If you’ve seen the film starring Viggo Mortensen or read the book by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a wrenching tale of a father and son trying to trek across the barren post-apocalyptic America. There’s abandoned cars and desolation every where. That was about 6 hours of my wife and I’s life yesterday. Just outside of Tye, Texas we slowed to a stop on I-20. We sat there for about 2 hours. It was about the place on the map where we had 1 hour of driving left. We thought we’d be home by 6P. We never made it that far.
I-20 was a standstill from Ranger Hill all the way back west to Merkel. Tons and tons of semi-trucks were either t-boned on the road, abandoned, or stalled. We’d move 100 yards at a walking pace in our car, then stop for 45 minutes with no movement. Then repeat the process at 150 yards. It was agony and insanity. Our bodies were aching. We had 1/2 a tank of gas left. We would put the car in park, sit for over an hour and then put it in 2nd (low) gear to drive. There’s a level of calm that takes over when you realize there’s nothing you can do to change your circumstances. All you can do is sit and wait for something to change.
That calm dissipated after 30 minutes of silent and motionless sitting. Both of us were tapping our legs, nervous that we’d be stuck on the road over night, have to abandon our car to seek lodging, or worse, run out of gas and be stuck out there for more than a day. We had provisions to last a few hours. Beyond that was was hindsight would tell us later that we needed more. We needed water. We needed food. We had warmth, but would the gas last. Should we take the first exit we see and rough it on the access road? As we sat at mile marker 272, any possibility of movement seemed like the best idea.
I called a friend to check it we should try an access road. Suddenly the semi in front of us pulled forward. I followed, not even able to take my foot completely off the brake. We moved roughly 200 yards. We decided not to take the exit at 272 because the access road was white with ice. Chancing that could put us in a ditch or worse yet, stranded and alone. At least if we stalled here there’s tons of people who might help us. We sat for more than 30 minutes. My friend said we should exit in Tye, take the access road to the Business 20/ South 1st exit and take that into Abilene.
Finally we were able to exit just outside of Tye. It was after dark. There was a semi truck 2 cars in front of us and an SUV in front of us. As the road veered to the right, I noticed that I-20 was moving to the left and we weren’t parallel to it anymore. As we approached a left turn, I slowly turned the car and avoided an oncoming vehicle and another car who was trying to make a U-turn. We ventured back onto the feeder road. On both sides of the lane were parked/stalled semi trucks. Some had their engines off. Some were still running.
As we continued on the feeder road, slow patches of 1-2 mph grew to 5 mph at times. That was the fastest we sped. The road turned and twisted, our line of a few cars veering carefully around stalled semis on the sides of both sides of the road. Then there was a line in the middle of the road. Were they stalled or moving? We couldn’t tell. The cars in front veered to the right and started moving around them. We followed about 20 feet behind. As we started to pass the first truck in the middle of the road, the truck in front of it lunged forward to try and move back on the road. We hit the brakes and tried not to fishtail. Cursing, we made it passed the truck angry that someone who could see such treacherous conditions all around us would risk our lives as well as his. I didn’t look in the rearview mirror to see if he made it out.
My eyes were fixed to the road, the patches of concrete becoming fewer and fewer amongst the long stripes of ice and white. The rear-wheel drive car kept moving forward, the steering wheel clutched in my fists and the suspension squeaking at every bump, which was happening every 2-3 seconds. The car in front made a slow turn onto the interstate. The road beyond the access point was pitch black and frightening. I couldn’t tell if any of it was clear or if it would keep going at all. Reluctantly, I followed the car onto I-20. There was a large space to pull into and I made it on the highway without problem. We were traveling 20 mph, which seemed like lightspeed at this point. As we neared the exit for Business 20/83/South 1st in Abilene, a nagging fear began echoing in my mind: “You know this road is scary and dangerous during normal driving conditions, don’t you? This could be the most dangerous and hazardous choice you’ve made don’t you?”
I pressed on to the ramp. What would lie ahead would not only confirm the fear, but test me more than nearly anything I’ve every experienced before. And yet I would see something few people have the opportunity to see and taste.
Read Part 2 here.