Luinil - Traveling with the Blue Star


May 2015 — Umatilla National Forest
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Copyright © 2015 - 2018 Larrie Easterly

Ann and I went to Walla Walla, Washington in May for her 50th reunion at Whitman College. The reunion started Thursday and concluded on Sunday after the her and her classmates walked in the 2015 graduation ceremony with the graduating class. There were lots of activities for for the weekend, some of which I attended. I enjoyed meeting her classmates, they are a good group of people.

The daytime activities were of no interest to me so I took my new to me 2004 Toyota 4Runner up into the Umatilla National Forest to see the sites and to take some photographs of the area. My goal was to make it to Jubilee Lake, about two hours southeast of Walla Walla, spend the day photographing and be back around 4:00 p.m. to attend the dinner reception with Ann at 6:00 p.m. We had heard from some locals that there may be still snow up by the lake and that I may not be able to make it all the way there but I decided to go anyway.

The drive up into the mountains was uneventful. I stopped several times on the way to photograph different wild flower species that were growing along the side of the road and the views of the surrounding mountains. Naturally it got colder the higher the road climbed.

At one point it started to rain and then the rain turned to hail. Sometimes it was coming down hard and other times only a few drops. The gravel roads were well maintained and I was thankful to whomever had gone before me with a chain saw. They had cut the fallen trees out of the road. It was a quiet drive and only passed two other trucks on the road and they were both going in the opposite direction. It would have been nice to stop and talk with about the conditions further on but it was dumping rain and none of us wanted to roll down our windows to chat.

Patches of snow eventually came into sight along the side of the road and kept getting deeper the further I went. Finely there was a place where there were snow drifts across the road. I could see that someone else had been through them so I plowed ahead and made it through both of them. Continuing a bit further I could see more and deeper snow drifts ahead so I stopped on section of clear road and went to scout out the road ahead. What I saw around the next corner was not promising, the drifts kept getting closer together and deeper. I turned the truck around and brain locked. As I went back through the last snow drift that I had just come through I got stuck because I forgot to keep my speed up.

There I was stuck in the snow in a four wheel drive vehicle. Now what? Before we left on the trip I got a nudge, from the Holy Spirit, to bring extra food, water, a sleeping bag as well as toilet paper on the trip. Per Forest Service requirements I also had a shovel, ax and fire extinguisher. The ax and extinguisher were of no use but the shovel was put to digging snow out from under and around the truck. Three hours later after digging a lot of heavy wet snow in the rain and hail the rig was still high centered. I was starting to get stupid from being hungry, cold, wet and mildly hypothermic. I took a break in the truck with the heat on full blast in order to get warm and to dry out. Clarity of thought returned after eating some food, drinking water and taking a nap.

By now it was around 4:00 p.m. I knew that Ann would start worrying in about another hour or so but there was no way for me to contact her. As I drove east out of Walla Walla I was surprised to see that cell phone reception vanished several miles out of town. Even though I was at an elevation of 5,000 feet there was no cell service. There was not way I could not let Ann know that I was all right.

I dug more snow but realized that I was probably going to be spending the night in the truck. I was glad that I had paid attention to the Holy Spirit about what to bring on the trip. After eating and drinking some more I settled in to watch a movie on my iPhone as there was not much else that I could do. After the movie ended I decided to try one more time to escape the snows icy grip. To my surprise and relief the stiction had released and I was able to back out of the snow drift.

To make sure I could make it through the drifts, and not get stuck again, I shoveled more snow to make a clearer path. I then backed the truck up as far as I could, made sure it was in 4WD and hit the gas. Plowing through the first drift I headed for the second and made it through with no problems. I stopped on the road to check to make sure that the truck was OK and then headed back down the mountain. It was now about 8:00 p.m. I had been stuck for nine hours.

The trip back presented some minor problems due to tree branches getting stuck in the vehicle undercarriage but they were easily solved. I followed my GPS track back the way I came and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset and a deer standing in the middle of the road. Once in cell phone range I called Ann to let her know that I was all right and got her voice mail. She called me right back and said that she had been talking with the police department about the situation.

Saturday night at the reunion dinner many of the people there now knew I had been missing. Many asked if I was OK. I told them that throughout the entire adventure I knew that all would be well and that if I did not get out Friday night I would surely get out on Saturday. My biggest concern during the entire time was making Ann worry.

My work experience thought me to always review lessons learned from things that do not go as planned. What I learn from this trip are: Pay attention to the nudges you get from the Holy Spirit, they could save your life as well as keep a bad situation from becoming worse. I used most the items I brought with me and was very glad for the T.P. Four wheel drive will not help you if you do stupid things. When traveling alone be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Ann a map of my route. Bring along some form of communication with the outside world beside a cell phone. Since the trip I got a HAM radio license and radio. Am also looking into a location beacon system like the DeLorme InReach.

Till the next adventure.

Larrie

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