Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Long, Long Road Home

Dec 10th & 11th- Days 4 & 5

I woke up at 10 AM, perfect timing to get ready for the ride home. I sat in bed for a while and wrote out a postcard to my friend, Leah, as I tried to shake the post-sleep cobwebs from my brain.

We watched the weather reports and things didn't look great. After some debating, we decided to just get out as soon as possible and try to beat the worst of it.

Like a well oiled machine, we were packed, bundled, ready, and on the road at 11:45 AM.

As we rode the freeway out of Toronto, we hit a little bit of snow, but nothing of any real consequence. The wind gusts were the worst part of it.

Back on Day 1 of this trip, I wrote "As we approached Buffalo, the weather got bad. Real bad."
In hindsight, that was but a flurry.

When we hit Niagara, we were hit with whiteouts. I've driven through some heavy snowfall, but I've never seen anything like this. In a matter of seconds, everything beyond the windows would vanish, swallowed by pure white. It was disorienting and actually pretty scary.

WALL-E tries to see through the snow

We pushed on, crossed the border, and made it to Buffalo...where things got even worse.

The whiteouts were more frequent and the road conditions became far worse. The three lane highway became a two lane parking lot as the already slow moving traffic came to a complete stop.

At times, we would go for well over an hour without moving so much as a single inch.

When we would finally start moving, speeds would rarely reach 15 mph, but never higher than that.

My overpriced iPod adapter didn't even get used, as we wanted to keep listening to local radio to hear what was going on.

Eventually, all daylight was gone and we were still stuck on 90 West in the same awful conditions. In the dark.

Our plan became to make it to the Angola rest stop for a break and then decide if we should keep driving or hang there until sunrise.

Upon arrival it didn't even look like the rest stop was open. The entire parking lot was buried under several inches of snow.
Eventually, we saw people go in, so we at least knew it was open, but there was no possible way for my wheelchair to get through all that snow and get inside. Luckily, the guy who was plowing the parking lot was extremely helpful and cleared a path right up to the door for me. He even cleared a parking space near the door for us and made sure we got inside.
I can't thank him enough.

The drive from Toronto to Angola should have taken us about 2 hours. It took us 8.

Once inside, we made our way to Denny's, got some food, and tried to figure out what to do.

We made a couple calls and checked online, it seemed that if we could make it past Erie, PA, we'd be in the clear. Our decision was made for us by a phone call to the restaurant, informing them that the freeway had just been closed.
We were spending the night.

Our awesome waitress, Elke, was really helpful and nice throughout the night. I set up shop with my laptop to pass the time and keep tabs on the weather situation.

There were about a half dozen other travelers spending the night there. Some had pulled into the parking lot and gotten their car stuck in a snow drift, so they just left it and came inside. Later, a few semis pulled in, also got stuck in drifts, and ended up completely boxing the car in.

It was such an odd scenario and, honestly, kind of creepy.
Sometime during the night, Mom and I went to see how the road looked from the windows in McDonald's. It seemed so bizarre to see people sleeping in every booth inside the place.
I felt like I was in a zombie movie. We were a band of survivors holed up in a secure facility, waiting to hear something from the outside, trying to decide if we should stay put or try to make a break for it.

Mom managed to doze off for a few minutes throughout the night, but I was way too wired to sleep.

Eventually, the sky started to lighten as the sun unsuccessfully tried to peek through the clouds. We ordered small breakfasts before Elke went home and resumed our stay-or-go debate.
Neither of us wanted to spend another night in a rest stop Denny's, but every time the freeway reopened, it closed again within minutes.
We decided to get off of 90 and push for home via Route 20.

We set out again at 9:30 AM.
It was still bad, but at least we had daylight on our side.

For hours, all we saw were vast snow-covered grape fields and tiny towns, each one looking exactly like the last. Winds would come sweeping across the fields, picking up snow from the ground and repeatedly slamming us with whiteouts as we crawled down the long, boring road.

We were moving slowly, but I was just happy to be moving at all. We would occasionally come to a halt, but none like the day before.

WALL-E just wants to go home

I had been up for a full 24 hours. That, combined with the bland scenery, the hum of the engine, and the whoosh of the defrosters, would get the best of me as I found myself randomly falling asleep for seconds at a time.

Mom caught me dozing

We finally crossed into Pennsylvania just shy of 11 AM.

There was a whole convoy of us headed west on 20. It must have been quite a site for the locals, seeing this endless line of big rigs and other assorted freeway refugees slowly filing through their rural towns.

Our convoy

Bort! Bort!

Somewhere near Wesleyville, we hit another dead stop. A long one. About a mile or so ahead of us, a semi tried to get up a hill (a very small hill) and failed. This blocked traffic for over an hour.
We were losing daylight fast and started to discuss whether or not we should just find a hotel and try again the next day. We were tired, stressed, and all we wanted was to be home. So we pushed on.

It was completely dark by the time we reached Girard. That's when my uncles started calling, worried and urging us to get a room somewhere. But we were determined.

We were finally in familiar territory once we reached a snow covered Conneaut. Just an hour from home if 90 was clear. We decided to try it.
And it was clear.

Mom and I spent the final hour of the long drive talking to keep each other awake.

We got home at 7 PM on Friday night. 10 hours since we last had anything to eat or drink (or had access to a bathroom). Roughly 30 hours since we left the hotel on what should have been a 5 to 6 hour drive.

We were home.

We came inside and quickly ordered pizza and started guzzling whatever liquids we could find.

We were home.

It was a long and sometimes scary vacation. Most things that could have gone wrong did. It was chaotic...but I had fun. It was worth it.
I will give it some more thought next time I consider traveling during the winter months, though.

PS- Here's the weather we came home to.

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