Oregon family won't soon forget - the night
they were stranded
By Jennifer Moody
For the Albany Gazette-Times
ALBANY Ronda Da Rosa couldn't believe it. She'd checked
the road reports that morning, before they'd left San Francisco
for the trip home to Albany. No doubt about it, though
those were snowflakes falling, and they still had about 275
miles to go.
She hit the turn signal and pulled over at the Klamath River
rest stop on U.S. Interstate 5. Jeremy, 19, and Amanda, 17,
stayed in the back of the family's 1999 Ford Expedition. She
snapped a digital picture of the snowflakes while her husband,
Jeff Da Rosa, who had more winter driving experience, slid
behind the wheel.
It was Dec. 28. The Da Rosas had no way of knowing that they
and about 300 other people were about to put their trips on
a 19-hour hold.
Jeff drove for another 40 miles as the asphalt grew steadily
whiter. At 5:30 p.m., the Expedition crossed the Oregon border.
Half a mile down the road, traffic simply stopped.
The Da Rosas waited. The snowflakes fell. The cars ahead
About 45 minutes later, Jeff switched off the ignition. Ronda
shot more photos out the window, holding her camera out as
far as she could and scanning the digital images to see how
far traffic stretched. She couldn't see an end.
They turned on the radio and called the road report for the
Oregon Department of Transportation, then Caltrans, California's
transportation agency. Snow flurries in the pass, they heard.
That's about nine o'clock, Jeff thought. We'll be moving
The Da Rosas had planned on dinner closer to home; Medford,
maybe. They figured they could wait, or if they couldn't,
they had travel snacks and a cooler holding two dozen foil-wrapped
chili verde burritos from their favorite Mexican restaurant
in King City.
The family was in King City, 50 miles south of Monterey,
in 1989 when a 7.0 earthquake struck near San Francisco. Ronda
never traveled without water and other essentials after that.
And Amanda was carrying a roadside emergency kit she'd just
received for Christmas.
While they waited, the four broke out a travel Scrabble game.
Island reggae from Bob Marley and Toots Hibbert drifted from
the CD player, in warm contrast to the thick layer of snow
accumulating on the car's windshield.
They snacked on jerky, trail mix, and leftover Christmas
candy. Jeff turned on the car every hour and a half to let
the heater warm the interior.
At 9:30, they called the highway reports. The delay had been
changed to midnight.
People were leaving their cars to wander down the interstate,
chatting, straining to see. Rumors flew. One man said he'd
heard there was an accident. Another said it was a jackknifed
In the Expedition, Ronda dug out blankets, pillows and heavier
clothes as the temperature continued to drop. Jeremy used
the car flashlight to read an autobiography by outdoor humor
writer Pat McManus, "How I Got This Way." Amanda,
who had learned a few days earlier to knit, brought out a
scarf she'd started.
By 10:15, the road report said delays would be 24 hours "to
indefinite." What are we going to do here? Jeff thought,
glancing at the gas gauge, which read half full. Do we have
The Da Rosas prayed aloud, asking for protection and help
for everyone to make it out safely. They dozed, not quite
able to lie down.
By dawn, the snow had stopped falling. It was up to the running
board of the Expedition, 19 inches off the ground. Some of
the smaller cars ahead were nearly buried.
Ronda snapped a photo of an emergency vehicle that pulled
up in the southbound lane about 7:30. The couple in the car
ahead had a baby with a fever, she learned later, and the
people in the car next to them had called emergency services
on their cell phone before passing over some medicine they'd
The medicine had worked, so the emergency workers left. No,
they told Jeff, they didn't have any road information.
In the next couple of hours, drivers began to emerge. Jeremy
took the work gloves from Amanda's emergency kit and hiked
to the front of the line, about half a mile away, to help
with the digging. Jeff and Ronda handed out jerky and broke
into the burritos, heating them on the engine of the Expedition.
In passing, a man said he'd heard more snow was coming. Are
we going to get out of here? Ronda wondered. What are the
other people going to do?
About 10 a.m., Ronda saw a man on cross-country skis heading
north. "Hey," she called, "do you know if there's
a bathroom around?"
"Well, I did make it to the top, and there was a Porta-Potty,"
the skier replied.
Ronda and Amanda found the portable restroom a few hundred
yards back from the Exit 1 off ramp. An Oregon Department
of Transportation worker was there, talking to an Oregon State
Trooper who had just pulled up in his Expedition. Another
trooper was helping dig out cars.
From them, the Da Rosas heard that ODOT and Caltrans hadn't
communicated to shut the interstate down in time, stranding
hundreds of people in the Siskiyou Summit.
A spontaneous cleanup crew had formed, which Jeff and Jeremy
joined. One man turned a picture frame he'd received for Christmas
into a makeshift shovel. Another used a kayak oar to scoop
away snow from his rig. Still others dug with snowboards.
By 12:30, the cleanup crew had reached the Da Rosas' Expedition.
Amanda had finished her scarf, knitting 50 inches in all.
"Time to go," a trooper told Jeff. "You're
holding up traffic."
The family climbed back in the Expedition and crunched down
the frozen interstate to the exit, then headed back south.
On the way, they passed a single snowmobile, which Jeremy
said had been carrying gas for some of the stranded. They
never saw another one.
Yreka was impossible; a tangled mass of double-parked motor
homes outside sold-out hotels. So the Da Rosas took Highway
96 to the coast, a four-hour trip with just a dusting of snow;
spent the night in Eureka and took U.S. Highway 101 home the
Three weeks later, they still think about the little details:
the siphon hose a stranded driver had asked for that they
had forgotten to pack, and the fact that the only gloves in
the Expedition were the thin work gloves in Amanda's emergency
They think about the other drivers they met, the ones without
water, the ones with no chains or old ones meant for different-sized
tires. The man who told them he'd heard on his CB radio that
a 72-year-old Florence man several cars ahead had died of
a heart attack.
They also think about the way everyone pulled together on
that frozen stretch of pavement: the women who shared fudge
and applesauce in exchange for burritos, and the way their
own children pitched in.
"It was good family time," Ronda said. "It