Let It Snow?
Here we are into the third week of January, and my ten-year-old son is already predicting there will be no “snow days” this school year. I tried to tell him that it doesn’t usually snow that much in this area before January or February, but he is convinced that I am wrong. His reasoning, of course, is attributed to the “Snowpocalypse of 2009” that dropped close to two feet of heavenly white precipitation on the Friday kicking off winter break.
Little did we know the sleepover would last for days (which worked out quite well for the boys) or that my husband, Dwayne, and hundreds of other drivers, would have to spend the night in their vehicles on US 29 South.
The snow started falling fast and furiously around 4:30pm -- accumulating much quicker than most people expected. Some folks tried to squeeze in last-minute grocery and holiday shopping on their way home from work and ended up stranded in town with friends or at a hotel. For those like my husband who were unable to head home early, the timing was just plain bad.
Dwayne called around 6pm to let us know he was on his way. Unlike me, he has never minded driving in the snow. In fact, for about 10 winters, he drove a Honda Civic through fog, sleet and snow over Afton Mountain on a regular basis. He approached the challenge with calm and clarity. Clearly, he had paid attention in Driver’s Ed. As long as other drivers didn’t get in the way, he’d get home just fine.
Around 7pm, Dwayne called again. He had been in stop-and-go traffic (mostly stopped) for the past hour – one in a line of vehicles stretched as far ahead and behind as he could see. At this point, he was about six miles south of Charlottesville. He told me he would call back when traffic broke free. A few hours later, he was still in the same spot. By this time, though, there were hundreds of vehicles lined up along the interstate.
I crashed on the couch and asked him to call every few hours to let me know how he was doing. Having camped with his family throughout his childhood, my husband had been well-trained to stock his vehicle with certain essential items. For example, he always travels with water, a flashlight, a map, paper towels, and a blanket. That morning, he knew it might snow so he made sure his tank was filled with gas and his cell phone was fully charged. He also packed an extra coat, a sleeping bag, a change of clothing, and an additional sandwich. Had it been me, I would have been lucky to remember my coat and gloves.
Every few hours we spoke by phone. He wasn’t cold -- just bored, cramped and restless. Like many of the other travelers, occasionally he would get out of his truck to stretch and walk around. All along the highway, the drivers checked in with one another. Everyone appeared to be safe with no sign of a sudden need for a doctor or midwife.
Then they waited… and waited -- sure that at some point a tow truck or an emergency vehicle of some sort would make its way through the long line of assorted cars, trucks and vans, allowing traffic to push forward. By daybreak, with no movement whatsoever, the drivers realized they would have to take matters into their own hands.
Due to the northbound lane being blocked far to the south, there had been no traffic on that side of the highway throughout the night except for a few snow plows. After several rounds of communication, it was decided they had to work together to find a way to give drivers an opportunity to head north back to Charlottesville. In order to do this, vehicles had to cross over to the other side of the highway.
Travelers who had no choice but to continue on to the south (many of them in tractor trailers) graciously pulled over just far enough to the side of the road to allow others to get by. Then -- inch-by-inch and backwards – drivers slowly began making their way toward the break in the median.
All night, Dwayne had been stuck just four miles from his turn-off. It was clear to him what he needed to do at this point if he wanted to get home. When it was finally his turn to cross the highway, he didn’t go north. He drove south in the northbound lane. Crazy as it sounded -- with over a foot of snow having already fallen – his hope was that there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of traffic on the road.
I can only imagine how Dwayne felt as he crept south on US 29 North, snow still falling, wondering if he would meet a semi head-on along the way. At each hill crest, he pulled as far to the right as he could, bracing himself for unwanted company. Fortunately, he was all alone on the journey to his turn-off. Once he made it onto the state road, he had only a few more miles to go…
Exactly one mile from home, his truck -- unable to make the last incline -- slid slow-motion into the ditch. From there, he was on foot.
How surreal his sleep-deprived evening on the highway and his snow-canopied, 11:00-in-the-morning walk home must have been. When we greeted him at the end of the driveway -- backpack across his shoulder, snow covering his face and beard -- he looked like a long-lost explorer. We whooped and hollered and cheered. It reminded me of the scene from “The Homecoming.”
Now as we roll into the second half of January, our son still partly wishes for a “snow day.” He’s conflicted, though, because he has two very distinct yet different memories of that white winter. One is of sledding, snowball fights, forts and four-day sleepovers. The other is of his father tromping wearily up the drive after spending the night on the road in a truck. His solution to the dilemma: enough snow to cancel school, but not enough to turn the highway into a hotel.
Photo by Shezamm