Winter highways: A driver's perspective
I have been trying to get anyone to recognize some very brave men and/or women working for the State of Idaho, since February 7, 2008. So far, all my attempts have fallen on deaf ears. I wish to tell you my tale…
The beginning of February brought quite a bit of snow to the hills outside of Mountain Home. I was told by friends and co-workers that more snow fell during that time than they could remember for many years. Having been raised in the south, my wife and I had never experienced a heavy snowfall. On February 7 we decided to take a drive up into the hills to see the snow. Weather started changing by late morning and we decided to leave. Our decision came too late. The highway had been closed.
The sheriff who had traffic stopped informed us that all the roads surrounding the area were closed. He also said that people were trying to open up the way from Mountain Home. This was promising, but after two hours we had no news. There were many others that were trapped with us. They, thankfully, had some provisions that they shared amongst all the stranded motorists.
The wind kept blowing and the snow continued to fall all during our wait. Clouds continued to darken the sky and I was becoming concerned for all of us who were stranded. I had not planned well for the day and had not packed any provisions, nor did we have even a blanket in our pickup truck.
After 2 ½ hours, I saw a flashing yellow light approach us. It was on top of a yellow snowplow that was covered in snow. The truck stopped beside the sheriff for a moment and a bearded driver leaned out his window and talked with the sheriff for a moment, and then proceeded past us all. The sheriff hurried to each of the two cars ahead of us. He then stopped at my window. He told us that the snowplow was going to turn around, and when he came back he was going to lead us all down the hill. The road was snow covered, icy and there was a lot of blowing snow, but according to the driver, there was a single lane through it all and the plow would reopen anything that had closed. I didn’t know what we were going to face, but it had to be better than waiting on top of the mountain.
I was wrong.
The driver returned, lights flashing, pulled in front of our group of 12 vehicles and began to drive. He proceeded slowly. I didn’t know why. We didn’t move faster than 10 mph all the way to the crest of the hill. As we moved into the pass I found out just how bad the road was. I could not see the road at all. The truck was able to keep it black every once in awhile, but mostly everything was white.
The road, the sides, the sky, the signs – everything was white. I do not know how the driver knew where to go, but I put my faith in him. Suddenly, the snowplow vanished into a wall of white. Then the two cars ahead of me followed him in.
I‘ve never driven in a whiteout until then, and I never want to drive in one again. For what seemed like hours we were surrounded by white. I crept along, hoping that I wouldn’t run into the car ahead of me. Then we were out of it. I saw the car was about 15 feet ahead of me, still creeping along. We continued slowly for about 100 feet, and then drove into another blizzard. This pattern continued for the next 20 miles, during which we all drove through nine whiteouts of various lengths and innumerable places where the road was barely one lane wide.
After driving for two hours we managed to finally see our way out of the snow. The snowplow pulled over to the side of the road and waved us all past the barricades. He then turned around and headed back into the nightmare we had just driven through. I do not know the snowplow driver’s name, but my wife and I are safe today thanks to that man’s fearless driving. I will never look at snowplow again without remembering how we were saved from possible harm because one man decided to help.
That man continues to be faceless to me, so out of respect to him, I will become the faceless traveler. I hope that you pass this letter on to your subordinates, and possibly identify the man behind the beard. He has my wife’s and my thanks.