I got a message from a Facebook friend, stating that she was stuck several hours on the motorway, in the cold. This took me back to what actually started out as a bright wintry afternoon in 2003 (January 31 to be precise; a Thursday. No, my memory’s not that good. Thanks Google!) , when I got caught in a blizzard, which took me (and most of the UK) totally by surprise.
The snowstorm came in right from the blue; the authorities had no time to lay grit on the roads. I remember getting into my car shortly after lunch, at Maidstone. As I drove towards “home” (Welwyn Garden City), I noticed a few tiny snowflakes on my windscreen. That’s odd, I thought. It wasn’t really that cold; it seemed too early for snow.
But as the afternoon progressed, the snowfall thickened to a veritable blizzard. It became increasingly difficult to drive, and cars seemed to whiz by a little drunkenly. There was by now a warning on the radio, asking motorists to postpone journeys if they could. By then it was too late for me. There was no turn-off junction for quite a few miles; in fact the turn-off ahead was my exit junction. Traffic had by now slowed to a crawl, and eventually came to a standstill. So near and yet so far, I thought. At that point, I seemed confident that I’d be stuck for half an hour max.
Wishful thinking! I was stuck on the motorway for a total of 13 hours!
I am amazed at how unprepared I was. I had not carried a phone with me (Rookie mistake number 1).
My fuel gauge was moving steadily into the red (RM #2). I hadn’t made sure I had filled up before setting out.
I didn’t have warm clothes on, or a blanket in the boot (RM #3).
I made the forgivable (perhaps) mistake of keeping the heating on to stay warm; but I shut off the gas when stationary. Eventually the battery died, and I couldn’t get the car started (RM #4).
As I didn’t have a phone, I couldn’t call assistance without leaving my car. Thankfully I had reached near an area where there were people about, so I could use a landline (it was an office that was just about to close). I took one step out of the car, and slid right to the ground, it was that slippery. The road had turned to ice. I gingerly crawled my way to the phone and back.
The breakdown vehicle took its time getting to me, thanks to the traffic gridlock. I pulled over to the side as much as I could (it was impossible to push the car to the side; I tried. I kept slipping & falling onto the road). I turned on the hazard lights; eventually even they flickered away to nothing as the the last ounce of battery life ebbed away.
I needed to take a leak desperately, but there wasn’t any public convenience about. The office had by now closed. I’m embarrassed to say that I had no choice but to go into someone’s snow-covered back garden and just commit the act there.
I was also hungry and thirsty, but had neither food nor drink in the car (RM #5).
Once the breakdown team did get to me, it was a simple matter of jumpstarting the car, and I was technically ready to go. I hadn’t carried a torch (RM #6) to help the team as they worked, but fortunately they did. I attempted to join the now slow crawl; the wheels simply spun helplessly in the snow. Then I remembered that one needs to start from second gear in such cases, and the car set off nervously.
As I drove, I saw at least 2 cars spin a full 360 degrees out of control on the icy roads. Thankfully no damage to life or property.
I got home at nearing 2 am the following day, and just sank to the floor, sobbing in a mixture of fatigue and relief, and not a little self-pity 🙂
From then on, here’s what I made sure I always had in the car:
1. A full tank before any long journey
2. My phone (it became a ritual: keys-wallet-phone); fully charged.
3. A blanket, and a warm overshirt.
4. Water in a nice big bottle
5. A big bag of crisps, and a few bars of Kit-Kat in the boot.
6. A list of handy numbers in my wallet and in the glove compartment.
7. A torch
If you’re reading this, live in a cold country and drive a vehicle, make sure to go through this list. It could save you a lot of discomfort, and possibly your life.
When I awoke the morning after, I switched on the news, and found that many motorists were still stranded, making their ordeal far longer than mine. I thanked God for small mercies.