Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Propped on both elbows under the pickup, I paused to huff-and-puff. My grip relaxed on the near useless, short-handled shovel.
I backed into the sunlight and stood on the slippery, slanted, hard-packed drift.
"It's high-centered," I called ominously to Darlene.
She and Nora the Schnauzer waited 30 feet away. They could see around the curve and along the one-lane road.
They could look west across the Walla Walla Watershed and north to Table Rock.
We had seen no other vehicle all day, and neither of our two cell phones worked.
We felt stranded.
I felt helpless.
"Here comes somebody," Darlene said.
A red Jeep Cherokee crept along the single lane and stopped behind the pickup. Robert Mercado Senior, his son Bobby and his nephew Brandon offered to help.
Nice guys, but I welcomed their offer with mixed emotions.
Their help would be welcome, of course. Yet, being found stuck in a snow bank in mid-July hardly pleased me.
I would rather not be caught in the act, so to speak.
This episode started with an recent Thursday morning drive up Tiger Canyon (on Forest Road 65).
We occasionally paused to savor the views across the valley and the bright road-side wild flowers. Once, at a spring seeping from the basalt, we saw monkey flowers and bog orchids.
After three miles and a right turn to use the Deduct Pond toilet, we continued north and turned south on FR 64 toward Jubilee Lake and Tollgate.
At 10:16 a.m. we stopped at a 100-yard stretch of snow.
Nora and I walked on it until a downed tree blocked the road. I had no trouble turning around, which pleased Darlene.
Then, back at the junction with FR 65, I suggested we continue toward Dayton. Darlene agreed.
We drove north, straddling a mile-long section of 2-foot-deep ruts. We stopped twice to explore. Then we reached the road with the sheer drop off.
"Backing up would be the pits," I said.
When we rounded a curve, the snowdrift loomed.
My spirits slumped.
Turning around would be tedious and dangerous. Backing up would be tedious and dangerous.
Driving onto that steep and slippery snow bank would be tedious and dangerous.
We could see Table Rock and a vehicle there. So, I stomped around on the drift and decided to try it.
In seconds all four wheels sank up to their axels, and the truck's frame mashed the ice pack.
I spent more than an hour digging with the short shovel and stuffing towels, rocks and sticks beneath the wheels.
I worked on my back, then on my stomach, knocking loose hard-packed snow a chip at a time. My clothes picked up mud and snow.
Distraught and defeated, I finally dialed Triple-A with my phone. Then with Darlene's. I moved up and down the road and up the hillside.
No service available.
"You should call 911." Darlene said.
"The phones don't work," I remarked jovially. Besides, I didn't want to call 911.
Yet, after another 15-minute stint under the truck, I succumbed.
My phone recognized the emergency call. It took several minutes of static, but a woman's distant voice wanted my address. I hastily explained about being stuck in the snow on FR 64 near Table Rock and asked if she would call Triple A.
She agreed as we lost contact.
Ten minutes later, the Good Samaritans arrived.
The young men pushed and I gunned, but Robert saw the problem. High centered.
He had a yellow tow strap, but in two pieces. He tied it together. With Bobby and Brandon giving directions, Robert made a careful five-point turn in the small space.
Three minutes later, they freed the truck.
The Mercados directed my nine-point turn around and, before leaving, they offered us water and cookies. We had snacks and water so we gratefully declined, and they sailed slowly away along the narrow road.
I tried to reach Triple A and 911 to no avail.
Finally, as the sun's slants spread a red glow over Tiger Canyon, I connected with Triple A and cancelled the service call.
In Walla Walla, Darlene and I revived our spirits with milk shakes while Nora snoozed.
When we arrived at home, Columbia County's 911 operator called to be sure we were safe.
"It was a good day," Darlene confided to me. "We made it home. We met three Good Samaritans. And you didn't toss that shovel over a cliff."
Contact Don Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com.
If You Go
It's about 27 miles from Walla Walla on Mill Creek Road and Tiger Canyon Road (Forest Road 65) to a sign and Deduct Pond (Trailhead 3225).
On mountain roads it pays to carry a long-handled shovel and other emergency gear. It's important to avoid snow drifts and to be cautious on narrow roads without turn-around spots.