It was a cold February morning when my wife, Kristina, and newborn, Cameron Van, set out through Logan Canyon on the 40 mile drive from our home in Bear Lake to the hospital to get Cameron’s bilirubin level tested. We arrived safely in Logan on time and checked in with the receptionist. They called us in, gave Cameron a small poke on his heel and the nurse sent us on our way, saying they would call us at home with the results. This had become a daily routine since Cameron’s birth a week earlier. He was born with high bilirubin levels and the doctor wanted to monitor it until he was confident that Cameron’s body would take control.
After a few errands in Logan, milk, eggs, prescriptions, etc., we began our trek through Logan Canyon. As usual the road was covered in snow and ice but we had become used to it as we drove the canyon everyday the previous week. Kristina and I were concerned about the canyon before Cameron’s birth. We were worried that when the time came the canyon would be closed and we would have to deliver the baby at home, or worse in a Suburban stuck in the snow somewhere in the canyon. But after a scheduled induction a week early to take advantage of the good weather, a relatively easy delivery, and short recovery, we had shelved our concerns. It was a sunny drive back home but as we pulled into the Garden City the weather began to turn.
After getting the kids back in the house and beginning preparations for dinner, Kristina received a call from the doctor. He explained that Cameron’s bilirubin levels had shot up to dangerous levels and prescribed bili lights for Cameron. He asked if we were still in Logan so we could come back to the hospital. He expressed great concern when Kristina told him that we were already in Bear Lake and asked if we could bring Cameron back. The weather had really gotten bad and they decided that it was best to find another option. The doctor told her that Cameron really should be in the hospital but due to the weather and deteriorating road conditions it would be best if we could somehow get some lights to Cameron, wait out the storm, and then take him in when it was safe. The doctor said he would try to arrange for home hospice to deliver the lights but was concerned it was getting too late for deliveries since the home hospice closed soon. Kristina agreed to call around Bear Lake to see if anyone had some by chance.
When I learned of this I took it lightly to say the least. I made jokes about being stranded and having to make our own lights with duct tape and chicken wire like MacGyver. I really didn’t realize the severity of the situation and wandered around the house making jokes with the kids for a good half-hour while Kristina worked the phone.
Being an adventure seeker I joked with Kristina about hiking or snowmobiling over the canyon in the blizzard, giving me the opportunity to play “arctic explorer” or “Himalayan expedition” like I had fantasized about as a young scout when we used to dig snow caves on the Klondike derby. As a young adult when I began snowmobiling in the backcountry, I always had an appetite for the extreme. I have crossed mountains in blizzards, dug in and spent the night atop mountain peaks, raced through tight timbered forests in the middle of the night at near 80 miles per hour and was always hungry for more.
I had acquired the best gear money could buy and daydreamed like a child in math class of how I would get myself out of a terrible blizzard after a severe crash, returning safely to thousands of screaming fans. I carried a great deal of pride that in all my days snowmobiling, Jeeping, motorcycling, and canyoneering, I have never left anyone or any vehicle behind and never had to call for help. I was always able to MacGyver my way out. Even the time that I found myself in a one way slot canyon without a rope at the top of a 60 foot cliff after 11 miles of extreme DCing(a climbing term for squeezing your body through a vertical crack to go up or down) with seemingly no way out, I made it out. It required throwing all my gear off the 60 foot cliff and climbing back up, what the guidebook said couldn’t be done, and hike 35 miles in the middle of the night to my mangled pack at the bottom of the cliff and spent a few hours sleeping in the crevasse before hiking out in the morning.
And there was the time I used electrical tape to reattach a driveline to an old blazer on one of Moab’s toughest 4×4 trails and drove it out on it’s own power. I had this appetite for extreme sports but I would find myself hoping that something would go terribly wrong just to have the challenge of getting out.
Kristina got another call from the doctor and explained to him that she was unable to find any bili lights in town; he told her that he had already made arrangements with the home hospice and they were on their way. For a few moments we presumed that everything was going to be fine until the next call came. It was the home hospice delivery guy calling to say that he was stopped at the bottom of the canyon; the highway Patrol had closed it due to the raging storm. He asked if it would be all right if he came the next morning. Kristina said that was fine with her but that she would call the doctor just to be sure.
The reaction from the doctor couldn’t have been worse; he told her that Cameron’s levels were so high that if he didn’t get on lights soon, he would not survive until morning. The doctor called the home hospice in both Montpelier, Idaho and Evanston, Wyoming and got them both on their way at the same time. We figured that one of them would surely make it as the roads from both directions were relatively flat and the bulk of the storm was west in the mountains.
We hunkered down at home feeling assured that we had good people taking care of our needs. In the next few minutes things really took a turn for the worse. Within minutes of each other, we received the news that both highways were closed and they were not able to get through. This was when things got serious. I did not believe either one of them; after all it wasn’t even snowing at our house. After a lousy attempt at calming down Kristina, we decided that I would go out and try driving to Montpelier because it was closest. Kristina called the home hospice and requested that he wait at the road block for us to meet him. He agreed even though this potentially meant he would be sitting all night.
I set out North in my white Suburban to check out the road and see just how bad it was. It was bad. I called the Montpelier sheriff’s office and explained my situation to dispatch and asked permission to go through. The dispatch woman told me there was no way I would make it. She explained that two troopers had gotten stuck trying to rescue stranded motorists just 4 miles out of town. The wind was so strong that although it hadn’t started snowing yet, 4 foot high drifts had piled up all over the roads. The plows were ineffective since the drivers couldn’t see and the drifts piled up too fast. Visibility was at zero and she advised me to turn back now before they had to rescue me too. I told her that I had to try and I wouldn’t expect a rescue; I hung up the phone and figured I would go as far as I could until I could come up with a better plan. I knew that driving was a futile effort but doing nothing was not an option.
The wind was so severe that the Suburban shook side-to-side and I could hardly see past the hood. The snowdrifts were so high that I decided to turn back, making it no more than a few miles. I called dispatch back and asked if (or told her that) I was going back home to get my snowmobile and was coming though. I gave her my description and asked that she radio to all officers in the area to ask that they not try and stop me. She strongly objected to my request and said that there was no visibility and I would surely get lost. In my most confident voice I told her again that I was coming through.
She agreed to heed my request and radio the officers. This was when the adrenaline stated to kick in. I called Kristina and calmly told her what I was going to do and that I needed to talk to Miranda (our 14 year old). When Miranda got on the phone I directed her to go to the basement and get my gear. What I needed was neatly organized on the shelf. She had everything at the front door when I got there.
This was when I started to panic: the thought of being out in that storm frightened me, and going 40 miles each way was a daunting task. I wasn’t even sure if I could go that far on a single tank of gas. This is when I stopped, bowed my head, and prayed for help. I asked my Heavenly Father if this was the right thing to do. I felt a small comfort and the panic attack subsided. I backed into the driveway and hitched up my enclosed trailer. The work involved in hitching up the trailer also calmed me.
I went in the house. Miranda had everything ready exactly how I had asked. I threw my gear on, told Kristina not to worry, and headed out. The gas tank in the snowmobile was full. It was usually stored full to save time on a good-powder day. I jumped in the Suburban and pulled out of the driveway. Having the trailer on made it difficult to drive in the deep snow but I felt inclined to drive the Suburban as far as I could out of fear of having to be out in the storm.
I received a phone call from dispatch; two paramedics in a 4-wheel drive ambulance had volunteered to bring the lights. They had met the hospice guy at the roadblock, picked up the lights, and headed my way. Eight miles south of Montpelier they became stuck and radioed in their location. I told her to tell them to keep their flashing lights on and I would find them. I asked her to give them thanks for going above and beyond their duties. She wished me luck and hung up.
This was when the real fear set in. My heart began pounding, I had to think of little Cameron; I was his only chance he had. I had to stay focused on what I had to do. The drifts were getting higher and longer so that when I hit one the floorboards would drag and as I reached the other side the trailer would drag even harder. I had to floor it just to get it out.
I wondered when I should park and unload the snowmobile; this was when I really began to pray. I knew I had to drive as far as possible so I would have enough gas to make it on the snowmobile. I prayed aloud in the Suburban, “Help me Heavenly Father. Please show me where to stop. Guide me Heavenly Father. Please show me the way. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
And again, and again, I prayed. Soon realized that the short prayers weren’t working for I had a stupor of thought between them. I remembered something I learned a year before when preparing a talk for sacrament meeting that we should wait for an answer before closing our prayers. So I tried again with a long pause and tried to listen for a still small voice to say, at the stop sign or at the next corner, but no answer came. I began to get emotional and begged for guidance.
What became an emotional tirade eventually turned into repetition of the same sentence, “lead me, guide me, help me find the way”. I had been repeating this for some time when I realized what it was; it was the primary song “I am a Child of God”. I felt a surge of energy and began singing the whole song out loud. The act of negotiating each snowdrift became routine; I kept up the speed to provide momentum to blast through each bump. I felt thankful for the years I had spent as a 4×4 enthusiast which had prepared me for this moment. “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do to live with him some day.” At that moment I needed to keep going.
I had made it farther than I thought and rolled into the town of St. Charles. The wind was getting worse and the visibility was so bad that I rolled my window down and had to look at the ground beside me. “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.” Just then a clearing in the storm revealed the blinking yellow light of a road grader and the St. Charles chapel.
I was overwhelmed by the spirit and knew that this was my answer. The large building served as a wind break, and the dutiful man that was running that grader to clear the snow for the next days services had cleared a wide enough place in the road for me to slow down, turn around and park without getting stuck. When I got out of the Suburban I was amazed at how calm it was, I knew that Heavenly Father had heard me and had provided me with a literal calm in the storm to make the transition to snowmobile. A surge of confidence came over me for I knew that God was with me. I hurried into my helmet and gloves, fired up the 800cc monster and shot off down the snowdrift-covered highway.
It wasn’t 100 feet when I hit a drift 6 feet high and at least 60 feet across, which surely would have buried the Suburban. As I passed the outskirts of town the visibility worsened so I couldn’t even see the hood. I had to lean off the right side to barely see the ground. The wind blew sideways at a good 60 mph with gusts of at least 80mph maybe more. What I assumed was the highway was nothing but drifts. The only way I knew I was on the road was by occasionally making out the squared edge left by a plow from a previous storm.
Although I had on 2 layers of Performance Fleece, Under Armour base and a full Gore-Tex shell the wind blew right through to my skin. Snow began to build up between the sealed lenses of my top of the line helmet. Every breath was like inhaling desert sand until it melted at the back of my throat. I continued to sing aloud in my helmet because I knew that if I didn’t keep the spirit with me I would be lost and I had a long way to go.
After what seemed like an hour I could make out a small light straight ahead of me. I worried for a moment that I was off course out in some field and just happened to be headed straight for a house. A car maybe, no there’s only one light. It couldn’t be the ambulance because I guessed had another ten miles to go before even getting close. As I got closer I saw a snowmobile right in the middle of the road facing me blocked from the wind by some kind of building. I slowed down to check it out. As I was about to pass I saw a person out of the corner of my eye waving their arms. I stopped and 4 more people emerged out of the darkness.
I opened my helmet and asked “Who are you?”
A woman’s voice replied, “I have the lights”. I was ecstatic, I jumped off my snowmobile and hugged every one of them and thanked them for bringing the lights. They were a group of firemen, paramedics, and search and rescue persons that had heard what was happening on the police scanner and organized a small party to retrieve the lights from the ambulance and find me somewhere as they made their way back to rescue the two paramedics in the ambulance as well as the stranded motorists and 2 troopers. These five were angels sent to lessen my burden.
I quickly jumped back on my snowmobile and took off again back home. I was thinking, halfway, all I have to do is follow my tracks back to the Suburban and I’m home free. Wrong. My tracks were gone after the first hundred feet and it was even harder to see as my lens was nearly packed full of snow. I kept singing, “lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.” I couldn’t see a thing; it was pure white darkness. All I could see was the inside of my helmet. I stayed focused on controlling the throttle up and down as I felt each drift go under me. I found the Suburban in that surreal calm in the storm loaded up and headed for home. Bucking the drifts was a bit easier going back even though all evidence of my first pass was gone. Anything seemed easy after those 20 long miles on the snowmobile.
I arrived home and immediately went to work getting Cameron on the lights. As soon as we got them working Kristina called the doctor and told him the good news. He seemed relieved but instructed us to get him to the hospital as soon as the storm broke and the roads reopened. I called dispatch and declared mission accomplished and thanked her for all her help. She agreed to forward my thanks on to the others involved.
The next morning the storm had broke and the canyon opened. We loaded Cameron up and got him in to the hospital. Cameron spent two days in what looked like a tanning bed with two large spot lights shining on him. He had to wear a special mask to protect his eyes from the intense light therapy. He was released and is doing well other than his pooping, crying, and slobbering all over but we love him anyway.
We just celebrated Cameron’s first birthday and I look back at that eventful storm and give thanks to Heavenly Father who walked beside me that night and showed me the way. I know that I could not have done it alone, there was just no way. In times of desperation when we feel like our prayers aren’t being heard we just need to hang in there, maybe sing a little, and trust that God has a plan for us. I remembered all the experiences I have had (the broken driveline, stuck in a slot canyon, etc.) and realize that God was teaching me and preparing me to raise my family. All of us will have different storms and how we deal with them and who we turn to for help will determine how well we make it through.
We are all in an economic storm that has put a lot of us into a panic, despair, and loss of ambition. Now, more than ever we need to put our trust in the Lord and be patient for He will provide us a calm in the storm and prepare us for the next leg of our journey. He has a plan for each of us but we need to be listening so we don’t miss it. My faith was strengthened by this experience and I hope that by sharing it, yours will be too.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.