I just had an awesome vacation driving across the country and exploring the city of Asheville. I was planning to tell you about the relaxing vacation I spent in the mountains and how I discovered beer-amisu.
That’s not the blog post you’ll read today.
Why? Because my meandering trip ended with Blizzard 2016.
I should’ve listened to my waiter Thursday morning at breakfast. “A big snowstorm is coming tomorrow. It’s supposed to be very dangerous.”
I groaned, but shrugged it off. My Midwestern status makes me an expert at driving through snow, so I could handle a few inches. Plus, I didn’t want to leave a day early and give up my rather expensive room at the resort.
But he was right. I woke up very early to snow coming down so hard that I barely could see the trees just outside my window.
Did I stay put? Of course not. I wanted to get home and not spend more money. So once the fog lifted and the snow came down at a feathering pace, I hit the road.
Well, not quite. It was quite a surreal experience driving on an abandoned (but not closed) expressway with 6 inches of fresh snow. It was then I was thankful I bought new tires before this trip.
It was slippery, but there were tire tracks and I drove slowly behind the plow truck for miles out of North Carolina. Once I hit Tennessee, it only came down as rain.
And the Smokies are beautiful this time of year.
I might just make it, I foolishly thought.
Once I hit Kentucky, it was snow again. Gripping the steering wheel, I had to fight staying in my lane and curse the cars that almost fishtailed into me.
About fifty miles south of Lexington, traffic slowed down significantly until it stopped. I figured there was an accident ahead and that traffic would roll slowly along.
1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours passed.
Now I was starting to worry. The sky was blushing with sunset as the snow continued to pour down. A foot of snow on the expressway surrounded me—and we still haven’t moved.
By the fourth hour I ate my sandwich and called my parents to find out what was going on. Turns out the expressway had been closed for hours because trucks were slipping down the hills. I was stuck.
Oh, and I really had to pee.
I could see a turnaround lane 100 feet behind me. I had debated for hours if I should do it. And at the fifth hour, I mustered the courage to turn my car around on the expressway (praying I wouldn’t get stuck) and drive down the emergency lane to safety.
Except that a semi was blocking the entrance to the turnaround lane.
I miraculously found a spot to “park” my car. People were walking back from the semi, so I rolled my window down.
“Why is he blocking the turnaround?” I asked.
“He didn’t mean to,” one of them says. “He’s trying to back up now so that we can leave.”
“I really have to pee,” I confessed.
“What’s stopping you?” Then they walked a mile up the expressway back to their car.
I sighed, turned on my emergency lights, opened the door, pulled down my pants and like a champ peed on the expressway.
In midstream, blue and red lights blinded my eyes. That’s right: My bare bum was lit up by a police car driving towards me.
Oh no, I thought. I’m in big trouble.
I got back in the car as if nothing happened and rolled down my window.
“We’re going to get you off the expressway,” he says. “You’ll be the first car to leave.”
“Really?” I started sobbing. Like a five-year-old who just found her parents after being lost for an hour in the mall. And I rarely cry.
That poor police officer must have thought I was a crazy lady who pees in public and sobs on a dime. And it didn’t help that I needed five minutes for him to explain how I was going to turn around to get to the southbound side.
But I made it. Yet that’s not the end of this story.
After an emergency vehicle escorted me to a small town called London, I pulled in to a motel parking lot.
“Do you have a room?”
“Nope,” he said. “And I called all the hotels at this exit. Not one room is open.”
I was stuck at this exit. I couldn’t drive further south or north to find a room. It was Exit 41 or bust.
“Can I sleep in your parking lot?” It wasn’t ideal, but I did have a winter sleeping bag, pillow, blanket and blowup mattress (just in case I ever wanted to sleep in my car…).
I wasn’t going to give up. He watched from the lobby window, his arms tightly crossed, to make sure I pulled out of his parking lot and left him.
I drove down the street. There were three hotels. I decided to try the last one down the road.
“Do you have a room?” I asked the woman behind the desk.
She shook her head.
I sighed. “Can I sleep in your parking lot?”
“Well,” she said. “I have one room but there’s no heat.”
“I’ll take it!”
As I signed my name on the dotted line, her phone rang. It was the couple who had just cancelled their room asking for it back.
“Sorry,” she said. “I just sold it.”
The parking lot was a foot of unplowed snow, so I shoveled myself a parking space (doesn’t everyone carry a shovel in their car?). My car lights shining into one of the rooms made a couple very unhappy with me, but it wasn’t like they were sleeping at 8PM.
I shivered myself to sleep that night wearing four layers and seven blankets on a very uncomfortable bed. But I was very grateful for the unpleasant experience.
I spent the entire next day in that hotel room. The expressway was still in rough shape, closing at the same spots where I was stuck. And I was too traumatized to go through it again. So I stayed in bed, watching TV and my breath warm up the cold air.
The happy ending is that I got home safely the following day with no driving hiccups and that I’m alive to tell the tale. I had a very bad experience, but I know many more who had to spend the night in their cars on a very cold night.
I normally don’t write about my experiences on this blog. But it’s experiences like these that put life into perspective on why I chose to write. Stories happen in my life so that I can retell them. Otherwise, what would I have to write?