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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Christmas Snow Driving

I find long drives a bit theraputic; they allow me to relax, unwind and work through anything that’s been on my mind lately. Some drives, like those home to Minnesota, can be a bit on the long side and tiring too, but I don’t mind them so much. Well, I don’t mind them until I get stuck in a blizzard, which has happened the last few years during my holiday drive to or from Colorado.


Generally I celebrate an early Christmas with the family so my brother’s and sister’s families can do a Santa Christmas with their kids. By doing this my cowkers can have the holiday off to spend it with their famlies as I cover things at work. As we’re allowed our choice of Thanksgiving or Christmas off I tend to prefer this so I can do a big Thanksgiving feast and kick back with some football then and still do a Christmas celebration with my family later. It just hasn’t exactly been ideal as of late.


This year, as my upcoming excursion neared, the weather reports started to come in of a doosy of a snow storm that would hit Colorado and move on east towards the midwest. I knew that if I didn’t leave immediately on a Monday night after work that I wouldn’t be able to hit the road until at least Thursday. My original plan of driving straight through on Tuesday just wasn’t going to work. And with our family Christmas scheduled for that Saturday, along with other stuff that weekend, there was nothing to it but try to race the storm.


Yeah, unfortunately that idea didn’t work so well.


I hurried home after work, leaving early even, and threw everything in my trusty little Ford Focus and set out with all due haste. The drive on I-76 and I-80 was full of anticipation and nervousness with an indecision on when and where I should stop. I didn’t want to go too late, especially since I was losing an hour in a time change at North Platte, NE, but I didn’t want to stop too early either and risk getting caught in the storm the next morning.


I knew if I pushed it I could make Lincoln or Omaha, which is about an eight hour drive from Denver, but my eyelids were getting heavy and I needed to find a bed. Grand Island sounded like a good option, but instead I took the exit for Kearney (pronounced “Carney”), which is about an hour west of there, and got a room for the night. The Motel 6 clerk wasn’t impressed as I interrupted his quest for World of Warcraft domination in the process, but I needed a bed.

I was asleep the moment I turned off the lights, thankful as I had set an early alarm to get back on the freeway in a race against Mother Nature. Unforunately that wake up call just wasn’t early enough as I looked out on a snowy morning in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska. My room faced south, towards I-80, and I could see only one lane clear of snow on the highway. My car, which was buried just under my window, was covered in at least five inches of snow. I knew the day’s drive wasn’t going to be good, but with one lane moving along I figured I’d chance it.


This might not have been the wisest of all my ideas, but it seemed logical at the time as I had hoped I could ultimately get back ahead of the storm by driving faster than it. As I passed through Lincoln I knew there was no way this would happen. I phoned a friend in Minnesota for a weather report, checking to see if it were better to drive through Sioux City or Des Moines in Iowa, and I was told I’m pretty much screwed no matter which way I go; it’s just a matter of which way is going to suck less.


Sioux City turned out to be the better option and I head north on I-29, glad to be off the snow packed I-80 littered with cars in the ditches. The roads were still bad as I drove north, but not as bad as what I was on. And, as it turns out, I-80 got so bad that the Nebraska DOT pulled all plows off the roads until the storm passed. Yet, while they couldn’t make it behind their giant plow blades, my little Focus bravely marched on.


I have family just northeast of Sioux City so I chose this route not just because of the weather forecast but also because of the ability to stay with them in case I got stuck. I pushed on and made by way into Minnesota on Hwy 60 with a full mind to get as far as I could. The roads were a practical white out due to the blizzard, but I still believed that I could make it home. As I passed the little town of Heron Lake, MN I knew this wasn’t possible though and I had to find a place to stay and quick.


My next chance was the Windom. I had passed the homes of my relatives, but in hindsight I think that was probably good as many of them live on gravel roads. Had I attempted to make a run for it on one of them in a blizzard I believe I surely would’ve been lost or in a ditch in a place I’m not overly familiar with other than the area immediately around their homes. I would’ve loved to have stayed with them, but it just wasn’t safe in hindsight. Of course, it probably wasn’t safe either to drive the next day.


I crawled out of my hotel bed in the morning, loaded up my car, and was all set to pull out for the Twin Cities when I found myself with a dead car. The little guy just gave up and didn’t want to go on. I wasn’t going to be told no though and opted to call a company for a jump start. The tow truck driver grabbed my keys and told me I could stay in the hotel lobby, keeping warm, while he took care of it. Not two seconds later he popped his head back in the door and said that on second thought he would need my help as my car was frozen to the ground and he couldn’t push it back to the truck.


Yes, that’s right, -15F had frozen my car to the ground. So not only was it refusing to start but now it didn’t want to move either. It was doing everything to tell me no. The truck driver also did what he could to tell me no as he heard all plows were pulled off the roads in southwest Minnesota as everywhere that wasn’t shielded by buildings was caught in a ground blizzard. Despite my better judgement though, I moved on after a quick lunch and a smile to the towing company that told them I’d probably see them later.


The roads were some of the worst I’ve ever encountered. But, what was normally a full days drive had already turned into three and I didn’t want it to become a fourth or fifth as I sat in a nasty hotel room reading all day and watching television with nothing to eat but road snacks and pizza from the shop next door. So, I pushed on and smirked at the sign that told me, “strong winds possible” as I drove full on into a ground blizzard.

I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of my car. My hazzard lights flashed and I took it slow, taking comfort the whole while that the winds whipped the roads dry, realizing that this couldn’t last all the way to the Twin Cities. Sooner or later I had to get out of this, and would providing no one rearended me, so I pushed on. Ultimately, around Mankato, the road conditions cleared and I zipped on home with all due haste.


Later that night I tried starting my car again just to make sure the battery was fine; again the little guy said no thank you. The next morning I tried again, without luck, as did my father with his battery charger. We even called the AAA guy, but he had the same kind of luck. Only when threatened with a flat bed tow did it start, probably knowing in it’s infinite wisdom that it was going to a shop to be cared for and pampered.


My dad pulled it on into a local dealership for a look. Later in the day, when I went back to get it, the serviceman said with a disbelieving shrug that didn’t lie that he had seen nothing like it in his life. My engine was full of snow and they had to chip it off and suck it out of places they didn’t think it could get. My air filter was soaking wet and the box behind it was full of a powdery snow, which was probably the culprit in the starting problems, opposed to the battery. I had essentially tried to drown my car.


The mechanic appeared to be a seasoned veteran of Minnesota snow storms and the problems different cars complain about thanks to them. His face showed no lie when he told me he had seen nothing like this before. I normally would’ve brushed this off from someone elsewhere, even in Colorado, but not in MInnesota. This Minnesotan was truly impressed I made it all that way in those conditions, but also wasn’t sure why I did it in the first place. And I really had no answer other than I didn’t want to wait until Thursday. But yeah, it was Thursday now. Good call.


I think next time I’ll pay the baggage fees for the gifts and fly.


Merry Christmas everyone!

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