Harrowing journeys can teach you a lot about happiness, your dream journey and what is important in life. This week, I’ve decided to share with you a story from 2011 where I found myself in the middle of a blizzard while driving to see my parents and what this experience taught me about life and love.
Surviving a blizzard
White-knuckled, I gripped the steering wheel tight, praying aloud to calm myself down. There seemed to be no end in sight to the blinding snow, whirling at the car in psychedelic patterns, big fat flakes swirling at me fast, and the road slippery beneath me.
It felt like I was ice-skating in flip-flops, except on the highway, and while ensconced in a few thousands pounds of metal, with other cars all around me, all of us creeping along at anywhere from two to twenty miles per hour. The car just kept sliding.
I was at the highest altitude on the Massachusetts Turnpike at 1,724 feet up, which is also the highest elevation on I-90 until you get to Oacoma, South Dakota. And I was caught in the record-setting Halloween Blizzard of 2011, which dumped 32 inches of snow on the nearby town of Peru, MA, population 900.
Get Me Off This Road!
I knew that there was a highway rest-stop coming up in Blandford, MA, about 16 miles away. What should have taken me 15 minutes, at my usual 70 mile-per-hour highway pace, took two hours.
I was just happy to still be on the road. I was happy not to be off in a ditch, like other cars I’d seen stranded along the way.
Of course, I’d had a large bottle of water and a coffee earlier on the drive. I started lamenting my gender, when men hopped out of their cars, and left their mark in the snow. Sometimes the traffic literally came to a complete stop, so they could do that.
I had also been meaning to buy snow tires, since my mom had already offered to get them for me for Christmas. I just hadn’t taken care of it quite yet because, shockingly enough, I wasn’t expecting snow before Halloween. Crazy me.
When the Blandford rest-stop “2 MILES AWAY” sign came into view on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I was ready to sing hallelujah! I put the mile ticker on and talked myself down.
“Only two miles to go, sweetheart. You can do it.” Creeping along at a few miles an hour, it might take a while, but I knew I’d get there.
All Hail Those Golden Arches!
I have never been so happy to see a McDonald’s sign off in the distance in my life (this coming from someone who eats a mostly vegan diet and who has boycotted McDonald’s, on principle, for 10+ years since reading Fast Food Nation).
The last two miles did indeed take about 20 minutes, but they were sweet minutes, or let’s say at least bearable minutes, knowing that a place to park my car, a restroom and a safe haven were fast approaching.
Miraculously, I did not slide off the roads in my virtually traction-free tires. Miraculously, I made it off the exit ramp and found a parking spot.
It was a fast dash into the rest-stop, that is for sure.
As Darkness Falls
At that point it was 7-ish in the evening, and I had left my house in Troy, New York at about 2:30 p.m. I would normally have been all the way to my parents’ house in Western Massachusetts by around 4 p.m., but this time, I still had close to another 30 miles to go.
And I was so not up for driving anymore. I don’t know about you, but for me, driving on icy, snowy roads at high elevations with sucky tires is not my favorite sport. Especially in the dark.
I was, of course, in good company with many other drivers stranded. The fast-food restaurant, McDonald’s was jammed.
I was not hungry enough to bring myself to break the boycott and eat at McDonald’s after a decade. Luckily, there was also a convenience store attached to the McDonald’s at the rest-stop. I managed to piece together a meal consisting of a protein bar, apple and spicy V8 juice. Hardly gourmet, but it would keep me satiated.
Spending The Night
Originally my game plan was basically to camp out there at McDonald’s overnight. There were booths, and I figured I could lie down and cover myself with my cushy winter coat.
In the morning, when the roads had been plowed and salted sufficiently to grant me safe passage, I’d get back on the roads. I’d had enough of the white-knuckled driving for one night. I was done.
You may be wondering at this point why on earth I was silly enough to drive straight into the heart of a winter storm, especially considering that I was driving through the highest elevation in the Berkshires. That would be an appropriate thing to wonder.
Of course, I did not intend to get caught in a blizzard. And although I do not watch television or listen to the radio much, and therefore can be oblivious to what is happening in the world sometimes, I’d been warned.
My mom had called me that morning to be sure I’d heard about the coming storm. My intention was to drive to my parents’ house in Western Massachusetts to be home for dinner that night.
My mom had planned a going away dinner for my sister, Carrie, her husband, Pablo and my adorable niece and nephew. They had been staying in Massachusetts for a few months, and they were about to head to Hawaii for the winter.
Knowing the storm was coming, I might have still skipped the dinner, since I already had plans to be in town later in the week. But then I found out that my other sister, Margaret, had spontaneously appeared on my parents’ doorstep that morning. She and her boyfriend, Nick, had driven 48 hours straight from Missoula, Montana to get to my parents’ house in time for the dinner.
Surely, I could drive an hour and fifteen minutes! I decided to go, and left Troy as soon as I completed all that I needed to do for the day.
I figured I’d be OK, since the storm was not supposed to start until 4 or so, which would be after I arrived at my parents’ house. Instead, the snow came early, and I had my on-road adventure.
I really would have been OK with sleeping at McDonald’s if need be. The roads were just too treacherous, in my view, considering the condition of my tires, which I’d discovered the hard way was not good.
I do not like to put myself under extreme high-stress conditions unless absolutely necessary; I prefer to be reasonably calm, happy and peaceful most of the time. It feels better.
I figured that sleeping at McDonald’s would be less stressful for me than driving in the dark on the snowy, icy roads while the blizzard was still raging. Also I had my Kindle, and was camped out reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet. I could keep myself entertained for a while.
Of course, my fellow stranded drivers all had stories to tell, and we swapped our tales of woe and near-misses, and kibbutzed about where we were supposed to be, if we hadn’t been camped out here at Mickey D’s.
The Rescue Team
This blog post would have been about what it was like to spend the night at McDonald’s, if it had not been for my father.
Blandford is about 30 miles from Longmeadow, MA, where my parents live. I called and told everyone that I would just stay at McDonald’s until I felt safe enough to drive again, which I figured would likely be in the a.m.
My dad wouldn’t have it. He said he would finish his dinner and then drive out to get me.
I tried to talk him out of it, because it meant subjecting himself to the driving snow, and possibly putting himself in harm’s way. He wouldn’t hear it.
My dad is constituted to be a hero, and he certainly proved himself to be mine that night.
He and my brother, Michael, hopped in my dad’s SUV after dinner and got on the road. It would take them over one hour to get to me, versus the usual 30 minutes.
By the time they arrived, we had to dig my car out, since I’d been at the rest-stop for three hours as the snow continued to fall. Michael went inside the rest-stop and got the workers to loan him a snow-shovel. I could have kissed my brother, and my dad, and the handsome Northeastern University paintball team member who insisted on helping us dig out.
I wish I could say that was the end of the ordeal. But literally as soon as my father and brother parked and headed inside, a truck pulled up behind our cars that were parked next to each other. Attached to the truck was a trailer, transporting catamarans which had to be at least 20 feet long.
And, he promptly got stuck right smack behind us.
Luckily, there were a few feet of space between his truck and our cars, so my brother and dad managed to ease the cars out and back up past the catamarans, since there was a van stuck in the snow ahead of us. Wild times.
Now That’s Love!
My dad has high blood pressure, and he was stressed. I was worried about him. But we were almost home. My brother drove my car, so I wouldn’t have to, making him my other hero of the night.
At 11:30 at night, nine hours after I left my house in Troy, New York for a simple trip that normally takes 75 minutes, we pulled into my parents’ driveway.
All up and down their street, trees were down, knocked over by the weight of the snow on the branches. Power lines were down, draped across the middle of the street. And the electricity was, obviously, out.
The dinner party took place by candlelight. A kind neighbor had dropped off a lantern as well.
Everyone was in high spirits when we arrived. The kids were in bed, as was my older brother, Shanti, but my other three siblings and I stayed up and visited for another two hours, laughing and catching up.
We all agreed it was a memorable family evening.
Our little ordeal was not quite over, since we basically had to pray that my car and my brother Shanti’s car, both of which were stuck in the snow at the end of my parents’ driveway, would not be crushed during the night by the neighbor’s tree, which was weighted down by snow and bending ominously close to our cars.
Thankfully, the cars survived the night, with branches littered all around them, but bodies intact. However, four days after the storm, my parents’ and another 100,000 or so of their neighbors in the region are still without power.
The good news is that this meant that my family built a fire in the fireplace in my parents’ living room, which we haven’t done in years, and gathered around it to visit. No one watched TV, since there was no power. We just got toasty near the fire, watched my niece and nephew play and dance by firelight, and enjoyed each other’s company.
Natural disasters seem to always remind us what matters most. Turns out, my family can live without heat or electricity. What matters most is the love we have for each other.
Surviving a blizzard reminded me that:
1. Nothing matters more than love.
Possessions are replaceable, homes are replaceable, cars are replaceable. People are not.
2. I am loved.
I still cannot believe my father and brother braved the storm to come get me. Who is the luckiest girl in the world, indeed?
3. Most families could benefit from some time “unplugged.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you get yourself caught in a blizzard. But it’s wonderful to spend time with people we love, without the distractions of television or laptops.
4. Life’s greatest gift is to be unconditionally loved.
I truly believe this. And it was reinforced for me this weekend. To be surrounded by people who love you, as you are, who are there when you need them most and love you even at your worst, is the best.
Surviving a blizzard is a lot like surviving your dream journey. There will be times that you need to “white-knuckle” through a problem, ask for help, recognize what is important, accept the good that appears (however it appears), take the time to rest and to reflect on your dream journey.
Lisa Powell Graham
Find your way to happiness.