Monday, 17 January 2022

F Find Your Adventure

Christmas Adventure

I had a difficult time deciding on a topic for December’s column. I thought about focusing on travel, from the challenges of traveling during the holidays, to Christmas-light tours, to visiting the Christmas markets of Europe (something I plan to do one day). I considered a column with a gentle reminder about the reason for the season and a traditional Christmas wish. But, since the title of this column is, Find Your Adventure, I decided to share one of my most harrowing holiday stories. 

I’ve been married a long time, nearly thirty-six years. In those early days, my husband and I tried to be everything to everyone, not wanting to disappoint any family member. More than once, we ate two Thanksgiving dinners in one day in order to join my family at noon (my dad’s preference) and my husband’s family in late afternoon, as is their tradition. Bad idea. To this day I prefer to skip Thanksgiving dinners altogether. But, back to Christmas.

One of my family’s Christmas traditions back then was a Mexican fiesta at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. Every year, we would gather everyone together for an extravaganza of tacos, enchiladas, rellenos, burritos, and all the traditional sides. It was something I looked forward to, and since my grandparents were getting pretty old at that time, I didn’t want to miss it.

McMahill Snow near cabinMy husband’s family has a cabin located in the mountains of Montana at nearly 8,000 feet elevation. For about half the year, it can only be accessed by snowmobile. One year, they decided the family would spend Christmas in this winter wonderland. No problem, we could celebrate Christmas Eve with my family, get up at 5:00 AM, drive two hours into the mountains, and snowmobile the last nine miles to the cabin. We’d be there in time for breakfast.

A snowstorm raged all night and was still going strong as we left my parent’s house in the dark, early Christmas morning. The snow in the lane was too deep for our four-wheel drive truck to plow through, so we had to drive across the neighbor’s field where the snow had been blown off by the strong winds and wasn’t as deep.

We were young, fearless, determined, had gear for snowmobiling, and knew the area like our own back yard, so despite the storm, we forged on. There was no phone at the cabin. If we didn’t show up, we worried the family might think we went off the road along the way, or that I jumped at the opportunity to spend Christmas with my family. I didn’t want to disappoint my new in-laws.

As we headed out of town, we fell in behind a snow plow. For the next seventeen miles we traveled on freshly plowed roads, making the trip seem less crazy. But our luck soon changed. When our turn off came, the plow continued on straight.

There isn’t a lot of traffic on the road even in the summer, so we didn’t expect to encounter any vehicles so early in the morning, and we didn’t. No one had broken any tracks through the snow yet, and the road hadn’t been plowed, so there were no visible markings. We had to rely on the snow poles in order to stay on the roadway for the next fifty-five miles.

The snow continued to fall and quickly accumulate. The further up the mountain we went the deeper it got until we were pushing powdery snow higher than the front bumper of the truck. Eventually, the defrost could no longer keep up. We were hesitant to pull over since we were driving a white truck in a whiteout and would be hard to spot if a snowplow did come by, but it was getting more difficult to see out the windshield and the truck felt like it was losing power.

We hadn’t realized how deep the snow was until we tried to get out and found snow higher than the doors. Luckily it was light and powdery, so we were able to push the doors open. Wading through the deep powder, we cleaned out the snow that had become packed between the radiator and the grill and wedged some cardboard behind the grill to keep the snow out. That seemed to solve the defrost and power problems.

At this point, it would have been far longer to turn around and drive back the way we came on roads still unplowed, and now with an additional hours-worth of accumulation, than to continue on to the parking lot where the snowmobiles should be waiting.

Relief swept over us as we crawled into the lot, but the adventure wasn’t over. The snow on the level was so deep, we got stuck trying to park in a place out of the way for when the plows eventually arrived. While my husband searched for the snowmobiles, which were buried under several feet of snow, I dug out the truck. Then there was the nine-mile ride to the cabin in a whiteout, pulling a sled with gifts and gear, and my small dog stuffed in my coat.

To make a long story a little shorter, we arrived for a late breakfast and a very white Christmas. We have never seen that much snow at the cabin before or since. By the time we all left three days later, the roads had been plowed, so no one really believed what we went through that Christmas morning.

The adventure of getting there and the fun of playing games with the family around the fire as it snowed, sledding, and snowmobiling in the days to follow made for the most memorable Christmas. That experience, along with many other rural western adventures, have frequently found their way into my stories, though often considerably embellished. In fact, I couldn’t have written chapter two of A Dose of Danger without that harrowing Christmas morning over three decades ago.

I hope everyone has a happy, fun, and memorable Christmas.

Columnist: Kim McMahill

Picture Kim McMahill grew up in Wyoming which is where she developed her sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. She started out writing non-fiction, but her passion for exotic world travel, outrageous adventures, stories of survival, and happily-ever-after endings soon drew her into a world of romantic suspense and adventure fiction. After living in eight different states and enjoying a rewarding career with the National Park Service, she has returned home to Wyoming to focus on her writing and spend more time with family. She has published ten novels, over eighty travel and human-interest articles, and contributed to a travel story anthology. Find out more about Kim by visiting her blog and connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter @kimmcmahill

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