Driving in the Snow

The biggest running joke in Richmond is the fact that no one knows how to drive in the snow.

Well, actually the biggest running joke in Richmond is that there are too many grocery stores.

But the second biggest running joke is that no one knows how to drive in the snow. The minute the weather channel so much as mentions the possibility of snow, people suddenly forget how to maneuver a car; there are dozens of unnecessary fender benders, vehicles stopped in the middle of the road, and utter confusion as to what these red, yellow and green lights mean.

And ha, ha, I love pointing and laughing and making fun of locals for being bad at driving in the snow just as much as the next guy.

But here’s the thing: I’m terrified of driving in the snow. I’m that person that everyone hates for driving so slowly, and for braking where there’s not a stop sign, and for putting on my emergency flashers even when the snow isn’t sticking to the road.

But here’s the other thing: I don’t drive in the snow. Because it gives me extreme anxiety, and also because I’m not good at it and I don’t want to cause unnecessary accidents. But mostly because it gives me extreme anxiety. I’ll cancel any sort of plans or commitments that require me to drive in the snow, and if I can’t, I’ll walk.

So I say I’m one of those snow-drivers that everyone hates, but no one will ever know because they’ll never witness it.

Anyway, as you all know from the bare bread shelves among the hundreds of local grocery stores, Richmond just had a “severe” snowstorm, and you’re thinking this story is going to be about how I had to drive in it and the horrors that that entailed.

It’s not at all. This story is actually about how I almost died in West Virginia.

I did. I almost died in West Virginia.

Last Thursday, my roommate Kathleen and I took her car and set out for a weekend ski trip at Canaan Valley, West Virginia on a Thursday at noon. A four-hour trip seemed like a breeze, even with the looming snow forecast that evening. With Waze set and a phone full of podcasts, we left, plenty of time to spare before the snow began.

Not that that even mattered because frankly the only snow we were concerned about was the kind we would be skiing on over the weekend.

One stop for Sheetz sandwiches and another stop for Starbucks coffee later, we made it halfway to our destination. Kathleen drove, and I sat as navigator. We got through Harrisonburg, jumped off the highway, and, based on the GPS, we were looking at back roads for the remaining two hours. Par for the course, right? That’s the price you pay for skiing in the mountains. Totally, no big deal.

But then those back roads became really narrow.

And then we both lost service on our phones.

And then those narrow roads became curvy as well. And the wind started blowing. And the sky got darker.

And that’s when it began…

The snow, I mean.

But I also mean the terror.

It wasn’t so bad watching the snow fall for an hour or so. But then the temperature plummeted. And the snow started sticking. And our phones continued not to work. And we didn’t know where we were. And suddenly I regretted ever watching a horror movie in my life because this was exactly how they all began.

Enter that extreme anxiety I mentioned earlier.

It took us about 45 minutes to realize that the directions we were following from Google maps were completely wrong, and we had missed a crucial turn a long time ago.

Which was completely fine, because we were surrounded by busy streets and bustling city centers with plenty of people who could help us out.

No, we were surrounded by snow-covered trees and isolation.

We did remember seeing a dimly-lit lodge a few miles back, so we yanked a U-turn, drove back, and pulled into the parking lot. They had just closed for the night, but there were people inside; so we desperately banged on the glass doors like any well-mannered girls would. A woman opened the door.

“Hello, we’re trying to get to Canaan Valley Resort?” Hoping she’d tell us we were just a few miles away. Or, by some miracle, already there.

It’s never a comforting feeling when someone looks out at the cascade of snow, then cautiously asks what kind of car you’re driving. Then looks at you like she might be the last one to ever see you again.

But, with a lot of backtracking and many more miles to go, she did tell us how to get there.

“If…you can make it,” she said as we walked away.

No, she didn’t say that, but I’m SURE SHE WAS THINKING IT.

So, we got back on the road, with snow rapidly wedging itself between our tires and the road.

We continued up and into the mountain, with the roads getting narrower and steeper, and the snow getting slicker.

At this point, I just want to share all of the thoughts I had in my head, thoughts I thought would never get out into the world because I figured they would be trapped at the bottom of the ice-covered mountain inside my lifeless body within the hour:

  • I’m never getting into a car again if I survive this.
  • I still have never seen the movie “Goodfellas”
  • Do UFOs really exist?
  • I wish I at least had fulfilled my dream of winning a car on the Price is Right.
  • Even though I would never drive it!
  • I hope no one finds those dirty magazines under my bed.
  • By dirty magazines, I mean weed.
  • Come on, no one has dirty magazines anymore.
  • But did Adnan kill Hae?
  • I really wish I had done that “IOU” thing for Christmas presents this year.
  • Did I leave my hair straightener turned on?
  • I’m simply dying to know who’s wearing whom at the Golden Globes.
  • Who is going to inherit all of my clothes?
  • Who is going to inherit the buy-nine-get-one-free Sheetz sandwich I’ve saved for so long?
  • At least I’m having a good hair day.

I know everyone is dying to know the outcome of whether or not I survived this.

An hour and a half of narrow roads, ice, heavy snow, fishtailing, cliff sides with no guardrails, white knuckles, and regretting all of my life decisions…we made it to Canaan Valley Resort.

One extremely large glass of wine later, we were able to laugh about it.

And even though I made it through this incident, I still will never have any interest in driving in the snow.

So if you’re ever traveling through snow-covered Richmond and you see my car stopped in the middle of an intersection, or driving slower than someone walking next to it, please forgive me.

Or, get into my car and drive it home for me because, I’m probably suffering from PTSD.

We forgave the snow.

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