The Possibility of Weather
“We’re about to drive into snow.”
“What are you talking about? The sun is shining.”
My brother and I were driving cross country from Connecticut to Washington. It was the first week of February, 2008. Justin had returned from his first tour in Iraq and was being reassigned from Fort Drum, New York to Fort Lewis, Washington. We had been warned about the possibility of weather and had chosen to take the southern route of I-90 to I-80 instead of the northern way along I-94. By avoiding Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, we figured we’d bypass the end of winter. The only other stretch we had to worry about wouldn’t be until Washington when we had to go through the Snoqualmie Pass.
Much like its name implies, the Snoqualmie Pass has an average snowfall of over four hundred inches. Road conditions can change rapidly. In times of inclement weather, the Department of Transportation shuts down travel through the pass limiting use to only those vehicles with tire chains or in severe cases to all traffic.
After three days, we were in Wyoming, the land of a thousand ranch exits but not a single service area, about to cross over the Rocky Mountains. We didn’t speak much about the war during those days. Spending most of the hours with our own thoughts as we drove companionably side by side across the country, occasionally pointing out interesting bits of the landscape as it rolled by. It was the closest our relationship would be before time, distance, PTSD, and an ill-fated marriage would gradually drive us apart.
The wind picked up, which seemed incredulous given the sixty mile an hour gusts we had been experiencing through the plains. Instantly, visibility plummeted. The clouds blocked out the sun, and the mountains blocked out the rest. Windshield wipers slapped back and forth frantically to no avail. The landscape went from wide open to dangerous and foreboding. Giant mountains marched along the right side of the road in contrast to the sheer nothingness just over the cliff on the left.
Neither the extreme change in weather nor the narrow, twisting, turning two-lane highway deterred the tractor trailers surrounding us. They sped screaming by, hauling their cargo while my brother white-knuckled the steering wheel. I had argued with him repeatedly to let me drive. Ten hours a day behind the wheel was insane when you had someone to share the burden with. Never had I been gladder for his stubborn refusal.
The wind howled. It was all we could hear besides the slap of the wipers and the whine of the big rigs. It seemed as if by some secret agreement, we both decided this was a time for silence. I don’t remember which of us turned off the radio but it was the only stretch of our trip without a musical soundtrack.
Finally, a respite, up ahead appeared a rest stop. A small two-pump gas station surrounded by a large parking lot full of tractor trailers, ours the only passenger car. We bundled up and race-walked to the door. Warm air greeted us. An uneasy feeling washed over me as I took in the small convenience store—dingy walls, dated goods on sagging shelves, a worn and dirty tile floor. It was obvious the almost toothless man behind the counter lived there. Where could he possibly commute from?
The ladies room was a science experiment forgotten years ago. Mold stains, rust, and crusted dirt covered every surface. After holding it for most of the “Cowboy State,” my bladder was full. My thigh muscles protested as I hovered over the bowl. My sense of dread growing by the minute. I didn’t bother to wash my hands. Using a wad of toilet paper I opened the door, meeting my brother in the cramped hallway as he exited the men’s room.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here. The whole time I kept waiting for someone to come up behind me and say ‘don’t you have a purdy mouth, boy,’” he said humming the banjo tune from Deliverance.
The howling wind and white-out storm welcomed us as we rushed out to the car. After our terror-inducing restroom experience, the snow seemed like an old friend.
I’m not sure how many miles we drove through the mountains or how long it took to cross into Idaho, much like the storm and the distance now between us, it seemed to simply appear on the horizon.