Those of you following my blog from several years ago may remember my dramatic, traumatic entries about The Great Snow Nightmare (it’s so dramatic, it had to be written in three parts: 1, 2, and 3). Those of you on the East Coast have probably been hearing about this ironically-named Winter Storm, Pax, for several days (or even weeks) now. It’s already hit the South, and it’s coming toward me very quickly.
The snow is forecasted to start on Wednesday evening, growing worse overnight, and leaving sometime the following afternoon with a shroud of thick, white winter lying over the world. Most people I know are relishing in the possibility of a snow day (or, snow week, as it might turn out). I, however, have a meeting about 20 miles from my home, from 7 – 9 p.m. on Wednesday night. The meeting is not going to be cancelled, and as far as I can tell, since I am the minute-taker, I am a required attendee.
You can imagine, the thought of being stuck on the road again brought all kinds of repressed fears to the forefront. I keep thinking back to January 2011, when I was stuck in my car (creeping along the last 2 miles or so of a 20-mile journey) for about 13 hours. People were so freaked out by the snow that they were leaving their cars everywhere.
Growing up in New England, I like to think I can drive in snow. I didn’t get stuck, or skid, even once that cold, damp January night. But lots of other people did. They skidded. They got stuck. They abandoned their cars in the middle of major roadways. I can’t help thinking: what if the snow comes just a bit earlier than predicted? What if I have to face the prospect of finding somewhere to spend the night, or driving through hazards to get home?
A writer’s mind never sleeps—even when the writer is sleeping—so I decided to throw my nervous energy into preparations. I thought back to my January 2011 experience and wondered what would have made my night better. This time I have a smart phone, so if I get stuck, I can “live Tweet” my traumas. So, car charger—check. Last time, I had only a tin of mints. No water or food. So this morning I stuck a grocery bag of food in my car. Only the essentials, mind you: a gallon of water, a jar of peanut butter, some honey-roasted peanuts, and of course, chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
But last time, I wasn’t prepared to spend the night anywhere. So into my back seat I threw an overnight bag, full of all the things I might need for a normal overnight stay somewhere indoors—glasses, toiletries, pajamas, extra socks, extra clothes. But then I thought: what if I do get stuck, and I need to become some kind of Bear Grylls? Bear wouldn’t like a pair of fuzzy Halloween pajama bottoms, would he? So in went my running tights, long underwear, sweatpants, jeans, and waterproof pants. Hey, you never know what kind of snow it might be. Then my Sorrel boots, several pairs of thick socks, two pairs of skiing mittens, a metal snow shovel, a pocket knife, and a handful of glow sticks I bought in the Halloween clearance section of Walmart. I’m sure Bear could work wonders with such stuffs.
Then, of course, a sleeping bag, an extra blanket, an extra winter jacket, some trash bags (the last time I got stuck, people had plastic bags wrapped around their feet to keep out the water), some lighters, a few candles, a flashlight and a pack of batteries, and several books.
The books have nothing to do with survival. I just like to read, and if I get stuck somewhere miserable, I want to be sure I have something to do.
So, car now looking like I’m taking a family of six on a vacation or a camping trip somewhere, I was left to play the waiting game. Waiting to see what would start first—the meeting or the snow.
Remember, though, a writer’s brain never sleeps. And so here are some of the scenarios going through my head, based on what is packed in my car, while I await winter’s wrath.
Scenario 1: Thankful
I emerge from the meeting, and it has just started to snow. I drive home cautiously, but the roads have been well-treated, and the snow is barely sticking yet. I enjoy the winter ambiance and make it home safely and uneventfully. A trio of deer greet me as I pull into the garage. The power stays on all night.
Scenario 2: Mild Nightmare
I emerge from the meeting, finding the world already shrouded in an impenetrable layer of snow. I am forced to book a room at a local hotel, where I spend the money I earned at the meeting and spend the night tossing uncomfortably in an unfamiliar bed. But at least I have shelter and safety. And books. Lots of books.
Scenario 3: The Sequel
For some reason, everyone is still out on the road when I emerge from the meeting, probably panicking for last-minute groceries. The snow has started to fall and stick to the roads. There are so many cars that, as with the storm of 2011, the plows are not able to clear the roads. People freak out. They abandon their cars, creating obstacle after obstacle. I creep along, wondering if it would have been faster for me to just walk the 20 miles home. I arrive home at 3 a.m., unable to get over the freshly-plowed snow at the end of my driveway. I ram the car in as far as it will go and hope for the best. It was a long, boring, and frustrating night, and it doesn’t even make that great of a story! Just as I make it to bed, the power goes out.
Scenario 4: Deus ex Machina
I emerge from the meeting and realize it was all a dream. It’s actually May, and the spring peepers are peeping. There is the fresh scent of greenery in the air—the scent of flowers and life and growth. The stars wink at me, and winter is just a glimpse in my rear-view mirror. Summer awaits.
Hopefully this delusion is not the result of me skidding into a tree and hitting my head too hard!
Scenario 5: Bear Grylls
I start out for home, determined to make it despite the strong scent of the cherry Yankee Candle packed in my overnight bag. But along the way, the snow has thrown up treacherous obstacles. Cars are stranded in ditches. The road is slippery and barely passable. I follow a plow for as far as it is going, but it turns off the main road with 12 miles still for me to travel. I make it as far as I can, but the snow rises above my wheels. I am unable to pass. My car finally becomes stranded. I try to call for help, but no help is available for several hours, until the road becomes passable. I think about every horror movie I know and wonder whether it would be safer to stay in the car, or trek for home on foot. I see a solitary figure pass by on foot, hood obscuring its face, but I’m too scared to roll down the window. Perhaps it’s a serial killer. Better to be alone than with a killer. So I sit still until the figure passes.
Then I make my decision.
Like Bear Grylls taught me, I leave a message, tearing the blank front page from one of my books. Remember, this is a real emergency here—the book will understand! I leave a message, citing the direction I’m going and promising that I’ll be back for my car.
I empty my backpack of its work supplies and outfit it with the essentials: my two lighters (wrapped in plastic zip bags), my two candles, my flashlight, some extra clothes, my gallon of water, some peanut butter, and my peanuts. I stuff in more warm clothes., but I take them out and fill the extra space with chocolate. Because—well, chocolate!
No one is around, so I use the back seat as a changing area. I change out of my meeting attire. I layer up, just like they say to do. Running tights, then long underwear, then jeans. A few shirts, a sweatshirt, and my triple-layer jacket. One set of ski-mittens clipped to the jacket, the other set stuffed in the pockets. Scarf and dignified winter hat. Scratch that. Bright yellow hat with dog ears. Easier to see in a rescue situation.
But then what? What for a weapon? Bear Grylls would not venture into the unknown without some method of defense—especially if he just saw a serial killer go by!
What would I use for a weapon? I have my pocket knife. I forgot to pack duct tape, so I find some medical tape in my First Aid kit. I use it to strap the knife to the edge of the snow shovel. I feel at one with my inner hunter-gatherer. But what if a plow comes by and knocks me into the woods? How will a plow see me in such a snow squall? A snow-shovel-spear is no match for a snow plow beast.
I dig out my glow sticks from Halloween. There are two green ones and three blue. I light four of them, sticking them into my backpack. I am Val the Glowing Hunter, dog hat on my head like some Neanderthal tribesman. My body is thick with furs–er, jackets. I don my heavy boots.
And the trek begins.
I trudge through the snow, sweating in my layers but glad for the protection from the elements. I jog to the extent my boots will let me. There is no light, but the whiteness of the snow reflects upon everything. I take out a flashlight, using it every now and again to light the path. The snow is covering everything, making potholes difficult to spot, and I snag my foot. A plow scrapes along in the distance, but near me there is nothing. No man, no beast, no machine.
I follow the road, but somehow the snow drifts, and the yellow tape at the center of the road disappears. The wind picks up, and the snow blinds me. I stumble around, continuing my trek until the snow clears. I find myself in the woods. The highway is nowhere to be found, and now everything is snow storm silent. I stumble through the trees, and a sleeping deer jumps up from its bed at my approach. I have no idea where I am or what direction I’m heading in. I take out my phone to make a call, but there is no reception. I plod along, raising my snow-shovel spear menacingly at the animals that are seeking shelter in the woods.
The modern human in me tells the Neanderthal that I should have stayed in the car, and I convince myself to backtrack. But my footsteps have been washed away by the winter wind. It’s no use. Neanderthal Val pulls her dog-eared hat tighter over her brow and summons all the Bear Grylls knowledge from her brain.
I seek shelter under a pine tree, using my knife-shovel to clear the snow and cut some of the lower branches, laying them on the ground like a bed. I am wearing so many layers that I cannot feel the cold. The snow has made the wood too wet for a fire, but–by goodness–I have my cherry Yankee Candle. I curl up on my pine-branch bed and light the candle. The chocolate in my bag is cold, but it melts in my mouth. I’m thirsty, but the water is all the way at the bottom of my backpack. Neanderthals find zippers tedious, so I eat a handful of snow instead.
I feel like I should be chanting some type of primitive invocation to the snow gods, but I don’t know any, so I recite the first few lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English, the ones I had to memorize for that college course a decade ago. I’m still chanting those lines when they find me the next morning. I’m taken to the hospital just for caution’s sake. When they find my car, it has been broken into, and my netbook, which contains the minutes from the meeting I attended, is gone, rendering the entire night completely pointless. I’m still reciting Chaucer, and wearing the hat with the dog ears, when they take me in for counseling and advise my husband to take me somewhere very, very tropical–very, very soon.
Reality ended up combining most of the options above. The meeting lasted longer than I expected, and the roads were starting to grow thick with snow. There were, in fact, lots of people out in town, crazily going for last-minute groceries. But when I got to the highway, it was largely abandoned. Several people who didn’t know how to drive in the snow were plodding along very, VERY slowly, and I passed them very, very carefully, knowing that time was the enemy here, not snow, as the longer I was out, the heavier the snow would start to fall. The only thing Neanderthal Val did was wear the silly hat with the dog ears–until the white-knuckles got to be too much and she got hot. As for the option about the spring peepers… that happened, too. Only, it was just in my head.
I’m thankful to be home safely, and I have to give a shout-out to my dad for teaching me how to drive in the snow. Growing up in New England, he made me drive around and skid intentionally so that I’d know how to control a car in such conditions when I actually had to.