I’m a pretty nervy guy, but two bad experiences driving in snow in one day were enough for me. The sun had set and being buried in a snow mound under the cover of dark was probably not the best way to spend my Spring Break, so I decided to call it a day.
Ignoring my own advice, I parked in a rest stop parking lot just outside of a tiny town somewhere in the middle of Wyoming (I figured the cops would have bigger issues to deal with). ‘Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming’ is as specific as I can get, because, really, even people who live in Wyoming don’t know where any towns in that state are.
I honestly passed a township sign that read, “Population: 6.” If that isn’t the sign to hell, I don’t know what is. Apparently, the only thing you need to be considered a town in Wyoming is a bar. There could be two married cousins and a toothless, diaper-wearing bag of blubber living in a barn that sells bootlegged bourbon and they’d have a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to Nowheresville!” Oh, Wyoming.
I slept, shivering in the back of my car. Or, at least, I eventually slept. My nerves were shattered and my body frozen even though I was wearing a sweatshirt, a sweater, my coat, jeans, two pairs of socks and my shoes, all wrapped in a blanket that I kept permanently in my backseat. Sleep didn’t come easily.
I turned to music to soothe my weary, frazzled mind. Sigur Ros’ untitled album (or ‘()’) got me through that night. Not as immediately beautiful or dramatic as most of their albums, this 8-song disc is probably the most overlooked album in their whole oeuvre, but it’s no overstatement to say that album’s calming tableau of gradually-building, atmospheric compositions saved my life. Running on two days worth of Sprite and granola bars, with a body wrecked by cold and long-hours of immobility followed by strenuous digging in snow, sleep was vital.
I woke up the next morning to a car surrounded by snow.
I dug myself out with the ice-scraper and my brittle hands and headed out. I still had a couple hours until Cheyenne. On my third day into the road trip, I held on to my belief that I could make it to Idaho, possibly even Washington, if I buckled down and just drove.
In reality, the blizzard that had hit me up north was actually just the uppermost tip of a storm that was having its way with Colorado and a good portion of southern Wyoming. Cheyenne, my mythical return to civilization, was, in fact, hit worse than anything I had already driven through.
But I didn’t know that yet.
I drove through a highway covered in snow. Heaps of snow, really. I have never seen anything like it: Two to three feet of snow on the highway. Leery of the likely possibility that I would get stuck, again, I managed to forge through it with a steady, deliberate pace.
When I finally reached a portion of the road that was mostly clear, I erroneously assumed that I had made it out of the thick of it.
After a few miles, I spotted a car stopped in the middle of the road. As I approached I realized there was a guy trying to push it. He and his friend were stuck on a swath of ice. I came to a stop about thirty feet back and hopped out to help. A few minutes of rocking the car back and forth and the gents were free. They drove off and I returned to my car to continue on my way.
Ah, not so fast.
Guess who had two thumbs and was stuck. And, of course, the two guys I had just helped out of a similar predicament were already long gone. Stranded, again.
I put forth a feeble attempt to break away the ice beneath my tires and free myself, but running on two days of Sprite, granola bars and minimal sleep had depleted my energy. I was resting in my car when I saw the police car drive up behind me.
Unlike the relatively understanding cop the day before, it was clear that this particular officer had no patience for the likely dozens of idiot drivers who had gotten themselves stranded on visibly impassable roads. Curtly, he asked me if I had a shovel, which of course I didn’t. He pulled one out of his trunk and went to town on the ice, furiously stabbing at it with the pointed edge of the shovel and, bit by bit, freeing my tires from their icy confinement. I felt pathetic not helping, but there was only one shovel and I was thoroughly worn out.
Every few minutes, I would attempt to drive free, and when that failed, he’d go back to attacking the ice.
As he did, a car approached. He put down the shovel and waved his arms frantically, trying to convey to the driver that they needed to stay back. Blissfully unaware, the driver came to a stop ten feet behind me. You can imagine, the already chipper officer only got in a better mood.
And then, a couple minutes later, a van approached. Again, the officer waved his arms. Again, the driver did not get the message, stopping a few feet behind the other car.
Now, thoroughly pissed with “these goddamn idiots” (I imagine those were his thoughts), the officer ripped into the ice until I was free.
Without a hint of patience, he strictly informed us all that we were going to follow him across the median and to the other side of the highway where we would drive back to the nearest town and all stop at a hotel to wait out the storm. This is when I learned that Cheyenne was under snow siege.
I took up the rear of the caravan of cars back north, but like the night before, I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for a room. Disheartened and finally realizing just how hopeless my road trip was, I followed, unsure what to do. When the van broke off and took another highway back east, I understood what I had to do and followed suit.
That was it. Screw Seattle, forget Idaho, I was going back. I stopped briefly at a scenic rest stop to get out of my car and read a book for a half hour, simply to be unconfined and free from the demands of the road. Once sufficiently rested, I saddled back into the Escort and headed off to find the road that would take me east through Nebraska.
I spotted the highway from the bridge above it. It was clear, open and flat for miles into the calming expanse of Midwestern nothingness. I was home free. Except for one little hiccup.
The on-ramp that led down from the bridge and onto the road was covered in feet of snow. I managed to drive about ten feet onto the ramp before my car came to a complete stop. Stuck again.
No, no, no. Not this time. I was so close to escaping this black hole known as Wyoming, I was not about to let fifty feet of on-ramp stop me. The ramp itself was completely buried so that I could only see the contour of the road by the fact that each side steeply dropped off into hungry troughs of unforgiving snow.
I jumped out of the car with my ice-scraper and dove at the snow. First, I dug with my bare hands (because I owned no gloves). After five minutes of this, I climbed back into my car, blasted the heat and waited for my fingers to thaw. Once enough feeling had returned, I jumped back out and scraped at the layer of ice underneath the snow.
After each round of digging and scraping, I attempted to drive forward. My little Ford would inch down the ramp, but as it did, the back end would slide back and forth. I was ever mindful of the fact that any slide too far to the left or right would send me plummeting over the edge.
For nearly an hour, I maintained the pattern of digging, thawing, scraping, thawing, and inching forward. On the verge of physical and mental collapse, I pushed myself, unable to accept that I could be so close yet so far away.
And, then, finally, my car broke through. I picked up momentum and, despite feet of snow still in front of me, I was able to ride the ramp with constant speed until my tires found the heavenly embrace of pure, unfrozen highway.
I drove like a man escaping prison.
By late afternoon, I was somewhere in Nebraska. I saw a town, pulled off the road and drove up into the parking lot of a shopping center. If there hadn’t been people around, I very well might have kissed the pavement. My first act of freedom was to stop into a Subway and eat a food substance other than granola. Fast food has never tasted so wonderful.
Filled up on as much food as I could shove down my gullet, I walked back to a Wal-Mart and luxuriated in walking the aisles of the store. I didn’t want to buy anything (couldn’t have afforded to, anyway), I just wanted to move my legs and be surrounded by people.
When I got back in my car, I was renewed and ready to see the end of this godforsaken road trip.
I drove down single-lane highways populated by nothing but semis. The snow storm had followed me out of Wyoming, but the warmer weather in Nebraska had turned the snow into rain that poured down on me and blurred my windshield. My wipers had all but been ravaged by the snow and ice in Wyoming, and so I viewed the road through a river. When large trucks passed me, their tires would send gushers onto my windshield, while the wind vacuum they created nearly ripped me off the road.
Zeus was not through with me yet.
Eventually, highway 92 met up with I-80, and I happily took the road more traveled.
The wind was still roaring across the highway and it took all my remaining strength to hold the wheel straight, but I saw the end of my nightmare ahead of me. Somewhere outside of Lincoln, I pulled to a rest stop and found a payphone (back when those existed). I called my mother and let her know I’d be returning the next day.
I slept in my car one more night and returned to the road the next morning. Disappointed and embarrassed that I had failed so miserably, instead of heading straight back to Kansas City, I continued on 80 and drove into Iowa onto Des Moines. I had no purpose there, no interest in stopping anywhere and no money to spend even if I wanted to, just a desire for the roar of life. After a couple of hours of driving around aimlessly around the city, I finally gave in and headed south on I-35.
I arrived back at my mother’s early that evening, worn out and in need of a shower that didn’t involve splashing water on myself from a sink. My mother made me dinner, only the third actual meal I’d eaten in four days, and I passed out on the couch.
The next morning, I woke up disoriented. My mother was gone to work and I had the apartment to myself. Dizzy, I walked into the bathroom and stared at my disheveled reflection in the mirror. I looked like rolled-over hell.
And then I blacked out.
I woke up a few seconds later, on the floor. Home at last.
So I didn’t make it to Seattle the first time, but I’m going now, finally.
And this time, I’m flying.
Screw you Wyoming.