I Survived the I95 Gridlock for 16 Hours

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By Rachel Lauren

By now, I’m sure you heard that the gridlock earlier this week on I95 in Virginia was absolutely terrible. And I can attest to the fact it felt worse than it looked on the news. Over 40 miles of cars trapped on the interstate in sub-freezing temperatures for over 20 hours is absolutely miserable. After all, I was trapped there for 16 hours.

Here is my story of how I survived I95.

My boyfriend and I had gone to New England to visit his family for New Year’s and were traveling back home to North Carolina this past Monday. The night before, we checked weather reports for our route and all was clear.

Prior to the backup, the trip had been going great. We had our coffee, had picked up some breakfast, and were on the road by 8am on Monday.

We drove through Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland with absolutely no problem. It was a breeze. There’s a game we play in the car. The two of us take turns picking a color with whoever finds the most of that color having to pay for dinner. We were playing “our game” and having an absolute blast.

Up until the parking lot known as I95, it was probably the most fun we had ever had on one of these trips, and we’ve made this particular journey together eight times now. We always take I95 because it both has the prettiest views, and is a significantly shorter route. Things were “normal”. We got zero notices about people needing to stay off the roads, and we were tuned into local news stations the whole way.

And then we hit DC.

It was right outside of the city limits that our GPS told us there was heavy traffic ahead, but that a shorter route was available.

Normally, it probably would’ve added an extra half-hour, but with the delays on the freeway, it was going to save us about two hours. So we obviously decided to take the detour. 

That’s when things went south

It was getting dark, but we had always pushed through the 13-hour drive in one day so we thought nothing about it. You could tell that it had somewhat snowed recently, but we didn’t think we were going to run into any of the true stormy weather. 

And we were right.

We didn’t run into the actual storm, just the aftermath. 

The detour took us down some back roads around Springfield, Virginia. It was stressful at first – the roads were something of a mess – and we thought of stopping, but then the roads cleared up, so we agreed that it was fine to keep driving.

Then we got to the real back roads. 

Or, at least they looked like back roads. It was pitch-black out, and the snow had knocked out the power, so there were no street lights. We barely had any cell service, so our GPS with our maps weren’t working anymore. The radio was playing almost pure static, as well. Even now, after trying to track the journey on an actual map, we still have no clue where we were.

The roads were big enough for one car to get through in most parts, and then there were a couple of areas where two cars could pass by each other as long as they were willing to drive through some small branches. It looked like it was normally a two-lane road, with the double yellow line through the middle, but with the amount of snow on the ground, it appeared someone just kind of drove through the middle with a plow so people could at least sort of drive through.

The road was manageable because it had to be.

There was no side of the road to pull over without getting stuck or wrecking the car. We saw many abandoned vehicles along that route, and it felt like one of those scenes in an adventure movie where the main character sees the skeletonized carcasses of former adventurers laying by the side of the road, still wearing their armor. It felt like if we stopped there we’d end up sharing the same fate as those prior drivers.

It was something similar to the first five seconds of the below video…

We had no option but to keep going. Thankfully, somebody else had come through prior, cutting and removing the downed trees just enough for cars to get past, and made enough of a path with their own vehicles. I don’t envy the work they did.

After two hours of back roads in almost complete silence we thought we were in the clear. We had returned to civilization, had seen signs to get back on I95, and had never been so excited for a highway sign before! 

And then we got onto I95…

Around 8pm we found the entrance ramp, and we really thought it would be smooth sailing from that point out. There were no warning signs, and the news on our phones mentioned no back-ups. Our GPS did not indicate a traffic jam either. My boyfriend had already driven for 12 hours by that point. But there were finally street lights, a few radio stations working with minimal fuzz, and we were finally on the highway. 

Then we stopped.

And we stayed stopped. At 9pm-ish, we realized we probably weren’t going to be moving, so my boyfriend put the car in park. At 10pm or so we had enough of a cell signal to finally call our parents and let them know what was going on, but no one understood what we meant when we said we weren’t able to move. This was before the news reports started popping up.

Somewhere around 11pm, we decided to turn the car off to save gas

We were at half a tank, but had been parked for so long we were scared we’d run out. Before shutting off the engine, I trudged through the slush and ice, grabbed our blankets, food, and winter coats from the trunk and put everything in the back seat, with the heat on high blast. By 11:15pm we were settled enough to turn the car off. It was around 20 degrees Fahrenheit at that point.

We didn’t have enough of a cell signal to Google what was going on, or even precisely where we were. I think that even if we did have a map we wouldn’t have really been able to figure out where we were at that moment in time. All we knew was that we were stuck, cold, tired, and had no option but to wait it out. 

At midnight, the media started posting news articles about how there were “delays” on the roads, particularly I95,  and that everyone should stay at home.

Since my boyfriend had been driving since 8am that morning, I told him to just try to get some sleep, and that I’d wake him up if I saw any movement. He gets colder easier than I do, so he had his hoodies on, and was wearing a winter coat backwards kind of like a Snuggie. I made him take the blanket as well. I had on two sweatshirts, my sweat pants on, and a winter jacket I curled up under and used as a blanket, and I was kind of just snacking to keep myself awake.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

By 2am the temperature had dropped almost 10 degrees and was hovering right around 11 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to wake my honey up to get the car on so we could have some heat. His face was getting so cold – as if we’d been playing out in the snow for a while. We kept the heat going for about 15 minutes with the temperature set to 80 with the hopes that the heat would remain after we turned the engine off once more. Then we added all of our layers back on us and shut the car off again. 

My boyfriend fell back asleep in no time. I read and used my curse word coloring book my mom had gotten me for Christmas (thanks, mom) with my purse headlamp stuck to my head so I wasn’t wasting my phone battery.

I also took a mental inventory of what we had left.

We didn’t have it as bad as a lot of people. My boyfriend’s parents sent us home with tons of food, and at the last gas station we had bought a few water bottles and a Gatorade. I really thought we were good. 

But, then I realized that we were at that gas station somewhere close to 10 hours ago. I had to do my best to silently dig around the car for the water bottles, but they were nowhere to be found. So, what we really had left was the food, and one bottle of water.

One. Bottle. Of water. 

One bottle of water to split between two people, neither of which had any idea when they would be getting off of that dang highway. 

By 4am, I had to wake him up again for more heat. I told him about the people who had left their cars and turned everything off, and started walking back down the interstate. I had no idea where they were going, but I was hoping for the best. At that point, there were a few helicopters in the sky, and we were able to find a radio station that was actually fully working and reporting. 

Gotta go.

At 6am, I realized I couldn’t hold my pee any longer. Since we were in the middle of an interstate, and there were cars all around, I didn’t exactly want to go squat on the side of the road for all to see. I was also concerned that if I went with that route, the pee would freeze as it was coming out. I tried peeing into both an old coffee cup and an old chip bag. 

The chip bag was my new best friend because, at that point, it had been almost 12 hours since my last pee. I filled that bag almost halfway up, and it was probably the second most embarrassing thing I’d ever done in my entire life. (The first most embarrassing thing I’d ever done in my life was after urinating in a chip bag, I had to then dump that bag full of urine outside the car door for all to see.)

I wrapped the chip bag into a different plastic bag, because obviously, I’m not going to throw my pee bag on the side of the highway. So instead, I buried my McGuyvered urinal in our little car trash can and hoped that it wouldn’t stink up the car.

Thank God for the cold, right?

One can only imagine the distress a UPS driver with a truck full of ColoGuard samples would have experienced in a I95 situation in July. So, I was thankful for the chill. At least for that specific problem.

The morning brought hope.

Around 7am I had dozed off a bit, but woke up every five minutes or so. The sun was starting to come out, and it was a weird combination of burning from the sun beaming into the car, and freezing because it had been so cold out. I woke my boyfriend up so we could turn the car on again, and to see if there were any updates on the one radio station we found.

And there was an update. The radio said that firefighters were coming to check on people, to hand out blankets, food, and water. The cavalry was supposedly coming.

In the 15 hours of sitting in a car that was turned off almost the entire time, with only the hums of the nearby engines, I did not once hear a siren. I didn’t hear any cars actually moving.

What I did hear was this…

I heard people crying and helicopters. 

And, I heard parents in the car next to us get out of the vehicle to discuss possible arrangements for who would get the kids if they died during this. 

The firefighters never came.

We were on our own.

The walkers finally came back shortly afterwards.

By 9am, the people who had left earlier in the evening had come back with bags from Wawa, which was I suppose was the closest gas station/convenience store. They got back in their car and acted as though nothing happened. 

My boyfriend slept through a majority of the evening, not very peacefully, of course, but enough to maintain sanity. While I was between coloring and reading, I was playing through all of the potential problems and solutions. 

One bottle of water?

My boyfriend’s mom had given me some candles. I could use the candles to melt some snow, put that into an empty water bottle, and use my LifeStraw to purify it. I also figured we could put the water bottle my mom got my boyfriend (that’s supposed to purify water with UV lights) to the test. 

But then I thought of another problem. It was slush when we put the car into park, with some black ice on the road, and other chunks of ice here and there as well. But it got super cold overnight, way below freezing. Almost 20 degrees below freezing. Would all of the slush freeze and turn the interstate turn into a giant sheet of ice leaving our tires trapped by ice for eternity?

I didn’t want to wake my boyfriend with that terrifying possibility, because even if we wanted to try to move the car, we would slam into the people in front of us. It was bumper to bumper, parked, turned off vehicles. We were stuck.

The interstate did eventually turn into a large frozen mass, but for whatever reason, it didn’t freeze the tires where they sat. At least for us.

Winter came.

The large transport truck next to us did get stuck in the ice. I watched him try to carefully carve the tires out of the ice, then starting his truck in an attempt to move forward. Some of the tires would spin, others wouldn’t even budge. He just had to wait it out.

By 11am we were finally able to move the car again. We were going probably 5mph, but we were moving. That was all we cared about. But at the rate we were going, it shot the gas mileage to crap. Instead of having half a tank of gas and 200 miles to go, the car said we had half a tank and 65 miles to go.

It took us over an hour to drive the five miles between the on-ramp we had taken to join the misery of I95, to the first possible (Exit 140). During that tedious drive, we saw roughly 30 abandoned cars, some that were abandoned in the middle of the road with what looked like three feet of snow on top, and others which probably just ran out of gas from idling all night long. 

But by noon we were finally off the I95.

We were on I95 for a solid 16 hours.

By the time we got off the highway and went to go find gas, almost all the gas stations that were on our side of the road weren’t working. The other side of the road was bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there was no way we could’ve just turned left. We drove past 4-5 different gas stations, pulling into all of them. Some didn’t take cards, some couldn’t pump gas, and others were plain out of gas. 

It took us over an hour to find a gas station which had power, gas, a bathroom, and would accept cards instead of cash. I went in while my honey pumped the gas, purchased six bottles of water, bought a can of Redbull, and peed for three minutes straight.

But we were off the highway, we had gas, we got to use an actual bathroom, and we had water. 

We were happy.

We took highway 1 to Richmond from that gas station and hopped back onto a freshly cleared I95 just after the city. It took another 3 hours to get back to our warm and sunny North Carolina, but we arrived with the knowledge we didn’t need to make any more long-distance journeys anytime soon.

What did I learn?

I definitely will take the lessons I learned from being stuck on I95 to heart. Here is a list of things I used from my car kit:

  • Caffeine pills (I got mine from Walgreens after needing to pull an all-nighter for work during the Christmas season, but they helped me to stay both alert and awake for a majority of being stuck on the freeway, and I’m glad that they did.)
  • A large, fuzzy throw blanket
  • Winter boots and thick socks 
  • Heavy-duty winter jackets
  • Toques and mittens
  • An ice scraper that has a glove type thing around it
  • De-icer for the windshield and mirrors. 
  • Granola bars 
  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen 
  • Headlamps
  • Lighters and candles (and a LifeStraw was almost used but not quite.)
  • UV purifying water bottle
  • Extra cold weather clothing from suitcases like sweatshirts in different sizes (we both had one fitted sweatshirt, and one more baggy one), warm sweatpants, and warm underlayers, such as leggings and long sleeve shirts.

And here are the things I will soon be adding to my car kit:

  • An insulated stadium blanket (because the soft fuzzy one we had only did so much. It was simply too cold.)
  • Electrolyte packets to put into water 
  • Cash
  • A spray bottle for the de-icer
  • Duct tape (I don’t know why, I just feel like I could’ve found a use for it) 
  • A small bag of kitty litter for traction on my tires
  • Paper maps 
  • Fully charged portable phone chargers, and matching cords. 

It’s finally over though.

It’s been a good while since getting off that road, and I am still somewhat in shock. My entire body feels tense and tight. Even my urethra hurts from the force at which the urine escaped my body in that gas station bathroom. My bladder area still feels cramped from needing to accommodate that much pee. 

But, news reports of firefighters handing out blankets, water, and snacks are things that did not happen near me. No one offered to bring us to “Warming Centres” or even offered us a time frame on when we might get out. We didn’t see anyone on I95 other than those who were in the same boat we were.

And I was awake almost the entire time, so I think if “help” were present anywhere on that stupid interstate, I would’ve seen it. 

What I did see on I95 were kids having snowball fights and building snowmen. I saw someone walking around with a bag of oranges, and after getting out I met some random guy at a gas station who was filling up canisters of gas to go help the people on the road who were still stranded. 

The reports did not express the severity of the situation. The news said the roads were closed, and had been closed, but we got on I95 no problem, and other people got on a while after us. The news said there would be “delays”, but I sat there with my partner, surrounded by other people in their cars, and I know we were all thinking the same thing. “Are we going to die out here?” 

I95 made it so death truly didn’t feel very far away at all. 

We had zero resources, everyone around us had little to no cell signal, and it wasn’t enough to search up what was going on, because trust me, I asked. Even my mom (who I had called probably a million times), couldn’t find anything about the gridlock.

The radio stations barely worked until somewhere around 5am, aside from a few music channels. There were no serious injuries or deaths reported, but I can almost guarantee that everyone was scared, cold, tired, and felt like law enforcement was fully intending to just let us die out there or just waiting for us to figure it out on our own. 

I am glad it is over.

I95 kicked our butts. But we made it out. And for that, I am thankful.

For more information on how to survive freezing temps, check out our free QUICKSTART GUIDE.

What do you think?

Has the I95 gridlock changed how you will prep your vehicle? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Picture of Rachel


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  • The last time I made a long trip was when I was moving myself, my mom and sister from Philadelphia to Lexington, KY, a little over 2 years ago. Since I’ve been a trucker in the fairly recent past, I’m used to trip planning. We were making the move in December, so I knew there could be snow and planned accordingly by mapping out three potential routes and detours. Fortunately we didn’t need to use the alternate plans but it was good to have them ready just in case.

    I used to drive a truck based out of a drop yard in Philadelphia, mostly along the I95 corridor down to exit 118 (Thornburg, VA), so I’m quite familiar with the area that had trouble. After driving that route a few times, I learned to never trust the traffic along that route. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams in Maryland for several hours because of a previous fatal accident that forced a road closure. And traffic along I95 in the DC area, most of the way to my exit (118) was always bad with stop-and-go traffic, etc. Glad you got out in one piece.

  • Living along Lake Ontario , and one daughter just On the East end of Lake Erie we get snow ! A shovel goes into every family car , a short square head T handle one . We’ve never been stranded on a highway , but have been temporarily stuck in snowbanks , side roads even parking lots . Our daughter parks on the street and the plows really pack your car in !

    If one is stuck on the highway a shovel will keep snow / ice from forming around ones tires and making leaving difficult.

    I rank a shovel right after blankets / sleeping bag .

    Working for the FD I cannot possibly count the numbers of stuck cars we dig out to open up roads each storm .

    • Some years ago I discovered that canoe paddles can move a lot of snow in a hurry. I was stuck without a shovel but had a canoe paddle in back of the truck. That paddle got me out. But, it was soft snow, not ice.

  • Good job Rachel! I suspect you two were better prepared than most.

    Hothands warmers are good to keep in the car. Extra warmth without using up fuel.

    Also, keep wool blankets instead of polyester fleece blankets. Wool is far more effective at keeping you warm. Wool is flame resistant. Polyester will light up like gasoline!

    A 6-hour can of chafing warmer is another useful item. 12-packs from Sam’s Club for $18. Of course you have to be cautious with the flame.

    Using the $1 mylar blankets to cover the windows would help retain heat in the car. If you were stuck on a hot day, they would also shield you from the sun. Foldable windshield covers from auto parts departments come in thick, reflective material; those are great to repel heat, cold, or provide privacy.

    If you planned to *live* in your car, you could cover the windows with panels of Reflectix Radiant Barrier from Home Depot. This comes in a roll and looks the same as the windshield cover mentioned above.

    Be Safe. Help each other every chance you get.

  • First glad your ok. Second I’m glad your taking it as a learning experience.
    I followed a storm similar to this across the country heading to military training once. Got to the Smokey mountains and a trooper stopped me. I thought “this is weird”. He looked me over and asked about supplies. I stated I had a case of MREs, can of fuel and snow chains for my 4×4. He says “good I need a favor” I’m like ok what’s up? He says “we are shutting it down behind you and need you to pick up anyone you find on either side of the road. A trooper will wait for you on the other side of the mountain pass to make contact”.
    That was an eerie feeling but he told me he’d been hopeful and waiting on someone who had it together that could manage.
    It went well and I found no one but I knew right then that I was on the right path in preparedness.

    Tarps go a long ways to peeing peacefully

    • I wonder, was that the December storm in ‘92?

      My wife and I drove through that in our baby bronco. We were all prepped up in case something happened also.

      Got off the road safely and camped in the truck for about eight hours at a rest stop in Maryland off I81 when it became obvious that the state couldn’t keep up with the roads.

      That was a good memory.

        • I live in “Free Florida”, so snow is not an issue, bad weather is. I’m retired Navy and I keep a Go Bag in my truck at all times. Has bottled water, food bars, small FAK, a knife, etc. I check it every couple of months and restock as needed. I also have a paper road atlas, rain coats and a cell phone charger under the back seat.
          We visit the kids about 2.5 hours away, never leave without a full tank even though we can go down and back and use less than a half tank.
          I have never needed the supplies myself and have peace of mind if I ever do.
          Things are crazy right now and never assume it will stay that way.

      • We still use them.
        Thank goodness it’s not the 70s or 80s where it was clogged with nonsense.
        A low powered radio isn’t a bad thing to use in comms especially when convoying and farm work etc

  • Thank goodness yall survived!!!! you were smart to have what did in your vehicle! everyone should have some items in theirs….your mom taught you well. there were lots of “faults” and miscommunications for that emergency!!! but people have to understand too, when weather says STAY HOME, STAY OFF ROADS, do it unless its an emergency!!!! when will people learn? they knew that storm was coming, they couldve remained in place till they saw what it was doing, stayed off roads as told, and so on. but people are hardheaded and think they know more than others….glad things worked out for you and everyone…it couldve been worse. stay well and safe.

    • The thing is…there weren’t any warnings to stay off the road until they were already in the thick of it. The weather reports were clear and so were the roads…until they weren’t. It was not snowing while they were traveling and the news didn’t report on the issue until they’d already been stuck there for hours.

      • I’m a big fan of weatherbug or other apps that show radar. I worked outside as a research biologist for 25 years so looking at radar is just something I do several times a day. As far as peeing outside, I could care less and so should everyone else. Embarrassment is the FIRST thing that should be discarded in an emergency. The second is faith in the government to “save” you. I was once stranded in my duty vehicle in a snowbank in Wyoming for 3 days. My Jeep now has a second tank with 10 gallons of non-ethanol gas with stabilizer in it. I carry a full bug out load in all my vehicles, including folding shovel, firefighters crowbar, even a set of body armor (check laws in your state). I have regular food and also shelf stable coast guard food rats and shelf stable water pouches. I also have a couple of good paperbacks.. My friends USED to call me paranoid. Not so much after the last few years. Glad you guys made it.

      • I disagree. At 4:41 am est On January 2, 2022 the National Weather Service had warnings out for up to 4 to 6 inches of snow for the Philadelphia and Washington DC area. I can show anyone a screen shot of that report. With that kind of a forecast it is good common sense to stay off the roads. I live in the upper Midwest , I know all about winters and bad weather. It is nothing to see -20 degrees below 0 here where I live . However, I am happy for you Daughter and her friend that they made it home safely .

  • You had a lot of the right stuff and used your head. Good job! That said, your biggest failing was NO CASH. Always carry some cash. I always carry at least $200 cash in $20 and lower at all times. Even change for snack machines. Your second failing was taking that little bitty road and it didn’t sound like you had a map to tell you where it came out. You were very lucky somebody else had cleared that road for you.

  • I think a very important lesson is being missed here: Recognizing the signs of danger.

    It is great to prep and to have preps for such a scenario, but it is better to avoid it all together.
    First off, I recognize a failure to recognize the dangers of winter travel and to account for them.
    Icy and closed roads are a common occurrence in winter travel, including on interstates.

    So failing to plan properly is the first problem. You should be expecting things like this.
    Trying to push to hard or driving long hours (anything over 10 hours) is always a potential problem. even more so in winter.
    Not that I have not done this, but one must recognize the increasing risks that comes with doing that.

    Now we get into gathering intelligence. You need to know how far you plan to travel in a day and what weather you might encounter, along the way.
    Storms are predicted, as are possible icy conditions in winter, that info is easily obtained.
    Include that in your plan.

    Once you were on the “back roads”, saw the storm damage, the power outages, etc. you should of realized that you were going to run into trouble. Especially as later in the day, that temperatures start to drop down making roads hazardous. This was a problem looking for a place to happen. Ignoring signs like this can be deadly.

    Prepping is not enough, if you fail to plan or fail to recognize the potential danger signs.
    Things can still turn deadly, regardless of all your preps.
    Many a Winter trip, I have seen the warning signs of bad road conditions (power outages, ice forming, deep snow) and got a room for the night, quitting earlier than originally planned. It is a much better and safer choice (warmer and more comfortable too), than being stranded.

    Proper planning, gathering good Intel and watching out for signs that might spell danger are important to practice every day, in every situation.
    It does not only apply to traveling, but for ​unforeseen things like Riots, bank or store robberies, and many other scenarios.
    ​They all have warning signs, you just need to be aware of them and heed them.

    Now I am glad that it all turned out for the best. As to the preps you are adding that is good also. But adding a shovel, deicer and traction material (cat litter, sand, etc.) would be good additions also . Most vehicles have power ports (cigarettes lighter ports), you should have an adapter to charge your phone directly and an inverter plug that would allow you to plug in electrical items, such as an immersion heater (keep a ceramic mug in there, with coffee, tea, etc.)
    I keep the immersion heater, a mug and coffee, in my travel bag for morning coffee, for just after I get up and am getting ready for the day. So that is with me any time I travel.

    But this is not just a trip thing. This should be an everyday way of life. You should Plan, Gather Intel and most of all, watch out for danger signs.
    You never know when a Riot might break out or a Robbery happen, but there are danger signs you should be watching for and heeding.
    Certain areas and times of day are more common for Robberies to happen, avoiding them is part of the planning and intel gathering parts. Seeing people lurking about or acting agitated are warning signs to avoid that area.

    You might call these “Mental preps”, but they are as important, as the physical ones.

    • All great ideas for vehicle preparedness items. One thing I would be interested in finding out is how/where one might organize said preps especially in a small car with a hatchback. Hubby is always getting on me about having “too much stuff” in my trunk stored in milk crates and backpacks. He’ll use the car and next thing I know my crates are left behind on the front porch. I would just rather use the backseat for groceries and keep my preps in the trunk. But if anyone had ideas, I’d welcome them. Op sec is obviously more challenging with a hatchback vs. an enclosed trunk.

  • “ The radio stations barely worked until somewhere around 5am, aside from a few music channels.”

    A while back I heard one of the problems with big corporate radio conglomerates is they aren’t always staffed with DJs. I don’t know if the little radio stations are still staffed 24/7 though, but once upon a time there were radio stations with live people all day and all night. That’s not a big deal until situations like this. Most likely you couldn’t get any radio updates until humans came back to the radio stations (or logged on from home… some can wirk from home for covid).

    So expect that in a crisis radio stations won’t help you from about midnight to five am, depending on the station and their target audience.

  • There are small hot water heaters that plug into the cigarette lighters. Heating warm water for either some instant coffee or tea is something to consider keeping in the car. Having something warm to drink helps with the cold.

    Some of the freeze dried food sites sell 72 hour emergency food packages. Keeping one in the car for each person when traveling is something to consider also. We normally only have snow for a few hours in the years it does snow, but back in February we had snow and real cold weather for over a week. The highway to town was closed. Town where there is a gas station is a one way 25 miles trip. This is why we keep extra gas. We live off grid. However, traveling with a small 2 gallon gas can for emergency is something to include. What if you were stuck more than 16 hours and ran completely out of gas?

  • Things worked out OK for you and for that I am thankful to the Lord. Some ideas; Get a big duffle or sea bag, put wool blankets, those metal thin survival blankets, extra coats, shoe packs, MRE’s (or similar dried food), first aid, a big survival candle, para cord, some basic tools, fire starting stuff, a flashlight that is charged by shaking it and (most important) a BIG PEE bucket with a lid! (personal experience speaking here! Oh, and toilet paper for the wife!) This stays in the trunk, always, along with a T-handle shovel, tire chains and a bag of sand. When I leave on a trip 2 gallons of water go in the car. Always drive on the top half of your gas tank! Never let it get below 1/2. These have served me well on 3 different occasions, once for about 30 hours.

  • Thank-you for sharing your experience and what you learned from it. Your’s is a good example of doing the best you could in a bad situation. Giving valuable information to others so we can better prepare is a gift and greatly appreciated!

  • I don’t understand why highway patrol isn’t prepared to help people. They could use an atv type vehicle and hand out supplies those stranded

    • MS Berry,
      I live and worked in and around the DC area.
      Their patrol cars are not equipped with real winter tires.
      The VA DOT does not budget in for ATVs at scale in that area. Might find them out in the Western part of the state, where it is more rural and mountainous. Nor do they have a fleet of snow plows like the NE states do.
      In 2010, we had a snow storm come through, just like this one. Pretty much the same thing, wrecks, people abandoned vehicles after running out of gas. Some who could, turned around, went back to their work place and spent the night there. Tow trucks are also not equipped for snow either.
      DC traffic is bad enough even without the snow. I have been stuck in traffic for hours, on a nice summer day. It is just that bad.

  • Another thing to add – a real GPS unit, not just your cell phone. I keep a GPS around – especially for those situations where cell service isn’t good. Has kept me moving more than once.

  • Trivial thing to do: install maps.me on all your mobile device. It is a free app. You download maps to the devices and then it works without internet. It saved my bacon more than once…

  • An excellent article. I loved your sense of humour. Even in living where I live you have given me great ideas. Bless your mom for thinking of the colouring book. Awesome idea.

  • So glad you all made.. I live couple miles off I95 north of richmond. Virginia VDOT really dropped the ball on this storm everyone knew about it but them. Stupid governor blamed it on vehicles (BULL) VDOT dropped the ball.
    Glad you all are safe and did have some supplies..(smart)

  • Thank you so much for this information. I live in New England, and this sort of storm is normal for us … which means that getting stuck on the Interstate for any period of time is not as likely, as we have a fleet of snow plows and other snow removal equipment. Most of our police departments also have ATVs, which could be deployed to monitor the highways, if there was a massive, hour’s long traffic jam.

    That said, I should be a lot more prepared than I am when I’m on the road. I often go out on short trips in just my pajama pants (to take my daughter to work or some such thing where I don’t expect to have to get out of the car), and I am NOT prepared to have to walk in the snow. This was a great reminder that anything could happen while I’m out and most accidents happen within four miles of one’s home. At very least, I should put on some real pants … and wear my boots ;).

    Thanks, Rachel! Your story is an inspiration, and given everything you knew going into the situation, I think you were amazing. Thing is, most “emergencies” are just that – things for which we have very little forewarning, and the fact that you were as prepared as you were is pretty awesome! Good job!

  • Well, I’m glad you both survived your trial by fire/snow with all fingers and toes intact. Being stranded in any extreme of temperature can be a life threatening event.

    Living in the Colorado foothills for just about all my life, natives are used to the sudden weather changes, so I keep the storage compartment in our SUV stocked multi season. Then supplement that with items specific to the season when traveling.
    In winter, I would suggest adding tire chains to your trunk (most are cables now for passenger vehicles). They really help with traction. Though we always have the Bivvy bags, during the winter, I toss in a couple of sleeping bags when traveling. They’ll keep you warmer than a blanket. A folding shovel. Esbit stove with trioxane tabs, or cans of sterno. a small pan or kettle to boil water. An Immersion heater can work well for heating water. Tea, Instant Coffee or Apple Cider. A warm beverage goes a long way in boosting morale. Any foodstuffs need to be high energy, you burn a lot more calories trying to stay warm than folks realize. Always more water than you anticipate drinking. I keep an old hospital urinal in the vehicle at all times.

    You both did good with what you had. You kept your heads, adapted and survived. That’s the important part.

  • You could have used the candle in the car to provide heat as well. A lot of winter car kits have candles in them for that reason. Additionally several hand and foot warmers would have made this vs a little more comfortable.

  • Thermos flask. Very useful moral booster… Hot sweet coffee noone cares when its cold what kind of drink it is.
    Bivvy bag is a must. And a bag you can carry if you have to leave your vehicle.
    I like good fire starting kit, fire logs are great! Instant fire but you should have enough skill to go to the tree line & make shelter & warmth from your outdoor supermarket.
    Pine needle tea great tea

  • Great article about your real-life experience Rachel and I’m thankful that a) you both came out on top clearly with your sense of humor in tact and b) you were prepared to share your lessons. Because you did, I’ve just finished checking our own vehicle kit, rotated food and added a few items. Furthermore, my independent hubby went through HIS kit and did the same. Thanks. I hope this is the last of your ‘near death experiences’ 😉 but certainly hoping it’s not the last we hear from you. Great job.

  • I’m glad everything worked out ok for you.

    I’m from the DC area and still live here. I’m not sure where in Springfield you were, as it’s not really a “back roads” kind of place. It’s mostly suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers.

    VDOT, local media, and VA State Police were all posting starting around noon on Monday about the problems on 95, asking motorists to stay off of the highway. These posts continued into the evening.

  • This is great for motivating one to carry a substantial emergency car kit. I need to up my game! One point nobody else has made is this, holding your pee in drains a ton of body heat. Even if it’s not ideal (warm, dry indoor plumbing) it’s best not to hold it. Your body has to work that much harder to warm that liquid.

  • I got my Ham license in 2021 and upgraded to general. I always have a radio when I travel. It’s helpful to talk to other Hams and get information first hand.

  • Great article, Rachel! Thanks for sharing. Glad you both made it out alive and in good spirits. Your mom raised a smart young lady!

  • My wife and I were once trapped between avalanches overnight on Berthoud Pass in Colorado. We were backpackers and ski-tourers back then so we had two fully loaded backpacks. We were trapped with a car full of college girls and an older couple whose truck got shoved off the road by the first avalanche. After we retrieved the older couple (a large tree had stopped their truck), we pulled out our packs, shared our food and water with the others and built a fire by the side of the road. It turned what could have been a very bad situation into an event that ended up being not so bad. We had good, clean snow to melt for water. We had some Mountain House freeze dried food. Yes, it got cold, but everyone had Colorado mountain winter clothing so we got by.

    The following morning when the road crews broke through we were able to offer them hot chocolate as well as our thanks. It really does pay to be prepared. That was 35 years ago and to this day I still carry such a pack in the trunk of my car. But now I have self-heating MRE’s and Survivor Filter water filters in the pack.

  • So glad that you made it through this ordeal. Having said that I’d also like to compliment you on your writing style. You have an entertaining way of putting things, and obviously an educational slant, which serves the readers of TOP very well. Thank you for this contribution.

    Living the first 38+ years in Michigan before I moved to the Sierra Nevada mountain region, I learned a long time ago to have my vehicles packed. I’m glad that your mom instilled many of these same traits in you; it obviously made this ordeal easier to deal with than many stuck in similar positions.

    One last note … It’s very fortunate that there weren’t many (if any) electric cars on I-95. They rely on their batteries for cabin temperature controls, and once they lose power nobody can just deliver gas to them to clear the roads. They would either have to be towed, or have a generator towed to them to recharge their batteries.

  • I was nowhere near the incident on I95, but I want to say I am truly angry that our state police didn’t do more to help the situation. It seems it would have been easy to close the highway at the exit/entrance ramps. Move people off the highway and guide them to Route 1 which isn’t that far away. People could have easily kept moving if only they had stepped in. Getting folks over the Route 1 would have given people plenty of access to gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and motels/hotels. Travel would have been slower, but people wouldn’t have been traumatized. This is utterly ridiculous. I soooo thankful no one died in the incident.

    • Angela,
      Don’t overestimate the abilities of the state police. I can’t speak for the areas that this article specifically deals with, but I can speak for what it’s like in Indiana. Right now there are so many troopers out with Covid that they can barely handle normal operations. Throw in a winter weather event, as we had yesterday, and there is no way to keep up. Things can go from fine to a complete disaster in a matter of minutes. We can only expect so much from emergency services. They’re out there doing the best they can. Best thing we can do is stay off the roads when they’re forecasting bad weather.

  • So glad it all worked out for you! Your story does prompt some thoughts though…
    We must stop looking to or putting responsibility on our gov’ts to take care of our health or basic needs. We must get rid of that expectation to the point where it doesn’t even factor in. Not in a traffic jam on a storm-tossed section of highway, and not in our homes.
    I realize you were far more prepared than many of your neighbours, so if nothing else, it clarified car preps, and made us realize we can’t depend on cell service or radio.

  • Last summer we were coming home from visiting our son & family in Eugene, OR. We live in SW Idaho, so we take a route that goes straight across Oregon. The roads are mainly 2 lanes and you are really out in the middle of nowhere. We stopped at Brothers, OR to use the restroom (latrines) when I got a FEMA emergency message to evacuate from that county because of fires. There was smokey skies all around us. Which way do we go? We had no idea and we were concerned about getting more gas as the last gas station had been totally out of premium and diesel as the trucks couldn’t get through another fire between Oakridge and Portland. So we kept going towards Idaho. After traveling around 50 miles we finally had cell coverage and I called my husband to see if he could find out on the Internet where the fires were. We were coming up to a junction that could give us some options. Fortunately, he was able to find out where the fires were and we were okay the way we were heading. I decided that I was going to get a ham radio license and a portable radio to use on trips. The area where we were has lots of ranches and not a lot of mountains getting in the way and we would be able to find out from someone closer what the options were. So I now have my Technician’s license and a radio. We were scared to death we would run into the fire or run out of gas out there.

  • She also needed tp and a shewee. She also needs to learn how to navigate roads using only a road atlas and visible landmarks/signage.

  • Why on earth did you have to wake your boyfriend over and over to start the car for heat? If the plan was for him to sleep and you to stay awake, why didn’t you switch seats?? If you already figured out a functional in-car bathroom, why did you injure your bladder by holding it so long a second time? So much about this story is weird.

  • Extremely well written article! I used to live in Swansboro (I know you 2 know where that is), and traveling home from Sacramento at night in the winter was an exercise in survival. I always carried cat litter for both ballast over the ice and to get traction under my AWD Subbie. A shovel, chains, and a spare tire rounded out my trunk from September until May. The Sierras can be funky that way. Obviously the state of Virginia is clueless and doesn’t care about citizens or travellers. I think that you and your boyfriend did an amazing job.

  • a for effort. but really, the author sounded like she really doesn t understand prepping. heres som e that couldve helped.

    you can live without water for 48 hours. dont sweat it.

    you dont need a water purifier for snow. in fact, you dont need to melt it. eat it.

    candles can raise the temperature in a small space by a few degrees.

    sleep is good. she shouldve tried it. im sure she would ve woken up if traffic moved.

    naked under blankets with her boyfriend is warmer than many layers worn.

  • I am so thankful you made it home safely and with your sense of humor intact. ????Thank you for sharing your experiences on what worked and what you will improve upon. You are obviously a planner as well as a survivor, and a good writer too. You were more prepared than those around you on I95 and probably more than many who read this blog ????.
    This prompted me to go thru each cars “get home bag” for verification of readiness. Thanks again

  • Thanks for the fun read, Rachel and Daisy.

    You had a priceless lesson and I appreciate your sharing. I remember being around your age and learned about winter survival while travelling after moving to Montana and Wyoming.

    Intelligence traps now are far more dangerous, and you highlighted those very well: relying on access to electric communications instead of old-school paper maps and route planning and equipping, relying on only gas station refills for fuel, water and food, heating, warmth.

    For anyone else reading this, look at how to use a new 1 quart paint can, roll of TP, QUART of 90% alcohol, and a lighter to stay warm with odorless safe heating in your vehicle.

    God Bless,

  • Tips: If you keep a large golf umbrella in your vehicle, you can open it up and set it on the ground outside your vehicle to act as a temporary privacy screen behind which you can relieve yourself. Also, for long trips it is helpful to have a 5-gallon bucket with an attached plastic toilet seat (lined with a heavy duty trash bag or a “Double Doodie” bag), and a roll of toilet paper (or some baby wipes) in your vehicle.

  • She did not add a pee bucket to her list of additional equipment she needed. I find that strange, after her potato chip bag use. I carry an ice cream bucket with small plastic bags and toilet paper in it. I line the bucket with a bag, do my thing, tie off the bag, and put it in a heavy duty plastic bag and seal that bag with a tie, so I can contain any odor and be able to use it again if needed.

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