I gripped the wheel, leaning forward slightly, as if doing so would part the rain in front of me. Every once in a while my fingers would go numb and I would shake them to restore the sensation in my digits. My grip was cutting off blood flow. If I could see my knuckles, they would probably live up to the old adage “white-knuckled.”
Not that I could see much of anything.
It was raining hard, harder than anything I’d ever driven in, and more unrelenting. It had started out as just a downpour, but as I proceeded further and further into the heart of the beast, it became something else. A malevolent god, demons screaming and hammering themselves against my car, pounding to be let in, pleading to blind me and freeze me, the sting of rain and hail at the speed of gale force winds.
And still, I tore a path through the storm and across the highway, ripping a path through water and elemental fury at a stupefying (and stupid) 80mph.
The tachometer hovered there, sometimes falling dejectedly down to 70mph as I slowed, panicking over total loss of sight. The truck in front of me was spraying water in quantities that would have filled the car instantly without the windshield. I took a shallow breath and pushed down hard on the gas, revving back up to 80 and pushing through the solid wall of water.
For a second that lasts for what seems like minutes, I can’t see anything. I can’t even hear anything. My car is, for all intents and purposes, completely submerged in water.
The guide lights on the sides of the truck become visible through some miracle, and I jerk away from the truck slightly, having somehow drifted dangerously close. Again, the submersion, but there’s hope ahead, less actual visible signs and more like the reasoning part of my mind telling me that it has to end with the front of the truck. I pull ahead, outside the truck’s wind tunnel, and into just rain. It’s “just” a rain that obscures everything past 20 feet in front of me, but at least it’s just rain.
I feel myself start to breathe again, and my eyes dart to the next pair of rear lights in front of me. I’m driving almost blind, 15mph past the speed limit on normal days, god’s fury raging around me. I’m coming up fast.
There is no one going as fast as I am.
Part of me mourns the waste. Part of me wants to stop, pull over, stand soaking in the downpour and scream in defiance. Part of me wants to take it down a notch, to about 60mph and be one of the cars left in the wake of the trucks, massive whales on a highway lost in the ocean. But part of me has decided. It has decided on 80mph. The rest of me screams silently as I lose the road.
I relax, and it is very sudden. My brain scrambles furiously to pick out the yellow outer line and the white inner line delineating the lanes, but the white inner lane has reflector plates, so I make it easier by driving directly on top of those, in the middle of the street.
I’m coming up to another truck, but it is different this time. This time, the truck is in my lane, in the left lane. It’s passing a passenger car. In this bizarro highway, it is the trucks that move to overtake cars. Whether by dint of the trucker’s experience, the size of the vehicle, or the vantage point of the driver, trucks move effortlessly through the maelstrom. But this one is still not fast enough to outpace me.
Suddenly, the truck is right in front of me. I brake hard, unsure of where the truck is before me. My depth perception is fooled again and again by the blinding flashes of lightning and the obscurity of the water. But so close to the truck, I enter a dead zone. Winds pass right over the truck and over my car, taking the rain with it. Noise drops to a minimum, muffled not by water this time, but by air. Twin sprays of water ejecting from either side of the truck blind me to anything but the truck in front of me. It’s a safe haven, a bit of peace and quiet moving at 70mph behind a behemoth of steel. The little lights on the rear guide me, tell me where to steer to stay inside this place of quietude. The truck signals and lane-changes to the right and I follow, mesmerized.
I shake my head, signal, and swerve back into the strangely silent mist behind this truck. It is a FedEx truck. They are the worst. They are twice as long as other trucks, towing two shipping containers, and have two waves of backspray. But the spray is silent, diffused, unlike other trucks. Takes up more visual space. The overly active part of my mind jibbering in the corner wonders if the diffusion is a sign of aerodynamic efficiency. The rest of me focuses on surviving the maneuver as I pass the truck, again essentially blind.
Three miles, I tell myself. When I’m three mile markers from my exit, I will slow to 60mph.
Why not now?
I pass a giant yellow Hummer, a single spot of color in a monochrome world speeding past me. Lightning flashes, but adds no color. Water splashes, but only blurs. My eyes fixate on the next set of lights and the next.
I reach mile marker 240 and I slow down. Suddenly, everything is clear and simple. The rain is just rain. I can see everything. The car makes contented sounds. I can enjoy watching the storm and the lightning, now so clearly outside my car.
I breathe easy for a mile. And then I begin to feel that something is missing. I eye the mile markers, then the tachometer, calculating roughly how long it will take me.
The storm peals off another round of lightning in the distance, lighting up the sky, and then, just to see if the nightmare was real, I begin to accelerate again.