopped in a truck stop and the truckers were talking about how the state was thinking about closing I-57. Let me tell you how the roads were. Early on, plows had gone through and piled snow up 3-4 feet tall on the roadsides. Then more snow fell and that did not get cleared. People drove over it and packed it down. There were hidden hard spots of ice under the snow which could suddenly throw you into the adjacent lane. It was white knuckle time the whole way. Like a bumpy bobsled track. There was no way even to see the lines on the road. At times the top speed was 25. Most of the time it was less than 5 mph. If you had an automatic transmission, you just took your foot off the gas and brakes and coasted basically. At one point, I went 10 miles in 4 hours. So when I got down to the merge with I-24, I made a command decision to go down through Paducah, KY and head on to Nashville to pick up I-40. The only other choice was to backtrack up to St. Louis and take I-44 down to OK and get on I-40 that way. Or go way down south and come back up through SC which I almost considered.

The decision to take I-24 was not one of my better ones as they were alternately closing and opening it as well. But 10 miles down the road, I was pretty much committed. It was now early evening and dark. The bobsled track persisted and it was all everyone could do in the bumper to bumper traffic to maintain enough distance not to hit each other. A fog settled in and visibility got really bad. I stayed in the right lane to keep the option to take an exit now and then. Right around Paducah, the roads had been very well cleared and I think people got over confident that it was all over. Everyone was going normal highway speeds. I pulled off and filled my tank and got a sandwich, then got back on the road. 10 miles past there, the roads go bad again if not worse than they were before. Traffic was crawling once more. I started taking every exit to try and find a hotel but every hotel (I checked 35 hotels, motels, flop houses you name it) was full up. At one exit, a Holiday Inn Express was selling floor space in the lobby for $5 a night. They supplied a blanket and pillow and you could just crash. I called Deb and told her the next exit I was either going to offer some hotel $200 for a room or pull up in a parking lot, leave the engine running and just crash. I never got that option.

It was after midnight. The wind was blowing and the mean temperature outside was 1 degree above zero when all the traffic came to a complete halt. I spent the next 5.5 hours of my life sitting in one spot on I-24 and never moved. The worst part was, in a traffic jam that backed up over 30 miles, no one really knew what was going on. After awhile people got out of their cars and walked around asking one another what was up. But even the truckers and people with CB's had only this faint notion that there was a wreck somewhere up ahead and emergency crews were working to clear it. I had a full tank of gas so Iwas not too worried but I did start thinking of all the people who were near empty or what if there was a medical emergency. Then I wondered about road rage and would people start to get in fights. Thankfully, everyone seemed to realize we were in this together and no one got out of hand. But people were very tired and stressed out as was I. I needed sleep but I didn't want to shut off the engine in that cold because who knew if their car might start again. So I adopted this plan of letting the car heat up and then shutting off the heat. I'd go to sleep and when the car cooled off, the cold would wake me and I'd turn the heat on again. That way I was getting about 30 minutes of sleep per hour and not falling into a deep sleep. About 4 am the quart of Gatorade I'd drunk earlier decided to put pressure on my bladder. Problem was, even if I did step outside there was nowhere to go. Snow had drifted high on the roadside and no woods were near. So the Gatorade bottle got filled back up. Once again I was glad not to be a female.

Sunrise came and finally, someone who had gotten out of their car earlier came walking back and tapping on people's cars telling them to wake up. Apparently traffic was starting to move again. I stopped him to ask what had happened. Here is where it gets stupid. Around midnight a tractor trailer hauling liquid chemicals had jack knifed and spilled part of it's tanks on the highway. So the State Police halted traffic a mile back from the accident and then directed the remaining cars in front of the barricade on through. They wanted the distance for the Hazmat teams to work. It took them 2.5 hours to clear the accident. The people behind the barricade could not see the accident at that point. After the wreck was cleared, someone was supposed to come back and clear the barricade and tell people they could continue. But there was some logistics SNAFU and no one did it. At that point people were falling asleep and so for another 2.5 hours we all just sat there with a clear highway ahead but no one moving. Finally a State Cop must have wondered why there was no traffic and came back to clear the barricades.

It was light now and traffic was moving at almost 10 mph most of the time. Then north of Nashville, things stopped again. This time only for 2 hours while a smaller wreck was cleared. Then later anotehr small one which took 1/2 hour to clear. So a sum total of 8 hours of my vacation was spent doing absolutely nothing. It did suck. Once we hit Nashville and got on I-40 going East, all traces of the storm that broughtthe midwest to it's knees vanished. An hour before I'd been lucky to go 8 mph and now I was cruising at 80 mph. Once inside the NC border I pulled into a rest area and slept for 3 hours. It was a balmy 42 degrees out and sunny. No one would guess the long hours of waiting we had all just endured. It took me anotehr 6 hours to make my folk's house so it was 10 minutes past midnight on Christmas Day when I got there. I was supposed to have been there the morning of Christmas Eve. I missed Midnight Mass which is a big present my brother and I give to our mother and that bummed me out but at least I was there for Christmas.

I have a theory on why this happened to me. This was Karmic payback for all the times I was doing 120 and slowed down just before a small town and only got ticketed for going 65. Or the time in Texas where by mere inches, I missed running over a State Trooper while I was going 75 mph on a back road. Or the time on the border of Oklahoma and Kansas where I was clocked doing 95 in a 55 by a moving State Trooper and an Eye in the Sky but they let me go if I would just get the hell out of their state. Orthe time living in Clinton, IL where I narrowly escaped our car being sucked up by a killer tornado and then spending the rest of the night chasing it. Or the day I drove through Louisianna and missed the devastaion of Hurricane Andrew by a few mere hours. Yeah, my luck had run out. Well one thing I can say, the slate is clean again and we can start all over.

My illustrated vacation to come later.

Peace,

Wander

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
lauramander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 11:19 am (UTC)
And it's been 70 degrees and gorgeous for the past several days...
wander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was like that the last two days I was there. It was 57 here when I got home. Although it's 36 here today and raining but still better than 2 above.

W
kittles
Jan. 3rd, 2005 11:21 am (UTC)
Wow, and I thought my flight home was bad. I do not envy you that trip. And it just underscores for me the importance of keeping cold weather gear in the vehicle at all times, and packing extra gasoline on longer trips. Glad you made it there safely in the end.
wander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yeah, I had enough layers with me that I could have hiked to the next town warmly. I even had my high altitude camp stove with me for heat if need be and cooking soup if not. I never leave unprepared on a trip.

W
ryl
Jan. 3rd, 2005 11:26 am (UTC)
At least you got to speed on 264, right? It's a state law that you speed on 264 unless it's deer season.

Damn, I thought my Adventures in Ice and Snow were bad. At least traffic was moving through both of those adventures.
wander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:11 pm (UTC)
I was going 85 on 264 so yeah, I met the state mandate for that.

W
crisis_averted
Jan. 3rd, 2005 11:33 am (UTC)
Ugh! I heard about all the crap weather between southern IL and Tenn. Sucks you had to go truckin' through it all.
wander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:24 pm (UTC)
At least I didn't get caught with the 300 people that got stranded on I-64 with no hope of rescue. Someone was smiling on me at least a little.

W
crisis_averted
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, that is for sure! How miserable that would have been!
fynne
Jan. 3rd, 2005 02:25 pm (UTC)
well said, I loved this entry :)
wander
Jan. 3rd, 2005 02:30 pm (UTC)
Hehe thanks. Bet you got to see a lion's share of that snow as well.

W
fynne
Jan. 3rd, 2005 02:33 pm (UTC)
oh yes, I loved it, but I did not have to drive very far ;0
9ahau
Jan. 4th, 2005 05:09 pm (UTC)
Isn't it nice to be back home again?
wander
Jan. 5th, 2005 07:53 am (UTC)
Yeah mostly. I could really do without midwestern winters but it's good not to have to worry about travelling conditions. I could easily take the 72 degree winter days on the beach again though. How was your trip?

W
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )