Part of my responsibilities as a member of the Theta Tau Executive Council is to visit at least one chapter per semester. Last semester, I was able to visit two of our chapters in New York, one at Binghamton University and the other at the University of Buffalo.
This past weekend, I drove from Pittsburgh to Richmond, VA to visit with our chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University. I spent an enjoyable weekend with the chapter which included eating dinner with the officers on Friday night, a cookout/football game on Saturday afternoon and a chapter meeting on Saturday evening. It was good to see the chapter doing well. I enjoyed the football game, although it was rather cold out and the out-of-shape Matthew was in no condition to play. Nevertheless, I ran and ran until I could run no more. I ended up with a bruised rib, but I enjoyed the game.
On Sunday, I drove to Charlottesville, VA with David McCall to visit our chapter at the University of Virginia. After a pleasant two hour meeting with them, I left Charlottesville at around 4:30 to try to make it home by 10:00 PM.
It wasn't meant to be. I actually had a good trip and was making decent time until I hit the Pennsylvania turnpike. Evil road that it is, if you haven't driven it, I would rate it as one of the worst interstates in the nation. The road is so old that it wasn't built up to modern standards. So state officials have to reduce the speed limit on the highway because it just can handle traffic going 65 mph. Yep, that's right! A good portion of the interstate is at the old 55 mph speed limit. Furthermore, there are parts of the road where you can't even see the lines on the highway and thus can't tell what lane you're supposed to be in. An added benefit, of course, is that you get to pay for the "privilege" of driving on it.
Anyway, I'm driving down the interstate and it starts raining. Well, it looks like rain but its actually freezing rain. However, in the car, I can't tell that its freezing rain so I assume that its raining. I've already slowed down quite a bit, partially because of the rain and partially because of the lack of lane lines as I had previously mentioned. Anyway, I'm headed up a hill at around 50 mph and see some cars ahead on the side of the road, about two cars per side. Being cautious, I slow down to make sure everything is alright. I hit the brakes gently, but I'm in trouble.
There must have been a patch of black ice on the highway. When I hit the brakes, the car angles about 20 degrees to the right, but continues straight forward. I turn the wheel to the left to compensate. The car lurches sharply to the left so I'm not headed about 45 degrees to the left. I turn the wheel sharply to the right and end up doing a 360 right in the middle of the interstate (at 50 mph!). The car comes all the way around and I end up driving off the highway on the right hand side. Luckily, this was a good place to drive off the road as the only thing there was an embankment. (Ever notice that not every place to drive off the interstate is safe? Some of them would involve quite a long fall and there is no guard rail to protect you!) The car slid into and up on to the embankment and stalled out.
Obviously shaken I was worried that other cars might hit that stretch of road and careen out of control and into my car. I drove up onto the embankment and got out of the car. I looked all around the car to take a visual survey of any damage. Luckily, there appeared to be none. I got back into the car, took a few minutes to calm down, and slowly drove off of the embankment. I pulled back into the traffic on the interstate which was crawling along by this point. I passed by several cars which were on the side of the road for various reasons. Then, the line of traffic I was in started weaving its way through the wreck area.
In the space of 1/4 mile, there were five different cars damaged from what looked like three different wrecks. Some of these cars were damaged quite extensively also, as in there was nothing left of the car in front of the windshield, or there was no trunk, only back seat. A policeman arrived as we were weaving through, but luckily no one appeared to be seriously hurt. I didn't hear of any deaths or serious injuries from these accidents on the turnpike, so I can assume that everyone made it ok.
The Somerset travel plaza was only a mile or so up the road so I made the decision to pull over, get out, and calm down. I got out of the car and had some dinner. (Burger King; blech!) Well, I got back into the car and started down the road. What's that noise? I get out and check. Ah yes, I have a flat tire. Great. Without too much difficulty, I made it to the Sunoco station at the travel plaza. I had two options. I could put the spare tire on the car and try to drive it all the way to Pittsburgh (in the crappy weather) or I could see if I could get the tire fixed or the car towed into Pittsburgh with AAA. After discussing it with Heather I chose the latter option. I called AAA and waited.
In the meantime, I used the air pumps at the gas station to refill the tire. By the time that AAA had arrived however, the tire had gone flat again. The AAA guy took the tire off and tried inspecting it for holes. He did this by overinflating the tire to 50 PSI and looking for leaks. He didn't find anything. He looked for fifteen minutes or so out in the cold and freezing rain and didn't find anything at all. He said that he thought I could make it to Pittsburgh on the spare, but I was to drive slowly and I might not make it over Ligonier Mountain.
I had thought about driving in, but since I had already narrowly avoided an accident with four good tires, I didn't feel that much more confident in driving in that weather with a spare tire on the car. After consulting with Heather again, I decided to just stop and spend the night there in Somerset. I had him put the spare tire on the car and drove two miles to the Somerset exit.
I opted to stay at the Knight's Inn in Somerset, mainly because the sign was advertising a "1-person 1-bed" rate at $35/night. I pulled into the Knight's Inn, got a room, unloaded the car, and got some sleep. By this time it was 11:00 PM.
I awoke the next morning at around 6:30 thanks to garbage trucks servicing the hotel. I tried to get some more shut-eye, but was unsuccessful. I gathered my stuff, packed the car, checked out of the hotel and drove to the wal-mart in Somerset. I figured that I needed a new tire and that I might as well get a cheap one to get me back to Pittsburgh. After all, the tire that had gone flat was virtually new with nice deep treads and was still under warranty.
At the wal-mart, the mechanic looked at the tire and declared that he couldn't find a hole in the tire. In fact, the tire had held a charge of 50 PSI since the previous night. I explained what had happened the night before and he had an idea. Apparently, when I had his the embankment, the force of the car had been sufficient to push some dirt in between the tire and the rim. This allowed enough of a gap to let the tire go flat. Once the AAA guy had put 50 PSI in the tire, there was enough pressure to seal the gap that the dirt had created. That's why he couldn't find a leak.
A simple enough procedure, all the wal-mart guy did was unmount the tire, clean off the rim and the tire, and remount and rebalance it. It was done in 10 minutes for $6.50. The guy could have sold me a new tire and I would have been none the wiser. Kudos to the Somerset wal-mart for their honesty!
With my tire fixed and the weather cleared up, I headed back to Pittsburgh. I finally made it in at 11:00 AM, a mere 18 1/2 hours after I left. Of the many trips that Heather and I have taken back and forth from Charlottesville, this one definitely qualifies as the longest one! We are both happy and thankful that I was able to make it back without any serious injury.
Wow! That took me about 45 minutes to write! I hope you enjoy the post...