Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Day 1: The Ditch

Day One of the Great Vacation of 2010 was a driving day. It was also Christmas Eve. For the record, I don't recommend combining those two activities. Add in snow and ice and you get: A Ditch.

Yes, we started our vacation experience out with a minor car incident. We hit the road around 8:30 AM in St. Louis in the beginnings of a beautiful light snowfall. By the time we stopped for our first potty break in Mt. Vernon, IL, there was a blanket of snow covering everything, including the highway. About five minutes past the rest stop, we were fighting both slick roads and drivers-in-denial. That would be the other drivers on the road, the ones who were chanting "I disbelieve the snow" and continuing to drive at 70mph on unsalted roads while tailgating vehicles like ours. After the last attempt at changing lanes to allow another car to zip by us, our SUV fishtailed. We spun about 90 degrees each direction and ended up on the shoulder.

We were completely unharmed. People, vehicle, not a scratch on anything. But despite 4 wheel drive and several attempts at pushing the car (which freaked me out btw, I was terrified of running over my husband on the side of the road), we gave up. The rear passenger side tire was firmly entrenched in the mud beneath the snow. We were stuck.

My husband called a tow truck. I practiced deep breathing techniques that I'd thought I'd forgotten after my last attempt at childbirth 3.5 years ago. We had plenty of gas, snacks, and a variety of electronic devices to keep us occupied. The kids watched a movie. I mitigated my minor panic attack by posting photos of the ditch to Facebook. I love my smartphone.

Two hours later, our tow truck finally arrived, with tidings of the road. Not far behind us was an SUV that had rolled over, a jackknifed FedEx truck, and a jackknifed pickup towing a boat. I am grateful that all we got was stuck. We stayed snug and warm inside our car, and Trystan enjoyed watching the tow truck pull us slowly out of the ditch. We then drove about half a mile farther to the next exit, and watched our tow truck stop to pull another car off the exit ramp's shoulder.

The last photo was taken from inside the car as the tow truck arrived. Note the angle of the dashboard versus the angle of the horizon. Charlotte had a few complaints about being squished to one side of her seat for all that time.
After an overdue potty stop and lunch at the truck stop-McDonalds, we were back underway. By then, the snow had lightened considerably and a salt truck had passed by. But the snow and ice and freezing rain followed us all the way to Nashville, where we ate dinner. The last stretch to Atlanta was fairly dry, though our options for rest breaks dwindled as the holiday evening wore on and gas stations closed for the night.

We were theoretically traveling with my husband's parents and his sister's family. The six of them (four adults and two children) were driving together in my father-in-law's van, and had started the morning drive around the same time but 45 minutes farther east of us. They saw only a fraction of the snow and almost none of the freezing rain that followed us all morning, and arrived at our Atlanta-area hotel 3 hours or more before we did. They knew about our ditch adventure and had offered to turn around and help us, but that might well have ended with two vehicles stuck in the mud. We envied their phone reports of clear roads ahead that never cleared for us.

We had opened presents at home the day before we left, but our kids were still expecting a visit from Santa Claus. Their grandmother took them outside to sprinkle Reindeer Feed around in the grass, and we set the kids stockings out next to their (by then sound-asleep) cousins' stockings in Grandma and Grandpa's room, and we all hit the sack, completely exhausted and with numb rear ends.

P.S. In case you're wondering whether this saga gets better, it does. We did not spend the entire week in ditches, I swear :)

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