I’m a seasoned Mainer, I’ve dealt with brutal winters for most of my life. But nothing prepares you for the moment you’re forced to use a cat as a makeshift tool to inch your way up an icy mountain or face certain death.
The year was 1998. I was 27 and living alone with Conan O’Brien, my fat orange tabby. I had just finished my shift at work and walked outside one night to find my car encased in a thick layer of ice. It took me an hour to chip away a small window to see well enough to drive home.
Huh, I thought. This sucks.
I arrived at my apartment to find the power already out. The following day the freezing rain the local weatherman predicted would end only intensified. Frigid air seeped in at night, hovering around 20 degrees. I went to bed wearing 12 layers, my winter coat, hat and mittens.
Huh, I thought, my teeth chattering. This really sucks.
On the third day of the ice storm I woke up to find Conan sitting on my head for warmth. He normally wouldn’t go near me unless I fed him. I tried to shove him off my face but my arms had gone numb from the cold. I sighed and a frosty mist shot out my nostrils.
Huh, I thought as he dug his claws deeper into my ear and settled his butt onto my nose. This sucks an incredible amount. Must be the end of the world as we know it? But I don’t feel fine.
No power meant no coffee. A monster of a headache crept across my skull. Dear lord, what was next? I shuffled to my bathroom to discover my toilet was full of icy water and had cracked. Never knew that was possible. I also knew I had to get to a place with power or warmth or I would end up like my toilet.
So I crammed a meowing Conan into a cat carrier, threw a few things in my bag and chiseled the ice tomb off my tiny Ford Fiesta. My destination? My mom’s house 20 minutes away. I knew it was crazy to attempt. But I prefer to not slowly die from hypothermia.
My neighbor warned me most of the major roads out of town were closed. Unfazed, (or just manic from caffeine withdrawal), I slowly drove out of my driveway onto a skating rink. Power lines were down everywhere, lying across the icy roads like dead black snakes. Trees hunched over in despair, their branches touching the ground under the weight of an inch of ice. It looked like hell had finally frozen over.
“But I need my coffee!” I said to Conan. He let out a sad cry.
As I gingerly slid onto the desolate main road, a Central Maine Power guy repairing a frozen power line waved at me to stop. I tapped the brakes, skidding and fishtailing in slow motion about 100 feet. He skated over to my window and said, “Are you crazy? You really shouldn’t be out here.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. Conan howled.
We continued down the windy road through the ice-encrusted landscape, maintaining a steady clip of about 15 mph. I was hoping I’d make my trip to my Mom’s and have a hot cup of coffee before the end of the world. Although I had a feeling the end was already upon us.
As my car crept along I-95 for over an hour, I noticed I hadn’t seen another soul in any direction the entire drive. Even the plow guys knew better. Conan’s meows intensified.
My harrowing ordeal in the car finally ended when by some miracle I reached the bottom of my mom’s driveway. Her house sat at the top of a steep hill. I glanced up at the warm yellow light streaming out her front windows. Unfortunately, the thick layer of ice that coated everything between the house and my car would prove to be my final yet greatest obstacle.
The car would need to stay in the street, there was no time to waste. I grabbed Conan’s cat carrier and stepped outside onto the crunchy driveway. I slipped and fell down immediately, still managing to hold onto the carrier. Now lying down on the ground flat on my back, I looked up to see my mom and brother in the front window waving enthusiastically at me. I reached over to the car to try to lift myself up but it was no use, everything I grabbed onto was a slippery icicle.
Great. Now I was trapped on the driveway, with no way to pull myself back up to my feet. This was how it was going to end, dying from exposure, a mere 100 feet from the coffee pot.
Conan cried again and a thought sliced through my foggy, caffeine-deprived mind.
“Conan,” I whispered into the slats of his carrier. “Get ready, buddy. We’re gonna get up this godforsaken hill if it’s the last thing we do. Just might be the last thing we do.”
“Meoooooooowww,” said Conan.
To be continued — Part Two: Why the Lack of a Hot Shower is the Harbinger of the End of Civilization as We Know It
Looking Back at the Ice Storm of 1998 — Maine Sunday Telegram
87 thoughts on “Tales from the Ice Storm of 1998 – Part One”
That Conan sure has a way with words.
He sure did. He proved to be my savior. If it wasn’t for him, I might not be here typing this comment right now.
Wait! Nooooo! You can’t just leave me here, slipping down the slope with you. Not nice, Darla. Not nice at all.
Spoiler alert: Conan saves me and I don’t freeze to death.
Who says cats can’t help? I mean, besides everybody?
So true. I actually got Conan from a shelter when he was a tiny kitten and very ill. No one else wanted him so I scooped him up and nursed him back to health for the next few months, giving him his meds with an eyedropper. I guess he decided to repay me years later by saving me from turning into a Darlisicle.
Darlisicle is SO your new nickname.
I’m fortunate to have some of my house with electric and other parts with gas. As long as I have water, I can make coffee and bathe. If the water goes, then it’s about to get real up in this suburban cape cod (Did I say that right? I’m new to these slang dialects)
Haha! Yes, once my coffee is gone and there are no hot showers this chick goes into survival mode pretty damn quick.
Darla, we really are sisters from another mother.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, leaving us without power and destroying my house, all I wanted was coffee.
Needed My Morning Coffee. Now.
Can’t wait for Part 2.
I can only imagine what you guys went through down there. As bad as things got up here, at least we still had a house to shelter in.
I am so glad I wasn’t in Maine for this one. Everyone tells me stories about how horrible the ice storm was, but I like your telling of it the best… 🙂
I still have flashbacks. It’s taken me 14 years to even write about it. You know, to be perfectly honest, while it was happening, I was actually pretty scared. Especially after a week went by and still no one had any power. At one point we thought it might never come back on again and we’d have to start burning the dining room chairs for heat.
I take it you don’t watch Revolution because it might give you flashbacks… 🙂
That first sentence was wasted on a blog post. It should open a novel. It hooked me in seconds. Lovely post.
So lost I’ve been in my solipsistic dislike for this winter in NJ that I forgot it must be a whole other kind of animal in Maine.
Thank you, Bharat! I’m happy you liked it. This post just wrote itself last night as I was reading about the ice storm they just had down south. It was time for me to finally revisit that hellish winter in 1998. I will never forget it, I still have nightmares.
Awesome writing which had me laughing, thanks for the Sunday morning pick me up. Off to get me some coffee now
It’s good to read about this stuff while sitting in a warm house sipping coffee. I never take power for granted now, that’s for sure.
Having driven on roads like that I’m with you every step (crawl, climb, slip) of the way.
It’s funny, but no matter how many times I have to drive on ice, I never get used to it. Maybe it’s because cars will probably crash if driven on ice. I get scared just driving in snow and I’ve lived here all my life.
I’ve never appreciated my morning coffee more.
A lot about that ice storm sucked — no heat, no running water, no hot showers, the constant threat of a tree limb falling on your head, the strong possibility of hypothermia — but nothing compared to not having coffee for three solid days.
You are a truly gifted writer! I remember that storm and eagerly await Part 2 details.
Thank you! I’m sorry you remember the storm and went though it, too.
This is where having camping gear – to include a stove, comes in really, really handy. No coffee would have meant that I would have frozen to death in my own bed. With a cat butt on my face.
haha! I know, you’d think being from Maine I’d have all the necessary survival supplies. My next house will have a woodstove, fireplace and the biggest generator I can buy.
what, what What? you can’t leave us there–I demand part 2 right now this very minute! I am assuming you lived as you are now writing this lo these many years later
OR….Conan lived and went on to learn how to type and created this blog under my persona.
hmm–never thought of that
Oh, my gosh, mother-of-mercy! What a scene! Damn, girl, that’s scary stuff. So, the solution you found was this: You strapped your cat to your feet and used her like crampons to make your way up the icy slope! Brilliant! Yay kitty!
You don’t know how close to the truth you are, Jean.
Can’t wait for Part 2 then!
Can’t wait to read Part 2! Oh, and I enjoyed/appreciated my cup of coffee even more this morning thanks to you. 😉
The main point of this post was to tell people to never take your cup of joe for granted.
You left us hanging! At least you made it out ok. I would have thought you’d strap on some ice skates and skate down the street. We did that once as kids when our street iced over. I missed that storm, stationed somewhere on the Pacific, or Indian Ocean at the time. I can’t imagine having to deal with a frozen, cracked toilet bowl- ugh!
You missed it? Lucky you! It was so traumatizing, it took me all these years to finally write about it. I don’t know if I have it in me to write part two.
Epic. Storytelling. Conan rocks.
He was my hero, Katy.
That’s why I never choose a “nice” cat. They are useless in a life/death situation.
Exactly. How would love and affection save me from freezing to death? Conan was a badass.
That Conan has a way with words.
I had no idea that could happen to a toilet. I guess that’s what they mean by “exploding commode.”
Looking forward to part 2!
I think Conan meowed about 3 billion times during the long drive down the icy highway.
I hope no cat came to harm in that adventure!
Absolutely no cats were harmed in the writing of this post. Or during the ascent up Mt. Everest to my mom’s house, I promise.
Ok, then I do not mind hanging on that cliff …
Haha! Sounds like the comic version of The Day After Tomorrow. Excellent stuff!
Seems people love stories about the end of the world and cats that save the day.
Wow. Great storytelling. Look forward to the conclusion. I’ve had my share of ice-skating rink drives myself. My junior year at MTU in the UP I lived at the top of a street so steep they would not plow it. I lasted at that place oh, a few months, then winter hit and I was outta there.
This winter alone I have driven on ice almost every single day. Our driveway is long and had a six inch layer of ice on it for the entire months of December and January. Ask Jules and Rachel, when they came here for the bloggy meet-up we were stuck in my driveway for about 10 minutes going back and forth, back and forth, tires spinning. Good times.
Literally (not just LOL) laughing out loud after reading this. I am picturing you on your back near your car staring at the sky and stuck. Can’t wait to hear the rest.
It really was a situation I had never been in before, having absolutely no traction or way to grab onto anything that wasn’t covered in ice. I actually did think maybe I would have to go in the opposite direction and skate up to L.L. Bean’s (which was just up the street from my mom’s house)
Hysterical! Yes, I know, you’re near death. But your descriptions of you flat on your back and plotting with Conan are funny. This reminds me of our winter of 1966 in Syracuse, New York. Treacherous. Roads not fit for travel. Thanks for the memories … and for reminding me why we moved to Florida.
Can’t wait for Part 2.
My husband and I are still seriously talking about moving to North Carolina once the kids are in college.
Feel your pain… curious to see how this ends. I was in Ontario at the time. We got absolutely trashed by that storm.
Yes, I remember you guys actually had it just as bad if not worse!
Wow. How on EARTH did you make it 20 miles on a completely ice covered road? There is no driving on ice! Now, THAT’S impressive! Can’t wait to hear how you used Conan as a grappling hook to get up to your mom’s house. 😉
I drove about 15 mph. When I got to corners I would fishtail and drift. Last month, we had an ice storm here (a minor one) and my mom and I happened to be coming home before the roads were treated. We started to go down this really steep hill which was right in front of a river. My car immediately started to slide to the guardrail so I just stepped on the anti-lock brake and the car started stuttering. I said to my mom, “I don’t think we’re gonna make it!” I pictured our car plunging into the icy water and us both having to swim for it. My car continued to slide about 200 feet, narrowly missing other cars.
And this was just another day driving in Maine.
That sounds terrifying. There’s nothing like the total feeling of helplessness of sliding on the ice. I imagine you would have been screaming obscenities all the way down had your mom not been in the car.
Ice on the road is so dangerous! You must REALLY love coffee to brave that. This is how Rob Ford must feel when people keep telling him that crack will ruin his career. YOLO.
Haha! Yes, I am totally the Rob Ford of caffeine addiction.
I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with an ice storm like that. That said, I can relate a little bit: at the time, I was living in Naples, Italy, where they apparently never take winter into account when building houses. While we never got any snow or even any ice worth mentioning, the temperatures did drop to freezing, and in a big house with virtually no heating, I had to bundle up almost as much as you did. Brr…
Can’t wait to read part 2!
It’s been my lifelong dream to visit Italy one day. Before I die, I’d love to say to someone, “This one time, in Naples, I had to put on a sweater and socks because it dropped to almost freezing!”
Oh, it actually was freezing. And I’d spent the three previous years in Belgium, where we regularly got plenty of snow every winter, yet somehow this felt colder. Go figure.
Sorry, but since you and your cat got through it okay, the image of your mom and brother waving cheerfully at you as you lie slowly dying of hypothermia is just hilarious.
That was probably the best part of my story. I could see them inside, warm and toasty and drinking their coffee while I was left to slowly die out in the driveway. For part 2 you’ll see just how long I had to endure their taunting.
What a gripping
tailtale! …I’m sorry. Clearly I haven’t had enough coffee yet.
Did I know your cat’s name was Conan O’Brien?? That’s fantastic.
P.S. – Currently snowed in here in Joisey…
I also had another cat I got later that same year, a gray tabby I named Max after Conan O’Brien’s old drummer Max Weinberg. Yep, I like Conan. (I would have gotten a third cat and named him Andy Richter but I decided to have a baby instead of another cat.)
Hey Jules. How’ve you been, buddy?
OMG you are a dare devil, this is why I prefer the tropics. Can’t wait till part 2!
I would gladly take a tall glass of tropical punch at this point. Mixed with vodka. We’re currently getting 12 inches of snow today.
Wait! You can’t leave us hanging like that. I want to find out if you really did die!
I did die.
All these years you’ve been blogging with….
(cue Psycho music)
I’m not sure if you knew, but I translate cat talk…I know, it’s a gift. It appears that dear Conan actually has a very filthy mouth and wasn’t exactly happy about your little trip to momma’s house. I wouldn’t blame you for turning that carrier into a hockey puck in part 2 of this nail bitting tale, which better be written SOON!
He normally was a polite cat, but as soon as I started throwing him around on the ice, the cussing started and never really stopped for years after. Cats have a long memory.
I am on pins and needles waiting for Part 2! Earthrider mentioned The Blizzard of ’66 in Syracuse (Go SU–#1!!!) where the winters are wild thanks to Lake Ontario. I had a very hairy ride home the other night OVER A BRIDGE, thought I was going over. But…it’s mild compared to your icy tale, so get writing! Very entertaining indeed. 🙂
I don’t know, I think any drive over any bridge is scary. I always think there’s a possibility my car will go over the side so I have to know how quickly to open the windows so I can escape. This is how my mind works.
That ice covered car picture is really something! I love the cat’s name! Looking forward to part 2, I hope you survived…oh wait, I guess I know that part.
My car was similar to that pic. Actually, I think it was worse. But this was 1998 and I had no cell phone back then to snap photos of my car and instantly splash them across facebook and instagram before I made my drive through the Apocalypse.
Darla, this is hilarious! 🙂 Your writing is so engaging. I’m really enjoying my ride-along with you and Conan on your great adventure — especially from the warm safety of my house! Hope you make it to your mom’s soon… looking forward to Part 2.
Thank you and I will give you a hint: I do end up drinking coffee again.
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Wait — REM lied to me?! MICHAEL STIPE LIED TO ME! I am totally in the corner losing my religion over this.
My guess for how this tale ends is that Conan finally manned up and used his claws to traverse the ice while you held onto him. RIght? Super Conan Cat saves the day? That is totally believable.
I am finally catching up with reading after having a house guest for a week (Red). This was a terrible cliff hanger! Oh no…poor you no coffee and braving the ice.
What possesses people to live in a place with such a climate?
— C.G. from Atlantic Canada
Ha! Yeah, isn’t Darla a dope?
I need to start coming up with cooler pet names.