Lessons Learned the Hard Way – My Near Death Experience While Traveling

The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.”  -Robert Tew

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The following story took place during my Great American Tour while camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina during the winter of 2009

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I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of gun fire, or what sounded like gun fire. Then I heard the distinct sound of snapping branches and falling trees followed by a loud, deep thud which seemed to crash right outside my camper. What in the hell is going on outside? Has a war started that I didn’t know about, is America under attack?

My 13’ camper was being blown around by the howling wind like a toy, pictures fell from the walls and cooking ware spilled from cabinets. My television fell off the counter and landed on me in bed, bruising the shins of both of my legs. The inside of my camper looked as if it was the inside of a garbage container. I noticed it was cold inside, very cold, and I became aware that my space heater had quit working – I had no electricity.

Then one thought permeated through the hectic clutter of all others – was I about to die?

I jumped from my bed and made my way to the door, stepping over and on personal items in the process. Something crunched under my bare foot, opening a bloody gash. With my pistol in hand, I opened the door to complete darkness and utter chaos. My hand was trembling so bad that I dropped my gun almost immediately in what looked to be about 3’ of snow. When I went to bed the night before there was no snow.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the vacant campground I was staying at came into view. It looked like the aftermath of a terrible battle. Downed trees lay haphazardly all over the place, some snapped in half, others ripped out by their roots. The wind was violently blowing me around as heavy wet snow fell from the sky with anger, getting worse by the moment.

It turned out America was being attacked, not by another country though, but by Mother Nature. I was in the midst of what would later be known as the “Blizzard of 2009.”

Snow Storm 2
Days after the Blizzard and still snowed in

I went back into the moderate safety of my camper to access the damage. There was no electricity, thus no heat. I needed heat or I was going to freeze to death I thought, so I went back out into the storm to light the furnace, but quickly realized that wouldn’t be necessary because a small tree had fallen on and broken the connections to my propane tank – no propane, no heat! Shiiiiit!

Back inside I put on every piece of clothing I owned in the hope of keeping somewhat warm. I had no choice but to wait out the storm, and hope that a large tree didn’t fall onto my camper and crush me to death. So there I lay inside my tiny tin can of a camper praying that things didn’t get worse. The storm raged on for most of the night, trees continued to fall, my camper continued to rock and sway violently in the wind for what seemed like forever.

Snow Storm 3
My feeble attempt to stay warm

This was my first winter alone in my camper, and to say I didn’t prepare properly would be an understatement. I was at the beginning of what would end up being a 4-year journey across America, but at the time I thought my journey would end right then and there.

Snow Storm 1
Temperature inside my camper – at night it went down into the 20’s

The next day I dug out my camper, but the snow kept falling and soon covered everything again. Snow and ice covered every inch of the campground and downed trees block the road, making an escape in my 2-WD truck impossible. At the time of the blizzard my food supply was nearly depleted, I had intended on going to the store the next day to restock. I searched the wreckage of my camper and found my phone, thank God I thought, I can call someone for help. But to make things really interesting – my phone was dead! On the third day of being snowed in, I ran out of food. I began to panic.

dont give up

I devised a plan to walk out of the secluded campground and head for the closest store, a journey of about 6 miles through 3′ of snow and downed trees everywhere. I bundled up the best I could, bandaged my badly injured foot and attempted to head for the store. Surely I thought, I would run into someone on the way, but that wouldn’t be the case, there was absolutely no one around. The roads were snowed in and fallen trees blocked them anyway. After about 3 miles my foot was a bloody mess and was killing me. So with a defeated attitude I turned back for my camper. I didn’t stop shivering for three days, I was hungry, upset and feeling like I was going to lose my mind. To add to my misery, I was starving too. My energy levels had bottomed out.

The stressful walk in the snow took me most of the day and I grew weak and became sick, I found it virtually impossible to leave my bed for the next three days. On the sixth day, my third without food, I heard what I thought were voices coming from outside. Was I hallucinating? I slowly rose from my bed and opened the door to the most beautiful site I have ever seen, two people had come to access the damage to their camper.

I told them about my situation and asked if they had any food. Their camper was locked up for the winter so there wasn’t any food except a couple packages of Ramen Noodles. The electricity was still down but they fired up their propane furnace and stove in the camper and fixed me the best meal I have ever eaten in my entire life!

Ramen Noodles
Ramen Noodles oh how I love thee! 

The fire department had been hard at work clearing away all the fallen trees blocking the roads and my new best friends drove me to the store. My ordeal was finally coming to an end, and I was still alive!

Snow Storm 4
The aftermath of the Blizzard of 2009
Snow Storm 5
More of the carnage

This whole fiasco could have been avoided had I took the time to properly prepare. When I started this venture, I told myself I wouldn’t listen to or read the news, I was tired of all the violence and bad news and decided to hell with it, I wouldn’t listen. Well, in introspect, I realized this was foolish. Had I listened to the news I would have known about the fast approaching storm and could have taken refuge at a nearby hotel.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
  • Stock up on food, especially if braving the winter alone in a camper.
  • After calamity does hit, and all seems hopeless, think of what you’re grateful for.
  • Remember that adversity builds character. The challenges we face teach us resourcefulness, self-reliance, courage, patience, perseverance, and self-discipline.
  • Live with hope in times of upheaval.
  • Use the lowest point of your struggle as a fulcrum to rise above it. When you feel nothing could possibly be worse, you have nothing more to fear, so do whatever you can, for you have nothing to lose.
  • Soften the blow when misfortune strikes by recognizing it as a call for change. Acknowledge it as an order, not a suggestion, and learn from it.
  • Disaster forces you to change, so welcome its loud booming voice, for whom among us will not be strengthened by wrestling with hardship?
  • Affliction comes to us all – not to make us sad, but to sober us up; not to make us sorry, but to make us wise.
  • Always have a way to call when in distress – a phone, internet etc.
  • Have a plan of escape in case you become trapped.

Have you ever had a traumatic travel experience? If so, what did you learn from it? Were you ever about to give up but didn’t? How did you overcome your self-doubt?

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JP Twitter Pic2Hi my name is JP Chartier and I write for Gutter Pup Adventures.com where you can expect to read well-written and entertaining articles about the people and places that often get overlooked at many popular vacation destinations around the world.

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. Absolutely terrific post J.P. I loved it! You were in my neck of the woods even though I didn’t live here back then. A 4 year journey across America is my husband and my dream after the caregiving is finished. We have had many wild experiences from tornadoes in a tent in Indiana and Kentucky to waking up to 6 inches of snow in a tent with our two children. I would love to here more about this huge adventure of yours! Sorry it took me so long to read this I’ve been sick and haven’t been around much!
    Rena McDaniel recently posted…HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, CAMy Profile

    • Thanks for the compliment my friend! I find it very cool that you’re into the wild-side of travel, Lord knows if you travel long enough you’ll have some crazy stories to tell, right? Traveling around the states was the best thing I’ve ever done!! You must try to do it someday. I’ve also had a tornado experience in Kansas, but thank God I wasn’t in a tent :0

      I’ll be writing more about my Great American Tour in the coming months, so be tuned 🙂

      Hope you feel better soon –

  2. B L O O D Y H E L L ! ! !

    It was more stressful reading this then it was for you trudging through 3 inches of snow like that…!

    Joking of course but wow.!?!!!!

    Have you seen Into The Wild?

    • This was by far my most stressful situation while traveling for sure! I came down with the flu during all of this making things 10 times worse. Hope it didn’t stress you out too much 🙂

      Into the Wild is my favorite movie and was in part my inspiration for my 4-year trip around America – great movie!!

    • Atrocious is a great word for this experience Ted, but I tell you what, as bad as it was, I’m still thankful for the wisdom I got. After going through this and surviving I learned to look at life differently, and for that I’m thankful! It allowed me to come face to face with the fragility of life and how quickly it can all be taken from you. I take in all I possibly can from everything now 🙂

    • That’s exactly what I do now Ryan, I tune in for the weather portion and ignore all the violence and bad news. A major reason for taking this epic journey was to really learn about myself, to realize what is really important in life and what’s just filler. I wanted to not only see the beautiful places and meet the wonderful people, but as Socrates once said I wanted to “know thyself.” I also took to heart something else he said “that people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” Amen Socrates

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