In first gear, I gently toed the gas pedal…the wheels spun and dug deeper into the wet snow underneath my Mistubishi Endeaver.
In a bit of a panic, I quickly kicked it in reverse.
Drive. Reverse. Drive. Reverse…the wheels spun again.
We were 10 miles in on an unpaved road with no cell service.
Two girls and a toy australian shepherd.
Parked in a snowbank.
Not by choice.
As I drove past the last inhabited home – not far out of the town of Roscoe, MT – I acknowledged how important it would be to play it smart as we entered desolate mountain roads on a winter day.
I was encouraged as the road appeared to be only a skiff of snow most of the way in to the spot I planned to take my friend snowshoeing for her first time.
We talked, laughed, listened to music, and appreciated the beauty of the tall, majestic Absaroka-Beartooth mountains in the deep winter.
A layer of fog lifted and exposed beautiful whitecaps, whitetail deer every direction you looked, and a layer of frost on the pine trees.
I checked my Garmin Oregon 700 GPS, and noticed we were almost 10 miles in on the snow covered county road.
Just about that time, the road took a turn for the worst.
The snow was no longer a skiff… it was about 2 feet deep.
I remembered telling my girlfriend “If it starts snowing AT ALL, we are going to turn around and get out of here.”
Up to this point I had eyeballing places I could turn around if need be, and as soon as I realized how deep the snow piled up in such a hurry, I knew we needed to turn around.
I backed up a ways out of the deep snow.
Not thinking much of it, I prepared to make a 20 point turn on the narrow, one lane back road.
On about my third attempt, the wheels began to spin.
My friend didn’t say a word – bless her heart – but my dog started whimpering as if he knew something bad was happening .
I shifted back and forth, trying to rock my SUV through the snow bank on the side of the road.
I don’t know if it was the cool mountain air, or a small anxiety attack, but as it sank in that we were stuck, I felt goosebumps make an appearance over my whole body.
Maybe a bit dramatic… but the “this is how we die” thought so kindly popped up in my head also.
It didn’t take long until my thought turned from fear to an adrenaline-infused survival mode.
I knew I needed to get this girl home.
I stepped out of the car, assessed the situation, and went to work.
Prepared for the worst
I am thankful for growing up with a father who taught me the importance of being prepared for the worst.
In my day pack I carried a first aid kit, extra clothes, plenty of water, matches to start a fire, toilet paper, meal bars, and a pile of hand warmers.
My vehicle had a full tank of gasoline. Worst case scenario we could keep ourselves warm in the car until someone came looking for us.
I had informed my parents of the location we were headed, and I knew (from previous experience… a story for another time, LOL) that if I wasn’t home by a certain time that evening and they couldn’t get ahold of me, a search party would be sent out.
But I think the best thing I could have done to prepare myself for this situation was have access to a shovel.
And thank God… I had thrown a random shovel in the back of my Endeaver a few days earlier during my move, and I hadn’t taken it out.
I dug down to the dirt road under each tire, shoveled all the snow off the road in a large circle around my car, and then shoveled the snow out of the troughs on each side of the road.
I hopped back in, threw my car in drive and gave it some gas as I felt the car slide to the left toward another bank of snow.
In panic (or determination…not really sure which one) I threw the car into first and hit the gas hard.
I think I about screamed with joy as the car made it back onto safe ground and turned in the direction we needed to go… OUT.
It’s easy to take for granted how small a snowy mountain road can make a person feel when they are in a situation like that.
If I wouldn’t have been prepared, I’m not sure what would have happend.
I could have walked 10 miles back to the closest town to ask for help, but that would have made for a very long, cold day.
I could have waited for a SAR team to come in and rescue us.
But I am so thankful none of that had to happen.
So I guess my advice to all of you out there who hang where there is no cell service is… PREPARE YOURSELF.
Pack your emergency kits… even on your day hikes.
Have a sleeping bag or warm coat in your vehicle.
Have plenty of water and food.
Fill up your gas tank.
Tell people where you’re going.
And if it’s winter time… BRING A SHOVEL.
That day was an adventure alright… and to be honest I am glad I experienced it.
I swear the mountains teach me something new every time I visit them.
And as I thanked them for giving me another day in this beautiful life, I made a promise to myself:
I will always plan for the worst… ALWAYS.
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