So what’s life in the rural mountains during winter like? Well you’ve had a taste of it when the news has been reporting all the avalanche rescues that have been occurring this past winter season. However, to drive this point home with our own experiences, I was thinking back to the various incidents we’ve had here at the ranch. Actually, as we were gathered around Jim and Rich’s wood stove in their house (remember them? they are rebuilding from being flooded from the river… house is finally enclosed enough to heat it up a bit), I was recalling some of these stories. We were celebrating their first cake baked in their oven which was finally hooked up to their propane line. (If you ever build a house you’ll appreciate these milestones)
My first "rescue" was actually the most dramatic. It happened during the major snow of the season, when we had 3 1/2 feet. I had just returned through our back gate from my house sitting duties at our neighbors and was bringing in some more firewood. All of a sudden I glance up to see an older gentleman laden with a heavy pack and holding a umbrella. It was a rain/snow mix which was occurring, so he was wet. In a hoarse whisper he cries out to me, "Call 911!" So immediately I go into my first aid responder mode. After a couple of questions and wary querying I see that he is very hypothermic and on the verge of collapse (which he ended up doing). A quick call to 911 for medical assistance and a short while later the local all-volunteer fire department medical team arrives.
Ok, step back for a second. Up here, the all-volunteer fire department means its all the locals who are also our neighbors. When something happens up here familiar faces arrive. The funny part about this was how many arrived. It was almost a bit comic when the ambulance pulled up to the house because, like a clown car arriving in center ring, the door opened and out bound at least 8 people. My immediate thought was how funny that looked; I’m thinking how did you all fit in there?
Needless to say, everyone was great and did their job. The man was quickly taken to the hospital where he made a full recovery. He apparently had been stuck in his camper shell truck up at the top of Green Mountain Road which winds its way up behind the ranch. When all the snow dumped, he was in trouble. He had hiked back out a number of miles through feet of snow packing food and water with him. So, literally when he got to my ranch, he was lucky to find someone.
The next day, I knew all was well. He had been released from the hospital and returned to the ranch to thank me for saving his life. Now, honestly, I didn’t think I did much of anything, but I was glad it worked out the best for him.
Flash forward to this past week…
Again, an elderly, but obviously fit and active, gentleman decided to take his all wheel drive Volvo up Green Mountain Road to go cross country skiing. He made it only about 1.5 miles up when his car bottoms out in the snow on the road and, just like that, he is stuck. So, he hikes back down the road with his ski poles, getting his exercise, albeit walking rather than skiing, and arrives at our back entrance.
Now, the roads in the mountains here are nothing to fool around with when you leave the main road, especially when snow is starting to melt. It’s icky, slushy, icy, and overall just plain hazardous with help a long ways away. The phone calls we made to the tow truck in town refused to go up the mountain road. So, I put my good Samaritan hat back on and take some chains and towing cables in the truck up the road to help him. I gave a heads up to our neighbor that I was heading up to help this guy. Heck, I wanted to see for myself what the road conditions were like anyway.
OK, I won’t be going back up there until Spring! Yikes! The road was just ridiculous. You could only use the parallel ruts in the snow and not veer even an inch or you’d be stuck; which I managed to do myself in the 4WD truck. After finagling the tow cable to his Volvo and shoving evergreen branches under my tires for traction, I managed to free myself and him by wrapping the cable from my back bumper, around a nearby tree, and to his car’s frame. I’m going to think twice about doing this again. Alas, we did make it out and my patience and help was rewarded when the guy pulled out a hundred dollar bill for my effort. That will go right into the kitty for the business!
Funny, though, the cherry that tops the cake of interesting rescues, was also the easiest. Yesterday, all three of us and the dogs were working right behind the house splitting some more firewood. It was such a clear, warm and beautiful day and most of the snow was melted and drained away; the perfect day for outdoor tasks we’ve had in a long time. We ended up splitting enough firewood to entirely replace the amount we used this past winter! Go Team Paca Pride!
Anyway, we were all heads down splitting and stacking with the dogs laying there watching us, when out of the blue we hear this drunken voice, "Ahhhh, I guess I ran outta gas." All three of us look up and here is this strange, slightly inebriated guy staring at us. Of course we all thought the same thing: "ummm, Shadow? Maximo? ummm, where’s the barking… aren’t ya going to warn us we have a visitor?" The dogs just laid there like nothing was happening or like the guy was invisible. It was so out of context for the dogs that it was probably the reason we didn’t initially respond and just looked at him. He was wondering if we had any gasoline he could buy from us. Lucky for him, we did have just a wee bit left in the container we were using to fill the log splitter.
I walked down with him to the front entrance where he was stuck in the turnout hearing his story. "Blah blah blah, friends up at the bar… blah blah blah, buying them a drink, blah blah blah, used to live here, blah blah blah, thought I could make it back on fumes…" You get the picture. He gave us two bucks for the gas and we gave him enough to get back to town.
So, life can throw some interesting characters across our path up here in the hinterlands. I keep wondering if maybe one day those interesting characters will include celebrities and famous people. We could use the publicity. Until then, I’ll stick with helping the poor unfortunate stragglers.