Prologue~A Winter for the History Books
In the winter of 2000-2001, a major ice storm put 590,000 people from Arkansas to New Mexico without electricity. Arkansas and Oklahoma were the hardest hit. In Oklahoma, the Governor declared the state a disaster area. In Little Rock, the state government was completely shut down. On Christmas Day, The State of Arkansas was in the midst of its SECOND major winter storm in less than two weeks. The two storms were believed to be the worst natural disaster in Arkansas history.
These storms had many utility workers, and tree companies, leaving their homes for the holidays from all over the Southern United States to work many long hours to restore power for the people affected.
Stephanie’s husband Mitch and his brother Dan worked for a utility tree service that winter. The tree service was contracted with the power companies to cut tree limbs from around the power lines, in their area of the Alabama/Florida state line.
Mitch and Dan were among the men called to travel to Arkansas to clean up after these storms.
After the first storm, the men came home for just a few days before Christmas. However, upon hearing that another storm was coming they had to leave out to work the second storm.
December 30, 2000~Best Laid Plans
“Come on, Stephanie. We can take turns driving. We would be there within nine hours,” her sister-in-law Joni said on the other end of the phone.“We could take your truck.”
“It would be nice to at least spend New Year’s with them. Missing Christmas with Mitch was horrible.”Stephanie conceded.“Let’s see if our parents will babysit for us and go from there. Then we must check the weather forecast for tomorrow and have the oil changed in the truck.”
Stephanie picked up the phone and telephoned her mother. “Hi, mom.”
“Well hi to you, too.” Her mother said on the other line. “Mom, Joni and I have been talking,” Stephanie started hesitantly.“We want to go to Arkansas.”
Her mother almost choked, “What?! Don’t you know they are in the middle of a disaster?”
"Yes. But I am looking at the weather now, and it is supposed to be sunny tomorrow. I think the trip wouldn’t be terrible.”Stephanie said.
“It is supposed to start snowing again tomorrow night.” Her mother was saying, but Stephanie was not listening. “What are you going to do with the kids?” she asked.
Stephanie was feeling guilty for asking, “Well, that is why I am telephoning you. Will you keep them for a few days?”
After persuading her mother into tending to the children, Stephanie drove to Joni’s house to begin making plans.
“I went on google maps and printed the route,” She was saying excitedly after opening the door for Stephanie.
“I checked the weather, and all will be clear tomorrow. The roads are opened.” Stephanie gushed.
The two took around an hour to discuss the plans, then Stephanie stood to leave and said, ”I will be here around 7:00 in the morning.”
It was confirmed, the two were taking a road trip to Hotsprings, Arkansas.
After packing the vehicle, Joni and Stephanie took the truck for a service call. The two were waiting at the door when the mechanic shop opened at 8:00 a.m. that morning. They were determined to get on the road as soon as possible.
The trip totaled roughly 600 miles and should be undertaken in a little more than nine hours, on the route they were taking.
“If we can get on the road no later than nine a.m., we could be there by six pm,” Joni said.
“The weather is calling for sunshine all day,” Stephanie said, after looking at the weather on the computer screen, once again. “That should make for a pleasant trip, and we can be ringing in the New Year with Mitch and Dan!”
It didn't take the technicians long to change the oil. “The serpentine belt will not make a trip of that length, it is getting a little worse for the wear.” The tech reported to the two ladies. ”Would you like for us to replace that?”
Stephanie knew her dad could change the belt for her if she picked it up at the auto parts store. By having her dad do it she would merely incur the cost of the belt, ”No thank you, we can take care of it ourselves.”
After purchasing the belt and having Stephanie’s father put it on, the two thought they were ready to begin their journey. They managed to get on the road by 10 a.m.
As they climbed into the front seat, we looked at each other and yelled in unison, “Hot Springs Arkansas here we come!”
“This will put us getting there around seven p.m.” Joni calculated.
“That’s ok, we will still be in the hotel bar at midnight and kissing our men when the New Year comes in!”
Stephanie had driven only a few short miles when they heard a noise and the hood popped open. Two loud screams pierced the air as she slammed on brakes and skidded to a stop. With her heart in her throat, she eased over to the side of the road.
“Whoa! Dad must have forgotten to latch the hood when he had finished changing the belt.” Stephanie said breathlessly.
She got out of the vehicle and grabbed the hood to slam it shut, only to have it bounce back open. With a few swear words, she attempted to slam it again, but to no avail.
“It won’t latch.” She motioned to Joni. Joni then slid out of the passenger seat and tried to close the hood. After several attempts, they realized it was in vain. With no other options,
“I think there is a bungee cord in my toolbox,” Stephanie said, getting agitated.
They bound the cord across the hood to hold it down. “There was no way we can make a 600-mile trip until the hood was securely latched!”
Stephanie and Joni returned to Joni’s house, where the two of them tried to figure out why the hood would not close. “I think I can readjust the latch and make it catch,” Joni said. After attempting to adjust it for around 30 minutes, she realized this was only causing it to become even more off track.
They realized that taking a trip of that size, with a bungee cord confining the hood, was out of the question.
“I can call Harrison when he gets off work this afternoon. It is possible he can look at it and see what can be done.” Stephanie suggested. Harrison was Mitch’s best friend, and he was mechanically inclined. If it can be repaired, he could do the job.
Later that afternoon, Stephanie took the truck to Harrison. He had to do a little adjusting and welding but managed to get her back on the road within an hour.
Although it was already 3 p.m., the ladies decided to go ahead with the trip. This would render them arriving shortly after the midnight hour.
“We won't ring in the New Year with them, but they will still be celebrating when we arrive.” Stephanie thought.
December 31,2000~Road Trip
It was somewhere around 7:30 p.m. by the time Stephanie and Joni reached their halfway point, Tupelo, MS. It was at that point that they noticed the first of the snow flurries hit the windshield.
“Did you check the weather forecast for tonight?” Joni asked.
She had only monitored the weather for the day trip but had failed to check again before they decided to go ahead with a night trip. Stephanie vaguely recalled her mother telling her it was supposed to start snowing again.
“No, I forgot to.” Stephanie was chastising herself.
“My sister lives in Tupelo, maybe we should stop in and stay with her for the night and let the snow pass,” Stephanie suggested.
“No, I think it will be ok.” She said. So, the two pressed on.
They were making decent time but did not realize exactly how slippery the roads had gotten until they reached Memphis, TN. Around 9:30 p.m. Stephanie touched the brakes to turn into a service station, and the truck slid right past the driveway and just kept going. With her heart in her throat, she finally managed to ease into the next driveway and slide up to the gas pumps.
Once they had filled up with gas, the two hit the road again, this time at a considerably slower rate. This time Joni took her turn behind the wheel.
After going through a couple of red-lights she looked at Stephanie and said, "You seemed to be doing good driving on the ice. I think I am going to be sick!" Stephanie was hesitant to take the wheel again, but she did. This time she was driving at 25 miles per hour!
After getting back onto the interstate a big tank of a car barreled up on her rear end. The car had to slam on brakes, causing it to slide across the road. The driver managed to regain control of the car and sped on ahead. Approximately two or three miles later the women passed that same car in the ditch.
“Hey, isn’t that the car that almost hit us?” Joni asked.
“I believe so. The driver was driving like an idiot, and he paid the price.” Stephanie said, a little arrogantly.
Shortly after this incident, Stephanie came to an area that had road work in progress.
”What a time to have this crap going on!” She fussed.
Cement barricades were blocking off the inside lane. This meant the women had to ride the outside lane. One lane with a steep ravine to their right and the cement wall to their left. The road was nothing but pure ice, by this time. Stephanie continued to only drive 25 miles per hour, with a Semi-trailer Truck on her tailgate!
“I bet that trucker is calling me every name he could think of. I am a southern girl and am not used to snow. I am not driving any faster on this mess!” Stephanie was agitated.
After the women got out of the road work, they decided their best recourse would be to find a motel and sleep for the rest of the night. The following morning the ice will melt by the morning sun, then they can travel on.
With midnight almost upon them, the women knew that they would not be ringing in the New Year with their husbands.
January 1, 2001~Ringing in the New Year
Stephanie took the first exit she came to, but it yielded no vacancy signs. Therefore, they trudged on to the next exit.
After making the second exit the women came to a motel with a convenience store in front. Rooms were rented at the store.
“It is possible we are in luck!” Stephanie said excitedly.
After reaching for the door of the store, she quickly realized it was locked up tight. The pair decided to walk to the backside of the store hoping for better luck. As they returned around to the front, they were confronted with two cop cars and a firetruck.
"Wow!" Stephanie exclaimed under her breath.
“Can we assist you?” An officer asked, poised with a hand on the handle of his weapon.
“We are just seeking a room for the night,” Joni replied.
“You will not find one, all the motels are booked up due to the weather,” replied a fireman. “We received a report of a potential burglar, so if I were you, ladies, I would be careful wandering around at this time of night.”
After Stephanie and Joni explained their predicament to the officers, they were redirected on their way.
Around midnight, they had made it a little further up the interstate. Joni was driving at this point. She took another exit, to look for a convenience store.
The women were travel-worn and frazzled beyond belief. After fueling up, buying some snacks and using the restroom, they decided to pull underneath a car wash out of sight.
The two attempted to bundle up and sleep for a few hours. Stephanie made a promise to God, and herself, that if she made it through this night, she would never do anything so foolish again.
After a couple of hours, they decided there would be no sleep in the truck. The women decided to trek on, still driving 25 miles per hour. It was a long, agonizingly slow trip on the ice-covered roads.
January 1, 2001~Picture Perfect
When Stephanie and Joni saw daybreak, they began to get happy. After the perilous night, they actually began to laugh and joke, as the sun began to rise. The closer they got to Hot Springs, the more buoyant the two got.
As Stephanie commenced the ascent up the last steep hill into Hot Springs, Joni asked, "you do realize the truck is not going anywhere don't you?" The truck had stopped moving forwards and was only spinning tires on the ice.
She managed to maneuver it back into the parking area of an Apartment complex on their right.
“What are we going to do now?" Stephanie looked at Joni questioningly.
This was the days before smartphones, so all she possessed was a Nokia flip phone. They had no phone book, so they had no way of knowing the number for a taxi.
After knocking on several doors, they finally succeeded in persuading a little elderly lady to allow them to use her phone book.
The taxi driver refused to come to the bottom of the hill to collect them. After some negotiation (and possibly a little begging) with him, he agreed to collect us up at the top of the hill.
On our way up the slope, we watched as many cars and trucks encountered the same dilemma as we had, slipping back down the slope. She found this humorous watching them all try fruitlessly to climb up the hill.
It was 8 a.m. on January 1, 2001, when the sister in laws arrived at the hotel. Their husbands had left a key with the clerk for them, so they were able to get into the room, on the 13th floor.
Stephanie had repeatedly heard 13 represented an unlucky number, but that morning 13 was the luckiest number she had ever heard.
Both scrambled into bed and slept until their husbands got off work at four pm. It felt like the best sleep Stephanie had ever had.
After the two couples had dressed for the evening, they walked the snow-covered sidewalks to a nearby cafe for a romantic candlelight dinner.
When the foursome returned to the motel, they stood at the window of that 13th-floor hotel room and stared out across the city. They watched as children below made snow angels. The whole city was pure white, with Christmas lights still bright and colorful from one side to the other. It would have been the picture-perfect postcard. Stephanie and Joni shared that moment in the arms of the men that they had defied the treacherous ice and snow to be with.
Stephanie had promised she would never undertake a treacherous trip such as that again. To this day, she has fulfilled her promise. She feels that God had sent Angels to direct her that night. It was a frightening experience, that taught her a life lesson, and God was with her.