Saturday, February 12, 2011

Survivor

Survivor is not just a reality show on Thursday nights. It's not about being dropped off to a deserted island and trying to survive on your award winnings. Survivor is what I am. Survivors are what we are. Nate and I got married on November 11, 2000 and it was a great day. One of the best in my book. The story (short one, compared to the book we're writing) I'm about to tell is one of life or death. It's not a tall tale. It's not non-fiction. It's all real.

Last night we saw a story on 20/20 - The James and Kati Kim Story . It was so real to Nate and I because we lived it. Maybe not to the extent that the family on 20/20 did but we know how they felt. While we were in Bozeman, Montana for our honeymoon we got stranded in the Beartooth Mountains.

It started out as a perfect vacation. We were in a fanatasyland ever since our wedding on that Saturday on 11/11. Bozeman was everything we had hoped for. We had even talked about how great it would be to live there. To our surprise, Montana had gotten more snow than what they typically did for this time of year. Yellowstone had closed their gates so we were constantly staying tuned to their news reports to find out when we could go in to explore good ole' Yellowstone. We got the good news on Wednesday that they were opening the North (Gardiner)and Northeast (Cooke City) Gate of Yellowstone. We planned to enter the north gate and exit the northeast gate and head back to Bozeman. We headed out early that day and had a few snacks in our Jeep Cherokee. The north gate is about an hour and a half from Bozeman so we knew we were going to be in the car for awhile that day. We got to Yellowstone and had a great time exploring Mammoth Hot Springs that day...that is until we discovered that Nate lost his wedding band. You'll have to wait til the book to hear the detailed story of that part. Let's just say it involved a coyote that was pretty gnarly! It was about 3PM and we knew we had to start heading back to Bozeman. It gets dark early out west and we wanted to get on the highway before the sun set. We exited out the northeast gate and it started to snow. The plan was to head on Rt. 212 to 90 and head west to get back to Bozeman. We were going way out of our way but that's what the map said. The thing we failed to find out was that Rt 212 (Beartooth Highway) is actually closed from 10/16-5/30. As we proceeded, the snow really started coming down and it was really hard to see. Actually, it was so hard to see that we passed a sign that was partially covered stating that Rt. 212 was closed ahead. See, what they do in Montana is when the snow gets so high and the roads are too difficult to travel they have these massive gates that go clear across the road to stop traffic. We continued on and the snow was getting deeper and deeper and we could feel the car losing momentum. We decided to turn around to see if we missed an exit. As Nate started to back up, he got stuck. At this point we weren't worried but kept trying. Back and forth, back and forth. No use. Nate and I both got out and tried to dig around the tires and it was no use. GREAT! Now what? We decided to wait until someone came along that could help us out. After all, it was almost 5PM and people were heading home from work, right? No such luck. We waited til about 7PM and we started to wonder what was next. We weren't quite sure what the next step would be. We had about a half a tank of gas and so we kept turning the car off and on to help conserve gas. About 9PM, we started to get a little nervous about where we were headed (no pun intended). We weren't headed anywhere although we sure wish were were. We knew we were in for the long hull and we had to spend the night in the car. We had no clue where we were and the temperatures were dropping at a rapid rate. The temperature gage in the car read 3 degrees at 11PM that night. Later we found out that we were in Red Lodge, WY. At one point Nate talked about getting out and trying to walk to find help. No way, was I going to let him do that. I may not have been smart to find out about the gate being closed but I was smart enough to not let him get out of the car to leave me for help. The only thing left was that we had to survive the night. Again, more details are in the book but it was a rough night, to say the least. Neither Nate or I were dressed for the elements and it was very difficult. In the morning, once we realized that no one was leaving to go to work that morning where we were, we knew had to get out and walk. We left about 9AM and started walking. To where, we didn't know...we just wanted to find something...someone. Keep in mind, the snow was almost to my knees and it was freezing cold...literally. We walked about three miles and I couldn't do it anymore. Nate walked in front of me and I followed in his footsteps. I kept singing the Twila Paris song "God is in control" to myself and kept telling myself that this was not how it was going to end. Long story short, we found a back to a semi (tractor trailer type thing) that was up on a hill. We trudged along, broke in, and found some essential items to get us warm and out of the cold. By this time it was about noon. After catching a breather we knew we had to go back out and look for help. We knew we had to leave on Friday and I was not going to miss our flight back. After a lot of praying and a lot of tears (that froze to my cheeks), we left the comforts of the "Warming Hut". As we proceeded down the hill back to the road, I thought I saw someone off in the distance. Nate thought I was hallucinating. It took him awhile for him to see what I saw and then he finally started running to get their attention. They were about as surprised to see us as we were to see them. They were snowmobilers who had just got stuck and were from a city in Powell, WY. They said they would take us to where they were from and we could rent a car from there and head back to Bozeman in the morning. Again, long story short but the WY Highway Patrol had spotted our car with his helicopter and they were actually searching for us. They stopped our lumberjack of a guy rescuer and asked if he had seen some people who were stranded. He laughed when he said that we were in the truck. He dropped us off at a Super 8 and we called our parents to let them know we were OK. The conversation went something like this, "Dad, we're in Powell, WY and I just want to let you know were OK." There were lots of tears and nothing can really describe how we felt after our experience. Once we called our parents and the Bed & Breakfast where we were staying, Nate laughed and said..."Let's get a pizza!" Funny enough, there was a Pizza Hut next to the hotel and after everything we had been through, he couldn't have been happier! I called my parents in the AM to find out what kind of plan we had and again we saw God's handiwork in our rescue. We were just miles away from Cody, WY - a city we had just been the summer before. Frank, our cab driver, came to pick us up and take us to the airport so we can get a car to drive back to Bozeman. He heard about our predicament in the Beartooth Mountains and we told him that we needed to find a way to get our Jeep off the mountain. The sheriff told us that we needed to get it off by Friday or else it had to stay til spring. Montana was expecting another few feet of snow and the car would be completely covered if we didn't take action. Frank, our angel, took on the mission of rescuing our Jeep. Long story short (again), we got back to Bozeman, told our story once again to the B&B people, and turned in to bed so we could leave first thing in the morning to go back to Columbus. When we got back, our family was there to welcome us home...I couldn't do anything but cry. It was such an emotional time and we came very close to never seeing our family again. We got back home and my dad got a call from Frank. To our surprise, and his as well, he and his team were able to get our car off the mountain! A few days later, after we caught our breath, Nate and I tried to contact Frank and our lumberjack rescuer to thank them. There's no listing for either of them...Frank's number was no longer Frank's and the Lumberjack guy's license plate number doesn't even exist. They were truly our angels...God's fingerprints.

There are so many other details to this story that you wouldn't even believe. The book is a work in progress but it's almost done. It's very emotional to sit and write about our experience. It takes a lot out of us to go back and recall all of the details. As we watched the 20/20 story last night, Nate and I just sobbed and sobbed because we knew our experience could have been so much worse. Thank God He had our back! So, that's the story. A lot of people know the story from church because my mother in law filled them in when we were found. Not many know the complete details. Not many people know that we could have died in the Beartooth Mountains. I'm so thankful our story ended the way that it did. We learned a ton from our experience. Many people ask if we would go back and yes we would, and yes we have. Actually, Nate and I went back the next summer with Nate's cousin Ryan Stumpf and his wife Lisa. We got pictures of the area where we were stuck and of the Warming Hut. It was great being back but very surreal to know that we made it. We have been back two times since then, and God willing, will go back again this November to celebrate 11 years of marriage on 11/11/11. To God be the glory, great things He had done! Stay tuned for the book!

1 comment:

Jody Ellett said...

Amazing! I remember hearing the story so long ago....can't wait to read the book!

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