It really was a simple enough plan. Ben was scheduled for a consult with the doctor on Thursday morning in Birmingham, AL and then surgery on Friday. The drive from Orlando to Birmingham should have taken 9-10 hours with breaks along the way. I had a hearty breakfast, knowing that I would be driving all day, and then went to pick up Ben and Sara. After some wrangling to get Ben out the door we were on our way north by 10:30. Smooth sailing!
Unfortunately, last night a major ice storm hit the southeast last night. We were just approaching Gainesville when we got a call from the doctor himself. It turns out he and many others had been trapped in the hospital all night. He slept in his office, and the nurses slept in the operating room. One of his colleagues had actually had to hike three miles through the snow with a backpack in order to rescue his wife, who was trapped in her car without provisions. Seriously, just bad news all around. The good news, however, was that Dr. Christein was not calling to cancel the surgery. He was just calling to warn us that the clinic was going to be closed tomorrow, and that there was absolutely no way we would be able to make it into Birmingham regardless. He suggested we call ahead and find a room in Montgomery, that we should be able to make it that far. He said the meteorologists expected the weather to warm significantly tomorrow, and that we should be able to make it the rest of the way to Birmingham in the afternoon. Then we would just go to the hospital extra early (like 5am!) on Friday to do the pre-surgical consult and prep work.
We stopped for some lunch, did some shuffling with the hotel situation, and got ourselves booked in Montgomery without a problem. Smooth sailing!
Well, until we got to Tallahassee. With the change of plans, we were supposed to follow I-10 almost to Pensacola before turning north. Unfortunately, I-10 was shut down completely immediately west of Tallahassee. I stopped at a gas station to ask about a possible detour route, stressing that we needed to get to Montgomery today. He just shook his head and said, "yeah, that ain't gonna happen."
What baffled me was that at that point although it was just barely below freezing there was no evidence of snow, or even frost. I assume the freeway must have been iced over or that there was an accident, but the bottom line was that route was closed to us. Being a tech kinda guy, my next step was to ask the nice Google Lady (I.E. Google Maps) for an alternate route. I came up with a surface street route that would take us north eventually to Hwy 84, and from there 231 to Montgomery. With still no sign of ice or snow, it was smooth sailing!
Well, until we passed Ozark, Alabama. We had started seeing more and more frost in the trees, but by 80 miles south of Montgomery we were finally hitting real snow and ice. Our progress slowed considerably. Still, for a while we were averaging 40 miles per hour and things weren't too bad. That didn't last. After 25 miles of icy, hilly roads I had reached the point where I had the radio turned off, both hands on the steering wheel in a death grip, and either at a dead stop or at best inching along. We came to a spot where traffic was completely stopped, I looked at the map, and I declared that there was no way we were getting to Montgomery. Or, in the words of Mr. Gas Station Guy back in Tallahassee -- "yeah, that ain't gonna happen."
We were only five miles south of Troy, Alabama by then, and I could see that it was the only town of any size left ahead. I phoned my wife and asked her to please try to find some hotel, ANY hotel, in Troy that could give us two rooms for the night. A few minutes later she messaged me back saying she had found us space at the Super 8, that it was the only place that even answered the phone. Another ten minutes of careful driving and we made it safely to our hotel. Smooth sailing!
Well, except for the part where we had no food besides snack food and cereal bars. Ben had been spectacularly patient throughout the entire drive, but as we entered Troy he started asking for chicken and fries. Well, asking, begging, shouting, screaming, hitting, throwing things... He was getting increasingly agitated, and we had a fundamental problem. Everything was closed. Fast food, sit down restaurants, grocery stores, everything. There was a Waffle House that was open, but they didn't have chicken or fries. We got Ben to eat some cereal bars, which calmed him down a little, and kept searching.
I finally found a little hole-in-the-wall burger/chicken/greek/falafel place that was actually open. Chicken nuggets and fries were on the menu, as well as plenty of other options for Sara and me. The catch was, the owner was literally running the place by himself. He would take orders, go back and start cooking things, take more orders, and pretty much just power his way through the situation. That meant that it took about an hour from the time we ordered until there was actually food. Fortunately, Ben had calmed completely down and he was happy to sit at the table and listen to music. Finally the food came out, and Ben even ate most of the chicken nuggets even though he thought they were weird and wrong. Hunger won out.
Now we are settled in to our rooms at the hotel and are winding down. Ben seems to be enjoying the adventure. Sara and I have been very pleasant with each other all day (I admit I was worried about the realities of driving all day with my ex-wife). I am tired, but not stressed or exhausted. Things seem to be working out. We'll sleep in tomorrow, get a late breakfast / early lunch, and hopefully by early afternoon the temperatures will have warmed enough for the roads to clear. Businesses are all expected to be open tomorrow here in Troy. Without weather issues we are about two hours away from Birmingham. Even with delays, we should be able to make it up there without a problem.