By Chris Gast, Right to Life of Michigan
The 45 brave souls who traveled on Gaylord Right to Life’s bus trip to the 43rd annual March for Life discovered what it truly means to sacrifice for a cause you believe in.
Trips to the March for Life are notorious for a few small delays in wintry January conditions, but nobody was prepared for being stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 28 hours without moving.
The March for Life on Friday, January 22, had decent weather. Rebecca Cooper, a student at Cornerstone University, said about half of their group was students, and they were all impressed by the annual rally and march through Washington, D.C.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s always an inspiration, sometimes in the prolife movement you just get a little discouraged. Seeing that many people willing to stand for life together is a huge encouragement.”
Sherry Johnson, president of Gaylord Right to Life, said they were aware of the blizzard forecasted to hit the capital late on Friday and throughout the weekend. They had a plan in place, and that plan appeared to be very successful at first.
“We all felt we would be out of there before the storm came, and we were,” Sherry said.
The group left Washington D.C. promptly at 4:30 p.m. on Friday as the first snow began falling. Sherry said they made good time getting out of the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Their only stop came as they passed the first service plaza in Pennsylvania. They were able to eat dinner and the bus was refueled, two actions that proved critical to helping them get through their coming ordeal.
There were no signs of major trouble until traffic came to a complete stop. Just a few miles in front of them two semi-trucks jackknifed, blocking west-bound traffic. The trucks lost control near one of tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains.
Getting the trucks out required more than a simple tow truck, causing a delay. Then the snow hit.
“There were only about three inches of snow on the ground when we stopped,” Sherry said. “There was about 23 inches by the time we left.”
At first the mood was great. The attendees were being told they would be out in a couple of hours. The bus, with a full tank of gas, was able to idle with the heat on, and everyone was fresh off of dinner and a bathroom break. Then three hours turned into six hours. Six hours turned into 28 hours by the time crews were able to free the trucks and dig out hundreds of people.
The National Guard was dispatched to help relieve travelers, but they were not prepared for the large amount of people stuck. At one point they stopped at Gaylord Right to Life’s bus to deliver a few bottles of water and one pizza. These had to be divvied up 45 ways.
“Each slice was about an inch wide, we just ended up cutting them up,” Rebecca said with a smile.
As the hours passed, some of the travelers were getting a little stir-crazy, Sherry said, including one group that struck out on their own to visit nearby houses for help. They were able to hitch a ride into town, bringing back water and sandwich fixings.
Sherry said overall they did feel safe as authorities were checking up on them throughout Saturday. Being stuck in a bus was a blessing compared to being stuck in a car; the bus was able to idle the entire time to keep them warm, and they had a bathroom.
“We knew it was just a matter of hours before they got us all out,” Sherry said.
Shortly after their shore party came back with the sandwiches and water the National Guard stopped by to drop off plenty of bottled water and MREs (meal, ready to eat). Sherry said they even had fun heating up the military rations, and ended their trip with several packages of bottled water to spare.
Finally around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday (the group left Friday afternoon), the trucks were clear and the drifting snow was shoveled thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, including their bus driver.
In hindsight, Rebecca said she would still have been willing to be stuck for 28 hours to attend the March for Life.
“I would be all in,” she said. “It was a cool experience to see everyone pull together.”
Sherry agreed that the delay was an excellent chance for their group to build camaraderie. She said it was an opportunity for people to demonstrate their faith and live out their sacrificial commitment to the defense of human life.
“Most of the people thanked me for the trip and the experience,” she said. “We went out there for a purpose and we accomplished it.”