Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Blizzard of Oz

When I was a little girl, my paternal grandparents took me to the Land of Oz and Tweetsie Railroad attractions in western North Carolina. I still have vivid memories of that trip, along with a very well read and tattered copy of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, which my grandparents bought for me at the Land of Oz.

As it turns out, The Wizard of Oz is one of Ally's favorite movies. When I heard about the annual Autumn at Oz event held on the grounds of the old Land of Oz theme park, I knew I wanted to take Ally there to experience it, too. Like in the old theme park, the Autumn in Oz actors play the roles of Dorothy and her friends and they escort you along the yellow brick road to key scenes in the book. You meet up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and vanquish the Wicked Witch of the West as you find your way home to Kansas.

So the first weekend of October we decided to take a short family trip down to Boone and Banner Elk, North Carolina. About a week before we left, the forecast for Banner Elk was sunny and mild, with temperatures in the 60s. Perfect! I had picked out a sweet blue and white outfit for Ally that she could wear with a pair of red glittery shoes for a great photo with Dorothy.

About three days before we left, the forecast had changed to sunny and cooler, with lower predicted temperatures. 
The event organizers sent out an email asking all the visitors to prepare for possibly cold weather. Um, okay, it would be too cold to wear the blue and white outfit but Ally could still wear those ruby red slippers.

The night before we left, the forecast had bottomed out to highs in the 40s with snow and sleet showers. The event organizers sent out another email reminding visitors that the event would take place as planned regardless of the weather, so please dress warmly. Well, carp. I immediately dug out an assortment of scarves, hats, gloves, and warm shoes. Banner Elk has an elevation of 3,701 feet, but Beech Mountain, the site of the actual event, has an elevation of 5,506 feet. We were going to freeze our Munchkins off.

We piled into the car Saturday morning with our cold weather gear and drove off to western North Carolina. In Boone we saw a car with what looked like an inch of snow on it. After lunch we drove up over to the little town of Beech Mountain. Snow flakes began swirling out of the sky. There were police officers in the road directing visitors to the entrance to the Autumn at Oz event. You know it's cold when the police officers have enough cold weather gear on them that you cannot even see part of their face.

We had tickets for the 2 to 4 pm time slot. We began driving up the road to the event around a quarter to 2 pm. It looked like we were driving up a back road into an old ski resort (which is exactly what it was), and then we came upon the line going into the event. All of the ticket holders for our time slot arrived at the same time and we crawled up the side of the mountain.

We had been driving up the mountain for about an hour when Ally woke up from her nap. She marveled at the snow sticking to the trees and ground outside her window and then informed us that she needed to go use the bathroom.

We didn't know how far we were from the entrance. There was no end to the line of cars in front of us (or behind us, for that matter). We didn't see any buildings for a long while, and then we only saw private residences. No bathrooms in sight, and there was really too much snow on the ground to contemplate peeing behind a tree. Then Ally announced, with an greater sense of urgency, that she had to go poop.

Desperate, we called the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce, the event coordinators, to ask if there was a bathroom nearby. They were exceedingly unhelpful and didn't even seem to realize that there was a major traffic jam trying to get into the event. Ally let out a whimper.

Nothing will instill panic in a parent like the thought of having a bathroom emergency. Since we were at a standstill, the line of cars having advanced only a couple of yards over the past ten minutes, Steve decided to take Ally and walk up to the entrance. In his haste to go find a bathroom he nearly left without a jacket, let alone gloves or anything else.

I got in the driver seat and waited. And waited. And waited. The line of cars continued to creep. About a half hour later I spoke to Steve on the phone. They had *just* gotten up to the top of the mountain and found a Port-o-potty. I would call them again when I got up there and parked the car.

Long story short, it was almost 4 pm before I was able to pull into a very small and very muddy field that served as the parking lot for the event. It took 2 hours to get to the top of the mountain! Thankfully Steve was able to take Ally into the event while they waited for me, so they had already met Dorothy, Auntie Em, and the Scarecrow.


Ally had even gotten to pet Toto.


Ally had been a trooper while waiting for me, but the weather had taken its toll. My poor child was wearing only a fleece windbreaker and a pair of tennis shoes in the middle of strong, gusty winds that kept spitting wet snow. I brought Steve and Ally their gloves, hats, and coats, but it was too late. Ally was cold and tired and ready to leave and go home about 15 minutes after I found them.

I had hoped for a fun-filled family outing but instead it was an absolute disaster. Thankfully Steve had the idea of ducking back into the event at the end of the yellow brick road so that Ally could have her picture taken with Dorothy and the others all together.

Right after that we headed straight back to the car and left. Really, it was our only option. It was getting late in the day, the event was closing down soon, and the weather wasn't improving as the sun started going down. Ally was upset and we were disappointed, but risking hypothermia simply wasn't worth it. So we drove down the mountain, had dinner at a barbeque restaurant, and then checked into our hotel in Boone.

The next morning Ally was very excited about having breakfast at the hotel's breakfast bar. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth trying to have a family vacation, or if we should just check into a local hotel for a night or two just so Ally can eat at the hotel's breakfast bar. At least we'll have vivid memories of our trip to the Blizzard of Oz.

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