Let me preface this by saying if 2020 was a road trip, this would be it.
For Christmas, my family and I wanted the guarantee of a white Christmas. We got more than we bargained for.
We booked a old company house at the Cass Scenic Railroad Historical State Park in West Virginia, and made reservations at Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort.
We packed up Sally the Suburban on Christmas Eve and headed northeast toward our West Virginia mountain destination. We had no sooner reached Rockwood than snow began to fall very, very heavily.
While Crossville enjoyed a light dusting, by the time we got to Knoxville, we were trudging about 30 miles an hour at the fastest through near white-out blizzard-like conditions. Cars were sliding off the road into the median. It took us every bit of two hours just to get out of Knoxville. We couldn’t see the road at all. With little to no visibility for lane lines, exit ramps, even road signs, everyone was making up their own rules.
My husband, Alfred, called it a “white-knuckle” ride, and it really was. What was supposed to take about 8 hours to drive turned into about 14, with record low speeds and stopping every 50 miles to knock about a foot of ice, salt and sludge off our headlights so we could keep driving through the dark of the night.
With no radio in Sally the Suburban, we entertained ourselves along the way. We couldn’t help but break into song, mostly circling around John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” all the way there. Every time one of us would start singing, “Take me home, country roads,” our girls, Zolah or Zuranda, would chime in, “To the place I belong.” Then someone else would sing, “West Virginia, mountain mama.” Then we’d finish, “Take me home, country roads.” I love to read the unique town names on the signs (those we could still see at this point) and make jokes about them and it actually makes for easier navigation. We made up songs and turned carols like “Jingle Bells” into funny carols about our tumultuous drive and looked at all the pretty Christmas lights adorning houses on the snowy Christmas Eve.
Finally, we reached White Sulphur Springs, WV, around 2:30 a.m. and turned on Pocahontas Trail to drive the next leg of 30 miles on State Route 92 North. We were the only ones on the road at this the witching hour. We came around a curve to see a massive fallen pine across the road and Alfred told us to hold on as we slid to a stop just before we barreled into it.
There was nowhere to go. The fallen pine bridged the inclined land-walls that encased the little two-lane highway, blocking the whole road from ditch to ditch. It was like that preschool song “Going on a Bear Hunt” when it says, “Can’t go over it. Can’t go around it. Can’t go through it.”
A chain saw would have been really nice. (Note for next trip: pack the chainsaw.)
The family men, Alfred and our son, Zeke, assessed the situation. We brainstormed ideas. There was no signal there to call authorities and let them know about the tree hazard. There had been houses along the road those last 20 miles or so, but I hesitated to be an out-of-towner knocking on a stranger’s door at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve and asking for a chainsaw or a tow chain. It would have to be a last resort if we needed it to be.
At this point, we’d been on the road for 12 hours in treacherous conditions. Alfred refused to turn around in the middle of the road and drive the 20-plus miles back toward White Sulphur Springs.
Our only other option was that we had Alfred’s hatchet I’d given him for a birthday present years ago.
He and Zeke set to chopping out the largest limbs from the top part of the huge trunk that was positioned highest off the road. The fallen pine tree was so frozen and the hatchet so sharp they made considerably quick work of busting through all the large limbs, creating an arbor-way for Sally the Suburban to fit under if we drove partially in the ditch. Finally, the arbor was done and Alfred put Sally in 4x4 and we just squeaked beneath the tree. By squeaked, I mean it literally squeaked as we went under the trunk because it scraped the roof and popped one of the rungs of the luggage rack on top. Luckily, we had hauled all our luggage in the trunk space. If we had hauled it on top, there’s no way we would have fit beneath the tree.
The men of the family were proud of their diligent work chopping through the massive tree with the hatchet in the freezing cold. We ladies praised them as they so deserved. There was cheering on the little snow covered street in the middle of the night. It was a victory. We got back on the road and kept steady our pace on our mission for a white Christmas.
Arriving in Cass, WV, around 4:30 a.m. we found our new digs for the weekend. It was in the wee hours of Christmas morning so we unpacked quickly, I set out some Christmas decorations and our stockings from home and then we cooked up an early Christmas breakfast. Alfred tended to the eggs and sausage while I baked the homemade cinnamon rolls and put the ham in the oven to roast for Christmas Day.
The house smelled like Christmas. It was Christmas. And it was a white Christmas.
The kids opened their “Christmas Eve” pajamas, even though it was technically Christmas morning by then. Zolah and Zuranda wanted the family to go ahead and open the presents they packed. Then the kids were off to bed for a nap, and Alfred and I set to fill the stockings.
I think it was about 7:30 a.m. that morning before I set the alarm and took a long winter’s nap– just kidding, it was a three hour nap. I woke the house and got breakfast going again, opened our Christmas stockings, and got ready to head up to Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort. The kids and I had never been skiing or to West Virginia, so this was more adventures for us.
We got to Snowshoe. It was absolutely freezing. The high was only supposed to be 10ºF. And it was still snowing.
Of course! Why didn’t I consider, what with the blizzard and tree, that we wouldn’t have subzero temperatures to contend with? Silly, Rebekah, it’s still 2020.
It was so brutally cold our eyelashes and face coverings were frozen solid. It reminded me of that scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when they were getting a Christmas tree and Clark asked, “Isn’t it a beaut, Audrey?” and Ellen said, “She’ll have to look at it later, honey. Her eyes are frozen.”
Since everything about this trip, so far, hadn’t gone according to plan, neither did us making it to ski/snowboard lessons. We didn’t know where to go or how to get there and it was so hard to do anything.
With no ski school, we tried to learn on the little practice slope. On top of that mountain, the wind was so strong it was blowing us all over. At one point, the wind caught Zuranda on her snowboard and I couldn’t catch her as it blew her down the little practice slope. She snowboarded into a family just standing there. Their daughter fell onto her and I watched and laughed as my little human bowling ball knocked down the human bowling pins. The kid-cicles needed some chow and a thaw so we stopped off to eat.
All day long we kept getting sideways glance; they’d look and whisper to each other and look again. At least twice, we received a chuckle and the comment, “Nice outfits.” I quickly deduced that the “slope snobs” were being facetious because we were wearing our waterproof camouflage winter hunting gear, instead of their socially acceptable The North Face, or even those cartoonish metallic silver fashion ski hooded parka jumpsuit costumes that made at least one pair of girls look like they walked right out of Whoville or the “Dumb and Dumber” movie set looking like Harry and Floyd in Colorado.
Back to the story, I was hoping by the time the sun set, the wind would calm down. It didn’t, but we decided to get our money’s worth and try a greenhorn slope. The low for the day was supposed to be 2ºF and the last report we had, the temperature dropped to 3ºF and the wind chill was -15ºF. The blustery wind chill was beyond frigid.
Still, we were going to make the best of it. With virtually no practice between any of us, except Alfred who’d been a proficient skier, we were going downhill. We inched a long with all the kids and got past two or three downward slopes when one of my skis turned into my other, twisted my leg inward and tripped me. Going downhill, gravity pulled me over my twisted leg and I fell over it. My foot was bound up and I couldn’t free it because my skis. I hollered for Alfred whose quick thinking probably saved me from a broken ankle and used the ski pole to release my foot out of the ski. It twisted my ankle and I couldn’t walk on it. There was no way I could finish the slope. We flagged down help, they radioed ski patrol and while the family finished the run, I rode the snowmobile back to ski patrol medical office to asses the condition of my ankle and ice it. It was stable, just twisted and hurt.
The family made it back to me safely. Alfred said the kids did well but riding the ski lift in such arctic air was almost too much to bear. They hobbled me back to our house in Cass. It was time for Christmas dinner.
We had ham, vegetables and homemade yeast rolls. Then, I baked homemade tarts made with the peach preserves I’d made. With the family well fed, we watched Christmas movies and enjoyed a much needed full night of sleep.
The next day, after sleeping in, we visited the Cass Company Store. We buy new ornaments for everyone every year and bought our new Christmas ornaments for 2020. Then we suited up again and headed up to Snowshoe for the Coca-Cola Tubing Park to go snow tubing for two hours. Someone got stuck and caused a traffic jam at the top of the mountain which had everyone blocked. We finally got there an hour late, but we were intent on tubing. It was still bitter outside with a low of 1ºF, but the wind chill was much improved. The kids and Alfred huddled around me, helping me limp up to the conveyor that pulled us on the tubes to the top of the hill. We spent the next hour tubing and had a blast. An hour was about all we wanted of that cold. And I got to make good on my earlier promises to the kids of hot sugar waffles from the Waffle Cabin and Starbucks that was thwarted the night before because of my ankle. Other than the traffic jam that kept us from tubing, there were no additional accidents to report– well, at least that day.
On Sunday, we packed everything up and went to check out of Cass Scenic Railroad Historic State Park at the Cass Company Store. Then we ate at the Last Run Cafe. Zeke, who plays guitar, bought the mandolin that was hanging in the Cass Company Store. He was so excited, held it up and said, “We have the prized possession.”
We started home and were actually making good time, considering the roads were still a sloshy mess. Alfred mentioned that the car behind us was riding too close. The roads were still bad and when we stopped at the stop sign to turn onto Hwy. 39 at White Sulphur Springs, the car that was following too close slid right into us.
Yep, that’s right, we were “year-ended rear-ended.” It was like 2020 was giving us a nice swift kick in the pants before we went our separate ways, and used this sweet couple in their 30s from Florida behind us to do it.
Everyone was fine. The only injury was to Sally the Suburban and they gave us their insurance information and said they’d take care of her.
Honestly, they sounded like they had a trip about like ours. They also had a Christmas vacation at Snowshoe. They only lasted on the slopes for about an hour because of the cold. Then the wife said their skis had gotten tangled coming off the ski lift, she bent down to fix their skis and when she raised back up, a ski lift hit her in the back of the head and her husband said it knocked her out.
We all just had to laugh it off. It was just too ridiculous not to at this point. Alfred said, “We’ve just had to roll with it on this trip, hadn’t we, Babe?”
Both families hoped for all our sakes that the rest of our trips home would be uneventful.
A friend of mine said, “If it was any other way, it wouldn’t be a typical ‘Bekah and Faff’ trip,” referring to me and Alfred.
He’s not wrong.
Truth be told, this trip was more memorable than any we’ve ever taken and gave us one heck of a story to go along with our epic trip.
Nice try, 2020. We enjoyed it anyway.
Although, Zeke did ask to stay home for Christmas next year.