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January 22, 2014

Guest Post | The 2014 Winter-Mageddon Survival Guide by Joel Mangin

This is the first time I’ve had a guest post on the blog (other than Ben, of course) and it was such perfect timing since I’ve been wanting to tell the story of our trip home from the arctic tundra of the midwest a couple of weeks ago.  However, I was asleep for a good portion of it, so my side of the story would have had quite a few holes in it.  So, enjoy Joel’s take on our trip home!

How to Rescue Damsels In Distress, Freeze Your Beard, and Drive All Night

A Running Diary

It’s truly an honor to guest post on the Photographs By Sabrina blog. I read it weekly and find Sabrina’s positive outlook inspiring. After seeing all the work that she (and Ben) put into taking wedding photos at Kristin and David’s wedding, I have a newfound level of respect for the artistry that I see daily in her photos. Also, I’m pretty sure photographers are magicians. Because I experienced the wedding with my own eyes, yet when I saw it through Sabrina’s lens it revealed captured moments that melted my heart. Incredible.

So for this post I decided to construct a running diary. Also, I think it will be helpful to state my credentials. I am a Northerner and embrace the cold. I grew up in Michigan, my childhood consisted of hockey games played on frozen lakes, sledding down icy hills, and building forts in snowdrifts. Once I acquired my driver’s license I learned how to handle vehicles in the snow — whether front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or 4WD. Now, I live in Greenville, South Carolina, and rarely need to rely on my cold-weather upbringing.

Winter is humbling, but sometimes surviving can be fun!

Sunday, January 5th

While hanging out in the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Gurnee, my Uncle Doug and Aunt Lori checked out and said goodbye. They had decided to rent a 4WD SUV and drive back to Detroit. This is writers call foreshadowing.

Ben found a Thai restaurant called Urban Belly that we all agreed sounded intriguing. It also happened to be on the way to Midway Airport. Ben, Sabrina and I threw our bags in the Corolla we had rented for the weekend and started driving. The roads were covered in snow and we were traveling about 45 mph. On the way, I checked my Delta app and discovered that our flight had been delayed, which meant that we would miss our connection in Atlanta. Because flights in general were getting delayed and cancelled, we decided to take matters into our own hands and rent an SUV. Our reasoning was that once we cleared the snow band that stretched to Indianapolis, it would be clear sailing from there. The alternative was to wait in the airport and hope that our flight departed — but if it didn’t, then we would be stranded in Chicago and Ben and I would both miss work the next day. Too risky!


I got on the phone with Budget to find out the most cost-effective option, which turned out to be dropping off the Corolla and picking up an SUV — that suited us fine.

Urban Belly was fantastic. My bowl of Rice Cake Noodle Soup was so savory, spicy, sweet, and aromatic that I’m ready to drive back up there to get another taste of mango, cilantro & Korean chili broth. Right now.

The side street we parked on while dining at Urban Belly had so much snow that I couldn’t resist running and sliding in the snow. As we traveled toward Midway to exchange cars I pointed out a dog who can’t resist constantly eating snow on his walk.

We stopped near the airport to top off the gas tank (and avoid a $28.93 per gallon surcharge). I went inside to confirm directions to the rental car drop site. While I was waiting, I noticed that behind the bulletproof glass were three long shelves filled with neatly-stacked t-shirts. Black, white, crew neck, V-neck — all wrapped in cellophane. What’s going on here? Why are these behind bulletproof glass? Why are the so neatly organized by size? Who is buying t-shirts at a gas station?

I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

In an unforeseen twist, the guy in front of me is there to to just that.

Customer: Hey…uh. I need one of those t-shirts.

Gas Station Guy: Which size? (walks over to display wall)

Customer: Large or Extra-Large.

Gas Station Guy: (scanning shelves) I only have Medium or Double-XL.

Customer: What about in black?

Gas Station Guy: (re-scans shelves) I have a large in black.

Customer: Is it a V-Neck?

Gas Station Guy: Yes, I have a v-neck. (rings him up)

Me: I’m curious, why do you prefer v-necks?

Customer: I don’t know, I just like how they feel.

Me: I see…I’ve always been a crew-neck man myself.

Customer: I was at church singing in the choir and spilled something on my shirt. Now we’re going out to dinner and I wanna look good.

Me: That makes sense.

But does it really make sense? DOES ANY OF IT?

Remember when My Uncle Doug and Aunt Lori rented an SUV and drove? That’s what we ended up doing, too! Get it? Foreshadowing resolved!

Customer service can be a thankless job, especially when people have their travel plans disrupted. Lathenia, the sole employee working the Budget counter during the storm, was exceedingly pleasant and helpful — she even made sure that we got an all-wheel drive Nissan Murano for our trip. In fact, we had such a fun time that Lathenia awarded us her 2014 Customer of the Year award! That put a smile on our faces.

We loaded up the Murano, found the USB port for easy charging of our phones, and said a prayer for safety. Ben took the wheel and we set off for home.

We carefully drove across Chicago, enjoying the beautiful architecture along the way. When necessary, I jumped out and scraped the ice from the wiper blades so Ben could see.

I-90 South. Finally. But we weren’t making very good time. My estimate is that we would reach Indianapolis around 9pm. Road conditions were pretty snowy, but we were making decent progress. Frankly, I had driven through worse conditions and was confident we would make it through.

We finally made it to I-65 South. Fun Fact: Gary, Indiana smells bad. Apparently steel mills will do that to a city.

Stopped! Parked on I-65. No one is moving. At all.

Uh, still stopped!

We move about 20 yards! And then stop again.

Finally moving again! Except the police immediately forced us off the road in Hebron, Indiana. So we craft a new plan — secure hotel rooms and wait for the whole thing to blow over. Having done this, we mosey on over to the Wendy’s for some long-awaited dinner.

Bonus: Here’s my review of Wendy’s Asiago Chicken Club — it was pretty meh.

At this point, people are hunkering down in Wendy’s. The line is all the way out of Wendy’s and into the truck stop for the duration of our time there. Only 2 employees are handling the rush. We overhear people saying that they’re planning on spending the night there inside the Wendy’s. We have 2 hotel rooms secured, so we are relieved.

We make our way over the Comfort Inn.

We are greeted with a sign that says there are no more rooms available. But that’s ok, since we have a reservation. There are people milling about the lobby and 3 employees behind the counter. The excitement is palpable. “I hope you have reservations, because we don’t have any rooms,” said the lady behind the counter.

That’s when we learned that our reservations were actually in Hobart, Indiana. We were in Hebron, 21 miles south.

And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So here are some snippets we heard as we stood there in the lobby. Roads shut down. National Guard. State of Emergency for Indiana. Pregnant woman had to get into a car with a stranger to keep warm. I-65 is completely shut down. All the roads out of town are SHUT DOWN.

We feel kinda shut down.

So Ben, Sabrina and I hold a Snow Council to devise a New Plan. We agree to keep driving and try to work our way south, where the warm is. Ben drove west on State Road 2. Police cars blocked the I-65 entrance ramps. Ben was making decent progress, following ruts in the snow made by prior vehicles. We passed a group of 3 men walking back into town. One of them was wearing shorts.

That’s when we came upon a vehicle in front of us. The interior lights were on and I saw people inside. I threw on my gloves and jumped into the cold to make sure they were ok. I trudged up to the car, sensing my beard freezing more with each step. That felt strange. Also my nose hairs froze.

I arrived and asked if they needed help. They did, they were stuck. A man got out of the back seat to help me. His name was Arthur and he had tried to help free them but was unable to. So Arthur and I took our positions in front of the vehicle and started pushing. I shouted instructions to the driver and told her to punch it, which she did.

The ladies were very grateful. I got a big hug and they tried to give me and Arthur money. I told them it was a gift and Arthur just laughed at them. As I spoke with the driver I noticed she seemed to be in the early stages of shock — but I’m no expert. As I got back into the Murano to warm up and recover my breath, I was thankful that I grew up in Michigan and learned how to rock out when stuck in the snow.

It’s brutal pushing a car in -13° temperatures with windchill near -40°.

After that, Ben and I decided to investigate what was out there, beyond the abandoned cars and semi trucks. Arthur joined us on the coldest walk of our lives.

Arthur is also trying to reach Highway 41, and he believes he can make it. His semi-truck is 4WD and automatic. He knows the roads.

We decide to follow Arthur’s tracks and go as far as that will take us. Except that what we find is a Dodge Charger abandoned at an angle, taking up the entire road. There is no way around.

Monday, January 6th

Thwarted, Ben and I return to the Murano. Upon entering, Sabrina hands us each a hand warmer.

That’s when the snowplow cavalry arrived.

Two big rigs and a pickup truck brought hope that we might be able to break free and leave Hebron, Indiana in the dust. No offense intended if you’re from Hebron, Indiana.

Finally, we’re off! We follow the snowplows past abandoned vehicles all the way to 55, where they stop.

We keep pushing on toward 41, following Arthur as best we could. Ben and I were slightly nervous because Arthur was driving 45 mph or more on these windswept roads…

We entered Lowell, where the police had placed barricades in our path. We deftly avoided them and continued on. We passed at least 30 abandoned vehicles along this leg of the journey.

Finally, we met Highway 41, where Arthur turned north and we turned south.

So long, Arthur.

The darkest hour. We got stopped again behind multiple semi trucks. Police lights flashed in the distance. A 2-hour wait in the dead of the night. Ben and Sabrina slept. I tried to, but kept waking up.

The Bend That Claimed a Dozen Cars. When we finally got moving again I looked at the carnage. Over a dozen cars had gone off the road where it veered slightly right. Impossible to see in the blizzard conditions. I was so thankful that God had protected us from that.

Ben drove through Morocco, Indiana. You read that correctly. I wished it were as warm as the real Morocco.

At a bathroom break, we meet a dude who was wearing flannel pajama bottoms and brown hiking boots. He had just returned from Indonesia. He was forced to a shelter by the police when his car got stuck in the snow. He started losing feeling in his feet but took a warm shower and was treated by paramedics. He was ok.

We forge ahead. A word about Ben — he’s a very capable snow driver. Easily the best snow driver Paraguay has ever produced.

Next, we ended up behind a red sedan. Since the land is mostly flat, drifts have accumulated unhindered for most of the night. So of course, the red sedan we’re following got stuck.

Ben and I prepared to go back out. This time I remembered I had a wool cap in my suitcase, which Sabrina retrieved. Ben put on a cap also. The driver of the red sedan walked up to our window. Ben told him we would get him out and then he could follow us. He agreed.

I detected an Australian accent. This confused me.

So Ben and I (and another gentleman from the pickup truck behind us) began digging out the red sedan. I was using an ice scraper from the Murano. The Aussie was using a red plastic cup that you get at parties.

This also confused me.

Before we left, I asked Sabrina to “flash the lights if we’re out there for 10 minutes.” When Ben and I got back in the Murano, Sabrina told us how long we were out there. “Four minutes,” Sabrina said. Four minutes that felt like forty.

Sunrise greeted us the moment we reconnected with I-65. Still 30 minutes north of Indianapolis.

Ben finally takes a nap, Joel starts driving. This period is a blur.

Joel naps, Ben takes over again. He’s a beast. At this point, we are into Kentucky and the roads are finally dry and clear.

In Lexington, we stopped at Man O’ War Boulevard at Johnny Carino’s for lunch! I used to work at Johnny Carino’s and it’s got a special place in my heart. I ordered my favorite dish — Spicy Romano Chicken. It was delicious. Sabrina was also able to charge her laptop while we ate.

I took over behind the wheel, right when my work shift would have started. Sabrina works on wedding photos making the best use of her time.

Kentucky is gorgeous. Also, I’m glad God made snow white. It was a good design choice. If snow were black it would be really depressing.

In praise of my traveling companions: there were many stress points during this trip. Pressure points where things changed drastically and our plans were upset. Throughout the journey there was a sense of peace and camaraderie that I found remarkable.

If you get the chance, you should definitely travel with Ben and Sabrina across the United States in sub-zero temperatures for over 24 hours. Highly recommended.

Knoxville. ’Nuff said.

Outside Asheville, Ben and I switch again. We’re in the homestretch now. Things are hazy, I’m in a trance.

Goodbye, Murano. You served us well.

What’s that? Budget wants to charge us for 2 days because we had the car for 26 hours? Ben and I just stared at the Budget counter guy. Ben stated our case, and I began telling the guy the highlights of our journey as he stared down at his keyboard, refusing to make eye contact as he typed.

Charge for 2 full days? Not on our watch, Budget.

Ben and Sabrina drop me off at my home, bringing our incredible journey to a close. We say our goodbyes and I’m off to sleep.

  1. Mommy says:

    Great pictures and story behind the story! I’m even more thankful now that God saw you through and got you back home safely. Thanks Joel for taking the time to recount the ordeal!

  2. Shelly K. says:

    Best line…”Easily the best snow driver Paraguay ever produced.”

    Glad God kept you safe. Glad you didn’t let Budget charge you for 2 days!

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