Dozens of travelers to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee were left stranded in their rental cabins earlier this week thanks to snow and ice covered roads. Most had a minimal supply of food and were unsure when they could resupply thanks to the treacherous conditions.
Winter storms dumped several inches of snow on the region, but it was the ice that posed the real danger. The narrow and winding mountain roads became impassable thanks to a thick coat of ice which caused many vehicles to slide off the pavement and become stuck in ditches. Without ice chains on their tires, most vehicles were useless on the slick surface, which meant that visitors to the Majestic Mountain Lodges near Gatlinburg were forced to stay in their cabins and wait for assistance.
Some couldn’t wait however. Running low on food, many of people set out on foot for the nearby town, pulling sleds behind them as they went. Once they made the walk into Gatlinburg, they would purchase their needed supplies and then hike back up the mountain to their cabin. That round-trip trek would take several hours to complete.
Slowly the conditions have begun to improve over the past few days, but even salt trucks and plows have had problems getting up the steep mountain roads. For now, most of the visitors have had to stay in their cabins and wait for the ice to clear.
Would this kind of ice storm be a fun winter adventure or leave you with severe cabin fever? It seems that if you were well stocked on food and supplies, it would be fine just relaxing by the fire. But if you were running low on those things, it wouldn’t be much fun at all. I’d hate to be the guy that drew the short straw to make the beer run.
Even though I’m sitting pretty here in soggy Hawaii (at least it’s 70 degrees), it is downright freezing in New England, and I’ve experienced that too. My five year stint in New England taught me many things, but most importantly it taught me how to be creative when the weather is frightful. I remember stepping out of my dorm on numerous occasions, taking a deep breath, and choking on the cold air. I remember, too, the Ice Storm of 1998 (it doesn’t feel like a decade ago, but oh well): inches of ice around grass blades and tree branches decorated the roadside — whole trees would snap under the weight.
I attended college in Maine to experience the extreme. Call me crazy, but I chose Maine because I actually hoped my eyes would freeze shut. I thought the weather would keep me inside so that I could study like the nerd that I was. I didn’t anticipate, however, the awfully fun, spontaneous experiences I would have.
Here are five things you can do to survive the cold:
- Tubing/Sledding: Twas past midnight in college, and I remember distinctly walking back to my dorm after a long night of studying in the library (I told you I was a nerd). I heard an ecstatic squeal coming from the chapel hill. Amid the curtain of snow I witnessed the most ironic sight: my two neighbors wearing their bathing suits, winter boots and ear mufflers careening down the hill in an inflatable tube.
- Ice fishing/Smelting: This is a guy kind of thing, but girls can enjoy this too. Rent a little shack on the water, cut out a hole in the ice, and fish your blues away. It’s not as cold as you think. There’s a little wood stove to provide you with heat, and you can even bed down for the night if you so please.
- Hiking/Cross-country skiing: The barren, icy woods are so calm and beautiful when it’s cold out. There’s no one on the streets. Once your body warms up, you can enjoy your own private winter wonderland.
- Hot chocolate &/or apple cider: Mmmmm… need I say more?
- Volunteer: Shelters need extra help especially when the weather is cold and the power is out. Take some time to lend a hand for an hour or two at your local emergency or homeless shelter.
To be certain, living in very cold weather was the best thing I could have done for my spirit. I have thicker skin in more ways than one, thanks to living in New England, and you can too — right now, even if the power is out and you’re shivering in ten layers of thermal underwear, curled up in a ball under an emergency blanket.
Enjoy the cold! You only live once.