I awoke to a sleeping chamber encased in ice formed from my own breath. In fact, it was snowing on my face! As I exhaled, the moisture in my breath was condensing, then freezing, and drifting back down onto me and the outer sleeping bag, which was also encrusted in ice.
There were a number of factors, including some I'm not going to mention, but I decided this morning that it's time to go home. Surprisingly, despite the awe-inspiring Teton range in front of me, and unvisited spectacular park (Yellowstone) just to the north, I feel that the time has just arrived to make my way east. I can withstand the cold of the Rockies in my sleeping bags, but man, I'm just tired from traveling and ready to get back to my house. The big mountains will have to wait until my strength is restored. I could do it with a motel stay for a few days or a week, but the cost would be high and there are reasons other than the cold that I'm calling it quits.
I drove east, stopping at a ranger station because Wyoming's just been hit by a storm and I knew even the interstate highways were closed for long stretches in the eastern part of the state. I got the number to call for conditions, and found out that the temperature the night before had hit 9 fahrenheit. I was completely comfortable inside the sleeping bags themselves, but pretty cold getting into and out of them. Still, it's good to know that I can easily tolerate that kind of weather.
About an hour into the day's drive, I arrived at an area which was too beautiful to pass up for a day hike. I pulled into an immense parking lot (it was at least an acre). The lot was covered by about 4" of crusted snow and ice, crossed and looped by a spiderweb of snowmobile tracks, which I was able to drive in. I was aiming for the toilets about halfway across, when I got stuck. I tried to rock the truck out of its spot, and shovel myself out, to no avail.
Fortunately, I'd had either the good sense or dumb luck not to try and drive across established snow far away from people. Just a couple hundred yards away was a lodge and snowmobile rental joint. I walked over and begged for help, which came in the form of another pickup truck, nothing fancy, but with four wheel drive. I had no idea that simply having another pair of drive wheels was enough to manage the snow, no chains or especially burly tires were needed.
We towed me out to the edge of the lot, and my rescuer drove back to the shop. But when I tried to move mine, I was again stuck... I knew I should have asked for a few more feet of towing! Instead of being on asphalt, I was on a thick and extremely slick ice sheet, a mere truck length from freedom.
But I felt ashamed to be so repeatedly stupid and unprepared, so instead of going back to the shop I pulled out my tools and began breaking up the ice. I used the shovel (brought explicitly to handle snow) and a hammer and chisel. I'm astonished that I actually used the chisel I brought.
When I finally got back on the road, I felt so further depleted that I decided (after heating up a frozen block of chili and pair of bagels) to just drive instead of go snowshoeing. Who knows if that was the right decision?
During the day of driving I stopped in town and got an oil change (eerily, precisely 3000 miles since the one in El Paso) and bought myself some tire chains, which I'd meant to do before the trip. Better late than never, I guess. And I've got some bad roads ahead of me, I think.
I continued until about 5:00 before finding a little point of interest, BLM labeled, on of the remote state road I've been traveling. I was tired, drowsy even, but it was still too early to go to sleep, so I sat in the cab and worked on pictures and blog posts for a couple hours.
A little before sundown, I happened to step out of the truck and noticed that I'd LEFT MY LIGHTS ON. What an idiot I am. I tried to start 'er up, and yep—dead. Awesome. What a day.
This road was remote, cold, and lightly traveled. I was in no personal danger because I had all my gear and had just proved that I'm ready for the big chill, but I didn't like the idea of waiting until morning and letting the battery freeze without a charge. I didn't know whether that would affect it or not, but if possible I wanted volts in there right away.
I ran out to the road just as a big rig blasted by at high speed, hauling two huge trailers. No luck of course; I'm sure that the driver would have helped if he could but he would need about a half mile to stop that thing and there was nowhere he could even begin to think about turning around. I needed a local, not a trucker.
I went back to the truck and pulled out my jumper cables to hold up so it was clear why a raving lunatic was standing in the snow by the road. To my great luck, someone passed by almost immediately, this time a pickup towing a horse trailer. But she didn't stop... I hadn't been able to get out to the road in time to flag her down where she had room to pull in.
I waited around for another 20-30 minutes, and was just about to give up for the night (the sun was setting) when I saw headlights again. The pickup had driven on until its pilot had found a place she could turn around with the horse trailer, pulled the U-turn, and came all the way back to rescue me! I was amazed, and touched by her mercy.
She pulled in and I had my own truck started in 2 minutes, thanked her immensely, and was on my way. Obviously, I needed to run the engine for a while and recharge my battery, and I figured that if I was going to do that, I might as well get some progress out of it. So I drove across the high plains at night, with the snow falling across the road. I didn't like the conditions, but I didn't hit any slick spots. I pulled into a rest stop an hour later and let the engine idle for 30 more minutes. I'm sure that's probably enough charge, and if not, I'm in a conspicuous place where I'm likely to get help. We'll find out in the morning.
What a day. What an idiot. But I've got luck ten times better than I deserve.
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