Snow Blind in the Sierras

Early in the morning I set off from Truckee, California, to make my way down the mountain from Donner’s Pass to Sacramento. This trip ranks right up there with one of the more reckless and foolhardy things I’ve done in my life.

Right up there with hitching thousands of miles alone from West Africa to Southern Africa.
Right up there with solo camping at Point Reyes after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.
Right up there with swimming three miles to a two-palm tree island and back to mainland at Busua Beach, Ghana.

There’s a reason they call this kind of action “fool hardy.”

But, once I’d been cleared to go because I had cables (new-fangled chains), there was no way to go but forward. The exits hadn’t even been cleared yet. I know because I looked every time, sorely tempted to steer my car off this wild track of snowblind and slip-sliding driving. But, no sense getting stuck while trying to escape.

Going down the mountain was no time for sightseeing. Ice built up on my wipers so they couldn’t do their job. A veil fell over my wind shield. I followed truck lights and kept inside their tracks as well as I could as they cut through the snow on the road.

My most amazing feat of trick driving? I slid into a snow bank, reflexively reversed out, slid into the opposite snow bank, down shifted and gunned it forward. How did I manage to do this? Me who has no experience driving on snow? Sheer cussedness. I sooooo did not want to be stuck and stranded by the side of the road.

Plus, I felt the blessings of the retreat as mantras, prayers, and visualizations for Guru Drakpo (a Tibetan Buddhist protector), Guru Rinpoche, and Vajrakilya spontaneously arose in my mind and on my lips.

I drew upon my strength and resolve from the risky ventures I’d lived through and grown from in the past…hitching, camping, swimming, and driving on safari sand.

–I remembered the kindness of the Africans I met who gave me rides and cared for me in their homes.

–I remembered emerging from the Point Reyes expedition enriched with visions and certainty.

–I remembered that during my ocean swim when it occurred to me that I might not make it, that I looked towards the two palm trees on the island and paddled onwards.

–I remembered my father’s lessons to chop my breaks in delicate taps.

–I remembered my father’s instructions in double clutching and downshifting as we drove through the sand tracks on the way to the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana.

I remembered that I’d always made it through. My tremendous desire to get down that mountain fueled my perseverance and stoic resolve. I’ll get through this I told myself. The terror and the tremulousness wouldn’t last forever.

About half-way down (45 miles) at the Secret Village exit the roads cleared the sun came out.

I never would have made it without the help of the Mexican shoveling crew in the Truckee parking lot as I set out. I never would have made it without the help of the Mexican truck driver who struggles to get off my cables.

In both instances these men went The Second Mile. My father has taken this as his slogan throughout his life. In the New Testament Jesus said to go two miles when forced to go only one. Going this extra distance is where the life of a servant begins.

My father was that servant. Equipped with tow chains, jumper cables, stalwart tow bar, he rescued many. I consider him as a Roadside Angel.

The parking lot crew wouldn’t rest until they brushed 18 inches of snow off my car, cleared the windows, shoveled a track, and in the end, drove it out of the lot onto the street after I got stuck going up the small rise.

Even though that truck driver had a load to deliver and it cost him money each second he helped me, he stuck by me until we solved the problem of how to get those cables off.

In both cases, none of these men demanded payment or even wanted to be paid. I had to press money into their hands. This is firmly held kindness. This is when you are viewed as a sister or mother…part of a human family. This kindness touches me deeply.

From snow bound to snow blind to snow struck to blue skies at the end of the journey, I made it one more time. My heart once more filled with gratitude to providence and the amazing depth of human hearts.

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  1. Wow, Janet! Glad you found a way down that mountain! Sounds scarey but maybe good since it brought so many life experiences into play and The Second Mile into your mind. The retreat residue was surely a significant protective factor! Welcome home!

  2. Hi Janet,
    Thanks for your story. I really like your website. I am not surprised you connected with such kind souls. It was wonderful seeing you. please send me your dad’s name and email address.
    Joan Elizabeth

  3. Janet, So happy to hear you’re safe after reading such a scary story. I’ve been there before and I recommend one thing to help cut the fear while heading down the mountain. This thing is to sing some raucous rock and roll song as loud as you can, but change some of the lyrics.One of my favorites was Satisfaction by The Stones, except you sing “I can’. t get no, tire traction Cause I tried and I tried and I tried but I slide. You get the idea. It helps when you think you may slide off the mountain.

  4. Thanks to all of you for your good ideas and good wishes. I kept telling myself: “If I get through this, it will make a GREAT story.”

    Janet Riehl

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