Californians and Snow Don’t Mix

Sometimes, life’s little detours can land you in unexpected places. And once in a blue moon, a change in plans can save the day.

This morning, Tara and I decided to drive up to Mount St. Helens. We’d been to Johnston Ridge last month, but decided to take the longer – and more scenic – route to Windy Ridge today. It’s about a two-hour drive from our house. Skies were sunny, the temperature pushing 72 degrees. A perfect June day for some sightseeing and a picnic lunch.

And then, two-thirds of the way there, we encountered this. 

What do you mean, the road to Windy Ridge is closed?!

You know, I often compare myself to Clark Griswold. And sure enough, this was one of those quintessential Griswoldian moments. Remember when they drove across the country in National Lampoon’s Vacation and arrived at their destination – Wally World – only to find it closed?

Yeah. Kinda the same feeling.

Unlike Clark, I did not buy a BB gun, kidnap a park ranger, and force him to open the gate so we could see Windy Ridge. Instead, Tara and I decided to explore a remote forest road that led in a different direction. We decided it would be an adventure. Besides, we still had that picnic lunch in the car – we figured we’d just find a nice, scenic place to stop and eat and make the most of the day.

This is where things get weird. On the drive up, I was telling Tara about an article I had read yesterday in Reader’s Digest. It talked about how people get themselves into dangerous situations by taking unnecessary risks. I specifically mentioned the example of a couple that took a wrong turn while driving and ended up stuck in the snow miles from civilization. So when, twenty minutes into our drive, we rounded a bend and came across an elderly couple from California whose PT Cruiser was stuck in the snow, it was a little uncanny.

We hadn’t passed another vehicle the entire way. Had, in fact, almost turned around a few hundred yards sooner, at the first sign of snow blanketing the roadway. But we pushed on, and it’s a good thing we did. These folks from Los Angeles – 65 and 69 years old – were completely clueless. And very relieved to see us.

“We’re from California,” they told us. “We don’t know anything about driving in the snow.”

Yeah. No shit.

Being the good samaritans that we are, we tried to free them by pushing on the car from behind while the guy gunned it, but the snow was so deep there was no clearance underneath, and the tires were spinning helplessly. They were good and stuck. And, incidentally, about twenty miles from the nearest outpost. With no cell service up there in that remote part of the forest. We decided to drive them to civilization so they could call for help. A few hundred yards down the road, we spotted a camper pulled off to the side, so we turned in to investigate. There, we came across an ornery old guy in a folding lawn chair with a satellite dish and a bag of Doritos. When we pulled up, he looked like we were bothering him.

“Do you happen to have a tow strap?” Tara asked.

He did. And a couple of shovels, too. But he had just sat down to eat his lunch and was in no mood to help at the moment. Turns out he was out there hunting bears, by the way. The forest is teeming with them. And cougars, too.

I’m telling you, this elderly couple might have been toast if we hadn’t come along when we did.

Grizzly Adams did let us borrow the shovels while he ate, so we got busy trying to dig the car out of the snow.

Californians and snow do not mix.

When I woke up this morning, I never imagined I’d be shoveling snow!

Fortunately, his tummy full, the bear hunter returned with his four wheel drive pickup truck and the tow line. They hooked it up to the rear axle of the PT Cruiser, and pulled it to safety. Crisis averted.

“I’ve got one request for you,” Grizzly Adams told California Man. “Don’t do that again.”

And with that, we all parted ways, each of us with a story to tell. In my case, a blog entry to post.

A few miles later, Tara and I found the perfect spot for our picnic lunch.

This riverbank made the perfect picnic spot.

Truth is, we were both a little antsy since we had learned that entire area is crawling with bears and cougars. But we kept a watchful eye and were able to enjoy our turkey sandwiches without being mauled by either beast.

Oh, and Mount St. Helens? Even though we didn’t make it up to Windy Ridge, we finally got to see it from another spot in the road.

Not as close up as we’d planned, but still breathtaking.

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

24 thoughts on “Californians and Snow Don’t Mix

    1. Or as another friend says, “you have the oddest life…and now you’re dragging lil’ ole Tara into it.” It’s true! I do seem to experience more than my fair share of weird things…


  1. Okay, first, I’m totally flipping out that it was 72 degrees and sunny in one spot, but then SNOWING in another!?!?!

    It’s funny, looking at that photo of you shoveling snow with all the gorgeous summer green trees around you, looks like movie set where they had to lay fake snow down to make it APPEAR as snow! That’s WILD!

    What adventure indeed!

    And BLESS you and Tara for helping those elderly people out 🙂

    Stunning photos, Mark! That one of Mount St. Helens is truly breathtaking!

    Thanks for sharing your day, Mark and Tara!


    1. It wasn’t snowing anywhere, Ron. The snow was already on the ground. And pretty deep, I might add – deep enough to strand a PT Cruiser, anyway.

      And I see what you’re saying about the movie set. I guess you’re onto my trickery here. The whole thing was staged. The “bear hunter” was really the director, and right after that pic was taken, he yelled CUT.

      I kid, I kid. Nobody could make this stuff up.


  2. Wow!!

    I was just in awe as I was reading this. I don’t think it’s luck or coincidence that you and Tara were where you were supposed to be. While God works His will for His glory at all times, He surely was with that couple from California and I can guarantee that the couple will tell people how God sent help. How fitting that He used you and Tara.

    You didn’t disappoint with the pictures. They are stunning!! Love, love, LOVE the one of St. Helen’s but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the one of my daughter even more!!


    1. And really, the photos don’t do justice to what we experienced in person. I do hope that couple repeats this story to their friends over wine spritzers and alfalfa sprouts (because they’re Californians, you know) but they may be too ashamed of their own lack of common sense to talk about it.


  3. What an adventure! It’s hard to imagine there could still be snow there in June. What was the elevation there, and what was the air temperature? The spot you lunched looked lovely! And I loved your telling of this adventure. Well done, my friend.


    1. According to the bear hunter, the elevation there was about 3400′. It was nice and warm out – about 70 degrees – but there is so much snowfall in that area every year it doesn’t all melt until July. In fact, that’s why the road to Windy Ridge was closed – it was snowed in (the elevation up there is closer to 4200′.)


  4. What a great picnic! You’ll have a hard time topping that. I particularly appreciated Grizzly Adams’ advice to the driver. I’m sure he’ll take it – probably will never venture north again.


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