Wilderness — A Meditation

Monday, July 17, 2017

Chapter 21— The Goddess

* * * In the meantime, encouraged by my shrink, Nema, with whom I reconnected as soon as I returned to America, I enticed Merrie to join me in another backpack. Lindsey agreed to drop us at the trailhead on her way to Yellowstone.

In the car, I regaled friends with plans to defeat the irrational fears plaguing my life in the previous few months in Australia. I promised to think for myself intrepid rather than rely on the well-chewed concepts of my anxious self.

Merrie and Lindsey, in the spirit of friendship, listened patiently to promises while urging me to trust intuition and strength.

Lindsey was headed north to Bozeman, Montana, where she enrolled in a class studying birds of prey as part of her Masters Degree at Montana State University located near Yellowstone. Her route north passed our trailhead.

Stubby pinion pines replaced angsty desert creosote along the mountain highway climbing to the trailhead just south of Bishop where we would once again begin a trek. Joyous lungs breathed the sun-roasted fragrance of desert sage along the switch-backed roadway carrying us from five to eight thousand feet as Lindsey asked, “What do you think the excitement will be this trip?”

The engine lumbered and then slowed as we climbed. Merrie answered, “We’ve taken care 
of everything. We have plenty of food and snow levels are reasonable. The stream crossings ought to be easy. Even Demi should make it without falling in.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I hated to admit fallibility. 

As we pulled into the North Lake trailhead, memories of a previous visit to this spot formed a backdrop to the usual nervousness I suffered at the beginning of any trip into the backcountry.

Merrie quipped, “I can feel your panic, Demi. Stop here, Lindsey and we'll unload.”

Neatly arranging the car away from the bubbling mountain stream, Lindsey turned off the overheated engine. Needing to stretch our legs after being cramped in the little Subaru for five hours, we tumbled out of space shared with our chauffeur’s vacation paraphernalia and two forty pound packs. I dragged stuff onto the gravel and turned to give Lindsey a hug.

Shocked by the view over her shoulder, I exclaimed, “Merrie, Lindsey, Look!”

There sat a brand new BMW minus a passenger door window. Torn aluminum candy 
wrappers and shattered safety glass littered the ground.

“Oh gheeze. They’ll be surprised when they come out of the mountains.”

“Some folks need to learn the hard way,” Merrie declared as she re-checked the passenger 
seat to claim all her stuff. Aren’t you glad you’re not parking here, Lindsey?” 

“No shit!”

I laughed. “Thanks for the lift. I hope Yellowstone is full of wild animals. You might even take a few of these bears hanging around this trailhead with you. They’d enjoy meeting their grizzly cousins.”

“Yeah. Right. I saw what they did to that white Ford soft-top parked at Whitney Portal a couple of summers ago. Who would drive a convertible to a known bear habitat? The bears opened it like they carried can openers in their pocket. Whew! Well, I’ll see you guys. Have a safe journey. Enjoy yourselves.”

In the midst of a huge hug, I thanked Lindsey. “Driving us here is a great gift.”

“And how will you get back to Mereview, Demi?”

“We’ll hitch a ride to Bishop, take the Owens Valley bus to Lancaster, and then Metro link 
home. Sam’ll pick us up at the station.”

“Hope you manage a shower on the way or those other passengers will be giving you an entire car all to yourselves.”

“Come on. We’re sweet! No smelly backpack gonna go home with us.”

“Sure.” Lindsey turned the car downhill and disappeared around a switchback on her way to 
eight weeks in her version of paradise.”

I strapped the black bear canister that looked like a small plastic beer keg to the top of the pack. “So far the bears still haven't figured out how to open these? At least our food’ll be safe.” 

Merrie grabbed three or four freeze dried dinners from a grocery store shopping bag she had taken from the Subaru and stuffed them into the bottom pocket of her pack.

“Ready?” She pointed upwards towards the granite boulder ridges of the high Sierra. “Today we only have to climb to the pass.”

Anticipation slowly replaced distress. I slid into the heavy backpack. 

Merrie nonchalantly lifted hers. “I’m kinda glad we don’t have any males along to tell us how it’s done, aren’t you?” I adjusted shorts and tugged on the cuffs of a well-worn long sleeved shirt. In a full
brimmed hat protecting the back of my neck from the high altitude sun, I once again paraded as the clotheshorse with plenty of gear, prepared for any emergency.

Merrie, who collected goodies from second hand shops, looked like she just strolled off the stage at the Grand Ole Oprey. Straw hat with flicker feathers attached and red polka dotted neckerchief, pink hiking shorts, an indigo chambray long sleeved shirt, and hearty hiking boots with different colored laces completed her wilderness attire.

Steadily we moved through the easy switchbacks leading to Piute Pass. An hour later at the first stream crossing, surrounded by grey-green low growing manzanita, I looked up startled to see a shabby looking fellow, a twin to my father to whom I had not spoken in over twenty years, resting between a huge boulder and a mature white barked fir. His pack littered with neck scarves and loose straps and his short, lean shadow in the mid morning sun reminded me of all the men I promised never to invite into my life.

Nervous, mumbled greetings passed between us as I continued upward on the evenly graded trail on either side of which ridges of granite littered with ponderosa blocked the sun.

As minds will do when the body is engaged in habitual patterns, mine filtered through an immediate antagonism that flared upon spying the lifeless fellow near the stream. For too many years I had been responsible for the well being of adult males. Although I loved my chosen profession as a teacher, I spent the previous forty years care-taking males who needed special attention. This old man reminded me of all the nasty, negative guys whom I most disliked.

By lunchtime, we found ourselves shaded by a stand of douglas fir around a small lake. Merrie rummaged in her pack and headed towards the inflow to refill her water bottle.

Already feeling the effects of the change in altitude, I collapsed near the shore to munch a trail bar and some dried fruit. Obsessive, I continued an interminable interior tirade against sallow old man who pretended to be mature males.

“What is it, Demi? You seem distracted. Lighten up. It's a glorious day.”

“The old guy we passed down below is driving me nuts. Can't get his image out of my mind. What's he doing up here? People like him don't belong in the backcountry. He could be a stalker.  Certainly came a long way to intercept what started out as a sunny day.”

Merrie moved on. “Give the man a break. He actually looked innocuous. Didn’t seem much interested in us.”

Sighing, I reclined against the rocky outcrop. Images of men whom I couldn’t trust festered in an over active imagination; an alcoholic father, a variety of male principals and department chairmen who relied on me to make them look good in their career, and Sy whom I thought I couldn’t trust, gathered themselves around smoldering irritation.

Merrie, with her hiking sticks at the ready, quipped with a smile, “upwards, woman, upwards!"

Muttering, I slipped into my pack and continued a resolute advance. In the midst of an interior dialogue, I thought, “I don't seem to be able to rise above this co-dependent psyche nor my anxiety about men.”

I sorely sought recovery from a debilitating habit. I may have been having lunch at ten thousand feet, but I returned to ground zero in terms of social development.

I enjoyed being in the mountains with Merrie and admired her ability to take care of herself. We had, over several years, reached a balance in our wilderness relationship where we claimed independence but, at the same time, we were available to one another.

She acted as teacher. In her company I first identified tiny azure sky pilots at Whitney's Trail Crossing, flowers blooming at thirteen thousand feet. As well, she pointed out golden eagles swooping on tiny furry critters in the high meadows. I loved being able to name the denizen of the wilderness and owed most of my knowledge to her.

Following the long ‘s’ switchbacks, I admitted to myself that after an investment of fifteen years in therapy, not to mention uncounted hours of tears and frustration, I'd hoped to have reached the point where I could see a weak-willed male in distress and simply walk on by, neither frightened nor disgruntled.

I wanted to trek with Sy, who loved this miraculous mountain range, who knew how to pitch a tent and prepare a delicious meal on a camp stove. Oh, I wanted to snuggle into his warmth on a cold wilderness morning again.

Fantasy ceased as we stopped for a rest on the upper shores of Piute Lake. Standing on a sandy ledge, Merrie snapped a photo of the shimmering turquoise water framed by afternoon light. “I think we ought to spend the night here.”

“You tired?” I asked.

“No, but the trail ahead is barren until we reach the pass. In the morning we’ll be fresh.” “Ok with me, but I suspect your choice to camp here has something to do with my 
lagging behind.” The altitude here made breathing difficult. I moved slower than usual. 

Merrie, on the other hand, hiked like a mountain goat. She acclimatized rapidly. No incline seemed too difficult. Grateful for her consideration, I began to unpack the tiny tent while water boiled for dinner. Afterwards, we looked out over the mountains as the sun lowered scarlet behind the western ridgeline reflecting like LSD images off the shadowed fir and pine forests.

“It's better we take our time and enjoy this magnificence, don't you think?” Merrie posed with her arms outspread like the conductor of a huge orchestra. “Demi, do you think Lindsey will ever join us on a backpack?”

“I don't. Why d’ya ask?”

“Well, I've been paying attention to her more at coffee in the afternoons. She really likes you and I thought the mountains might be a place where she could enjoy herself. She'd love to spend the evenings sharing stories.”

“You jealous?”

“Oh, yeah!” Laughing, Merrie added, “She's a great storyteller. All your friends understand you love her. She's been your friend for a long time.”

“I’ve never met anyone as loyal or as intelligent. Kind of like you, but carrying a pack around the mountains isn't her thing,” I replied.

“Too bad. I can tell she wants to spend more time with you. She missed you while you traveled overseas.” As she talked, Merrie transferred the extra food she stuffed in her pack into one of our larger than life industrial weight black plastic bags.

“I suppose. I missed her when I was in Oz. I enjoy her companionship, but I’m such a bitch about having to baby sit people in the wilderness. It would be a full time job if she came with us. Besides, she and Agnes live together now. They seem committed to their relationship.”

“ They connected rather quickly,.” added Merrie.

“The Internet has given us all a new opportunity to meet folks we would never have known before. Too bad Sy and I didn’t quite make the grade.” I sighed.

“Demi, you guys aren’t finished.”

I stood looking out over the lake, the colors shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight, wishing she were right. But she wasn’t. 
Otherwise we would have been a three-some. I pushed the final stake of my tent into the earth, and walked back over to where Merrie unloaded her pack.

Stopping momentarily, she asked, “Do you trust on-line liaisons, Demi?”

“Probably not. There are some horror stories, but I’ve talked to a couple of folks who’ve been successful. We’ll have to keep an eye on Lindsey and see. I hope she takes care.”

“Speaking of taking care, we better find a place for all these extras.” She pointed to the stack of granola bars, freeze dried desserts, and sun tan lotion tubes.

“The bear proof canisters really don't hold much, do they?”
"I think this one is whiskey sized. We need a beer keg.” Merrie liked liquor allusions.

As dusk deepened, the two of us sat looking west towards the pink and lavender alpenglow.

“What did you do with the toothpaste?”

“Threw it into the trash bag.”

Gigantic ponderosas would have been perfect for hanging our food bag, but we passed the 
last of the big trees a half- mile down the trail. The highest tree in the area, only about twenty feet, grew near our campsite.

“Put all the strong smelling stuff in the bag; deodorant, fire starter, all of it.” Merrie was a concise instructor.

We tossed a rope up into the branches. It fell to the ground. Several attempts and lots of laughter later, we finally heaved the line accurately; it fell over the very tip of a branch fifteen feet above the ground and slid back. We tied the food bag to its end and hoisted the whole mess.

No matter how large they are, black bears climb. Therefore, we struggled until the bag hung from the very tip of a branch that wouldn’t hold the weight of both bear and food. Smiling at one another, we tied off the rope.

The temperature dropped on what promised to be a crisp August night. Merrie clapped her gloved hands.

“Glad there's so little breeze. You gonna sleep in the tent or in your bivvy?” I asked.

The bivvy bag looked like a cocoon into which Merrie stuffed her down sleeping bag before she crawled in and zipped up.

“Bevy. I love to watch the night sky ‘til I fall asleep.”

“Your choice. See ya in the morning. Stay warm.” We hugged and stood quietly for one last look at the starlit night sky before sliding into our sleeping bags.

Tucked in, lower back muscles groaning, the air of high elevation dried my lips. Reaching into the pocket of the tent, I whispered, “Damn, I packed the lip balm in the trash bag.”

Merrie's recorder echoed a lonely sound. Tears wet my eyes. I fantasized about romance with the Aussie. At the last therapy session, I’d talked with Nema about my inability to be successful in a romantic relationship. I agonized over the decision to leave Sy. I valued independence, but I hungered for his companionship, his silly jokes, a hug in the morning, a kiss before falling asleep at night. Sighing, I snuggled deep into the bag. As the recorder reached the end of the tune, I wiped an escaping tear and clapped softly. “Thanks, Merrie; you’re the bestest.”

** *

A mighty ripping startled me from a dream. Just as Sy’s fingers were about to massage my shoulders, I heard Merrie call, “Demi! Get out! You bear—scat! Get out of here! Demi!”

Suddenly wide-awake, I exploded from the tent. I shrieked, “Get away! Scavenger! Get outta here!” Faced with a huge creature, I immediately ignored all the rules about dealing with black bear - stand up, make yourself bigger than life, wave your arms. Instead I stumbled to the ground searching for something to throw.

Merrie, half in and half out of her bivvy, confronted a four-hundred-pound bear, Medusa and Athena rolled into one fabulously hungry ‘critur'. With claws longer than most folks' index finger and muscles bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger's at his prime, the bear, standing on her hind legs, tore a huge hole in the food bag hanging on the branch not nine feet away.

She settled onto all fours and rummaged in the goodies. Waving above the last freeze-dried chili that fell onto the ground, the torn black plastic swung lazily from the rope around the branch.

I scooted closer to Merrie. From our crouch we harangued and harassed until we were hoarse. The bear didn't budge, didn't even look in our direction. She found her Macca’s quick fix and enjoyed tearing into every tasty tidbit, wrappers and all.

Sparks flew as Merrie slammed her metal trekking pole on the granite rocks. Stridently, we shrieked. “Stop! No more, glutton. Go away! Get out of here!”

Throwing rocks towards the bear, terrified I might actually hit her, I screamed, “This food’s no good for you; get, scat, damn you, stop eating our food!”

We two raised a commotion any wild animal would find irritating. The bear munched chocolate bars, trail mix, dried blueberry pudding, chicken casserole, and all our turkey jerky followed by toothpaste and suntan lotion.

Then, she turned to face us. Standing in the midst of aluminum packaging and candy wrappers, her long scarred snout, huge shoulders, and muscular legs were outlined by the full moon.
We shouted; the bear stared unremarkably. At some point in eternity, the huge black beast turned, as bears will, by making a semi-circle of their long bodies and stepped off a boulder into

the darkness below.

Merrie and I looked at one another, stunned. The bear, satiated, receded into the darkness.

We, safe for the moment, admitted our food bag was as empty as a party piñata after the candies dribbled to the ground. We stood for the first time. I grabbed a headlamp and walked over to examine the mess.

“Demi, where's the cold bag? I thought I put it with the rest.”

With headlamps turned on, we scoured the darkness, looking for the tough white canvass bag we carried on every backpack.

I looked over the boulder from which the bear jumped. My headlamp picked up a reflection. “I think I see something white down there. I'll go check.”

I crept down the trail, around an outcropping the size of a small house. There lay the bag, intact. However, as I looked up at the top of the boulder where Merrie stood, outlined by the starry heavens and the full moon, I realized the top of the rock from which the bear jumped jutted out of the cliff at least eight feet above me.

I walked back to camp. “Well, we still have the food in our bear canisters.”

 “Demi, she could have killed us with one swipe.”

“She could have.” We hugged. We hugged for a long time.
“Why do you think it was a she-bear?”

“She's the goddess, Merrie, teaching us a lesson.”

“Ya think? I wonder; she looked like a bear to me. I ‘spose we ought to try and get some sleep. We can decide what to do in the morning. I don't think my nervous system will ever recover from this night.”

“You gonna sleep in your bivvy?”

“Yeah. I don't think your goddess is coming back. She's got a full tummy.” 

"Sierra Sunrise: A Travel Tale" available on Amazon kindle

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ice Road Truckers - Montana Style

. . . This is the last chapter of Hand Me Downs, posted out of order. Chapter 1 and 2 are posted below if you wish to read them first. . .

But this was not the last of several stories told during the stormiest Dakota winter in twenty-five years. Tamara shared one more snowy adventure.
Just before Thanksgiving a couple of years previously, feeling a need to connect again with family who lived in the southern part of the United States, Bert and Tamara decided to spend the holiday with family in Zion National Park, a hundred miles north of the Grand Canyon. Their destination — an out-of-the-way region in the red rock country of south-western Utah.  One of America’s most beautiful wilderness parks, Zion’s crags and monoliths lined the un-dammed Virgin River that over the centuries cut through the red rock limestone of the landscape to sculpt enormous uplifting ridges of extraordinary beauty.
 As this intrepid duo headed southwest three days before Thanksgiving to Bozeman and then Salt Lake City, they knew that winter weather might curtail their journey. However, they trusted their little white and blue zephyred 1993 Toyota four-wheel-drive pick-up, which had previously taken them places that no woman had considered visiting before.  They were sure that one more time their chariot would take them to their appointed celebration.
Arriving in Three Forks just west of Bozeman, Montana, on Highway 90 around six p.m. at the end of their first day of travel, Tara, in her possum beanie, her thickest gloves and her hiking boots with heavy soles shoveled herself out of the passenger seat and checked them into a non-auspicious motel as the weather forecasters on the radio warned of an approaching first storm of winter.
Bert parked their 1993 pick-up close to the motel door. Fortunately, their ride was not the one with an extended cab, which meant they had not had to heat as much space as existed in an extended cab on an afternoon taken directly from Ice Road Truckers. There were some comfort issues, though, as six-foot-two Bert wheedled down the Montana highways with his knees almost touching his shoulder blades.
Tamara unzipped her seven-layer down jacket that was so big you’d think it was made for the north slope of Alaska as the two of them unlocked the door of their room.
Meandering around the motel room, Tamara took her shower, put on her p.j.s, and turned on the TV weather forecast. They were supposed to be in Vernal, Utah in two days to meet Tamara’s middle child, Elizabeth, who was driving north from Flagstaff around the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. Bert was driving them south from North Dakota near the Canadian border. Tamara, however, had lingered way too long at the Bozeman Co-op, one of her favorite markets to buy a soupy supper, freshly baked bread, pungent cheese, and a dose of damn fine wine – none of which they had unpacked yet.
The weather forecast predicted miserable, terrible, unbelievable storms moving in from the west coast the next morning, but clear skies still dominated the Montana, Idaho sections of Highway 15 South, which the twosome intended to follow out of Butte.
“Bert, look outside,” Tamara urged.
“Incredible. Why are we staying here? Skies are clear. I can see every star in the heavens.”
“Let’s pack up and go. It’s four hours to Idaho Falls. We can beat the storm, hole up there if we have to in the morning and go on the next day. It would be a long drive, but we could still make it to Vernal before Elizabeth gets there.”
“You game?”
“Yeah,” she said. Good highway between here and Idaho Falls. We might get a light snowfall at the start of the storm if it comes in early, but we’ll be safe in a motel before the weather really hits.”
“Ok, pack up. We’ll do it.” He was enthusiastic about the competition to beat the storm gods, to make it south before the worst reached the highway.
Twenty minutes later, leaving the room keys on the bathroom sink, they tucked themselves into the cab, gassed up at the station next door to the motel, and settled into their seats. Bert asked one more time, “You sure you want to do this?”
“Do we have enough gas to get to Idaho Falls?” she asked.
“Sure do. Only about 230 miles. No worries.”
“Then let’s bogey.” 
The little Toyota revved her engines and the twosome steered back onto Interstate 90 headed west to Butte. Roads were clear. Stars kept them company. It was nine p.m. when they hit 15 South; all looked clear.
“This is a breeze. Would you like me to drive? You can nap and take over a bit later. We should be in Idaho Falls by midnight,” Tamara suggested.
“Do you think we’ll find a motel room that late?”
“Oh, sure. No doubt. Have you ever counted the motels in that town?” 
Whipping through the winds that began to pick up on the highway, slaloming through the canyons of the high country in Montana’s southwestern ‘insect burl’, they talked on about the beauty of the clouds as they moved through the full moon light. 
As cloud cover began to move in from the west, star shine from the east lit the eastern side of the road. Winds erratically buffeted the pick-up forcing Bert to keep a firm hold on the steering wheel. Their tiny profile was a positive here, less flat surface for the wind to strike.
Tamara opened the food from the Co-op and offered Bert a bite or two of cheese. They didn’t try the soup. It was no longer hot and would have made a mess if a wind gust hit the car as one of them was in mid-sip.
They were comfy. The tiny cab held them safely.
Not suddenly, but in a dreamy sort of way snow pellets began to move in from the west. The Toyota was headed almost due south, having already passed Dillon, the last gas station in Montana, as they headed for the high plains drifter country. Mountains on the west of the highway disappeared behind cloud cover. Mountains to the east hovered like huge snowy ghosts.
Off ramps began to look dangerously full of white as the snow filled the dips that eventually led to overpasses for one-horse towns. Occasionally a light streamed through the darkness. Tamara and Bert had driven this highway several times and both knew most exits had no services. They were simply off ramps to ranches or over-passes that led to homesteads. 
“Do you think that if we had to get off, anyone would let us in for the night?” she asked.
“Doubt it. But not to worry. We won’t need to get off.”
Imperceptibly the speed of the wind increased; snow began to swirl in every direction coming at them from the south and the west, reflecting off of the headlights in a confusion. The only window out of which they could really see any distance was the driver’s door window on the east side of the cab.
“Think I’ll shift into four-wheel drive, “said Bert. 
“Can you do that while traveling at this speed?” she asked.

“I’ll slow down. Not much traffic. It’s safe.” Bringing the pick-up almost to a stop, Bert slipped the cogs on the gear-shift that moved the pick-up into four-wheeling. “Ah, that’s better. I can feel the road now. We’ll have to travel slower. The transmission’s in high four-wheel, not low, so we can go fifty or so.”
“Seems fast enough. We have all night, “she softly admitted. Even in her beanie and heavy down jacket, she was a tad cold. It was not cold in the cab. Fear had begun to dig away at her body-heat looking for a place to lodge in her chest or maybe store away a few tingles in her fingers clasped tightly into a fist. She was acutely aware that she often couldn’t see the white line on her side of the roadway covered in inches, maybe feet of billowing snow. They were traveling on a four-lane super-highway, one of the best in the world. Heavy duty cement and blacktop sloped gently at the edges swooped properly around all curves keeping automobiles and huge semis moving smoothly, she thought and then immediately realized they were seeing fewer and fewer big trucks. The fast lane was essentially invisible, totally covered in snow.
 She also noticed they were going slower and slower. Tamara said nothing as she glanced at the lighted speedometer on the dash. Bert was traveling at 40 mph along one of America’s premier roadways, which usually carried traffic at 75 mph. 
“Is it the wind that is slowing us down? I don’t hear it whistling,” she asked.
He responded, “It is strong; comes in clusters.”
Just then the whole pick-up fidgeted to the side when a huge gust caught them broadside as they swung through a mammoth curve. 
“Oh, like that, you mean?” Her voice echoed with fear.
“We’re ok, Tamara. Don’t panic. Slow and easy.”
“Oh sure.” She grimaced helplessly. “As you always say, if you do it slow enough, you can do absolutely anything. But I thought you were talking about old men in hats, not us.” 
“Yeah, well, I was, but in these conditions since I can only see twenty feet in front of us, it seems the better part of valor not to rush.”
“Just then a huge semi slowly passed them in what they usually called the fast lane. Huge tires kicked up snow into swirls of powder. Twenty feet? Could they see twenty feet of the roadway in front of them? No! More like five feet in front of them their headlights reflected off the white stuff covering the roadway as far as they could see out the windshield with the wipers slowly clearing what could not be cleared, a massive wind driven snowfall. 
The next instant visibility was non-existent. They were moving forward just because there was nothing else to do. To stop meant to be covered in drifting snow and probably destroyed from behind by one of the behemoths with whom they shared the road. The driver wouldn’t even have noticed they existed.
Straining to see into the falling snow and a tad relieved for some unexplained reason, Tamara spoke softly. “The semi left tracks.”
“Yep, if we don’t follow too close, his red tail lights give us an idea of what’s up ahead, but I’m not so sure I want to keep up. He’s going pretty fast.”
She looked again at the speedometer. Twenty-five mph. For the first time in years, she was contemplating what hell might really be like. She was imaging herself in a coffin, but she didn’t say a word.
Gathering a little self-control and at the same time staring desperately into the falling snow, she noticed that she could see the yellow line on the inside of the fast lane. How strange. The lane was mostly filled with billowing snow, but the yellow line somehow stood out in the headlights. The white line on the right-hand side of the road was invisible, covered with what could have been several inches of snow. “Bert, can you see the yellow line, too?” she asked.
“I can. Makes it easier to track the side of the road, but I don’t want to travel in that lane just in case another semi comes up on us.”
“Up ahead is an off-ramp. I just saw a sign for it. Perhaps we ought to pull off til morning. Do we have enough gas to keep the engine and the heater running?” she asked.
“Yep, we probably do. Does the off-ramp look like it goes up? No dips?”
“Can’t tell for sure.”
Bert steered toward the right side of the road. Immediately they were bogged in heavy snow. The engine lugged. He shifted lower and steered back toward the roadway and away from the shoulder. Ahead a ghostly semi that had just passed them slowed. Obviously, he would have stopped if they had found themselves stuck in the snow. How weird to be so sure that the community of the roadways was working. They knew it to be true whether any language was exchanged. 
“Whew. Glad you didn’t take my advice. We would have been stuck for sure. The snow didn’t look that deep.”
“It’s about two feet deep there. The differential would have hung up and we would never have made it to the top of the overpass. Guess we won’t try that one again. What time is it, Tamara?”
She opened her phone. “One a.m. We’ve been on this road for four hours. We should be close.”
“No, the Idaho border is on the other side of Monida Pass.”
“My gosh! We haven’t reached the Pass yet. That’s right.” She stared into the snow flurries driving themselves against their windshield making it almost impossible to see more than a couple of feet in front of the car.
“Haven’t seen any headlights coming from the other direction in a long time. Traffic must have been stopped somewhere down the road,” murmured Bert. 
They passed a semi and then moved back into the slow lane when the big eighteen-wheeler slowed down to almost ten mph. “How fast are we going,” she asked.
“Bout twenty. I don’t think we should go faster. The wind is terrific. We’re headed straight into it from the feel of things.” 
Suddenly, the car swerved on the icy roadway, slid corkscrew-sideways across both lanes and stalled out.
She held her breath and knotted her gloves as Bert switched off the ignition, restarted it, and slowly, carefully steered the little pick-up back into the slow lane. He knew the semi was behind them. They could only hope it hadn’t sped up as they had. It could never have stopped in time if it came up behind them.
For an interminable four more hours they managed to remain on the highway. They saw no trucks, no cars except when their headlights caught the reflection of tail-lights off to the side of the roadway where others slid into the snow. 

Slowly, very slowly, they approached Idaho Falls where they took a cleared off-ramp to the middle of the city. There, after a right hand turn onto icy city streets, they stopped at a twenty-four hour gas station. It was five a.m. They had been on the road for nine hours. Exhausted, they filled up with gas, visited the rest rooms, threw water at their haggard faces, and bought coffee.
At the counter, Tamara asked where the closest motels were. Directions took them around snow filled corners, down two icy blocks to a Motel 6. Tamara struggled again out of the car and paid $65 for a room, which they would have to vacate by eleven a.m.
Bare floors and corner shower, cool sheets and a light weight cover were all they needed. From her little carry-on bag, Tamara pulled out a warm flannel nightie that had once belonged to Pat, who might have died, but who had excellent taste in clothes. Tamara recited a brief mantra thanking the universe that they had survived while she took her shower, and fell into the queen-sized bed beside her husband who was already softly snoring, sound asleep.