Every year my fiance’ and I spend Christmas here in Michigan with my family. So naturally, it is only fair for us to try and make a trip out to Illinois around New Years to celebrate Christmas with her family next. We have done this for the three years we have been dating, but the trip before last, turned out to be the biggest winter travel disaster of all time!
We had packed our bags and scheduled everything with the cat sitter. We put our dog Gizmo on his leash and hopped into my 2004 Chevy Aveo. The sun was shining and it was a little cold, with it being winter and all, but the roads were completely clear and there was no sign of snow in the forecast. The first few hours in were smooth sailing. We cruised down I-94 blasting our favorite jams and taking turns singing the lyrics to the soundtrack from Rent. We stopped once or twice for a bathroom break, and let Gizmo roam around a bit before proceeding with our trip.
About an hour away from Illinois, there is a stretch of road that passes Lake Michigan. The road was still completely clear and we were traveling in the far left lane of the expressway when all of a sudden light snow started falling. All of the cars in front of us started to switch lanes. Just as I was about to flip my turn signal on to switch lanes like everybody else, the Aveo hit black ice and we started spinning in circles into oncoming traffic, including several semi trucks.
After the car slid and spun around once or twice I knew that there was no way to gain control back. Feeling defeated and scared for my life, I screamed “I love you” over and over again to Caitlen, my fiance’ who was sitting in the passenger seat, explaining to her mother whom she had been talking to on the phone at the time, that we were getting into an accident. They always say in the movies that when traumatic things happen in your life it seems like time freezes in that moment. I now understand what they mean by that. I thought for sure we were going to die.
Suddenly we stopped spinning. The car had slid on a patch of black ice and spun around and around into three lanes of oncoming traffic and we had landed in a ditch, high up on top of a hill in a pile of tiny dead trees. We were literally in the car, slanted and looking down at the ditch, about to roll over. Thinking quickly in an effort to save us from doing just that, I slowly pulled forward until the car was straight, and no longer leaning. Then after breathing a sigh of relief, I turned off the ignition and turned to face my fiance’.
After asking Caitlen if she were okay, my next thought was immediately about Gizmo, our 6 pound papillion, who a few moments prior to the accident had been happily sitting in the back seat, ears perked up and looking out the window. “Where’s Gizmo?” I asked. As we both turned to look, all we saw was luggage thrown across the seats and floor of the car in disarray. “Gizmo, Gizmo” we both started shouting frantically. My heart dropped when there was no response. A few seconds later, one of the bags moved. Gizmo was trapped underneath it and couldn’t move it. Just as I reached to try and help, his tiny head emerged. He looked a little shaken up, but seemed to be in one piece.
I got out of the car to assess the damage. Surprisingly, the car seemed totally fine, minus a few twigs and branches jammed into the new rims and tires my dad had just bought me a week ago. My first thought was “Great, Dad’s going to kill me.” The front end of the car was sunk down into the ground, totally covered in mud. There was no way we were getting out of this ditch on our own. I climbed back into the car and reached for my cell phone. I called my family to inform them of what had happened and assured them that we were okay but that the car was stuck in a ditch off the expressway. I also made sure to stress several times how very lucky we were to still be alive. Just a few feet away, lay a guard rail. We are so lucky we didn’t hit it.
Before I could get off the phone with my family to call the police or anyone else who could possibly help, I heard sirens. Fire trucks, cops, and an ambulance were on the other side of the expressway, making their way towards us. Before they could get there, another cop pulled up off the expressway next to us. As soon as she saw our car (which now had fogged up windows from sitting in the cold) she opened her door and began to run towards us. (Probably thinking we were seriously injured or dead). As I rolled down my window, she looked taken back by surprise. She followed the usual protocol, asking me what had happened and informing us that we would need to call a tow truck.
Then another cop approached to ask me the same boring questions and to hand me a ticket. According to them, I was driving too fast for the conditions. Just great. I almost die in a car accident due to black ice, when the roads were completely fine before we approached the lake, and I was actually driving exactly the speed limit, and you give me a ticket. Awesome. This day can’t possibly get any worse.
Oh, but it could. The tow truck pulled us out of the ditch and got us sitting on the shoulder of the expressway. He and the cop made us follow them off an exit, to a gas station in the middle of nowhere to ensure that my car was working properly. Upon arriving at the gas station, the tow truck driver informed me that we owed him $80 and that it would need to be paid right then and there or he would be required to tow us all the way back to the scene of the accident and leave us there. Such a nice guy. Since we had used the last of our money on gas (Cait’s mom was going to be paying us back for our expenses once we reached Illinois) we had to have our parents call and pay with their credit cards.
Shaken up, and trying to brave the snow, which was now falling down pretty steadily, we proceeded on our way to Illinois and managed to get there in one piece. Though I was a total nervous wreck the entire time.
That was the last time we drove to Illinois. Caitlen has went back a few times by bus, but I had to stay home with the pets since they don’t allow dogs and our cat sitter has since moved out of state. For now, its just the easier solution. In the future, we aren’t going to travel in winter by car anymore. Its just not safe to drive all that way in those types of conditions. We’re better off taking the bus or making our trip in the summertime.
My advice to anyone planning a trip out of state in the middle of winter would be to plan ahead, and take public transportation if possible. Make sure that you have good insurance, and cash on hand so you don’t find yourself in a bind. Looking back, its a good thing that we didn’t have to sit in the car for too long because it was freezing outside! Having an emergency kit with blankets, coats, tools, flashlights, etc. would have been ideal in this type of situation. We are lucky that we didn’t need any of those items and that we were not injured. A First Aid kit is also never a bad idea to have stored in your trunk or backseat somewhere. You never know when you might need it.
Here are some tips on what to do after a car crash:
- Take a deep breath, and calm down. The calmer you are, the better prepared you will be to handle the situation.
- Keep yourself and others safe. If you can’t get out of your car, or its not safe to do so, keep your seatbelt fastened, turn on your hazard lights and call 911. If the accident seems minor, turn off the ignition to your car and grab your emergency or first aid kit if you have one. If there are no injuries and your vehicle is drivable, proceed with caution and move the vehicle to a safe spot that is not blocking traffic.
- Report The Incident. Check to see if anybody is injured and call 911 to report the accident. They will most likely ask you who, what, where type questions. Be sure to stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you its okay to hang up.
- Take Down Any Driver Information. If you are involved in a crash that involves others, be sure to get their license number, name, phone number, license plate number, and insurance information. Take notes on the crash and if possible do not move your car until after you have taken pictures of the accident.