Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hell's Backbone

So I am dusting the cobwebs off my blogging keyboard and trying to get back to posting!  It has been so long since I posted that there is a new blogger format for posting that I haven't even used!  But now that I am done with school, I MAY have some more time to blog.  There has been plenty that has happened and I'm not even going to attempt to play catch up but I did want to record one defining moment our family had recently that I don't want my kids or myself to forget the details of.  For spring break this year our family went camping in Escalante, Utah.  What's in Escalante?- you may ask.  But I have to say that some of the amazing scenery we saw down there rivals any National Park we have been too- including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon.  I would recommend that area to anyone who wants to feel like they are in a different world. 

Although I would not recommend taking the drive we took on Hell's Backbone in late March when there is still snow in the mountains.
So we began our Spring Break adventure on a rainy Monday.  There are plenty of hikes to take in and around Escalante but we decided to save those for a less muddy, wet, cold day and thought we would go on a nice pleasant drive through the mountains on a road appropriately named "Hell's Backbone" by our pioneer forefathers.  All the brochures recommended this drive and even though most of the tourism for this area is in the summer, we thought we would be fine in spring in our 4 wheel drive suburban.  We packed snacks, lunch and water and headed out of town up into the mountains.  Our girls were a little bit worried we were going on a road named "Hell's Backbone" (They insisted we call it "Heck's Backbone.") But we assured them that this road was only dangerous to the pioneers who traveled via handcarts and covered wagons.  Surely our modern day vehicle could scale this mountain and any of its imposing dangers with ease. (Are you catching all the overly confident sarcastic foreshadowing?!?) 

The official road started about 10 miles out of town and on our way there we didn't see one other car.  That should have been our first clue.  But we started along the road enjoying the mountain scenery.  We were going up in altitude but for the first little while it was no problem.  We went through a few snowdrifts but had no problem going through them because they were going downhill.  After about an hour we hit our first nasty snow patch.  It was going uphill and we got stuck pretty good.  Finn and my nephew, Michael, got out of the car and pushed it to help get us unstuck.  But the only way we could make it through was for Eric to roll back down the hill and then try to pick up speed back up the hill, following his same tracks and push new tracks in the snow just a little bit further.  We did this over and over on one bad stretch of snow- like probably 20 times before we broke through.  Then another time we were going around a hairpin turn that was full of snow and on one side there was a drop-off.  As we went around the turn I could feel the back tires loosing their grip and swerving closer to the edge.  I turned around to see how close our tracks were to the edge and it was not comforting.  But we finally reached the summit of the mountain and stopped to have lunch, thinking the worst was behind us.  Little did I know that Eric was thinking, "I sure hope I can make it through this road because there is no way our car will make it back through some of those snowdrifts."  He, of course, kept this thought to himself and only displayed his characteristic positive- "Aren't we having such a great adventure?" attitude.  (We tend to get into a lot of "adventures" on our vacations.)  We even took some pictures of the great fun we were having in the snow that would be our ultimate nemesis.

We were about 3/4 of the way through "Hell's Backbone" when we reached a snowdrift that was about 200 yards long and reached to the top of our car's bumper. Plus there were no tracks in the snow-showing that it hadn't been plowed in awhile.  We went about 10 yards into it when Eric finally conceded that there was no way we were going to make it through that snowdrift and we would have to turn around.  So with my 13 year old telling Eric how close he was to the edge, me pushing the car out of the snow and Eric steering the car, we finally were able to get the car turned around.  By this time it was about 3:30 and we still haven't seen many signs of civilization- including people or a bathroom.  Let's just say that my girls got very good at "coping a squat" although they called it "pop a squat." 

But we were on our way home and even though there might be a few trouble spots, we thought we would be home for dinner- or at least I thought that.  Eric didn't tell me until later that he knew we were in trouble when we had to turn around.  Apparently Eric thinks I panic easily and doesn't always share his internal dialogue with me to prevent such panic attacks.  I would beg to differ with him, but then the number of times I had to "cop a squat" because my body was in fight or flight mode, really proves his case.
So we head back the way we came.  We make it through the ones we got stuck in before quite easily because now we have gravity on our side.  But the reverse is true for the ones we sailed through before.  At about 4pm we hit the hair-pin turn where our wheels got dangerously close to the edge.  And to add insult to injury the patch of snow on that turn has been sitting in the sun all day so it is real mushy and soft.  Every time Eric tries to create a track he can follow the wheels just slide and spin.  A few times Michael and I have to push the suburban out of the garbage snow.  Finally Eric says, "Get in the car." and with renewed resolve says, "There is a patch of dirt and rocks, that if I can get to, will catch the wheels and we'll be able to make this turn.  I just have to commit to it."  The reason he has to "commit" to it is because it is right on the edge of the road where the mountain drops off.  I point this out to him and he says, "Well it is our only chance of getting out of this."  He is starting to not sugar-coat things with me.  So he backs up to get a running start, so to speak, and he tries to get the car to that patch.  But we just spin and our back wheels get pulled to the edge.  Eric puts on the brakes and turns to me and says, "We're screwed."  Ah- now he's real.
So Eric decides he will just have to start walking until he can find help because I don't think I mentioned that neither of us have had cell phone service since we left town.  The idea of Eric walking to find help is not comforting at all because we haven't seen another car all day and the nearest town is about 15 miles away- not too bad when you are in a car, but overwhelming to someone who is starting walking at 4:30pm.  I knew Eric would do all in his power to make sure we got help, but I did not like the idea of having to spend the night in my car in the mountains with my kids.  We had plenty of water, food and blankets, as well as a tank 1/2 full of gas so we could keep warm.  But when Eric's instructions to me are to "absolutely not leave the car because it is our shelter" things suddenly switch from a fun, family adventure to a survival, "this is serious" situation.  Plus I had no idea if Eric would be ok. Who knows what could be in those mountains. This might seem a bit of an over-reaction but Eric later told me he saw bear scat on his hike out.
So the kids and I settle into our temporary shelter on the edge of the mountain.  Luckily the car wasn't "right" on the edge and it was stuck in the snow so Eric assured me it wasn't going anywhere. We of course immediately said a prayer that Eric would be okay and find help and that we would be safe waiting for him.  In retrospect it is interesting to see how the kids handled the anxiety of the situation.  Suzie was oblivious and just carried on like normal.  Katie got upset and started crying.  Annie went back and forth between trying to stay calm and strong and getting nervous and asking a lot of questions.  Finn of course thought we were all over-reacting and kept saying, "We're going to be fine." with exasperation.  My nephew, Michael, provided the comic relief by saying things like, "the newspaper headline will read, 'Hottest 12 year old found dead in car at bottom of mountain ravine'"  Or singing, "I'm on the edge of glory" by Lady Gaga.  I think a lot of their reactions are related to their age, but also their personalities.  We tried to stay busy by reading some books that were in the car or play some of the car games that were also in the car.  But all I could think about was the poor family that got lost on an abandoned logging mountain pass a few years ago in the winter up in Oregon and the father left to get help and died from exposure.  I know those circumstances were very different from ours, but it still was all I could think about.(And I wonder why Eric sometimes filters his true fears about the situations we are in!:)  To help pass the time I did get out and take a few pictures of the stuck car.  I don't think they truly depict how close to the edge we were but I still wanted to document it.  Eric didn't really appreciate me doing this but I think he will eventually!

After about an hour and a half, Eric came walking back around the bend up the road.  I had never been so happy to see him!  That meant he was safe and I wouldn't be stuck up in the mountains foraging for berries and searching out water sources for days.  He said that he had walked for about 4 miles and saw another suburban coming up the road.  They stopped for him and informed him of their similarly naive decision to take an afternoon drive on Hell's Backbone.  Eric said, "I wouldn't do that.  My family is stuck up the road in the snow in our Suburban and we need help."  He then asked if they would drive back to town and call a tow truck.  They turned around and Eric walked back to us.  After about another hour and a half a tow truck came around the bend- the second most beautiful sight I had seen that day!  He parked up the road a ways and when I got out of my car I said, "Oh- thank you for coming to rescue us!"  He was an older gentleman who kindly replied, "Well, its my job."  Which I translated as "This isn't a community service I perform.  You will be paying me."  But at that point I didn't care much it would cost and it did cost and it wasn't cheap.  It took quite a few hours for them to get the car unstuck from its position and up the road to where Eric and the kind man from Red Rock Towing and Rescue could put chains on our suburban so it could make it the rest of the way out of the mountains.  And there is NO way we have made it out without those chains.  As we were driving out of the mountains, I was in the truck with our hero from Red Rock and he said, "Make sure your husband buys some chains." I sheepishly replied that we did have chains, but they were back in our garage at home where they were doing us no good.  So after about 3 hours with the towing truck we arrived back at our campsite at about 11 o'clock at night hungry, tired and quite a bit lighter in the wallet.  But the bacon pasta we made that night in our trailer never tasted so good and after the adrenaline wore off I had time to really think about the whole experience.  And I was really amazed by all the "coincidences" that made the difference between this experience being a truly horrible one as opposed to an albeit nail-biting but really just a big inconvenient one.  It was a testimony to me that our Heavenly Father really is in the details of our lives.  Little things like Eric happening to see the one person we saw all day long on his hike out of the canyon or the fact that the towing guy thought at the last minute to throw in a set a of chains right before he left to come get us- like he mentioned.  I firmly believe these were not "coincidences" but rather very specific evidences that even when our decisions aren't perfect, little deciding to go on Hell's Backbone in early spring without chains, the Lord will still help us when we ask.  Which is why I made this post so long and detailed because I want my kids to know that since they were a part of this experience and one day they will probably read this and even though they were there, they may not remember how we were greatly blessed that muddy, cool spring break day.
P.S.- On a funny note, a few days later we were doing more hiking on another remote road where we parked our car then went to climb a rock called "Dance Hall Rock" named again by our pioneer forefathers.  Suzie was asleep when we pulled up to the rock so I stayed in the car while Eric took the other kids out to play.  After a little while Suzie woke up and we decided to join everyone else.  I thought I would play a little trick on Eric.  I took the car keys and locked the car but then I hid them in one of my cargo pockets on my pants.  After we finished playing on the rock we were walking back to the car and Eric asked for the keys cause the kids were complaining that the car was locked.  I said, "Oh I thought you took them."  He looked at me with a mixture of horror and exasperation. "What?!? I don't have them.  Why did you lock the car out here in the middle of nowhere?"  I replied, "Well you never know what sort of bandits could be lurking in the sagebrush?" (We were seriously miles from any sort of convenience.) Michael even unknowingly played along claiming he could see the car keys sitting on the drivers seat.  I let every stew and start to get mad at me before I pulled the keys out of my pocket.  Eric took the keys and gave me the "Too soon." look.  I don't know if I have mentioned this before but Eric communicates about 95% of the time through looks.  It has taken me our nearly 15 years of marriage to decipher them but I am pretty good at it now!