December 20, 2006 Edition

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White Christmas adventure
becomes extreme situation

By Sarah S. Teague
Guest Writer
Part 3 of 3

It was a moment everybody had to pull together and help. I kept telling my boys, "We're in an extreme situation. Everybody's doing the best they can. Nobody expected this to happen and nobody's having fun."

Luckily we weren't cold. We developed a plan: if we couldn't find our way out, we'd arrange ourselves inside the encircled snowmobiles. With a lighter and scant snacks, we could survive the night.

Guys and girls got to work. With the altitude, we had to stop and breathe from time to time, but we slowly made progress, as the sun set. Dennis pulled first one then another onto the shallow field mentioned before, but he kept veering to the right, with deep, deep snow all around. He might sink in a drift, or worse, slide off a cliff hiding under a mound of snow. He finally reached stable ground, and his getting two of them in place heartened us all.

When we turned the third around, a fallen tree shifted in between the right and left runners. We'd have to drag the mobile back (on uneven ground) to untangle it then pull it around some trees to get it on the right trail. In addition to that, a stump rested four or five feet back from the trees, meaning we'd have to move it farther away to clear the stump.

When we finished the mobiles up in the wooded area, we felt a sense of accomplishment. However, the ones waiting down in the field had their own challenges: what was trail and what was drift. But being half finished was encouraging. And having so many young men helped.

With the last mobile reversed, we curved and descended a tricky spot (the last place I tipped over) that led down into another open field. Carl and Joan slid over in the same place I had. At that point everyone else was ahead about 50 yards. Jeff and I trudged back up the 15-yard incline to help. I was out of breath by the time we reached them, could not have lifted anything.

We called to the cluster of mobiles. I knew they were thinking that by the time they trekked up there we'd have the mobile back on the trail. But I wasn't sure we could do it ourselves. We had definitely burned a few calories this afternoon.

We had given up on our 7 p.m. dinner reservations, but we all were equally aware we might not want to go anywhere together. We might need some alone, get-over-it time.

We tried to pull up the snowmobile some, groaning and straining. Two of the boys began the long hike back to us. About the time they arrived, we had it back on track. I told them, "You might be frustrated that you walked all this way and then we didn't need you, but you should be grateful that you didn't have to pull out the snowmobile." Different perspective.

I craned around in the seat, my neck hurting, as I counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 over and over. We didn't know when someone might slip off again. If we got too far ahead, we would have to walk back.

We exaggerated our leanings to avoid sliding off again. I felt like I was doing gymnastics, trying to keep that blasted machine on the trail. One time I was turning, counting and leaning, and I flat fell off, just rolled right over. I hopped up so quickly they thought I bounced.

One of the engines died. That brought a new fear, along with the question of our gas tanks. With the sun down, keeping count was easier because I could count headlights. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. We hugged curves, bounced over hillocks, stayed in the groove. Sometimes I only got to six, but then the next two would top a hill.

We returned to the main trail, and I noted a sign (which we couldn't see when we entered) saying "Road closed." The trail we'd been on wasn't even open. Jeff and I were last. I began to think again about how, since I rode the back of the hindmost machine, a mountain lion would pounce on me. It seemed ridiculous, but nobody ever attacked by a mountain lion thought it would happen.

The long drive back was good for everyone. The full moon lit up the snow, and the trees were truly lovely, dark and deep. Once I caught sight of a small herd down in a draw. Their horns profiled those of an elk, not a moose. I was sorry that the snowmobiles were so loud, because I could only imagine how quiet it would be in the Grand Teton Forest on a December night.

A few more miles, and lights appeared in the distance: a snowplow. After a turn, the lights of a town far below came into view. At least we were nearing civilization.

Fortunately, our destination was closer than the town I'd spotted. We pulled up next to the highway, and hung a left. Jeff handled the dipsy-doodles, and I leaned forward as if I were riding an English hunter in a jumping competition. Finally we saw the glorious lights of the store. It was 7:20.

Justin and David came to check on me. Everyone was relaxed and laughing and I thought, OK, everything is OK. I was so relieved, I began to cry.

Search and Rescuers had been dispatched, but were called off. The trail we found was for experts only. I was proud of how well most everybody, my boys especially, had done. They kidded Jeff about throwing me off. We changed our dinner reservations to 9, just time for two seconds of primping, as if anything we could do would make us look more presentable for dinner.

On the drive back, with just our family in the car, warm, safe and dry, we could laugh at things that didn't seem so funny while they were happening.

At the restaurant, the waiters and nearby diners were soon aware of our harrowing afternoon. From the stories told, we learned what each other had been going through. So we crawled into bed that night grateful that we weren't shivering in the woods. Jeff got more of a white Christmas than he ever dreamed.

(Editor's Note: Sarah Shell Teague grew up in Walnut Ridge and graduated from WRHS. She has a doctorate in English from the University of Mississippi. Sarah lives in El Dorado with her husband, Jeff, also formerly of Walnut Ridge, and their three sons. She is the daughter of Rev. Frank Shell of Batesville and the late Carolyn Shell.)

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