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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Driving on Thin Ice


Last Sunday, I drove from Dallas to Austin. Normally, this is a non-eventful three and a half hour drive; however, because most of I-35 was covered with ice, the trip took seven stressful hours.

To be honest, I doubted the weather would turn this severe. I mean, it's March. Winter weather is very rare during this month in Texas.

My coworker and I were in Dallas for a trade show. We had arrived in Dallas on Friday with short-sleeves and a light jacket. Then I started to hear talk that a cold front was coming in on Sunday. People started to talk about sleet falling during the afternoon.

Sure enough, the weather changed on us. The warm weather became cold. Sleet was falling. It got cold outside quick.

I told my coworker to start packing up our stuff two hours before the trade show was officially over. I needed to get on the road and to Austin before the weather got worse. Plus, I needed to return the cargo van back to the rental place in Austin and make a morning flight to Midland, Texas.

The next morning, we were expected to be in Midland, Texas for another event. It was an event I was not expected to be in attendance, but I was asked to attend the event to help my coworker. The problem was the cargo van we rented in Austin for the event in Dallas was due back by Monday because it had already been reserved for the music festival. Had that not been the case, I would have stayed the extra night and not even attempt to drive home.

I-35, Dallas, TX
After dropping off my coworker, I got on I-35 and started my drive. The road conditions seemed clear until I was about thirty miles south of Dallas. Traffic started to build. It was slow and go until the it completely stopped.

The sun was setting and it was getting colder by the minute. While at a standstill, I looked over to the ground and noticed a thin glaze of ice over the road. I started to become concerned.

The cargo van that I was driving was rear-wheel drive. In other words, every time I would accelerate to move, I had to gently do so or the van would begin to skid. I learned this quickly and avoided pressing too much on the gas pedal.

To make things more challenging, the wind was blowing. The empty cargo van would jerk each time a gust of wind would hit. In effect, this would cause the van to skid to the left. This was troublesome, especially while semi-trailer trucks passed valiantly on the left lane.

Accidents lined up on the side of the road. Many were multiple vehicle accidents. A few seemed as if the driver just simply lost control.

Then it happened. Traffic was at a standstill on an incline. A semi got stuck. It could not. When it attempted to move, the semi began to roll slowly back. I was a car behind the truck. The car in front of me was stuck as well. Cars behind us were quickly moving to the left lane to avoid the situation. At first attempt, my vehicle skidded downward as well. I was successful on the second attempt. I moved to the left lane and carefully passed the semi until it was all clear. I do hope the car behind the semi escape safely.

I reached Hillsboro, which is normally an hour drive from Dallas. It took me three hours to reach Hillsboro. I was stressed and I needed a break. I pulled over at a convenience store and bought myself dinner--a Cliff Bar and Red Bull.

It was already dark and I still had a long way left of my trip back home. Before setting off on my voyage, I walked around the cargo van and inspected the tires. All looked well. I got back in the cargo van and continued on home.

The roads were clear up until passed West--known for the fertilizer explosion a couple of years ago. Again, traffic was backed up. The Waze app on my iPhone re-routed me. I listened and took the access road down a few miles.

As I was driving, I noticed the issue for the backup. Two semi-trucks were stuck in the middle of a bridge. They couldn't move. Traffic was backed up in both directions.

I followed cautiously behind a caravan of other drivers that perhaps took Waze's advice.

It wasn't until I reached Temple that road conditions improved. Although the temperature outside was 23 degrees Fahrenheit, there wasn't enough sleet accumulation to cause much issue.

I arrived home at 11:00 pm. It was perhaps the most stressful seven hours I have ever experienced in my life. I thought about the what ifs. I ran all different scenarios in my head of what could or might have happened if I left earlier or later. I thanked my god many times throughout my voyage. I felt I truly had something looking out for me.

And to be honest, if I were to ever come across that situation again, I will think twice before deciding to make a trip in icy conditions.

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