Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The curtain of white
Billowing in the wind
Blinding to what lies
Beneath or beyond
The forecast the night before called for 6-8 inches of snow. Not anything the four-wheel drive Jeep couldn't handle with ease. It was parked about half way to the house instead of out by the main road. Loggers were working between us and the county road, and agreed to keep us plowed out to that prearranged point. It was a good arrangement for everyone. My car wasn't in the way of their big trucks, and it wasn't so far to snow shoe out.
A week or so earlier, the generator had failed and was now in the repair shop. The generator's primary function was to pump the deep well, without it, there was no water for us. This was not a big issue, just an inconvenient one. We lived without running water for four months when we first moved here... But that was in the summer. There is an artesian spring about two miles up the county road that runs all year around, never freezes, never runs dry. As I did back in the beginning, I began to make regular trips to the spring to fill five gallon containers. I would snowmobile to the car, load up the containers and drive to the spring, having a dislike of running the snowmobile on main road. Since I could melt snow for washing and flushing, five gallons lasted longer.
It was Wednesday night and Pete and I agreed that 6-8 inches on top of a plowed road wasn't enough to worry about moving the car further out, even if the loggers didn't come back until Monday. So I settled into bed, with one more thing on my chore list for the next day.
By morning though, there was already 12" of new snow and we were in a near white-out condition. So much for accurate weather forecasts!! The major thing facing me, was that we needed water. If it hadn't been for that, I would have never even put my boots on. The radio was now calling for a Winter Storm Warning, with heavy accumulation and additional 'lake effect' snow possible. Seems there had been a wind shift, and it was now coming off Lake Superior. I knew the Jeep should be moved, but 12" might be pushing it. The decision was to run the snowmobile out to the county road a few times to create a path for the Jeep. This was also the year Pete's back was giving him trouble and he could not risk the jarring ride of the snowmobile. I had to go... even though I was new to handling the sled. I was confident. I was tough. I was terrified.
As I rounded the curve in the road approaching the area where the car was parked, I knew this was going to be difficult. Even though the snowmobile was fairly new, a long track model and supposedly capable of wondrous feats of travel, Pete told me never to stop in really deep snow, I might not get going again. I passed the Jeep, buried deep in snow and drifts, and headed toward the bridge.
The small logging bridge crossed the creek, a small river actually, and the road then has significant slopes on either side. With snow falling fast and more snow being blown upward in my face by the sled, I started the downward slope to the bridge. A quick glance to the other side almost took my breath away. There was no definition in the road at all. None. It had completely filled in from drifting, which meant there was much more snow than a mere 12". I crossed the bridge at the moderate speed I felt was safe, and with my mate's advice in my mind, began a mantra of "don't stop - don't stop - don't stop". I aimed between the trees where I knew the road was somewhere beneath all that snow, and gave the sled as much gas as I could and still maintain control. I was enveloped in a cloud of icy white. I drove blind for what felt like an eternity, and was in reality maybe 5 seconds. I was now at the top, in an area where the loggers had recently plowed, and once again had only 12" beneath me. I felt giddy with success, yet overwhelmed that I'd have to do it again.. going back. I continued toward the county road, slowing to my normal speed but never stopping. I would turn around and go back home. The Jeep wasn't going anywhere today... and I shouldn't have either.
Another curve in the road and there is someone plowing!! Maybe I would get the jeep out after all. A few words with the young man at the wheel, and he headed for the bridge! It was interesting to notice that he was plowing as he went.. without dropping the blade.. Not a good sign, but then I knew the snow was deep. I turned around and waited in the plowed area as I didn't want to get in his way. I waited, and waited. He should have been back by now, so I slowly moved the snowmobile forward, being very conscious that he might not be able to see me through the blowing snow. I had no worry. A few hundred yards more and I saw him... walking. He had gotten his truck stuck next to the jeep. His plan was to walk out and hitch a ride. Having just turned around at the main road, I knew the county plows still hadn't been by and there was no traffic whatsoever. Even his recent tire tracks were no longer visible. I convinced him to come home with me and use our cellular phone to call someone. I had never ridden someone before, as I had only been solo sledding for two weeks! Seems it was to be a day for firsts.
His name is Gordy. A nice young man, fair haired, blue eyed, typical Finnish looks that dominated the area, mid-twenties, friendly, funny, intelligent and turns out he's the logging company forester. Which means he's the boss in the field! A good person to know when there's logging going on all around us.
Gordy warmed up by the cook stove, had something warm to drink and called his crew to come get him. since the Jeep wasn't going anywhere for several days, I decided to load up the five gallon containers on the small detachable sled I use, and go to the spring on the snow mobile. There certainly wouldn't be any vehicle traffic for me to worry about today. I took Gordy back to his truck and continued out to the road.
There may not have been any traffic to be concerned about, but it was still one of the most nerve racking rides I've ever made. The plows still hadn't been by and the snow was getting deeper by the minute. As I approached the spring, I realized I couldn't turn around! Although the snowmobile has reverse, backing up in deep snow would only bury the treads. I had to continue almost another mile to an area where I knew there would be adequate room to make a circle. I still had some maneuvering to do, but finally got going in the right direction.
As I pulled up to the spring, I realized I hadn't seen another person the entire time, hadn't heard another sound, not even another snowmobile. I left the sled running, in the middle of the road, and filled four containers, strapping them down when I was finished. I prayed that extra 150 pounds being pulled wouldn't bog me down too much. I had to go even slower to keep the attached sled from fish-tailing and tipping over. Half way back to my road, I was passed by two other snowmobiles. Now that didn't surprise me. Snowmobiler's around here are fanatics, and drive way too fast for me. They left me in a spray of snow, blinded once more. I believe in wearing a helmet, but the snow was falling so fast I couldn't keep my visor cleared and had to push it out of my way. My face was quickly getting numb.
Back on my logging road I breathed a little better and felt my anxiety loosen. Familiar territory. Gordy was still digging around his truck, using a way too small shovel, wondering where his rescuers were. After explaining the conditions on the county road, it didn't take much convincing to have him join us again back at the house. He was cold, wet and approaching hypothermia. With the additional weight on the seat, the traveling was actually a little smoother.
Gordy helped me unload the water, and then stood by the cook stove once again, shaking, trying to warm up. I hung his damp but warm jacket and wet gloves by the stove to dry. Another phone call revealed the crew answering his first call had been stopped by the county and sent back - to get a bigger truck. An hour or so passed, a few more calls, another cup of coffee and dry clothes and Gordy was ready to try again. The young man was undaunted by all the snow! But then, he was born here, and this was only our second winter. I found a pair of hunting socks for him to use, they were old, but thick and dry. He slid his foot back into the still wet leather work boots, boots that were fine for walking in the woods, but not meant to stay dry in deep snow. I had shown him to wrap his feet in plastic baggies to keep the wetness away from the dry socks. I did warn him that lasts for only while, then it seeps through. With his knit hat pulled low over his ears, insulated canvas jacket zipped high, dry gloves and soggy shoes, he followed the snowmobile trail back out to his truck. His back disappeared from my sight within a few yards. I found out later, that by the time he walked back to his half buried truck, his feet were wet again. I felt badly that I hadn't driven him out, but the two trips had exhausted me and I was now paranoid abut getting stuck. I figured I had used up my good luck for the day, maybe for the week.. even the month!
The snow stopped sometime on Friday. The official total was 30" in less than 36 hours. Up in the hills where we were, it was much, much deeper. The blowing and drifting made it worse. It had brought the County to a stand still. That is still the worse storm I've seen to hit here.
I saw Gordy again later that summer and he told us how long he'd had to wait for someone to get him. Hindsight told me I should have just given him a beer and dinner and had him spend the night, to worry about escape the next day. Now a good friend, he stops by regularly.
Gordy came by yesterday. He has cancer. He's not yet 30 .......
(Note: years later, Gordy is well. He had surgery and treatment, and is cancer free. Married with a little girl now, he still has my socks! lol)
Forty some inches of fresh snow left me marveling at the beauty around us. Grateful I had laid in plenty of supplies, we settled in to enjoy the isolation. I wasn't ready just yet to tackle the monumental task of shoveling the residue of the storm off the roof. By the first of March that year, there had already been over 200" of snow, and the season was far from over. The area was setting new records with every snow fall. The roof could wait, but not for long.
A week later the repair shop called: the generator was terminal, we needed a new one. The selection was made, the price was paid and the unit was loaded in the back of the Jeep.
Pete met me at the parking spot, once again cleared out by the loggers. He had made a ramp of 2x4's to get the new generator out of the Jeep and onto an old, flat plastic toboggan that had also been braced with 2x4's. The idea was for him to pull the sled slowly with the snowmobile, while I walked beside keeping it from tipping over. That lasted about fifty feet. I was jogging along side and the snowmobile was in danger of overheating from even that slow speed. With sudden inspiration, I motioned for him to speed up, and I hopped on the back of the little toboggan, holding onto the generator rails. With my legs and knees flexing like pistons, I adjusted my lower body to the unevenness of the trail while using my arms to hold the generator level for the short ride to the house. I was mushing!
We ad overcome yet another trial in our new existence.