A fictionalized scary real life experience.
Black Ice, Cheyenne, Wyoming
It was my birthday dinner and I chose to celebrate at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Twin Dragon, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The city was approximately thirty miles north of where I lived in a small town south of the Colorado/Wyoming border. It was more or less a direct shot up Interstate 25 and ran through an open stretch of land, and past the monument on either side of the highway. Huge boulders stood where two tribes of Native American indians from times past had waited, fought, and either conquered or died.
It was November, and we'd had the usual cold weather and a blanket of snow before, so it wasn't a big deal to drive there since usually the pass was cleared by snowplows. In fact, the sun was making a kind of bounce lighting effect.
We arrived in Cheyenne without a problem, maneuvered through the streets, and found a parking space. The restaurant was small, but was packed, just a bit noisy, yet clean and cheerful.
Once seated, we ordered our meals and only had to wait a short time. It was okay as the food and service made it well worth it.
Waiters in white attire, holding steaming plates of food rushed by where we were seated. The aroma was delightful and the humm of the restaurant comforting. Snippets of conversation drifted around us as we ate.
"Where are you headed?" someone asked another patron.
"At least you're not traveling on the highway. From what I could tell, it's not a good night for that."
After listening to several people talk about the weather, I turned toward them and asked, "Have they said anything more about the weather on the news?"
"No Ma'am. I don't think it's goin' to get any better very soon. Last I heard they're expectin' a blizzard."
My mouth dropped open. "Seriously?"
My teenage son and I looked at each other. "We better get going and gas up before we head back," I said. Our leftover food was boxed up, we paid our bill then exited the restaurant.
Ten minutes later we'd stopped at a gas station, and an older gentleman tapped on my car window. "I need the gas key," he said through chattering teeth.
I opened the door since the window wasn't working. "I'm sorry. I forgot. It's okay. I can do it."
"No ma'am. I'm suppose to. It's the state law here."
I handed him the key. "I am so sorry."
Afterward, I had decided to not take the connecting highway--Interstate 80 to go home. Surely it would be safer on a two-lane road, which was just south of us and it ran parallel with the freeway. The sun had slid toward the horizon and it was snowing, and our surroundings became a bit fuzzy looking. Still we chugged along making our way toward Interstate 25.
Headlights ahead of me in the opposite lane caused me to sit up straighter. I gauged the distance of the vehicle. It was getting closer and closer and was bigger than an automobile. The sheer size of it made my car seem like a kiddie car. I spoke out loud. "Oh God. What on earth is a big rig semi-truck and trailer doing on this road?"
Each side of the road only had one lane, each one going in opposite directions, and would not have normally been a problem. There were no driveways or turnoffs.
I glanced to my left, then at the ditch at the right side of the road Was that water or ice in it? Would we drown if we were forced off the side or would we be mangled in a wreck? A knot formed in my stomach, and my arms and legs stiffened.
The semi was closer and then it was several seconds away. My breath caught in my throat. I almost whimpered. Are we about to die, Lord? Should say my I love yous? I was both hot and cold at the same time.
My thoughts went rampant. Stop! You're just going to scare the children. Pull yourself together. Think about what to do, In an emergency, it's a natural tendency to stomp on the brakes, but the worst thing you could do. Instead you tap the brakes lightly.
There's a Twilight Zone-like moment when time seems to stand still, yet ticks by. The big rig was almost on top of us. If I had tore my eyes away from the road and looked up I could probably see the driver's face. I stayed focused instead knowing what would happen in seconds.
Whoosh! Whoomph! Our car slid sideways slightly. I white-knuckled the steering wheel and directed the car into the skid, then back out slightly. Only afterward could I breathe easier. A feeling of warmth settled over me, replacing the frozen cold sweat I had before. "Thank you, God," I said out loud.
There was nowhere on the road to recoup and lose the tension and I figured the weather might get worse. Getting to the north/south highway wouldn't take but maybe ten minutes the most.
I had heard that when the weather was too bad to drive in, Interstate 25 is usually closed off. Hopefully this wasn't one of those times. I had heard and read on the news more than once that before the winter seasons were over somebody or several other people had or could easily die on that same highway. Surely, this time the weather couldn't have gotten that bad in so short a time.
Once we got on Interstate 25, I realized again that road conditions weren't as good as I had anticipated. Snow was not just falling, but instead the force of the wind blew it against the car, but also out onto the highway.
Little puffs of fog-like stuff floated and rose up off the road. I shivered. A cotton candy like cloud seemed to have settled in front of the car and hovered around us. Maybe this is what they called Whiteout. After a short time I realized I could barely see five feet in front of our car, much less any taillights. I wondered just who else was on the road. I had to have been driving no more than 5-10 miles per hour, or possibly three.
My passenger and my kids were silent, which could have been a good thing. I simply said, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be okay." It's been my mantra ever since I was just a child, and I figured if I said it enough, it would be true.
Internally, I was dealing with my own demons. Granted this wasn't like the Southern California weather we were so used to, but still had I paid more attention we'd not be facing a potentially nightmarish situation. And there we were in that frozen snowy place crawling along on a dangerous highway in the dark in November. Now look what you've done! How do you feel now that you put your loved ones in danger just because it's your birthday.
I glanced in my rear-view mirror looking for anything resembling a car--maybe a bumper or the curve of a car fender. Nothing there, or was there? If there were more cars, hopefully they were driving as slow as I was. Either we were lucky because there wasn't any traffic, or there were more vehicles on the road, which made it potentially more dangerous. I wasn't sure whether to be thankful or afraid. I silently prayed that if there was a driver behind me, which I couldn't see, he was more skilled at driving in this type of weather conditions or at least didn't do anything equally stupid.
"I'm dying for a cigarette," my passenger said.
I'm thinking, What the hell? . Instead I said, "You'd have to open the window, so no. I'm sorry, but it's already freezing in here. Would you like to drive?"
"No," he replied.
I sagged inwardly. I really could have used a break. He no longer seemed sensitive to my needs. It was my first hint that it wasn't going to work out for us, and now I wasn't sure I wanted that anyway.
Movement in my left lane mirror caught my attention. I held my breath as a car slowly emerged from the dense fog. It crept past me. I would have kept with him, but wondered if that might be worse than chugging along by myself.
"Mom, It's really getting cold back here," my teenage aon said.
He hadn't spoken the whole time since we had left the restaurant. I knew he wouldn't complain unless he was very cold. Our car heater had been on earlier, but my feet felt like burnt toast, so I had turned it down or off before that. "I know it's cold, son and I'm sorry for that. I know it's taking so long, but I have to be careful." Then I remembered. "There should be a blanket on the back seat. Get it and bundle yourself up, even head and your feet, if you can. I'll turn up the heat."
It had to be the longest drive and the most silent one we'd ever taken. Normally, we might have been home in about thirty minutes, but at the moment it seemed like it was taking hours. It didn't matter when we got there, as long as we did at all.
I tried to refocus. I envisioned us stepping through our doorway, heading toward the bedrooms, and me getting my little one ready and tucked into bed, and wrapping myself up in a warm blanket.
I'm not sure how long it took to get home, but I'm betting on maybe three or four hours, or at least it seemed that way. I knew the angels were watching over us.
Finally, I was able to think a little bit more about the experience. Anything could have happened that night. Thank god, the worst hadn't. Our car was not damaged, and none of us were hurt. The worst part was my negative thoughts and how it made me feel.
At the same time, I realized that although I had put us in that situation I had also got us home safely. I could have let my ex-husband take over the wheel. Maybe I knew that if he had, I might feel worse since he'd have to fix the problem I had caused. It wasn't his fault.
No. In the future I'd be more careful about my choices. We'd not be doing that again.
I reflected on how that related to other choices I'd made. Maybe that is what life is about anyway--choices.
One choice lets you experience things you might not have if you'd made a different one. One might be safer, and the other not so safe, yet maybe some kind of weird adventure.