A Southern Snowfall

This picture was taken last winter in nearby Nelson County but the barn shown here looks just like barns in the western NC mountains of the late ’60s. This story is pretty much exactly what happened–hope you enjoy it.  It’s cool to look back now–it wasn’t so cool when it was happening :-)

Part one

I don’t know how long it takes today but in 1967 under good conditions it was a 30 hour bus ride from Utica, NY to Asheville, NC. When you got to the other end your body and mind felt like hamburger—it was way beyond exhausting—even for a young, strong 22 year old ex-GI.

Asheville wasn’t the final destination of that ride. Where I was trying to get to in the winter of 1967 was a tiny liberal arts college in the mountains of Western North Carolina—Brevard College—where I was finishing up the first semester of my sophomore year. Back then no buses ran from Asheville to the town of Brevard  which was an hour’s drive over winding roads through forested mountains and rugged Southern Appalachian countryside. Once I got to Asheville I still had to find a way to get from Asheville to the college–but–one problem at a time  please.

In Utica, NY in January (where I started this frozen odyssey) three feet of snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits was not (and still isn’t) a big deal. Christmas and New Year’s break was over and I had to get back to school—the bus was the only way I could afford to travel back.

After 3 or 4 hours, watching the scenery and looking at the other passengers gets old. A few more hours into the trip it’s dark and there’s no scenery to look at anyway. Seven or eight hours into the trip listening to the drone of tires on pavement begins to feel like somebody is slowly, quietly trying to bore into your head. To make things worse it’s almost impossible to find a really comfortable position to sleep so you just lay there with something poking or mashing you no matter which way you turn—you sort of lapse in and out of suffering consciousness. Twelve hours into the journey you just sort of give up and accept the fact you’re in hell and there’s really no point in entertaining any sort of resentment or anger—you need to conserve the energy that would take for preserving your sanity.

I don’t think there was any such thing as an express bus to Western NC back then. The bus stops and picks up people, packages, livestock, trash along side the highway endlessly. Every 20 minutes the bus is stopping—again and again and again until you have to fight off the impulse to rush to the front of the bus and garrote the driver.

Usually on this trip the weather improves as you go further south from upstate NY. This year the east coast of the United States was hit with a major storm. Northern Virginia didn’t look a whole lot different from Utica, NY—or Irkutsk, Siberia. The stops became a bit less frequent as we rolled further south into winter conditions southerners weren’t used to so people were staying home. That meant fewer stops at every goat shed and manure pile alongside the road—but because of deteriorating conditions the bus could not be driven at regular highway speeds. Looking out of the window at the slowly passing southern countryside it was like a never-ending upstate, NY except the roads were not as well maintained.

I think it was somewhere in the southwestern end of Virginia a new driver climbed on board and addressed the people on the bus saying something like:

“Hello everyone—my names’ (whatever) and this bus is scheduled to go to Asheville, NC.”

We are now past the 24 hour point and feel like warmed-over death but it is SOOOOOOO GOOD! to hear Asheville is really still out there—up ahead—somewhere in the snow and darkness—and this bus is going to go there.

The new driver continues:

“As you may know the road conditions ahead of us are pretty bad—I can’t guarantee we’ll make it—we could get stuck—we could have an accident—I’ll certainly do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. But I’ll try it—I’ll drive it if—say more than 5 people—want to go.”

He paused a moment to let people think about what he’d just said then went on:

“So—if anybody doesn’t want to go—now would be the time to get off the bus.”

I think there were 20 or 25 people on the bus. Everybody sort of looked around. There was a whole lot of silence on that bus.

Nobody got off.

End part one

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