A Time of Fear

It was December 2010. I had just moved to Virginia from Arizona that past May. It was a cold month, but we were told not to worry about the snow; they rarely got anything more than a few inches. Little did I know that I would soon be experiencing the largest snowfall the area had seen in a very long time. That year, we decided to pay a visit to my grandfather in Pittsburg, PA. The trip there went smoothly, there was hardly any traffic and the weather seemed nice but cold. We got there and spent the day with him and around 3 or 4 o’clock, we started to head back to Roanoke, where we lived at the time. About 50 miles from home, we decided to fuel up the car before we got home so we wouldn’t have an empty tank when we got home. Twenty miles later, it had begun to snow and traffic slowed to a crawl. In front of us, a semi-truck stopped under an overpass to put on his snow chains. After he got them on, he discovered he had frozen to the ground and couldn’t move. Then a second semi pulled up beside the first and tried to do the same thing. Why he didn’t realize this was a bad idea, I’ll never know. But he did anyways, and much to everyone’s dismay, he succeeded in getting stuck as well. It was like he wanted everyone to have to wait; he couldn’t go anywhere so we shouldn’t either.

For a while, traffic came to a dead halt. Then, a 4×4 truck drove past the two semis in the right shoulder. We sat and watched to see if he could do it. He did and other 4×4 trucks followed suit. We waited for the snow to be compacted enough for our two wheel drive van to drive on. Just as we were to make our move and join the stream of cars, a semi came up behind the cars and decided he would try to get through like the much smaller trucks had done. It was a stupid move. As we sat and watched, he clipped the guard rail and slid into the second semi, effectively cutting off the one path we had. We were now officially stuck on the I-81 with no food, drink, and no way out. We weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The sad thing was that were only thirty miles from home. We all decided to catch some sleep while we waited. I promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke, 10 hours had passed and nothing had changed, except for the snow was still falling and getting deeper. I was silently praising God that we had filled up on gas a few miles hack, or we wouldn’t even have heat. At one point, an elderly couple in an RV came by and offered everyone coffee while we waited for the National Guard to come and clear up the mess. A semi driver (not from one of the stuck ones) came by and offered up food. We gladly took what we could, as we were all hungry and parched. After a brief snack, I fell asleep due to the never ending whiteness outside the car seemed very dull and unchanging. Another 5 hours later, I woke up again at a loud commotion. A 4×4 truck with a plow was coming through on the left shoulder from the other side of the semis. I’m sure that he was only passing through to check the condition of the backup and scout ahead for the larger city snowplows, but it was our sign to escape. My dad, after a small amount of coaxing from my mom, decided to jump out and get the guys from the other cars together to get the 4×4 trucks through on that side and compact the snow. They quickly set to work, pushing truck after truck through the shoulder. Finally, my dad came back and announced that we were going to make a run at the shoulder to try to get out. We lunged forward, wheels churning in the still falling snow. WE ever so slowly inched forward, making progress. Suddenly, we slipped. The road had ice under the snow and there was no way we were prepared for ice. I thought for sure were going to go over the edge of the shoulder and into the ditch. If that happened, I knew that there was no way we’re getting out without a tow truck. My dad fought for control of the van, handling it with expert precision. Finally, he steered away from the ice and we passed the semis. As we passed the semis, we saw the county snow plows headed our way. Right behind them was a huge tow truck for the semis. I later found out that the semis were charged almost $400 to be pulled 300 yards out of the way.

We were relieved; we had survived over 17 hours stuck on the freeway. In hindsight, it really wasn’t that bad; if it had there would have been rescue vehicles in the area really quick. But at the time, it was a terrifying adventure. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.


QR Code
QR Code a_time_of_fear (generated for current page)