Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sliding for Life

I went to Salt Lake City last weekend for several reasons: to help my daughter Meredith get more information about the University of Utah, to celebrate her seventeenth birthday and my son Brody's twenty-fourth, and to attend a training meeting for my little seasonal job as a ski instructor. I stayed with my daughter Sheridan, a twenty-year-old sophomore at the University. Through a stroke of bad luck, her car was vandalized last week so I had to rent a vehicle to get around. Looking for the best deal, I went to Costco Travel and chose the "special value" mid-size from Avis. The little red Chevrolet HHR looked a bit like a PT Cruiser, and made me feel a lot more conspicuous than I ever wanted to be!

After enjoying the start of the trip with three of my four children, I planned to get to the Snowbird returning staff meeting early Saturday morning to complete paperwork and visit all my old fellow instructors over bagels. In my haste to drive up the canyon, I failed to check the weather report. The light dusting of snow going out to the parking lot did serve to remind me that winter is almost here, but there is never really that much snow until later in the month of November. I tootled up the windy canyon, taking in the gorgeous views of granite cliffs along the way. About a mile from my destination at the top, the snow started to fall more heavily. I hadn't heard about a big storm on it's way so I was unfazed...until I started sliding every which-way. With this realization of a car inept in the slightest accumulation on the road, I started praying and sending positive vibrations to Mother Nature: "Please help me get out of here," I whispered, walking into the Snowbird Center.

The weather gods could not turn back. Mid-way through our five-hour meeting, the head of Mountain Operations looked out the window as he spoke: "If any of you haven't noticed, it's puking out there so if you drove up in a Volkswagen bug with bald tires you're in big trouble!" Uh-oh, that was the classification I fell into--those of us naive enough to make the drive in anything other than a Subaru. What was I thinking? By now, there was a six-inch swath of snow outside the tall glass windows in the conference room. "How do you get a cheap little rental car down a narrow canyon in a snowstorm, call a tow truck? Come back another day?" My options were limited. I looked around the room at all of my colleagues, some of whom I've known for ten years since I started there. Nearly all of them drive four-wheel-drive cars; surely I could catch a safer ride.

I thought about Carol, who always had a heart, and informed her of my concern, “Would you mind giving me a ride down the canyon if my car is stuck?” She seemed to understand; she had loaded a shovel into the all-wheel-drive car she came in —just in case. Carol was prepared.

I did manage to rock back and forth until the red rental was free of the snowdrift that had been my parking place just a few hours earlier. I pulled up at a snail’s pace to Carol and her son, “Could you just watch and see if I make it up that hill to the main road? If I do, it would be great to have someone follow me, just in case I start sliding again." They seemed relaxed and happy to help: "Go for it, we’ll watch and then follow.”

I gave it some gas, reminding myself, Don’t worry, it’s just like sledding! Somehow the momentum carried the little car straight up the slippery entrance and stopped without crashing into the line of cars waiting to go down. Whew! Now it’s time for a guardian angel as I attempt to keep this thing on the road. Carol’s son vigilantly pulled his white Volvo right in behind me and maintained a comforting distance. Two cars ahead, an older Mercedes was having the same trouble, but it was heavy enough to get some traction. I tried to make myself feel very heavy, remembering the sandbags I used to put in the back of the Volkswagen in the winter. The Mercedes driver didn’t care that he was holding up canyon traffic at 10 mph; I was thankful it didn’t have to be me in front.

All the way down the canyon I hyper-focused on the road condition, shifted the transmission from drive to low gear, and constantly checked for the white knight in my rearview mirror. The radio played soft Christmas pop songs and the cell phone remained quiet. I tried to maintain the slow, forward motion of the car without touching the bumper in front of me and without sliding out of the tire tracks worn from the other cars. The snowplows hadn’t yet made it yet to this stretch. If I even started to think about anything other than controlling that car, I slid again either forward or sideways, with steep cliffs reminding me of the many deadly wrecks I’ve seen there, impatient drivers passing in a storm or forgetting to slow down on the ice. I wondered what Carol and her son thought about my brake lights constantly tapping, the only way to keep a car from sliding in the muck. Just seeing that there was someone who knew me and cared about my safety, following right behind, gave me courage to keep tapping and sliding, eight miles an hour, then ten. The Christmas carols reminded me of what’s important in the world. “Just get there in one piece, no matter how long it takes,” I told myself.

After passing the last of four avalanche control gates, I saw the valley floor, and I felt the snow soften under the skinny tires and soon it turned to water. I knew my guardian angels in the all-wheel drive would turn west to go home, and I would go north to meet my daughter Sheridan. How could I thank these caring people who escorted me down? Did they have any idea how poorly my car handled, or how scared I was, and what a beacon they were just driving behind me? I didn’t have Carol’s number, but I’m determined to find it. Their preparedness gave them the confidence and ability to bless and comfort my life on Saturday as I slid my way down the mountain. Next time, I think I’ll hitch a ride with someone who is prepared!

Interested in safety and preparedness? Try these cool connections:

  • Participate in National Preparedness Month (September)
  • Read the Preparedness Blog:
  • Check out this list of preparedness agencies:
  • Join a training organization such as North America Outdoor Institute:
  • Start a club at your school or in your community, such as ours at Palo Alto High School:

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