We left Denver On Saturday, January 4th, knowing that a big snow storm was about to hit the east coast and the midwest. As we prepared to leave the night before and checked the weather forecast, we saw that snow was expected to hit Denver starting at 6am, with the storm heading east along our planned travel path. So we left at 5:30am as snow was starting to come down. It took about 30 minutes of driving before we got completely ahead of the snow and onto dry roads. The rest of our 12 hour drive was dry, but anytime we stopped for gas breaks, we could see snowflakes starting to fall as we finished each break. It reminded me of the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" where the big "freeze" is following right behind them. We had to keep breaks short and keep driving to stay ahead of the storm behind us. We got to Grace's house in St. Louis about an hour before the snow hit.
Sunday was a very relaxed day. We had no intentions to attempt driving home in the snow storm, so we stayed with Grace another day. In anticipation of the weather, Church had been cancelled for much of the St. Louis area. We stayed inside all day and watched the snow fall. That day happened to be my birthday, so we celebrated.
Grace made me a cake and helped all the kids make Birthday cards for me.
I felt very loved.
We played games and snacked on food all day long.
By Monday morning, the sky was clear and we figured the roads would have been plowed and salted enough that we could slowly and carefully drive the (normally) 4.5 hours back home to Indiana.
This is the view out Grace's front window. Her husband, David, braved the negative temperature outside to shovel a path to our car and clear the mountain of snow off of it. They loaded us up with snacks, water and an emergency candle just in case something happened. I thought for sure that everyone was overreacting about the severity of the storm and that we'd be home by that afternoon.
How very wrong I was.
Leaving St. Louis, the roads weren't too bad. They were mostly clear, with patches here and there, but we could drive about 40-50mph safely on them so we were feeling pretty good.
It's hard to see in this picture, but this is the Mississippi River, frozen over......
In all the years and winters that I've spent in St. Louis, I've never seen the mighty Mississippi completely frozen. It was ridiculously cold!!
We kept going on I-70 through Illinois. The road conditions were getting a little worse, but still drive-able.
We passed several cars and Semis that had slid off the road. Rarely was there a person inside the car (Thank goodness they had already been taken to safety), but there was no way to tow a car out of a ditch in all this mess. Many of the semi trucks had flipped onto the side. It was starting to dawn on us how severe this storm was and we said several prayers during the drive of gratitude for our continued safety.
Just before Effingham, IL, we reached a traffic standstill. (The trucks and our car in the picture below are stopped on the highway. We would never be following that closely behind if we were moving.)
You can see how bad the roads were at this point. You could not see a single patch of road; it was entirely covered in packed snow and ice.
This is what we were driving on. Scary.
After not moving for quite some time, we turned on the radio and discovered that there had been an accident further up the highway and we had to wait for the road to be cleared. We waited in that exact spot for almost 3 hours. Cars as far as we could see in front of us, cars as far as we could see behind us.
Luckily, the boys slept through most of the down time.
We finally got past the traffic. By this point, it was 4pm. It took us 7 hours to travel what normally takes 1.5 hours. And we were still very far from home. Knowing we wouldn't make it home before dark, and knowing how dangerous the roads were even when it was light out, we stopped in Effingham to get a hotel.
So did thousands of other people.
All the truckers and all the travelers were occupying every single hotel. We called and/or drove to over 15 hotels and not one of them had a room for us. I called my Dad who looked up some hotels in the next town down the road. We called several places and finally found a Day's Inn who would book a room for us. Now we just had to drive 30 miles to reach Mattoon, IL. At a speed of 15-20 mph, it took us a while, but we made it. In the 130 miles from St. Louis to Mattoon, we passed 31 semis and 61 cars that had slid off the road. And I'm sure I missed counting several cars when I was on the phone trying to find us a hotel. Yes, we counted. It became a game of sorts to count and find all the cars buried under snow drifts.
We grabbed some Taco Bell for dinner (Thank you for being open!) and parked at the Days Inn. Finally! The day is over right?..... right?....
Even though we had called ahead to book a room, we still had to wait in a line of several other people who also had a room booked. Our kids ran around the lobby making friends with everyone. After 2 hours in line we finally got to the desk, checked in and got a key card. We walked to our room, unlocked the door... and there was already a family in our room. What?! Mckay went back to the desk to sort the mix-up out while I tried to keep the kids in line again. I was so grumpy, tired and fed up by this point. About 15 minutes later, Mckay led us to our new room: an exterior (meaning a drafty door with all the wind and -20 degree temperature) smoking room (we booked a non-smoking) that had not been cleaned from the previous occupant and had "used" sheets. And yet, despite the sub par conditions, I was so glad to be "safe." After cranking up the heat, we said a prayer as a family, thankful that we had a safe, warm place to sleep and that our car was fine and working.
We spent all day Tuesday in Mattoon. We checked road conditions online throughout the day and everything indicated that Indiana highways were not quite safe for travel yet. We got groceries, watched a lot of TV in the hotel, and prepared to hopefully leave Wednesday morning. On Wednesday, the temperature was in the 30s (a heat wave compared to the days before!), Indiana highways were looking clearer, and we needed some clean clothes to wear, so we drove home!
After all the time we'd spent in the car those past few days, the boys did really great for the last leg of our journey. Though Connor got grumpy if you denied him snacks.
Over the next 150 miles of road, we saw 28 more semis and 80 more cars off the road. We made it home in the early afternoon and we were so excited to finally eat lunch in our own home again.
After we got home, there were some minor things to deal with, like shoveling the 18 inch snow drifts off our driveway so we could get in, and thawing the frozen (but not broken, thank goodness!) pipes so we could use water. And there was the flat tire on our car that mysteriously showed up only after we made it all the way home.
That's the epic tale of our journey home. But we did finally make it home, and that's the most important thing.
And it keeps snowing, so we haven't left our house much ever since.