“I’m sorry,” I blubber into the phone. “We did everything wrong!”
“Be calm,” says Brad, my fabulous husband of nearly thirty-nine years. (Whew, thirty-nine years is a very, very long time. That is longer than it took for me to be born, go through Emerson Elementary School, West Jr. High School, Westwood High School, get my Home Economics degree from BYU, get married and have five children!)
Brad has lived with me long enough to know not to say, “Calm down!” which tends to have the opposite effect. “Settle down!” isn’t good either. These are commands of one-up-man-ship and not words of compassion.
But I can live with “be calm”. And he says it again after I tell him the whole story. Then he gives me some helpful names and phone numbers that I shout through the car window to my sister, Maxine, who is writing them down. I am standing several feet away in a patch of snow. Maxine is sitting in my meadow-marooned Sequoia SUV with our 95 year old mother who can’t remember that we are actually her daughters. The four wheels are smothered in mud after having spun themselves into a frenzy of futility. They are making contact with nothing—not the ground nor the twigs we tried to shove behind the back wheels and in front of the front wheels. Isn’t that what the experts do when they get stuck in the mud? Maybe experts don’t ever get stuck in the mud. Lida even offered to lay down her jacket in front of the wheel for traction. But why sacrifice a good jacket to a lost cause?
Lida is our sister-in-law and another member of our stranded group. At the moment she is standing ankle deep in the sludge, video taping our predicament. She accompanies the filming with a precise narration so our families will know what happened to us in case someone finds our bones in years to come.
This day started out so agreeably. Having spent the weekend at our cabin in honor of Mom’s 95th birthday, we thought we’d go for a pleasant drive to Greer for lunch by way of Greens Peak. The road is unpaved but beautiful in its spruce and aspen glory. Since I was the driver, I felt a huge responsibility for these three cherished relatives and wanted us to have the most memorable time possible.
It definitely turned out to be memorable. I should have had a clue when we ran into—literally—several patches of snow on the dirt road. But I thought the snow problem would disappear the closer we got to Greens Peak because I envisioned the area being more open to the sun’s warmth. Surely the sun would have melted all the snow the closer we got to the “famous” mountain.
The smart thing would have been to turn around—give up. It’s not like there isn’t another way to Greer. There is. But it is on the highway through Springerville and it seemed so boring compared to this gorgeous mountain pass. Safety vs. beauty? Really, should there have even been a decision? There would be other days to drive past Greens Peak, after all, when there wouldn’t be a bit of snow. But I kept doggedly driving forward. I really don’t know what possessed me.
Finally we came to a snowdrift on the road that seemed a little too daunting. Really, the snow had to quit—maybe around the next bend. Maxine and I got out thinking we could walk through the two piles of snow that were visible down the road and then look around the curve to see if that would be the last of it. But it was too far. If we could just get past this biggest drift—it had to get better.
I had never driven in 4-wheel drive before, but this snow pile seemed to call for it. So out came the car’s manual. Everything should have a manual, don’t you think? A personal manual could say something like: “If you are driving on a mountain road and you run into some snow, do not anticipate that the road will get clearer by and by. For the sake of your lives and your sanity, turn around. Don’t be stupid!”
My brother and Lida’s husband, Ron, happened to call just then and he talked us through the 4-wheel drive operation. So with a very light peddle and some steeled nerves on my part and a great deal of patience on the part of my passengers, we made it quite nicely through what looked like the worst of the snow drifts.
As we drove on, however, the next drift looked even higher. Why not drive around the drift? What a great idea! We all thought so. This would entail driving off the road and into a meadow but we were now in 4-wheel drive and won’t 4-wheel drive, like Master Card, take you anywhere you want to go? So that’s what I did—I drove off the road onto ground that seemed quite solid. Maxine had walked around it just to try it out and it didn’t seem too muddy.
But a ½ ton vehicle proved too much for the lovely ecology and the earth seemed to collapse right when we got in the middle of the meadow. Obviously 4-wheel drive isn’t as dependable as Master Card. In dismay, I tried to back up, but that made us sink deeper. I tried to go forward. Nope. Then I stepped out into the mud and let Lida try her hand at the wheel. Still no success. That’s when we tried the sticks and contemplated using Lida’s jacket for traction. We tried pushing. Mom was sure that if we would just let her out, that she could push us forward. She was in a bad mood the rest of the trip because we insisted that she stay in the car. Actually, we locked the doors so she couldn’t get out. Talk about pushing—having Mom stuck in the mud, too, would have pushed each of us over the precipice of reason that we were barely teetering on.
Thus the frantic phone call to Brad. And now the fruitless phone calls to every number he gave me—Sheriff Brandon, the Springerville equipment yard, our cabin neighbor—none of whom answers the phone. AAA answers which is very kind of them but they quickly inform me that they will come save us only if we are 50 feet from a paved road. I don’t think we are 50 miles from a paved road. Finally the regular Sheriff’s office answers. They are very sympathetic but say we will have to call a towing company and pay to get out. Pay? For our stupid mistake? Really? There seems to be no way around it. But by now even paying a few hundred dollars sounds better than sitting here in the mud a minute longer than necessary.
So I call the Springerville Auto Wreckers Towing Company into action. Now we wait and wait and pray that the tow truck can find us with my less than stellar directions.
I am astounded at what we must look like. This is what dumb people do—end up in secluded meadows tire-high in mud. We are intelligent highly functioning human beings—well ¾ of us are and in her day Mom was very, very sharp.
An hour passes and we finally hear our heroes coming to the rescue. Ah, at last we can put our muddy blunder behind us! But no! Right at the place where the Sequoia made it through without a hitch, the tow truck flounders. Well, this is great! Now they’re going to have to send another tow truck to dislodge this tow truck and our chances of getting home any time soon are getting slim again! This is going to be very expensive.
Fortunately, like every good tow truck should, they have a wench. (I just looked up wench and that is not what they have!) They have a winch. After some minutes of winching they have freed themselves from the mud and are again focused on rescuing us. Allen, one of our two liberators, walks through the mire to hook a chain to our bumper. Slowly our car is winched backwards until we are back on the road where we belong. I gladly whip out my Visa card and pay the nominal fee of $175 and Maxine gives them a $20 tip for their kindness.
Now that we are safe and headed in the right direction—the Springerville direction—my heart is bursting with thanks.
Thanks to Allen and his partner for not sneering at us or making unkind remarks or charging us a very unreasonable amount which we would have gladly paid to get out of our predicament.
Thanks for cell phones and cell phone service and cell phone batteries that were well charged. No telling how long we would have languished there without a means of communication. We were definitely on the road less traveled.
Thanks to Brad for not saying “calm down” or the ever popular “What did you do that for? or “You’re going to ruin the car!” or “What are you? Crazy??”
Thanks for the blue sky and the gorgeous weather and for the fact that it was daytime instead of night. And thanks for the snacks Maxine happened to have in her purse.
I’m especially full of thanks to Maxine and Lida for being the best of companions. They were so congenial, finding the humor and not blaming me or repeatedly saying “What if……..” or “We should have…. .” And I’m full of thanks to them for helping me visualize all the reasons that getting stuck in the mud might turn out to be a blessing to someone. Maybe the two truck owners desperately needed one more service call to be able to pay their rent. Maybe another group will sometime be stranded in exactly our spot and because of servicing us on this day, the Springerville Auto Wreckers Towing Company will know exactly where to find them. Maybe this experience will keep us from leaving the main road in the future and getting stuck in an even worse situation. Some things you only have to learn once!
And finally, I’m thankful for an elderly mother who offered to pay for the tow truck which I will definitely take her up on when we get home. But mostly I’m full of thanks to her for being willing to push. Not able, but willing.
All in all, many lessons were learned and now that we’re on the safe side of danger and the tears have dried, I’m ready for lunch---man-sized!