Road Tripping through a Nor’easter

September 3, 2015

Road trips are so quintessentially American.  My friends in Russia used to ask me all the time if I went on road trips either with my friends or my family.  If you stop to think about it, so many movies have been made about the American road trip.  Quite a few books have been written about it too.  It is really quite amazing that we can so easily drive from one side of this massive country to the other.  There are so many places in the world where that is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to do.  But for those of us in the States, the open road is ours for the taking!

For Thanksgiving last year, my husband and I decided to drive from our home in Chicago to his parents’ house in western Massachusetts, making a few stops on the way.  This was my first major road trip (over four hours) as an adult with my husband.  We decided to drive because we wanted to bring our dog with us.  Since we had just purchased our first car (neither one of us had one for the previous ten years), we figured why not.  I had grand plans to stop off at various places to pick up local beer, take pictures, and explore what looked like cute little towns.  It was going to be great. It was also an idea that I had completely over-romanticized and that allowed no room for error.  Rookie mistake.  

It was also an idea that I had completely over-romanticized and that allowed no room for error.

Our first leg of the trip was not all that bad.  The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we left Chicago for our friends’ house in Pittsburgh.  It was a good halfway point for us, plus it was a free place to stay where we could bring the pup!  The drive was uneventful.  We made pretty good time – seven-and-a-half hours from one city to the other.  The next day, however, things started to get a little more exciting.

Earlier that week, we heard a nor’easter might be coming right before Thanksgiving.  We decided to not put too much stock in it because weather changes all the time.  But when we got up early in the morning on Wednesday, it had started snowing in Pittsburgh.  And we had about 470 miles to drive to get to our next stop, my sister-in-law’s house in Connecticut.  After quickly finishing our breakfast and discussing the best way to drive across Pennsylvania, we packed up and hit the road.

Snow was coming down at a steady rate, but it was by no means a white-out.  The temperature managed to hover right above freezing, so we weren’t too concerned with the roads getting icy during the day.  Actually, driving through Pennsylvania when it was still light outside was absolutely gorgeous.  There were hills and trees that were blanketed with snow and everything gave off that softened look that results when the world turns white.  It was probably the most beautiful drive I have been on in my life.  But when the sun went down, my anxieties started to rise.

By this point, my husband had taken over driving since the snow was starting to really come down.  In college, I was in a car accident involving black ice, so I was more than a little hesitant to be behind the wheel.  It also didn’t help me as I watched the outside temperature on our dashboard start to dip below freezing.  When we turned onto the highway to go through New York, it looked like an apocalypse had occurred because the ramp hadn’t been plowed in what looked like hours and there was not a soul around.  We decided it would probably be best to skip all the places where we had wanted to stop so that we could just get to where we were going.

There was no one on our side of the highway for a solid 30 minutes.  Occasionally we’d see a few headlights heading in the other direction on the opposite side of the road, but nothing more.  I was beginning to wonder if they had closed the highway and we had missed the signs.  Eventually, more people started to appear, which made me feel better.  

There were hills and trees that were blanketed with snow and everything gave off that softened look that results when the world turns white.

In New York, there were signs posted that said the speed limit had been reduced from 55 to 40 miles per hour.  As we continued to crawl along, my husband and I set up a pilot to co-pilot driving system where he’d keep his eyes on the road and I would watch for oncoming cars from the entrance ramps.  Every time we passed a ramp, I’d let him know how many cars, if any, were coming.  It was martial teamwork at its finest.

We were only about 90 miles outside of Hartford when a light went off on our dashboard.  My husband didn’t want to take his eyes off the road, so he asked me to see what it was.  The tire pressure light was illuminated, but I told him to ignore it since it had gone off a few times when I was driving the car and when I checked the tires, everything was fine.  Besides, we were so close and wanted to keep going so that we could just make it to his sister’s.

As soon as we crossed into Connecticut, the snow turned to rain and we thought we were out of the woods!  We started cheering and were so excited by the prospect of being so close to family and a warm meal.  Something like ten-and-a-half long and stressful hours after we set out from Pittsburgh, we finally made it to West Hartford.  It was only supposed to take us eight.

When we pulled into his sister’s driveway, we were greeted by her husband who came around the car and said, “Nice tire, you guys.”  Turns out, the tire pressure light was actually right this time.  We spent the last 90 miles driving with a flat rear passenger tire.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law had an air compressor and was able to fill up the tire in the garage.  When we checked on the car again Thanksgiving morning, it looked fine but he added a little more air for good measure.  Nothing was open on Thanksgiving anyway, so we were going to have to deal with getting it fixed the next day.

When it was time to go home, the last thing I wanted to do was get back in the car.

Driving to my in-laws was completely uneventful.  The tire didn’t deflate that much and we were able to take it to the shop the next morning.  The mechanics patched the hole in our tire and told us that someone’s brake line had fallen off their car and punctured our tire.  They gave us the broken brake line to keep and I have it framed in our living room as a reminder of our long-haul drive from the Midwest to New England.

When it was time to go home, the last thing I wanted to do was get back in the car.  It had been a much longer and much more stressful drive than I could have ever imagined.  But given what happened to us during this trip, things could have been much worse.  We could have been stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken down car, but we weren’t.  We could have hit a patch of black ice, but we didn’t.  It could have been our break line that fell off, but it wasn’t.   

Driving through a nor’easter on the way to Thanksgiving ended up being a much different experience than what I had expected for our first road trip.  But at the end of the day, it makes for one hell of a story.  And I’m okay with that.

About Anne Rathell

Currently a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, Anne Rathell is always on the lookout for her next adventure.  When she’s not planning her next trip, you can find her in the kitchen baking, practicing yoga at her favorite studio, attempting to learn a new language, or curled up on the couch with her dog.  Feel free to follow her international travels on Anne’s Adventures Abroad.

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