The road started to get pretty treacherous. As we were deciding whether to turn back or not, we stumbled upon a Nissan Maxima stopped in the road (we, by the way, are traveling in a GM sedan with a manual transmission). There were 5 guys – all of middle eastern decent, mid to late 20’s – who spoke heavily accented English. They approached our car with the bewildered traveler look and a map. “Do you know anything about this road?” “Nope, this is our 1st time to the park.” We were a bit nervous, just because of the numbers game: 5 guys vs. 2 girls with no martial arts experience wasn’t a good combination. We had mace, but these guys seemed like they were on the up and up. “The park ranger told us to take this road, we’re going to the falls,” said one. So were we! We decided to carry on.
The dirt road got worse. There were puddles that could have swallowed our whole car. The guys kept getting out of the vehicle to see how deep the puddles were and if we could navigate them. They were kind enough to wave us through — being on the mountain, there were numerous rocks (read: boulders). I bottomed out a few times – I was driving – and every time we thought the worst was over, the next obstacle was even more dangerous. After about an hour – it was nearing 6pm at this point – we were chasing daylight – we decided to call the park service. Alice not only had a working cellphone, but had the foresight to take a picture of the park emergency numbers on the map by the trail. We told the park service where we were: McKendree Road. Or at least that’s where the GPS told us we were. It was the road I was intending to find, but it was so bad, I wasn’t sure if I was on the right road or not. “You shouldn’t be out there in those vehicles,” said Ranger Obvious. “My suggestion is to turn around.”
Turn around?! We barely made it through some of the
puddles ponds and rocks; there was no way we could do that again. Also, this road was not conducive to turning around. Not only was it narrow, but most of the time there was a rock wall on our left, and a 30+ foot drop on our right. The fishtailing we were doing was dangerous in itself: one false move and we were going down the ravine.
We stopped to rest from the driving conditions; I killed the engine and opened the hood to let it cool off. There was a real fear of spending the night on the mountain. Luckily, we had food, water, and blankets; but still, that was not in the game plan. We got back in the cars and kept moving.
This is a shot from Alice’s iPhone on McKendree Road during one of the less intense parts. One of the guys is sticking out of the sunroof to navigate the obstacles.
As you can see from the picture, we were basically on an old mining road. The stress was starting to get to both of us, but we kept it together, as we joked about our college days and tried to cope as well as we could. Meanwhile, the Ranger Obvious called back to check on us. We were still in the thick of it. “It will get real, real steep and the road will get worse as you keep going before you hit the main road,” he said. Get worse?! How could it get worse?! But oh, it did. Bigger
puddles lakes and larger boulders; it got steep. Like really steep. While the road got scarier, it was also comforting to know that as the road got steeper, pavement was ahead; civilization was close by. Alice spotted a stoplight from our perch and it was such a relief. I had never been so excited to see a stoplight in my life.
We basically went 15 miles on this road in 2 hours.
Right at the end, a pickup truck appeared from behind us. We thought it may be the park service, but it was unmarked. We shifted over as far as we could and this guy, who could only be described as an “Old Bubba from the backhills of West Virginia” who was missing most of his teeth and smoking a cigarette.
“What der hell are y’all doing on this road?” He declared.
“We took a wrong turn.”
“When didja get on dis road?” he asked.
“Back in Thurmond.”
“THURMOND? Y’ALL WENT THROUGH THAT SH!T IN THOSE CARS?”
“Yes, sir, we did.”
We still can’t tell if he was impressed or thought we were clinically insane. Perhaps it was a little of both.
As we made it back to the paved road, the boys’ car popped their front tire. We were able to get to a pull off just off the road. I wanted to make sure they had everything they needed to change the tire; afterall, they were kind enough to help us through that mess and it didn’t feel right to leave them. Luckily, they had everything they needed (I was ready to give them my spare). After letting the engine/nerves cool down, we called the park service to let them know we made it out alive and said our good-byes to what we called “Our angels in the Maxima” – this made them smile. We then hightailed it to the interstate.
We stopped at the nearest Cracker Barrel for a meal fit for a king. After fighting for our lives, a good hearty meal was in order. One of the greeters saw us and asked how our day was going. We gave her a quick rundown of our adventure. She was a native lady and her eyes went wide when we said we were on McKendree Road in cars. We were lucky to be alive.
We made it back to the hotel in Charleston and I have never been so thankful for a hot shower, a warm bed, and glass of wine.