That’s how you know when you’re in over your head. When you stop in an unfamiliar Cafe’ in hopes of Wi-Fi and the locals opinion of the best route and the waitress runs out to her car and hands you her spare flare.
I recently found myself a little in over my head when the map on my phone kept re-routing me. A winter storm came through and left heaps of snow. Multiple accidents and eventually a closed pass took me further away from the quickest route and added 4 hours to my trip. I had a commitment to be in Idaho that evening and it looked like I was not going to make it. What I had not been paying attention to was the elevation I was climbing on my new path. I was enjoying the slower paced two-lane highway with less traffic and engrossed in the words of an Audiobook. I did notice as I passed through a small town in Oregon that the snow accumulation had changed rapidly. What was once wet pavement had turned to inches of snow as I headed out of town on an incline.
Less than a mile up my incline I pass a car and the driver puts his hand up in the air and pumps it a few times. The universal sign for Whoa! The pick up pulling a trailer behind the car does the same hand gesture. Nervous because I’ve slowed down to the point I risk getting stuck, it appears I’m being warned not to continue. The road is narrow but I turn around and head back down. The first car is pulled over so I pull in behind him, I’m certain he’s about to give me the scoop on road conditions if I continue or perhaps a possible accident that’s blocking the road ahead. I realize he’s not pulled over to talk to me at all. He explained he was just warning me of the narrow road because his friend was behind him pulling a trailer. I consider my misunderstanding a warning sign and head back into town. The road was looking sketchy anyhow and frankly I’m grateful that I didn’t try to continue. Oh and my rig for this trip is a small car with studded snow tires. I want to talk to the locals.
I find a small cafe’ with Wi-Fi and explain to my server that I have no cell service, tell her about being re-routed and where I need to be by the end of the day. Everyone in this cafe’ is helpful. My server let’s me use her phone to check road conditions. The route I was headed on was definitely not the best route to be on. My new friends in the Cafe’ made mention that locals and logging trucks go off this road in bad weather. My next option didn’t look much better. The shortest route was another summit that had just received 14 inches and had compact snow with snow and slush accumulation.
The unkind way we talk to ourselves is finding its voice inside my head. “You stupid woman” is a phrase I’m thinking about telling myself. I should know better! I live in the country and while not at the elevation I’m currently at I’m not an idiot but my inner voice is ABOUT to tell me I am. What happens instead is I’m offered a road flare while another woman steps in and is calling to find lodging just in case I end up needing to stay the night. My server in between her customers keeps checking the weather report and has more bad news. My best route out of here is reporting 100% chance of snow, 12-18 more inches! I want to give myself a good lecture and I would have but there was no time for that in between several strangers looking out for me.
I had no time to beat myself up because locals were checking routes, offering safety precautions and planning for lodging. I couldn’t help but laugh at how this was starting to feel like a Hallmark movie. If I didn’t leave in the next few hours I may not be able to leave in the morning. I would end up stranded here but my spirit would be restored by the kindness of strangers. And that’s what happened, not the stranded part but the rapid amount of assistance offered definitely staved off my inner voice of breaking me down.
I stayed long enough the sun came out and it warmed up a bit. I left the cafe’ and went in search of the DOT office in town. I met a Park Ranger who when I asked directions said, “Follow me” and literally walked me there. I was in my car and I slowly stalked him down the road as he walked and he then waved me in the direction of the building. Eventually I decided to try the shortest route to LaGrande after locals indicated plows would be out in full force and there were turn outs in case I changed my mind and needed to come back. I passed 3 vehicles that had slid off the road and even though by now roads were mostly clear I was extra cautious. I arrived to my commitment with no time to spare.
It feels rare these days to find yourself in a prediciment where kindness is the only thing offered. There were no harsh words and the only judging was what I wanted to give myself. All it would have taken was one snarky comment to validate my own thoughts. I’m certain I would have excused myself to my car for a good cry. This was a stressful situation that was calmed with kindness. To the little town of Ukiah, OR you have some lovely locals in your community. Thanks for looking out for me.