So on Monday, Mike and I prepare to leave for our journey to my parents' house for Christmas. They live about on hour northwest of Syracuse in the small village of Fair Haven on the coast of Lake Ontario, population 850 (which supposedly triples in the summer due to the beach and state park in the town). There are no traffic lights, movie theatres or chain restaurants. However, the village is in the process of putting in a town sewer system, has new street signs in place, and even boasts a few cross walks on Main Street. They have band concerts every Saturday night in the summer, the surrounding communities all become very involved in the 4th of July Parade, the summer carnival at the recreation park and the Winter Carnival at the iced-over state park are always fun, and the culture of the neighboring Renaissance Faire adds an interesting mix to the summer vibe. It's a cute town filled with caring people, and if you don't mind the lack of choices when it comes to eating out or buying your groceries, having everyone know who you are and at least some of your business, or feeling a bit isolated (you'll have to travel about 40 miles to the nearest town with population over 50,000), you might find it quite charming.
However, even the residents admit, the lake effect snow is not Fair Haven's best quality. And unfortunately, it is one of the strongest qualities for at least a solid third of the year.
So Monday morning, Mike and I check out weather.com one more time. Yes, there is some sort of storm warning in effect for Central New York, but it appears that it should be completed by 7pm. And with the rate at which Mike and I are moving this morning (we keep finding more things we need to do before leaving), we should not reach the snow belt until well after 7pm.
We make our stops at the library, at our car garage, I pack up a few last gifts, Mike warms up the car for our bird (Darius travels with us), and we are off. The trip starts out pleasant enough; we listen to an episode of Radio Lab about the reasons for mass hysteria generated by the War of the Worlds radio show (and subsequent similar shows since); we talk; we sing; we stop for some food. And the baby makes his presence known--he is quite active in the car.
In fact, the baby has been moving a lot Sunday and Monday, and harder than usual. I am not sure if it is the chili I ate or the caffeinated tea I drank (I rarely have caffeine) on Sunday, or if it my anxiety of rushing around to complete last minute tasks--but he has been moving like never before! He has been kicking me so hard that it shocks me and I even say, "Ow!" This happens once when Mike is in the room and he asks if I'm okay. I tell him the baby just whacked me hard. He smiles. "It's funny to hear you say 'ow' and I look at you and expect to see something hurting you, and you're just standing there. And you tell me it's the baby from inside!"
So the baby is very much a part of our journey and I don't mind his kicks because we are happy he's a strong little guy, and happy to be off of work for a week, and traveling to friendly Fair Haven.
And then at exactly 7pm, when the storm should have been completed according to weather.com, we notice the flakes starting to mount on the windshield. We are still at least an hour outside of Syracuse, but as time progresses, the flakes are speeding up, the nighttime sky has arrived, and our visibility slowly starts to fade.
By the time we reach Syracuse, the roads are a mess and it is quite difficult to see in front of us. We stop to pick up one last gift that has been awaiting us at Best Buy, I snap some cool pictures of a snow-covered tree in the parking lot, then we hop on the road again.
Once we leave the city of Syracuse, visibility worsens. The snow is probably coming down faster, but we also no longer have the city to light up the sky around us, and since there are no street lights along the highway, we can barely see the ground directly in front of us, much less anything else. My mother encourages us on the phone to stay at a hotel if the roads are bad, but I can't imagine where we would stay at this point. These last 45 miles to Fair Haven are slow and arduous, but Mike does a great job of staying focused and keeping the car on the road, with my occasional-to-frequent comments of, "Slow down..." (even though the 4-wheel drive trucks are zipping by us).
After traveling for another 90 minutes or so (thankfully, there is never any real traffic on this highway, and we don't pass any accidents or it could have been longer), we notice the snow starts to let up. Visibility increases and we both relax a bit more in the car. We are only five miles from my parents' house and the journey is almost over. We will arrive around 11pm, have some of my mom's yummy christmas cookies and chex mix, and get to bed early so we will be refreshed for my niece's Christmas concert at her school on Tuesday morning. We are listening to the old radio shows on the local NPR station (I love my WRVO!), and as we round a bend which then turns into a steep hill downward, the car suddenly is no longer in Mike's control. But we are going so slowly at the moment, that if it weren't for Mike's swearing, I would barely notice anything was out of the ordinary. We slowly slide into the snow bank at the side of the road and stop.
At this point, I still feel we will be able to simply put the car in reverse and back up. After all, we are barely off the road, and we were going so slowly--we can't be too stuck. Mike tries to push the car out to no avail, and I start to realize this is not going to be a quick fix. I call my dad who misses the end of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to come out to help us (luckily, he's seen it before). My dad brings a shovel and he and Mike and a kind stranger who lives nearby, try to dig the car out. During this time, I have called AAA and am on hold for almost 30 minutes until I speak with someone in our area. She tells me a tow truck will arrive some time before 12:30am.
Several more people stop by to ask if we need a phone, to offer their truck's service to pull us out if we have a chain or a rope (we don't), and finally I remind Mike that I've had to go to the bathroom since Syracuse. He says I should have my dad take me home and he will wait for AAA. I don't want Mike to be left alone, so I ask my dad to drop me off, then come back to wait with Mike. He agrees, and my bird and I move to my dad's SUV and travel home.
Not long after my dad arrives back on the scene with Mike, AAA finally does arrive and pulls the car out. It is a long night, but we are all safe, the car is working, and with little sleep, we still enjoy my niece's Christmas concert the next morning.
Tuesday afternoon, we drive out to finish a bit of last minute shopping, and we pass the snow bank we'd visited for 90 minutes the night before. It isn't until then that I realize how steep the ditch is next to the road. If the snow bank had not been so strong and icy and we had actually gone off the road, our car would have most likely nose-dived into that ditch, which potentially could have damaged the car, not to mention causing a lot of strain to me and Mike, and possibly the baby. There would definitely have been some severe jostling with the seat belts jabbing into us for a steep descent.
So while today, as I look outside and see there is another lake-effect snow storm brewing here, I feel quite lucky and thankful to God that we were kept safe that night. And our little baby is back to kicking and stretching as normal--not so many hard 'ow' kicks to his womb-house. So perhaps the caffeine is out of his system, or he is just more relaxed and comfy and cozy like his mother. Because despite cars being off the road, and winter storm warnings, there really is nothing like being at your childhood home for the holidays. And for me, that home, like it or not, happens to be filled with lake-effect snow. Lots of it.