Meanwhile, Back in the Ditch…

The Elusive Moon Falls

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 – The ferocity of the storm was a complete surprise. When Dylan, Barbara, Sofia and set out for tour hike Sunday morning, the weather forecast called for rain. What is rain to hardened Oregonians like ourselves?

Our original destination was Moon Falls, an easy hike on the edge of Umpqua National Forest. It looked like the perfect way to spend the day with an active toddler and I assure that Sofia is active in every sense of the word. To little Sofia, her mission is clear. Every rock must be overturned. Every stick must be waved. Every slug must be petted.

Although Moon Falls was only .3 miles off the beaten path, Barbara, Dylan and I knew that we may well be in for an all day event so we packed accordingly. We had carrots, spinach, hummus, bread, dried fruit, smoothies and water for snacks. The diaper bag was bulging with extra clothes for our pint-sized explorer and the basic necessities to keep her dry and entertained for a 24 hour trip if necessary. Good thing we are a cautious lot.

After a good hour of navigating the zigzag turns up the mountain towards Moon Falls, we found our way blocked by a thick blanket of snow. The way was well marked so we discarded our map. Another car was parked on the side of the road and the tracks told us that the passengers had abandoned their vehicle so they could hoof it the rest of the way. We parked behind them and bundled up for the walk.

Sofia was delighted with the snow. It had to be held and tasted. She insisted on clopping through it even though it was up to her knees. We took turns holding her hands and pulling her out of snowdrifts. The sun was warm and our spirits were high. The fact that the roadsigns to Moon Falls had disappeared to vandalism was amusing. We were a confident crew.

Fox Track in the Snow

The path that we settled on took us past babbling brooks, deer and fox tracks and towering old growth trees. We chatted happily amongst ourselves as young explorer led the way. I found an 5 point elk antler to add to my natural “museum” back home. The prongs fit nicely around my shoulders which made it easy to carry as a stomped through the snow.

At the crest of a hill, it became obvious that we had taken the wrong trail. We shrugged. I noticed that the air suddenly got colder. Dylan pointed to the clouds rushing past the trees. The promised rain was on it’s way. Time to head back and try for the waterfall another day.

The Snowy Trail Back to the Car

When we reached the car, the wind had picked up dramatically. Barbara jumped in the driver’s seat after we repacked the vehicle and backed up. The one lane road was softer than it looked. As she tried to angle the car back down the mountain, her tire slipped and we found ourselves in a ditch. Barbara just groaned. The world seemed to grow suddenly larger.

Dylan and I tried pushing but it was clear that we were stuck. The combination of snow, a steep incline and loose gravel held us tightly in its grasp. There had been no cell phone signal for miles. No one knew where we were. The storm was getting more angry around us. We were beginning to suspect that the mood of our happy holiday was changing with the weather.

Just as Dylan, Barbara and I begin discuss our options, the  2 cheerful hikers rounded the corner to reclaim the car that we had parked behind. I hailed them and begged for a ride to the nearest phone. Our heroes graciously obliged. They introduced themselves as Dianne and Barb. Such great names! Now I had 2 Barbs to enjoy. I assured Dylan and our Barbara that I would be back with help. I grabbed my water bottle and my cell phone leaving my family with the rest of the supplies.

The ride into town was more exciting that we expected. Dianne and Barb were spirited companions. As branches and debris blew across the rain-glossed road, we joked and hooted like passengers in a roller coaster car. Dianne was an expert driver. Barb was a charming co-pilot. Fate had blessed me with an ideal good Samaritan team.

A Douglas-fir tree with a trunk 5 feet in diameter fell across the road ahead of us. Dianne was unfazed.  She whipped into the first driveway that the traffic, now skidding to a halt, offered and announced, “We’re home.”

“Really?” I thought. “Is she serious? Our timing is actually that perfect?”

Dianne and Barb hopped out of the car and surveyed the fallen branches that carpeted Dianne’s front yard. They chatted about the hours of clean up ahead of them and what condition the greenhouses in the back must be in right now. We really were at Dianne’s house. My heroes waved me upstairs to use the phone.

Inside, the house was dark. The electricity was out but the phone still worked so our luck was still standing strong. Dianne fetched flashlights and lit candles as Barb offered me a snack.

I couldn’t get through to the tow company but had no problem getting my husband, Dave. He would be able to have his truck and a tow rope at the Moon Falls site faster than roadside assistance in this weather. My list of heroes was getting longer.

I called Barbara’s husband, Hide, who was home recovering from pneumonia. I let him know where we were and that it would be a few hours before we returned. He offered to rescue us but I waved him off.

“You’re sick. Stay home and get well. We’ll be home later.”

Such confidence.

Dianne is a trained First Responder. She had a job to do. She was busy getting her gear together to go back out into the storm to clear the behemoth currently blocking traffic. Barb and I pulled our soggy boots back on and joined her.

As we pulled branches out of the road and directed traffic between the narrow corridor already cut through the fallen log, Dianne set out flares and warned the gathering neighbors about the fallen power lines. Trucks parked along the side of the road and the sound of chain saws provided a steady beat broken only the crash of falling limbs. My tiny world was shrinking back to size.

News on the March 16th storm.

Within the hour, the road was clear. Neighbors started tossing log rounds into their pickups as my husband drove up. Aaron, my youngest watched the storm wreckage nervously from the backseat.

I bid my new friends farewell and jumped into Dave’s truck for another trip into Umpqua National Forest. The damage was greater than I suspected. Dave wove past fallen aspens, Douglas-fir branches and clots of lichen. The afternoon was wearing thin but the storm still had some life in her.

When we arrived at the final leg of our journey, 2.8 miles from the spot Barbara had originally parked, we were greeted by the carcass of another fallen tree. Dave parked the truck and surveyed the scene. There was space under the birch to walk under it but not enough for the pickup to drive under it. The banks were too steep to drive around even with the 4 wheel drive. The log was too thick to cut safely with the tools that Dave brought with him. We were stuck again.

Can't go over it ....

Dave handed me the keys to the truck as he told me to go back for help. Then he grabbed his hat and struck out along the road towards our stranded wayfarers. He figured that he could try pushing the car out of the ditch with Dylan or at least let them know that help was coming. What a guy!

Aaron and I drove back down the mountain, along a now all too familiar route towards the wee town of Doreena, home to poor Dianne and her loyal friend, Barb. I was hoping to either call Hide so he could show up with a chainsaw from the recess of his landscaping truck or talk Dianne into loaning me, a total stranger, her own chainsaw.

When we arrived back in Doreena, Dianne offered to cut up the tree for me. After one more call to Hide to assure him that we were still on our way, Dianne, Aaron and I barreled through the storm towards Moon Falls. This was my third trip. All 9.8 rain soaked miles were beginning to wear on my nerves.

Meanwhile, back in the ditch, Dylan and Barbara were amusing Sofia who had awaken from her nap and was expressing concern about the curiously absent Auntie Sue. Barbara was a little worried too. The sun was threatening got set soon and there was still no sign of me.

Then Dylan had brilliant idea. The rain had melted much of the snow in the ditch leaving more gravel as traction. The ditch behind the car curved a bit as it hugged the road. If Barbara were to back up, the curve of the ditch could serve as a ramp to lift the left side of the car out of its prison.

At this point, Barbara was willing to try anything. Much to her delight, Dylan’s plan worked. They were free. Dylan hopped back in the car and the 3 drove merrily back towards civilization.

They were very surprised to see a hiker alongside the road with a familiar face. Dylan rolled down the window. “Dad? What are you doing here?”

Dave climbed in the back next to the baby seat and explained his side of the story. Barbara and Dylan laughed and shook their heads as they drove. What a story! The sky was getting dark and adventure was over. Almost. There was still a tree in the road ahead to squeeze under and somehow they had to find me along the way. In the end, getting the car under the fallen birch proved to be the easiest part of the trip.

Low Profile

A few miles from Doreena, they sighted a dark green truck with some familiar faces flying past them back up the mountain. Neither Dianne, Aaron or I looked their way. We were concentrating on the hazardous road, the darkening sky and patiently waiting our arrival. It wasn’t until we reached the blockade in the road that we realized that the annoying drivers that had been flashing their high beams and tooting their horn at us the last 1/2 mile of our drive, were the very people that we were trying to rescue.

After we got caught up with our various tales of adventure, we piled into the vehicles collected at the fallen tree and headed for home. About 2 miles into the drive, a familiar truck rolled into view. It was Hide, Barbara’s husband. He had given up on my ability to save his wife and child and had taken matters into his own hands.

We dropped Dianne off at her house and exchanged much deserved hugs. We promised to get together again under less arduous circumstances. It was an honor to have she and Barb on our rescue squad.

In the end, Barbara and Dylan, like the tree removal team of neighbors for Doreena, ended up saving themselves. This doesn’t mean that the efforts of their support group was wasted. We made new friends. We stood up to the test that Sunday’s storm threw at us. Every one involved in this story acted for the good of group despite being pelted with torrential rain, 70 mph winds, tedious driving, fear for loved ones, and a sneaky ditch. It was a reminder that human beings are good people. That makes this world a pretty nice place to live in, ditch or no ditch.

*Thanks to Barbara Tada and David Sierralupe for letting me use her photographs for this post.



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