Stranded, in a Mustang, in a Blizzard

Leaving Forks, I headed south along Route 101 toward the Hoh Rainforest. The turn-off to the visitor's center led me up 15 miles of winding road. It would have been slow-going in good conditions. With snow still piled up on either side of the road, it was a 40 minute crawl. The trees, usually emerald with moss, were iced with a thick layer of white.

Arriving at the visitor's center, there were only two other cars in the parking lot, one being the ranger's. After going inside and getting my National Parks passport stamped, I asked the ranger for advice on what to see. The first suggested stop was along a creek on the mini-trail that loops near the parking lot, as salmon were spawning in the stream there.

About this time, I met up with the only other set of tourists in the rainforest, headed back to their car. As I walked around the Spruce Nature Trail, scrambling around mossy trees and through snow drifts, I was 100% alone. As I reached the edge of the Hoh River, it started to snow.

It was gorgeous and a little bit eerie. I hurried back to my car in hopes I could make it down to Route 101 before the snow got too heavy. It had been a 40 minute trip coming up. But on the way down, I hit another impediment.

The elk wouldn't get out of the road. While in normal conditions I would have been thrilled to have a close encounter with the wildlife, at this particular moment, I had to honk my horn and finally roll down my window to yell at them to let me pass. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally made it back to the highway, but the snow was coming down faster now, especially as I made it to the point where 101 meets the coast. Wipers going a mile-a-minute, I took some ill-advised photos through the windshield.

Slippery road + big drop to the ocean below = no thank you.

Eventually, the road turned inland. The car I'd been following turned off, leaving me alone once again. Every once in a while, a car would pass going the opposite direction. The snow got deeper and deeper until the two sets of tire tracks narrowed down to one in the center of highway. I'd already felt the Mustang start to slip a couple of times, so crawling at about 15-20 mph, I stayed in the safety of those ruts. Each time headlights appeared coming toward me, I slowed down even more and eased the car back onto the fresh snow on my side of the road. I'd managed this successfully two or three times before my luck ran out.

A car passed me going the other direction at a steady rate. As we cleared one another and I began to ease back into the tire tracks, I felt the Mustang slip.

Oh, I thought, as I completely lost control of the vehicle. So this is what it's like to spin out.

I'd been going slow enough, and the snow at the side of the road was deep enough, that the Mustang didn't go far. It swung round 180° and ended up backward in a snowbank. The other car didn't stop.

I assessed my situation. I was in a Mustang convertible, lodged in a snowbank, in the middle of nowhere, in a blizzard that was only getting worse, and my cell phone had no reception.

I was basically screwed...

Five minutes later, the universe threw me a bone - a car appeared, slowed down, and stopped. The local couple was kind enough to give me a ride (in the opposite direction) to the neighborhood bar.

The bar was pretty much empty because of the storm. I used a payphone to call AAA. Turns out, if you're more than 15 miles from one of their partner garages, they'll arrange things, but you pay the local garage's standard rate. At this point, I really didn't care. I called my parents to give them an update, and called to cancel my hotel reservation on the coast. I prayed the tow truck would make it through. My other option, as the bartender had pointed out, was the motel out back that had a bit of a 'serial killer motor court' vibe going on.

Basically this.

A waitress who looked like Dale Dickey, her hair up in a neon scrunchie, took pity on me, bringing me pizza and sitting down to tell me her life story. Part of me desperately wants to relay bits of it here, but my better self knows it's not my story to tell. As we sat there, a man with a grizzled beard came into the bar to ask if anyone had a rubber hose. He was out of gas and needed to siphon some from an abandoned car. I realized I'd left my camera and "hidden" money in my unlocked car and bid it, and all my trip photos, a sad mental farewell.

A couple of hours after I called, the cavalry rolled up. The older guy who drove the tow truck was a man of few words. His younger partner more than made up for it with a constant stream of chatter. Slowly, we made our way back to the place where the Mustang sat, untouched, in the snow. I was thrilled to see my camera and money (and gas) were still intact. It took less than 10 minutes to pull the car out. It didn't look as if there was any damage - the car itself was definitely drivable. The roads would be the issue.

The towing guys convinced me to try driving the car again, with them following slowly behind. Knuckles white on the wheel, I drove for about 20 minutes before putting on my flashers and pulling over. The younger guy took over and I settled in for an awkward hour in the tow truck cab with Silent Bob.

"It's like driving on snot!" the younger guy yelped, as he got out of the car at the service station in Aberdeen. I felt a little vindicated. After giving the senior partner my credit card information, I drove the Mustang to the nearby GuestHouse Inn & Suites, and practically hugged the predictable blue print, chain hotel bedspread. (But didn't, because that would be pretty gross.)

In the morning, I was able to better assess the damage to the Mustang - a bit of plastic had been ripped off the front. Otherwise, it was fine. When I arrived back at SeaTac, I filled out an accident report, cringing at what this could do to my insurance. A week later, I received the bill - $30 parts and labor - and paid it myself. I get the feeling someone, somewhere, took pity on the girl dumb enough to drive a Mustang in a snowstorm.


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