I had a speaking engagement in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan last week. That’s right, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Mt. Pleasant, if you are unfamiliar with Michigan geography, is located 70 miles north of Lansing, right in the middle of the state. I was speaking on Tuesday, the 29th, the day Winter Storm “Jayden” blew through the Great Lakes area.
My plans were to fly into Detroit the day before, and make the 2½-hour drive up to Mt. Pleasant. I could have opted for flying into Lansing and making a shorter drive, but that would have necessitated a two-legged flight. Fortunately, Southwest Airlines offered a direct flight into Detroit. I had booked an afternoon flight weeks ahead of time which have put me in Detroit at 4:30 EST.
As news of the incoming storm continued to be reported, I became concerned about my chances of making it into Detroit and Mt. Pleasant. So I called Rich Tiller at Agricultural Speakers Bureau (he had secured the booking) and asked for his advice. Rich suggested I take an earlier flight as the storm was to arrive in the late afternoon. I re-booked a morning flight through Atlanta which would arrive in Detroit before noon. It seemed like a good plan.
Sunday, the 27th, as I was driving home after church, I checked my cell phone to find a text from Southwest Airlines informing me my flight out of Atlanta had been canceled. I would find later that ALL flights into Detroit on Monday, the 28th, had been canceled. What to do?
I grabbed my friendly Rand McNally Road Atlas and scanned what the late, great weatherman Bill Hall, referred to as “the northern tier of states.” Chicago! A little research revealed Mt. Pleasant to be a 4½-hour drive from Chicago under normal driving conditions. I pause to stress the term “normal driving conditions” in the foregoing sentence.
Fortunately I was able to find a morning flight to Chicago through Kansas City. You can imagine it was rather pricey. I also found a return flight from Chicago to Nashville for the afternoon of the 30th. With that being done, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers and prayed.
On Monday morning, I flew Southwest Airlines to Kansas City without a hitch. The flight to Chicago was delayed but I arrived in Chicago to find light snow and a comfortable, 35-degree temperature. It seemed all was well. I picked up my rental car, a Chevy Malibu, and headed out of town. I noted my departure time to be 2 p.m. CST – ETA to Mt. Pleasant – 6:30 p.m.
I cleared the Chicago city limits around the southern tip of Lake Michigan without incident, paid ridiculously high tolls cutting through the edge of Indiana and headed up I-196 toward Grand Rapids. The roads were clear as light snow fell for the next 150 miles. I closely watched the temperature which hovered around 29 degrees. It was easy to clear my windshield of road spray by using windshield washer.
Then the most amazing series of events took me totally by surprise. Over no more than a 10-mile stretch of highway, the temperature plummeted to 19 degrees. Then, it started RAINING! That’s right! RAINING! I am suddenly on a snow-covered, interstate highway! It is 19 degrees and raining. Which means my windshield suddenly froze over. I mean, frozen hard! Except for a small area (about the size of a basketball) at the lower center of the windshield, I am driving blind!
I turned the defroster on high and leaned across the car’s console so I could see through the opening in the windshield. By now, the windshield wipers were raking across the ice on the windshield making a sound much like clawing fingernails across a chalkboard – only much worse and much louder! After a few miles the sound become maddening! The defroster was having little effect, except to make the inside of the car very hot! I needed air, so I rolled the driver-side window down about two inches. The cool air provided immediate relief. It felt so good, I decided to roll the passenger window down. Another surprise! The crosswind coming off Lake Michigan blew my cap right off my head! Inside the car! I had had enough!
Taking the next exit, I found a Pilot Station where I took my time and allowed the windshield to de-ice. By now, the rain had turned to a powdery snow making for much easier driving for the rest of the trip into Mt. Pleasant. I arrived at my destination at 10:30 EST – three hours behind schedule. But I did arrive!
I will finish this story in next week’s column.