Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Snowseidumb Adventure

*from the March 2003 archives*

*2009 Writer's note: picture the snow at the right (a photo I shot during a Christmas storm in 1987). Now double it, and that's what the Spring Storm of '03 did in and around Denver. To the west, it was worse: one location in Gilpin County (where I work and where the upcoming epic took place) got 11 measured feet of snow from this storm*

The winter of '02-03 hadn't done much to relieve the drought conditions that had stricken Colorado the previous summer, bringing on record forest fires and water restrictions. Then, in early March, our local weather forecasters began to predict a 'potentially powerful' snowmaker, bearing down on us from the Left Coast. Phfffft.

In my over 30 years in Colorado, almost without exception, every prediction of 'The Big One' amounted to squat. On the other hand, one Christmas Eve forecast of a 'trace of snow', became the biggest snowmaker in my personal lifetime up to then: the Xmas Blizzard of 1982. One I'd never forget, having found myself at the time, trying to dig out a full-size Ford Bronco from where two of us buried and high-centered it. Not once, but four times, trying to get to work.

On the Monday before 'The Big One' was due, I marvelled that they continued to talk it up with comments like 'this one's for real, folks'. Though I was all prepared for a local version of opening Al Capone's vault, I did let a bit of my old Boy Scout creed take hold (Always be prepared...with food), and stocked up. At the store, I bantered with the cashier and others in line about the doomsayers and storm prediction in general. As I went to bed that night -- and not a flake of snow to be seen -- I fully expected to awaken to another meterological 'six foot chicken at the fair' outside my window, and little else.

I arose at 0500 that Tuesday morning, March 19, and looked out the window, only to double-take: it was snowing. It was snowing hard. So hard, it convinced me of the wisdom of the previous night's grocery stock-up, and leaving my auto today under cover of the carport. With snow falling at a reported rate of 2-3" an hour, more than a foot was already down in the parking lot below, and the few trying to extract their cars were already having a bitch of a time of it.

"What the hell", I thought, "we need the moisture". Little did I reckon on how ironic that thought would become, hours hence.

By mid-afternoon -- with no let-up in the storm -- I figured to go dig out my car. Not to go anywhere: my tortured logic suggested that any snow moved now, would be snow I wouldn't have to move Thursday morning, when I'd have to at least try to go to work. Once I got down to ground level, if I had need of a nitro pill, the sight would have done it: to cut to what was left of the plowed lane to exit the lot, I would have to move snow from a lane 10' wide by 20' long, ranging in depth from 2 to 5', depending on drifting. I must have looked rather ridiculous to anyone looking out their window, as I began the process.

Instead, it began something of a 'block party': suddenly, everyone and their prodigy was outside, trying to extract hopelessly buried vehicles. Before I had finished my own excavation, I had been borrowed to assist in extricating a Subaru wagon, a high-centered Ford 4x4, a Toyota Cor-no-rolla, a Dodge Ram pick up, the Nigerian luge team, two Yetis and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. With the exception of the Ram, the Ford and the two Yetis, nothing else was able to leave their parking stalls. But at least you could tell what they were, as opposed to mere lumps in the snow. Exhausted, I mounted the stairs, and figured that I'd accomplished the lion's share of my work for Thursday morning.

Then I heard the updated forecast: the winter storm warning had been changed to a blizzard warning; the worst of the storm was due in Tuesday night and Wednesday. After taking a moment to use the kitchen counter as a convenient place to bang my head, I drew solace in the notion of an extra day off from work, and the fact that "we needed the moisture". As I went to sleep Tuesday night, little did I know what was in store for me Wednesday, March 20.

Wednesday began with me deciding to examine the damage from overnight at about 0600: all the shovel work that I and others had plied, had been obliterated. With steady 35 mph winds and snow continuing to fall at 1-2" per hour, the parking lot now looked like the Arctic Ocean, frozen, with 4-6' "waves". But, what the heck: I wasn't going anywhere, and besides, "we needed the moisture".

Then at about 0700, the phone rang, and I was about to step unknowingly into a 21-year time warp. Work was calling: a supervisor from another department had a 4x4, lived nearby, and was getting ready to try to come in to work, and did I want to come in early and help out? Glancing out the patio window into NeverNeverAgain Land, my mind said "NO!"; but before my two brain cells engaged my audio function, out of my mouth came "Sure". I threw together a quick kit, in case I found myself snowed in at work for a couple days, and awaited my chauffeur's cell phone call from the street.

And thus began the self-inflicted absurdity of the next four and a half hours.

Getting to his vehicle -- another full size Ford Bronco 4x4, which should have been a tip-off for me -- was a chore. I'm 6' 2'', but my legs aren't, and I used every manner of crossing the twin parking lots to the street, including a back stroke, before I finally made it to the street, soaked and exhausted. But, what the hell: in a full-sized 4x4, no worries.

I'd forgotten about '82. But not for long.

After stopping off for gas and coffee, we were off. So what if it took us three attempts to break through the plow cut across the ramp onto US 6 West? We were two guys in a 4x4 with hot coffee, chains, two cell phones and a shovel. We could handle it. Until we reached the turn-off for Clear Creek Canyon, that is: it was closed.

We already knew I-70 was closed in every conceivable direction. So while the supervisor conferred telephonically with the boss, I pondered the options: (a) run the blockade, and try US 6; (b) turn around and go home, as the boss was urging us to do, or (c) take a look at Golden Gate Canyon, a couple miles up the road. A more winding road, it wasn't as prone to rockslides and other hazards as was US 6. My partner in pending absurdity mulled it a moment, then with a maniacal grin said, "yo, dude, let's do it!", and we were off yet again.

Arriving at the turn-off for Golden Gate Canyon, we were enthused to find that the road had been plowed. Thus, we plunged forth, two guys in a 4x4 with coffee, chains, two cell phones and a shovel. Less than a mile in, our ne'r be daunted spirit received a boost, in the form of a road grader, plowing the road from the direction we were headed. Further fortified by a second plow coming from the same direction, we reckoned we'd make work about an hour and a half after departing on our intrepid journey.

Then the bill for all of the self-inflicted absurdity came due, as we reached the Jefferson/Gilpin County line, and the plowed road.....disappeared.

From a nearby resident, we learned to our consternation that Gilpin County didn't plow this end of the road, as it "wasn't a priority". We'd have to get to the fire station, about 7 miles further on, to reacquire a road we could discern.


But our "we've come this far" overrode our "which is far enough", and we decided to go for it. For about 3/4 of a mile. Then, drifting a bit right of the unbeaten path, we just flat buried the Bronco, period.

And there we sat, two guys in a high-centered 4x4, in the midst of a raging blizzard, with cold coffee, two cell phones that were "out of service", chains, a shovel, and a "oh wow, I coulda stayed home!" look. With a couple of heart-felt "aw sh**s", we got to work.

Forgetting for a moment the dire circumstances, the scenery round abouts was most impressive: a foothills canyon vista, snow-filled and silent, save for the sound of the wind and blowing snow through the trees, sullied only by our occasional colorful metaphors, as we struggled to dig out enough snow from underneath the Bronco so the tires could have something other than snow and air to get some grip on. At one point, my cohort bemoaned the fact that he'd forgotten his camera; I took a different view, and was glad that this was so, not wanting self-taken and damning photographic evidence for our upcoming competency hearing.

Time was clearly of the essence: not 100 feet ahead of us was the remnant of a plow lane, where a truck with a plow had apparently cut from the canyon road into a subdivision, before we happened along. That visible track was rapidly disappearing, hastening our efforts to dig snow that seemed to be procreating beneath the vehicle, faster than we could shovel it out.

After digging out what I was sure was the Grand Canyon equivalent of snow from beneath the Bronco, there we were, lying underneath the vehicle, trying to chain it up. The absurdity of the moment -- two thoroughly soaked guys, with a stuck 4x4, frozen coffee, uncooperative chains, two 'out of service' cell phones and an inadequate snow shovel -- finally reached the sublime with the following conversation:

"What was that about needing the f***ing moisture?"

"We don't need the f***ing moisture. The ground does".

"So what are WE doing, sucking up the ground's f***ing moisture?"

"Putting on these f***ing chains".

"Then let's get these f***ing chains on and let the ground have it's f***ing moisture".

"F***ing works for me".

After another 30 minutes of chaining, shovelling, shivering and making poignant, pointed comments about the f***ing moisture -- and a little over two hours after we buried it -- the Bronco successfully broke out. Now we had a little over 6 miles to negotiate to get to, hopefully, plowed road again. Since my driver couldn't make out what was left of the earlier plowed track in the road, and I almost could, he drove and I navigated:

"You're in the track...bear right...right...your other right...bear left...switchback ahead...bear it...left..."

"Just remember, we need the f***ing moisture".

"How could I forget the f***ing moisture? Your left...your other left, dammit..."

When we reached the fire station in Golden Gate Canyon, we found a plowed road that looked like gold to us. A quick 'high five' and we were once again two irrepressible thoroughly-soaked guys in a chained-up 4x4 with frozen coffee, useless cell phones and a drowned shovel. The rest of the drive was an anti-climax, as a normally 40 minute drive had taken 4 and 1/2 hours.

With our arrival at work -- and plenty of astonished looks greeting us -- I went to get dried out and give back some of that f***ing moisture that belonged to the ground. Meanwhile, my cohort regaled all who'd listen of our epic journey. Later, I was approached by two or three employees who had pretty much the same question and answer:

"Are you who was with Jack in Golden Gate Canyon?"

"Yeah, why?"

"You guys are f***ing idiots!"

"And your point is what?"

I wound up staying at work the next four days and three nights, until the roads were fully re-opened. The parallels to the Xmas Blizzard of 1982 were far too many, including the seminal one: I shouldn't of answered the phone then, or in '03. If my phone rings in 2023 in similar circumstances, I might just have hearing loss. Perhaps I won't even have to fake it by then.

Whatever else you take from this true story, just remember this: we really did need the f***ing moisture. Well, at least the ground did.

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Blogger Herb said...

People who have never lived in snow country, especially the mountains, have no idea of what it's like. We did need the moisture that year, though.

27 February, 2008 02:52  
Blogger Little Lamb said...

I'm glad my snow days are behind me. I don't miss the snow at all.

The weather people thrive on all this bad weather. They can't wait till hurricane season. They'll actually have something to talk about. They're making predictions already.

27 February, 2008 04:16  
Blogger Debbie said...

Always prepared, that's the key. The one time you DON'T prepare, is the time you need to be prepared.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

27 February, 2008 11:50  
Blogger Two Dogs said...

Man, I have no clue what that is like, I live in God's country, Mississippi. You, Satan's country liver-in.

It was funny though.

27 February, 2008 18:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a full-size Chevy Blazer 4x4 SUV, with one crazy driver, no coffee, no cell phone, high-centered in the parking lot at work and only a toy snow shovel? It amounted to an $80 bill for a tow truck to rescue yon SUV (however, the driver was impressed with how far I got before high centering). So much for "That doesn't look *that* high, I should be able to plow right through it." Must run in the family... LOL!!

27 February, 2008 21:34  
Blogger Monica said...

Skunk, I'm still reading your great posts. I can always count on you for a laugh or a smile and you never let me down.

Life is good but Josh has been recalled in a roundabout way...I'll let you know more in an email. He has to go to Ft. Campbell within the next two weeks.

28 February, 2008 12:07  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Must be a great job. Snow sucks.

28 February, 2008 20:26  
Anonymous Robert 'the infidel' Garding said...

It was kind of fun reading this post, as I grew up in Colorado.....Gunnison to be exact...the ice-box of the nation. I remember when I was in fifth grade we had a lot of snow on the ground and the weather that winter got as cold as -56 below, in dead calm....with the sun shining brightly in the morning. There was NO WARMTH at all from the sun....and my brother and I walked to school that day. Oh those were the days....though I couldn't take that cold now that I have gotten older...*ss*

20 November, 2009 22:32  

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