So as you’d see from our IG feed or various posts, we’re all about getting outdoors and experiencing life. On this occasion, getting out ended up with getting stuck and well, when you’re with the family it goes from 0-100 real quick…the following takes place between the hours of 9:30am on January 1st, 2017 and 11:30am January 2nd, 2017…
“Hey let’s all go sledding on Sunday! Yesss!”
Get in car and get on the way to Wrightwood. Getting on the 138 (I think) towards the 2 the traffic is bumper to bumper. Waze says take this (what ends up being) dirt road bypass to the 2, it will save 10 minutes. Heck yeah! Kids are upset, want to get up the mountain, so let’s do this. Take the bypass and it’s a totally fine “dirt” road.
Now we’re on the 2 and a little ways up it says, “hey guys (Ok, Waze doesn’t talk like that but that’s how I heard it my head) don’t wait in this traffic, I got you, take this other dirt road”. Cool Waze let’s do it! We pull off on Scrub Oak and head down taking a quick minute to let the kids go to the bathroom and go on to find this side road. We totally miss it the first time and decide to turn back to the main road but then I see it. It was a little foreboding as the entrance of the road had some patches of snow leading up and in to it but hey, it must be ok. Waze said so…
It wasn’t. We enter the road and right off the first turn narrowly miss a group of 3 boulders. In my head I’m thinking “shit that was way too close, I don’t think I could get by those again without scraping the whole side of the car”. So I push forward hoping it clears up and the road does widen a bit. “Ok cool, it’s a little slippery but the Subie is making it uphill on this road so we’re good”.
We weren’t. We get to a point where the car just stops. I panic a little and throw it into reverse catching traction. I try to stick with the outside shoulder but it’s sketchy so I attempt to cross over to the inside shoulder thinking how we just have to get through this thicker patch and can deal with rocks when we get there. No dice, the car gets hung up. I try the whole moving the wheel left and right to make room and then the whole slowly moving forward and slowly moving backwards. I see the panic set into Ashley’s eyes and hear the anxious questions of Jaxon in the back. I get out and assess and think if I could only get some traction under the wheels we’d be ok. I grab rocks, sticks and floor mats but nothing is grabbing. I get everyone out of the car to lighten the load and still nothing helps. Then the decision to send Ashley on to feed the now hungry and scared kids. She goes and a little time later she texts she found a ride. Ok they were ok…
They weren’t. She texts me again, she had no money. The texts go back and forth, the information is choppy as so is the cell service. Then a phone call, in and out as well, she’s telling me how she got a ride to mountain high east but it’s closed and has to go to west. How no one has stopped to help take them up. How she’s wearing paper thin leggings and carrying Ashton uphill a mile to the next area.
The following texts are heart breaking. My wife essentially begging someone, anyone to help her and thank God someone eventually does and buys the kids food.
During this I had flagged down a CHP officer, officer Chapman, and he radios into his dispatch to send a truck for a car specifically stuck in mud on a side road. He takes me down to check out the road and realizes he’s going to get stuck too so he doesn’t press in. Bringing me back up to hwy 2 I say goodbye and wait for the AAA rescue. The company sends a standard rear wheel drive which is the wrong truck for the job. He informs me they have no 4x4s for the day, he also won’t take me into town as cars are breaking down left and right due to traffic and takes off. I go back to the car and find a couple shovels on the side of the road and try to dig out around the wheels a bit but the mud keeps oozing around the tires and after 30 minutes my hands are numb from the cold mud and stones I try to remove and re-position. Nothing is working , my drivers side floor area has an inch of mud in it. I notice also that the drivers side has sunk down some more. The sun has just dropped below the ridge line and I realize it’s time to abandon ship. I only allow myself 10 minutes to charge my phone a bit. I grab Ashley’s jackets and anchor on the kids clothing bag to my backpack. I grab the boys’ iPads and make my peace with whatever’s left in the car and hike back up to the 2 to find either a 4WD vehicle to help me or a ride up to Ashley.
A half hour goes by, there’s jeers from passing cars, comments like “you must be enjoying the weather” a request for a 100 bucks to go down the mountain. No more patrol cars come through, though a few ambulances and a couple fire trucks pass by (there was a major accident up the 2).
Finally a man with his wife and 2 kids in a small pickup stop long enough for me to give them the 20 second cliff note version of what went down and after some apprehension about police fining him for having someone in the bed I assure him I’ll talk the officer out of it and I hop in the back.
I try to text Ash as we slowly move along until I realize I can’t feel my fingers and then as the sky darkens I can’t feel my feet either. We stop at a store and the man, Art, tells me he’s taking his daughters to get food and use the restroom. He offers to let me sit in the car but my boots are caked in mud and I say no but he does let me charge my phone in the cab, so I do.
10, 15, 45, an hour go by and he and his family emerge from the store. Up until then I’ve been moving around the parking lot in the dark trying to find another ride but no one is biting. I probably wouldn’t either. The state of me both physically covered in mud and the frantic edge to my eyes and voice weren’t great selling points. During this time I get a hold of Beth and she informs me Ash is still at MH West and had just called her for help. I tell her I’m on my way to them. She says Casey is going to drive up with her and that they would come rescue us. Ok great, sure it would take them 3-4 hours to find us but at least it was something.
I jump back in the bed and we get back on the 2. Immediately I realize how cold it really is. I’d been shaking uncontrollably in the lot and now that I’m motionless in the bed of the truck I’m feeling the cold creep in. Not even a hundred feet from the store I open the bed, jump out and tell Art that I will freeze if I stay back there. I thank him and start hiking from Wrightwood the 3.7 miles to MH west.
Along the way there’s God and there’s a phone.
I walk up praying to God, something I’ve been a little lax on. I first apologize for the lack of communication lately. Things have been great so I haven’t needed anything. “Haven’t needed anything”…how blessed and lucky have we been? Wouldn’t know because I’ve just taken it for granted and here is a situation to remind me of just how fortunate in life we have been. I pray that he gets me back to Ashley and our boys, gets us off that damn mountain and to some safe shelter.
Then the phone.
My phone had died and I was getting massive anxiety about not being able to contact Ashley. I figured her phone was dead but needed to try. And so, as luck would have it, I find a new Samsung laying on the ground on the shoulder. Sure it was locked I swipe it and it miraculously it opens up. I make my much needed call and leave an update. Then it rings and the phone’s owner, Gustavo, is elated I found his phone. I tell him where I’m going to leave it but then see two people approach.
I feel like I can’t just leave it so I start walking a little slower until he calls me back and says he sees me. I look at the few hundred yards between us and reluctantly walk back a little to meet him faster. The joy on his face lifts my spirits enough to get me the next mile and a half to the east entrance where they tell me it’s another mile up to West. Thinking back now I remember him repeatedly saying “God Bless You”. Yeah, God did.
I get up the hill finally to the West entrance and run into the densely packed dining hall. I scan the crowd and walk through rows looking for Ashley. Luckily I had grabbed my charging cable and was able to plug in for 10 minutes to try and call Ash but still nothing. I head over to guest services where I have them repeatedly page Ashley. I then call Beth who tells me Ash had contacted her earlier and was now heading back to MH East. Dead tired and cold I jump on the last shuttle out of the park heading back down to east. We’re at a crawl. So I chat with one of the staff members manning the rear doors and ask him to let me out. Understanding my situation he does and another man gets out with me with his board. Walking down the hill we get to talking. And I tell him briefly about how crazy of a day I’ve just had. He says, “I’m here by myself, I’m an off duty deputy, I’ve got a truck with room for all of you, you can come with me and I’ll take you to lodging or as far as Fontana if you want. I can’t believe it. We were the only two off that shuttle and this is the guy that gets off with me. Ok. Thank you Lord.
So finally we get to his truck which was parked just before the entrance to MH east and he says I can throw my bag in the back. No problem. Bag gone. I take off running down the hill to the rental shop. I catch one of the employees’ eyes and they open the door. Expecting a flat no, as I had been asking everyone I met to that point if they had seen a woman with two children come through, she looks at me and with a surprised look to my question says, “yes, they just went to the bathroom”. I run into the bathroom and shout out Ashley’s name.
And am answered.
And then I hear my little voices happily yell “papa!”
Tears of joy in our reuniting I tell Ashley to head back to the rental lodge while I wait for Darren. Darren shows up, we all pile in and coordinate a meetup with Beth in Fontana. I hit up TeeJay and he says he can get me and put me up for the night.
The rest is just a lot of appreciation and generosity. Darren/Off-duty officer Rigsby never puts down the phone as he makes call after call first trying to get a rescue that night and then settling on coordinating a tow for the following morning. We leave each other at Richies diner in Fontana and I have no words to express my gratitude enough. He gives me his number in case I need help then next morning or as he puts it “if they try to screw with me at the towing place”. I tell him if there’s anything he wants from 5.11 that I will get it for him and with the $50 in gas I forced him to take that’s that.
6 sleepless hours later I’m writing my story before it all meshes into a blur. TJ’s brother had agreed to drive me back to Wrightwood as T and his mom just left for the Rose Parade. Writing this down I feel I barely captured the emotion. The way the mud sucked in every step I took. The feeling of watching your 3 most important people walk down a mud road around a bend. The feeling of seeing them again after at least 6 hours with most of that totally incommunicado. The hiking in high 20 degree weather. Ashton’s warm little body in my arms and Jaxon’s fearful voice of concern when we say we’ll try to go sledding again. So many emotions.
But we’re safe. We’re not being bombed in Aleppo. The children aren’t dying of thirst. I wasn’t seeing my wife and kids leave on the last refugee truck out of the city as they embarked on a trip that would take them months from seeing me again.
We were in a ski resort area in California. We will still be living our lives after today, together. The worst that will come from this is I may need a new exhaust and have possibly damaged my transmission. But that can all be replaced and is inconsequential. I’m sorry it took this to remind me of how great I have it in life. How much worse it could have been or generally could be.
For that I am thankful.
That night as I tried to sleep I’m racked with nightmares of constantly getting stuck in the mud, by morning it’s a scramble. TJ’s brother, Josh, had agreed to drive me into Wrightwood to sort out my issue. I call the company Darren had contacted the night before and they inform me that their 4×4 vehicle is actually out of service. Damn. I start calling company after company getting informed that noone is nearby and the few I find are a few hundred dollars an hour.
I finally agree on one company because I was tired of searching and desperate to get my car out and get back home to my family. The man first quotes me $1000 flat. I ask if he takes Discover and he says no so tell him I just didn’t have that kind of money. Pictures of shoveling my car out entire my mind. I get a call back, it’s him again, the price is now $800 and supposedly he has someone just down the hill. I say fine, I have $500 cash and $300 to put on the card. Suddenly it’s ok and can work. Whatever, just come get my car.
I get a call from the driver he informs me the 4×4 is actually over an hour away and going to get driven out to him in Barstow and then it would take him another hour to get to me. Ok I say, what choice did I have? With the time I now had I have Josh drive me into town in Wrightwood. I see a repair shop and think maybe they have someone who could help.
They can. I meet a very kind and concerned man by the name of Victor and his co-worker, Tom. When I first walked in and told Victor I was looking for help with getting my car out of the mud his first reaction was to say “sounds like you need to call a tow company”. I agree with him and tell him that I did but that they were charging me $800 to pull my car out. I see his eyes narrow and he then starts asking me questions about my situation, where the car is stuck, how it’s stuck, how I stuck it.
Within his first question I see the maze of finding a solution to the problem and follow the path to the point where he turns to Tom and says “hey call up Steve”. Tom calls up Steve, lets him know I work at 5.11 and have cash on hand. Steve agrees and I’m told between his jeep and his gear that if he can’t do it, no one would be able to. I feel really good about this and call up the driver to let him know. I also call back the tow company and inform them that I found someone local. At first they say they are keeping the whole $300 amount and then I remind him that he had originally quoted me $200/hr to use their 4×4. On top of it I never agreed to any kind of non-refundable deposit. His shady’ness is overwhelming and I just want my money back. Not in the mood to argue I tell myself I’ll revisit it later when I can think about it more and hang up the phone.
Back to Steve…what a cool guy. He shows up in a super trick Jeep. This is the kind of Jeep that you’d think someone in the mountains would drive. Looking at it I see everything that we’ll need to get my car out. 4WD, check. Winch, check. Lifted Suspension with massive travel, check. Straps on straps, check.
We head back to where my car is. He apologetically remarks that he’s only doing this for the money, I say no problem and express my gratitude. I then tell him the story from the day before and he’s pretty blown away by it all.
We get to where my car is and the fun begins. It’s actually surprisingly straight forward and had I a winch of my own I could have likely made my own way out of there, albeit, very slowly. He hooks up to my car and first pulls me out getting himself stuck in the process. Shit. No problem, he hooks up the winch to a tree, pulls himself out and reattaches to me. Unfortunately I get hung up in the same spot he did, no problem, he pulls me out again and then it’s a pretty straight shot through the thick of it. In all we spent like 45 minutes and I was on my way home.
What a relief, every mile back was a happy one, the appreciation for everything was pretty overwhelming. The regret of money was overpowered by the feeling of putting it all behind me and seeing my family soon. I reflected on all the pieces that had to fall in place to get us through it and can’t deny that God was definitely looking out for us that day.
Back in town I spent an hour and a half hosing down the undercarriage of the car trying to get out as much mud as possible but it’s still pretty caked on there. My next mission is to get a few pieces of equipment that will potentially help me out should I find myself in a similar situation again. There’s something to be said for experience’s superiority vs. 2nd hand knowledge. You can be told what to expect in a given situation but you never really know until your deep in the mud with the sun setting. It’s a different ballgame.
Stay safe out there friends, though we’re surrounded by technology and convenient services like AAA, sometimes they aren’t worth a dime and you have to depend on your own grit and a little help from your friends to get through it.