I lived in the Midwest most of my life. When I didn't live there, I lived in New England and now in the Pacific Northwest. I spent hours sledding at the old golf course next to our house, building snow forts, packing snowballs, and crunching through knee-deep, ice-covered drifts as a child. As an adult, I spent hours driving, wearing out I-80 and I-35 visiting family and friends (me visiting them...never the other way around any time but summer). I remember those trips all too well. Driving alone in my little cars, singing to the cassette tapes and later the compact discs that I played, listening to music that I selected for myself, driving to see people all alone. I felt like an aimed traveler risking my life at times along treacherous roadways arriving to lukewarm welcomes. When I arrived, my Midwestern co-citizens would ask, "How were the roads?" I would always reply, "Oh, they were fine."
If you don't know, when a Midwesterner (or pretty much anybody) tells you things are "fine," they are not fine. I spent a lot of days and nights driving along bad roads, following the headlights of the car in front of me, and praying to my guardian angels that I would arrive to my destination safely. One particular winter's drive I will never forget.
I had driven to my hometown in south central Iowa to visit my family. It was about a seven-hour drive from Kearney, Nebraska. It was mostly interstate the whole way. The drive there was long and mostly dry, although windy. If you don't know, winter is windy in central Nebraska. Not 40 miles per hour windy, but shake your house, rock your car at the light, push your body back when walking windy. The visit was mostly quiet and a typical holiday at home. The day I left the sky was grey, the air was cold, the ground was frigid. Nothing to be overly concerned about. I had checked the forecast the night before...a little light snow was on the way.
|Photo by Jeanette Harrison|
I packed my car early that morning to head back to Nebraska, cassette player, bags, and my trusty "teddy bear guardian angel" in the front seat. I had psyched myself up for the long drive. I had some hard candy to chew on while I drove to keep me preoccupied and alert. I headed out onto the winding, hilly country highway in central Iowa. I passed by houses whose occupants I used to know, and I made my way to the interstate to get back to the place I now called home. I was almost to the interstate when I saw the first snow flakes. I remember I was driving under a narrow bridge on highway 92. Funny how scenes are etched into your mind forever. "It's light snow," I told myself. I kept on driving.
By the time I hit the interstate in 15 minutes, I was driving in a full-on, old-fashioned Iowa blizzard. "It's not that bad," I consoled myself. "It will be okay." I kept driving convincing myself the closer I was to Omaha, the better the roads would be. I would rest at the truck stop in Avoca, and everything would be fine. It would be fine. Everything would be fine.
As I inched along in my little hatchback, cars, trucks, vans, and semi-trailers teetered on their side, lifted by the weight and softness of the snow simultaneously. I kept trudging along. I didn't have anywhere I could stop. I was alone. The trip from my family's home in south central Iowa to Avoca usually took about two to two and half hours. I drove four hours until I arrived at Avoca that day. As I pumped gas, other travelers and I gave each other championship looks, "We are doing it! We are surviving!" and silently begged each other to pray that we all arrived alive. I looked out over where the interstate was supposed to be, and I saw a sky of white and dotted cars along the roadside. I called my family. "Where are you?" They asked. I told them I was fine and heading home. It would be better once I got to Omaha.
I was out in that blizzard for another three hours that day before I reached Omaha, wishing, hoping, and praying every inch of the way. I didn't have a choice but to make it. What would I do if something happened to me? There was no one there to help me. I had to make it.
I was right. Once I reached Omaha, the snow had subsided and the roads were clearer. I was still three hours from home, but they would be an easy three hours. Interstate the whole way. Nothing to worry about. About five minutes outside of Lincoln, the winter rain hit my car. "It will be okay," I decided. "I've already been through the worst, and it's warm out here today." Within half an hour, the temperature dropped, and the wind, rain, and icy corrugated roads, pushed my car back and forth across lanes. "Please, God, let me get home."
More than four hours later, I turned onto the exit at Kearney, Nebraska, and drove by the familiar Ramada Inn. I breathed a sigh of relief when the university appeared on my left, and I turned right into my parking lot. I climbed out of the car, grabbed my guardian angel, my cassette player, and my holiday leftovers. I wobbled up the stairs to my second-floor apartment and rested my items on the floor. I put both of my hands on my door and hugged it. Then, I kissed the number "9" on my door. "Thank you, God!" I said out loud. I opened the door, walked in, and turned on the television. The weather reported a blizzard enveloping the Midwest, and the interstate had just been closed. Moments after I had arrived home. I called the hospital where I worked. They asked if I could maybe come in later. The emergency room was full of patients from interstate accidents, and patients were waiting to be life-flighted to Omaha. The hospital needed me to write the patients' reports so the waiting doctors could prepare in advance.
I was one of the lucky ones that day, and many other days. I typed and wrote reports many times about injured families in car accidents braving the winter roads who weren't so lucky. According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 1,300 are killed and 116,800 people are injured on winter roads. I was fortunate, more than once, not to be one of them. Still, with all of my winter weather travels, I learned a valuable lesson, don't mess with Mother Nature.