A Southern Snowfall-Part 4

The snow has stopped—a light rain is falling and everything is coated in ice. Pine trees are bending over under the shining weight. Driving down the ice-covered street—gleaming in the street-lights—you could hear branches breaking off trees and falling to the ground. The jeep turns corners sliding a bit but no big deal. Pretty soon we’ve left the street lights behind and we’re out in the country.

The jeep headlights shine through the sparkling rain and mist and light up the glassy pavement—trees are bent over in the darkness as the lights hit them then fade back into the night. It’s a cloudy night of course—no moon—and it is black as the inside of a cow.

The roads are totally deserted—echoing with a death-like emptiness that says we’re the last human beings on earth. We crawl along through the freezing rain stopping about every ten minutes to scrape the ice off the windshield.

The roads just get icier and icier. Even with four-wheel drive and chains on all four wheels we are sliding from shoulder to shoulder—at one point stopping just inches from falling off a steep bank into a creek. Dinger is driving. His eyes are wide, he is focused on the road ahead and gripping the wheel so hard he looks like he’s about to explode. Half an hour into the trip these guys are sober as the proverbial judge and they’ve got this look on their faces very reminiscent of the bus driver—but I don’t believe they’re thinking I’m “God-sent.”

Much of the route from Asheville to Brevard is through the Pisgah National Forest. It’s magnificent and beautiful on a sunny day but on a moonless night in snow and ice, the crushing solitude feels like you’re driving into the black heart of hell. That drive through the darkest place I’ve ever been, was one of those occasions where you feel in your frightened heart how pathetically vulnerable and expendable our lives really are.

Nobody spoke after about the first 20 minutes.

I know these guys wanted to turn around. They were scared of what could happen in that darkness outside of God’s presence but more afraid of feeling like wimps after it was over. As the road ahead grew more treacherous and consuming we just continued to follow the narrow blades of light in front of us deeper and deeper into the nothingness.

A drive that in good weather takes about 50 minutes, took us over two hours. About ten minutes from Brevard we came out of the forest and were rolling through rocky pastureland—sagging, icicle-hanging barbed-wire fences followed us on both sides of the road. The headlights of an on-coming jeep suddenly lit up the inside of our vehicle. The tension among us dropped like a rock—everybody seemed to loosen up, shake off most of the fear. Then another vehicle—a state sanding truck roared past, chains clinking on the pavement—sand and fine gravel swishing out of the back onto the road surface. Ahead and to the left—the security lights of a few small businesses—a garage, a diner—the county’s only bowling alley. The parking lot empty but for a few lonely cars.

The “Brevard City Limits” sign shines bravely in the drizzling darkness as the headlights hit it. Suddenly there’s the beautiful old Methodist church standing patiently where the highway turns into Main Street. On both sides now were homes and small stores, street lights blessedly lighting up the world of humans, life and a benevolent God.

The guys dropped me off in back of the dorm. Only one light was on—Mrs. Walker, the form director—was there snug in her small apartment in an otherwise empty building.

Standing there in the street light behind the dorm with the sun just starting to glow in the east—Dinger and Huck looked like old men who had just been told they were going to live awhile longer.

I gave them forty dollars and told them where a cheap motel was several blocks away if they wanted to crash until the roads were clear. Each took a twenty and climbed back into the jeep. Glancing back at me before they pulled away, they drove off looking like they were relieved but feeling like the stupidest bar flies on the planet.

Mrs. Walker was an early riser. The sun was just clearing the horizon and all her lights were on as I banged on the locked front door of the dorm. When she opened it her eyes lit up as she recognized me and gave me a big hug. She insisted on preparing me a big breakfast–that was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten.

The weather did not clear that day. After a few minutes of feeble sunshine, gloomy mist and drizzle returned, turning into snow shortly before noon. After breakfast I took a shower and went to bed.

I don’t know what happened to Huck and Dinger. The crappy weather lasted for three more days—the start of classes was delayed for almost a week until the roads could be cleared. Some parts of the state had record snowfalls. The power was out for hundreds of thousands of people along the mid-Atlantic coast but somehow we never lost power at the college.

I made that same trip twice more before I transferred to another school in Colorado and it never again took that long. By that time I had my own car so I never again needed to hire two drunks to drive me through an ice storm. Personally I don’t recommend that sort of travel—it’s too dangerous for ordinary mortals.

That’s the sort of thing that’s best left to people who are “God sent.”

End part 4—end story.

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