The night of the 18th of December it was a balmy 48 degrees and dry; lovely tanning weather here in the Midwest during wintertime. The local news station warned that a winter storm warning was issued for Northern Kansas and Missouri. I thought little of it as my mind was pre-occupied with things of a more important matter. When I went to sleep that night I was ready for 4:00 AM, I had all my gear packed and laid out neatly so that there would be no waste of time in the morning.
When my alarm went off that morning, I was awake and out of the bedroom before the second beep. I quickly showered and dressed. I hurried outside to start my diesel pickup truck, and when I opened the door I looked out into a sea of white. During the night while we slept, the temperature dropped to about 32 degrees and it began to snow gently. The temperature then climbed to about 33 or 34 degrees and it quit snowing and melted all that had settled on the ground. The temperature then dropped to about 18 degrees, turning all of the water on the ground into a thin sheen of ice, and then dumped almost ten inches of snow in about six hours on top of it. All of this became very apparent as I began to drive.
As soon as I was packed, I kissed my wife goodbye and told her it had snowed a little during the night. She smiled sleepily and went back to dreamland. I went back outside, locked my hubs in four-wheel drive, and let the old turbo-diesel crawl out of the driveway. As soon as I got to the junction of the county road and the highway, I shifted the transfer case out of 4×4 and attempted to get onto the highway, which hadn’t been bladed. The resulting donuts prompted me to put it back in 4×4. Luckily, there was no one to see me perform my tricks. As soon as I got up to about 40-45 mph on the slick highway, I could feel the truck start to skid and slip, so I ensured that I stayed under 40. At about this time, the heavens proceeded to dump more snow on top of the already Arctic-like conditions.
I should point out the drive to my parents house is about an hour and a half from my place when you are driving the speed limit of 65mph. As I was driving at about 38-40 mph, I knew we weren’t going to be able to leave at the scheduled time. First wrench thrown. I simply gritted my teeth, turned up the heat and the radio, and drove on through the snow.
As I drove by some of the bigger towns, traffic, and accidents, increased. There were cars driving way too fast, and some way too slow, both of which are equally dangerous when the roads are as badly iced and snow covered as they were. There were dozens of emergency vehicles and snow plow trucks along the highway responding as fast as they could to the amount of motorists in the ditches and snow on the road. I particularly remember seeing a red Audi, a very rare car in these parts, blaze past me at what was probably too fast for good road conditions let alone these conditions. About ten minutes later down the road, I could see headlights pointing up towards the sky where a car had run off the road into a very deep creek bed. I looked to see if it was really bad. My headlights caught a glimpse of red, European styling, and a figure in a long coat with their hand to their ear, presumably calling for help on a cellphone. It was too dangerous for me to pull over, and I was somewhat satisfied with that outcome anyways, so I drove on.
As I got past the towns and into the country, the number of accidents decreased, but the danger of driving did not. After I had driven about an hour, I saw a figure walking on the shoulder. It was still dark out, so I slowed down a bit and positively identified a person trudging through the snow on the shoulder. At this point, I couldn’t take it much more. I pulled over as safely as I could manage and turned my hazards on. I could see the figure begin to trot over to my truck. I had never picked up a hitchhiker before. All the stories one hears about picking up hitchhikers flashed in my head. Well, I reasoned, this person was more likely a stranded motorist and not a murderous hitchhiker, considering the circumstances. Plus, I was well heeled at the time, so if this person wanted to play dirty, I was up for a game anyways. My thoughts were interrupted when the cab door opened and a red faced, thin man in a snow covered windbreaker jacket, blue jeans, and tennis shoes hopped up and sat in the passenger seat. He stuttered out the words “Thanks, man” and shook hands with me. Ice cold hands. I got back on the highway and began my 40mph trudge again. After “Larry” had warmed up and stopped shivering, I asked him where he was going. He said he lived in a town that I was going to be driving through, so that was pretty lucky. The only catch was that town was twenty miles away. I asked him where he came from, and he said he had gotten off of work at midnight in the previous town, but couldn’t get his car unstuck, so he just started walking. Larry had been out in this dangerous weather for more than five hours and had walked almost twenty miles when I had picked him up and still had twenty to go! Larry could have very well died from exposure if I had not put aside my personal qualms and pulled over to pick him up. We didn’t really talk after that. We just drove and listened to the radio. After we got to the town where Larry lived, I dropped him off at his house, shook his now warm hand and drove away.
It was almost 9 in the morning before I got to my parents house, and the weather showed no sign of stopping. The roads were even worse now, as it was warming up and the snow was melting again. It was 1pm before we deemed it safe to load up in my dad’s truck and hit the road again for Texas. Ironically enough, once we had drove for thirty minutes south, there had been very little snowfall at all and the roads were completely clear.