During the winter of my junior year at the University of Idaho, harsh storms dumped a record amount of snow on northern Idaho. My parents sent me an airplane ticket to fly the 400-mile distance from Lewiston to Twin Falls to come home for Christmas, but I arrived in Lewiston and the airport was closed due to bad weather. I called Dad and he said to call back in thirty minutes. I called back and he said he had rerouted one of his 18-wheel trucks from Missoula, Montana to get me.
A few hours later, a snow-covered Montana Express truck arrived at the airport. I hopped in and expressed my gratitude, but the two drivers were not in a jolly mood. The diversion added 15 hours to their journey and the roads included the old Whitebird Hill, a switchblade, two-lane, dangerous route in a snowstorm at night in the middle of nowhere.
“This will be some adventure!” I said, trying to stay positive.
“We just drove through a blizzard on LoLo Pass,” said Dub Brownlee, a driver I had known for 15 years. “We could be home now, but we’ll get you home in about 12 hours.”
“I hope Dad rewards you,” I said.
“Oh, he will!” came a voice from the sleeper. Because I was a passenger, the second driver needed to stay in the sleeper.
We drove through the snowstorm and finally reached the treacherous Whitebird Hill. At an elevation of 4,400 feet, the snow was thick and blinding. The windshield wipers barely kept the top layer of snow off the windshield. There were no other drivers on the road. As the big rig inched along the switchblade turns, I could look out the window and occasionally see the edge of the road that disappeared over the sides into steep canyons. One slip of a back wheel, and we would be over the edge and not found until the spring thaw. Brownlee kept both hands on the wheel and leaned forward to keep the truck on the road. I didn’t dare tell him I had to go to the bathroom. I held that urge for another hour.
We approached the bottom of the grade as the wind blew the snow sideways across the windshield. My hands ached from holding onto the seat.
“I’m getting too tired,” moaned Brownlee. “If I fall asleep, just grab the wheel and ease onto the brake pedal.”
I looked at him, eyes wide and mind terrified. Then he winked.He enjoyed a good ten minutes of laughter after that joke. I couldn’t laugh because I would wet my pants.
We arrived in Wendell the next morning. Driving the journey in a car on dry roads took eight hours, but this journey was unique. My dad handed the drivers a thick envelope I assumed was full of cash. Over the years, Brownlee would remind me of his valiant sacrifice to get me home for Christmas. I replied that I enjoyed being his favorite cargo.
(This excerpt is from my memoir, “Frozen Dinners.”)
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