Caanan Valley (part of a larger work, Grace Under Pressure)
Our parents didn't want us to go,
but there was no real reason why we shouldn't. The biggest problem
was the weather and, as every one in the northern United States
knows, during winter the weather can go bad at any moment. It was
one week before Christmas and the three of us had decided to go
on a skiing trip. The kicker was it was out of state and a good
eight solid hours away from home. The three of us had a break from
college and we decided we wanted to make the most of our time. Our
parents, captivated by the local weather forecast warned us against
such endeavors because there was a winter storm moving up the coast
and it promised us nothing but dangerous amounts of snow. Fortunately-or
perhaps unfortunately-all three of us were headstrong and only needed
encouragement from the others to proceed. Besides, the rooms at
the ski lodge had been paid for in advance. The ski lodge itself
was located in a small town called Canaan Valley somewhere in the
northeast corner of West Virginia. We settled on the location almost
at the last minute, even though the trip itself had been in the
works for months.
I was providing the transportation, so I was the first up and moving
to get everything in order. After packing the car with my gear,
I hurried over to Rick's house to pick him and Bob up. Bob had spent
the night at Rick's, while we made our final preparations. Bob,
Rick, and I had been friends since junior high school and this trip
was the first event we had planned since we started college. The
holidays offered us a chance to be in the same place at the same
time and also provided us with the perfect opportunity to plan any
trips we might want to take. This current trip we had planned included
a fairly strict time table; we had to make check in by 6:30 so it
was imperative that we should leave as early as possible.
Therefore, we left as soon as we could, but only after hearing the
last warnings of, "Be careful of the weather! Are you sure you want
to go?" Contrary to the local weather forecast the day turned out
to be beautiful and the sun was showing brightly over-head. The
snow that had recently fallen was rapidly melting and virtual streams
were found just about everywhere. It only took us less than half
an hour to get outside of our small town in Pennsylvania and within
another hour we were on the state turnpike. We took turns driving
and wearing the official "sheepskin-driving hat." All three of us
looked ridiculous wearing it, but that was the point. The radio
provided our only source of entertainment and once we made it onto
the turnpike we marveled at the irony as AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell'
started to play. It was a great source of amusement for at least
a half an hour.
After a large portion of the day had been eaten away and it was
starting to get dark, we passed the West Virginia border. Tension
was rising from the group and it was not too difficult to pinpoint
the cause. It was my turn to drive just before we crossed over the
border. I realized that I had missed an exit because the road suddenly
had become a single lane and there was no indication of any other
exit up ahead. It was becoming more and more obvious that I had
no idea where we were, so I was forced to break the news.
"Are you telling me we're lost?" Bob said rather aggravated. He
was notoriously anal when it came to making events on time.
"Looks that way," I replied semi-defiantly. Unfortunately, I had
a habit of getting lost and it usually happened when we were pressed
"How come you always get lost?" Bob said.
"It's a skill."
"What can I say?" I said.
"How about; I always get lost because
I'm a freaking moron." Rick said.
"Thanks, we needed your two cents."
In our circle of friends Rick was
known as the instigator. He had gained this reputation because it
was obvious he enjoyed creating dissension between us.
"Can't we all just get along? Besides,
this is not helping us make check-in on time." Bob said.
"Let Bob drive." Rick suggested.
"Fine, okay." I pulled the car over
to the side of the road and got out, exchanging places with Bob
in the passenger side seat. Even though it was Rick's turn to ride
shotgun I purposefully left him in the back. He didn't say anything.
We drove for another two hours before
accepting defeat. We were utterly and hopelessly lost. The setting
sun allowed us to see that the snow-covered, rolling hills of the
West Virginia countryside was incredible, but it soon became difficult
to tell if we were on some side road or the highway. In the meantime,
the darkness had become complete. To make matters worse as we climbed
the next hill a dense fog surrounded us. It also had become apparent
that it had been snowing there, because the roads and surrounding
trees were completely covered. Bob slowed down to adjust for the
poor roads and poor visibility, but the worst had not yet begun.
"Is that what I think it is?" Bob
pointed to the dash.
"That light on the dash?" I was horrified.
"Yeah, that means we're almost out of gas."
"Great." Bob said with dry sarcasm.
I shrugged, "What do you want me
to do about it?"
"Nothing." Bob replied.
"This isn't good," Rick said from
As the car edged its way to the
top of the hill, Bob came to a complete stop.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I can't see anything." Bob said.
"Maybe we should get out?"
"Well at least we can see what is
around us, I'd like to know if we are going to drive off a cliff
"Good point." Bob said.
The doors creaked open and all three
of us got out of the car. Each of us began to walk in different
directions, but it was clear that if we wandered too far we would
lose sight of the car and each other. The three of us stopped, turned
around, and walked back to the car. Often people notice coincidences
when they occur, but it is usually obvious only to the individual.
When the coincidence occurs to more than one person, in our case
three people, it becomes something more unique. Most of the time
that is a rather irrelevant fact, but on this day all of us slamming
our doors simultaneously caused a terrible result. Bob had put the
car into drive, but the tires were spinning, we were stuck. As Bob
took his foot off the accelerator, I heard a rather loud rumbling.
It was getting louder by the minute. Instantly, with a whoosh and
slam the entire car was covered in snow. We had set off an avalanche
with our synchronized car door slamming.
"Whooaah!" Bob said.
"SHIT!" I said.
"What do we do!?" Rick said.
By the look on our faces it was evident
that panic had set in, but was quickly replaced with anger.
"I don't fucking believe this!" I
shouted and looked at Bob, "Why did you stop!"
"Well, jackass, can I remind you
it was your bright idea to get out of the car in the first place!"
Bob screamed back.
"Oh, that's brilliant." I said.
"Hey, this trip was your idea, not
ours!" Rick exclaimed.
"Oh, so now no one can take responsibility
for themselves!?" I said.
"It might not have been so bad if
your car wasn't a piece of shit." Rick said. We fell into silence
for a few hellish minutes. No one wanted to speak. Another rumbling
came, but this time the car shifted to the right and elevated itself
"Now what?" Bob asked.
"We need to do something." Rick said.
"What?" Bob said, "As soon as we
open those windows the snow will pile into the car and we'll all
suffocate or freeze to death!"
"Yeah, but the air's not going to
last either." Rick pointed out.
"Shit, shit!" I said, "I was hoping
we could stay in the car until help arrived."
"Fancy thinking. What help exactly?"
"Shut up." I said.
"We need to think." Bob said.
"I know I have one or two old blankets
in the trunk and the back seat folds down so we can get to them."
"That's a start, what about a flash
light?" Rick asked.
"I have one but the batteries are
dead." I said.
"Smart. Did you know that if you
sit in darkness for too long you eventually go blind?" Rick said.
"No I didn't, thank you doctor stupid."
"Yeah and when we are both blind
I'm going to beat you with my cane." Rick said.
"Can't wait to see you try."
"Guys this isn't getting us anywhere!
What about food, do we have any?" Bob said.
"I have some snacks; crackers, pretzels,
those kinds of things." I said. "Do we have anything to drink?"
"Nope." Rick said.
"What?" Bob said.
"He's right, we don't. Unless you
want to drink out of the old water jug I have in the back for over-heating
emergencies." I said.
"Slight chance that's going to happen
today." Rick said.
"Brilliant input from the cheap seats."
The discussion soon turned into another
argument .We started talking nonsense, spurred on by fear and hopelessness.
All of it happening over what seemed to be an eternity of time,
but in reality only twenty minutes had passed.
"Maybe we should stay here and who
ever fall asleep first gets killed and provides food for the others."
"Yeah, and maybe you'll fall asleep
first?" I said.
"Maybe. Are you willing to bet your
life on it?"
"Whose joking, we have to survive.
You know, survival of the fittest?" Rick said.
It was apparent that we were becoming
suspicious of each other. When a catastrophe occurs one of two things
can happen; the people involved can ban together to pursue a common
interest, namely human preservation, or they can pursue the 'every
man for himself' theory where it is up to the individual to prevail.
Our situation seemed to be shifting towards the latter. There was
no obvious way out, we were trapped, the tension was overwhelming
and no one seemed to be able to come to grips with the reality of
the situation. Bob was arguing for supplies and trying to decide
how we were going to last, Rick was simply arguing for argument's
sake and unfortunately I was adding fuel to his fire by continuing
the argument. To tell the truth, Rick was starting to get to me.
Finally, I had enough and reached
over my seat and shoved Rick. Bob shoved me and in a minute we were
glaring angrily at each other. Rick and Bob had chosen sides and
I was the one to lose. I couldn't win the argument if I was out
numbered so all I could think of doing was leaving so I reached
for the handle of the passenger window and quickly started rolling
it down. Snow fell on me, but before either Bob or Rick could react,
I had stuck my arm through the window. It went through the snow
and into the night. The snow blocking the window was only a single
layer, a couple of inches deep.
Bob and Rick rolled down their windows
and we all climbed out of the car. The snow had come from the trees
lining the road and judging by the large tire marks and the pattern
of the snow cleared around my car, the second noise must have been
the snowplow. We started to look around and no one said a word.
Just over the next hill we could see a glare, it soon became apparent
that this was our only choice in terms of direction. I reached into
the car and turned on the four way emergency lights. In solemn silence,
we walked down the road towards the light. We didn't want to look
each other in the eye. We heard a loud rumbling behind us so we
turned around just in time to see the snowplow coming full tilt
towards us. Frantically we tried to get over, but it was too late,
the plow swept by and covered us in slush. We stood silently looking
at each other and then we began to laugh hysterically.