10:45 AM: The state trooper was adamant, like they are. “I’m reopening it at four.”
We sat dumbfounded, looking at the gate lowered across the highway just north of Rawlins. We were five female friends in two cars, en route home from a meeting in Cheyenne, stopped dead with about 200 miles still to go.
We knew there were major snowstorms up north. But nothing here hinted at a reason to close the only northbound road for many miles around. There was scarcely a breath of wind, a lovely blue sky, and a mere dusting of snow.
Back east, I tried never to stand still for a road stoppage. In a New York City traffic jam, I’d peel off to the right and take any back street until I found a way through the grid. Out of town, the next exit off the Interstate always leads to some random country road that quickly leads into a network of small roads that eventually leads home.
Here in Wyoming’s wonderful wide-open spaces, there are far fewer options. You don’t take a detour lightly.
11:00 AM: “Get a room,” texted my husband from Dubois, where it had been snowing steadily all day. “Before they are all gone.” Of course I complied, but I would cancel it shortly.
The dear man was completely powerless in the situation. I was held benignly hostage by my friend Cathy, who had let me park in her driveway in Riverton and hitch a ride to Cheyenne. The decision wasn’t mine to make.
12 PM: We went to lunch, to wait and deliberate. There we met a man who had just come through southbound on that same highway. No snowpack whatever, he told us. Clear all the way, except for a massive rogue snowdrift. He had barely sneaked past before they closed the highway to start plowing it out of the way.
We watched our phones. We checked the highway alerts obsessively, hoping the road would reopen at 1 PM, not 4. We looked for workarounds.
Google Maps showed no easy dirt-road detour around that gate, and no good northbound option anywhere nearby.
Someone checked the weather radar. “There’s a huge storm, stalled right over Dubois,” she said. “It’s like a stripe that goes across Lander, but that’s moving on. Over Dubois, it just sits there.”
What amazed me, in my passive circumstances, was the cheerful, unflappable nature of the decision-making. Back east, your greatest peril in a snowstorm is the other drivers, but these people know the rules: Go slow, don’t turn quickly, try not to brake. We’d get through this together–maybe not without some trouble, but without harm.
1 PM: We hit the highway, in the wrong direction. They had decided to venture on in convoy, in case of trouble, westward toward Rock Springs–a 100-mile diversion on I-80, and then a drive northward over South Pass. That’s well-known as the first mountain crossing to close in our area whenever the winter weather gets dicey, but all the apps suggested that South Pass was still passable. Only the road to Dubois was dicey.
3:00 PM: We turned northward off the Interstate at Rock Springs with a few hours still left to go and that pass to cross. Here, the road was fine. Cathy did her best to keep up with our friends, who were trying to making up for lost time.
We kept up a cordial chat about business, politics, and memories. In the car ahead, one passenger was writing an article on her laptop. The other took a nap.
Sure enough (trust the apps!), the road north from Farson wasn’t bad at all, just packed snow. Even South Pass wasn’t scary. Just snowy.
The skies were gray, but not threatening, and the sights out the window were ever more lovely the farther we came. Cathy kept seeing bald eagles. I marveled at the broad white vistas, as fresh as a new sheet tossed across a bed, and at the Christmas-card conifers.
5:00 PM: We tooted farewell to our friends at the turnoff in Lander, and reached Riverton just before dark. Cathy kindly offered me her guest room.
“You won’t believe the snow here,” my husband said, when I phoned to let him know we were safely north. “It hasn’t stopped snowing for two days, and it’s still snowing really hard. Let me know when you leave Riverton in the morning.”
9:00 AM: I set off for Dubois under bright blue skies, on a dry highway. The road was clear to the Lander turnoff, gradually more snow-packed toward Crowheart, and then dusted with unpredictable clouds of lightly blowing snow.
Just beyond the Red Rocks, a herd of bighorn sheep skedaddled across the road in the swirling powder in front of me. I braked in time, and then smiled. Welcome home.
10:45 AM: It was snowing lightly when I reached Dubois. “For the love of God, make it stop!” said a friend I saw at the Post Office.
Two or three feet of new snow greeted me alongside our newly plowed driveway. My hard-packed snowshoe trail to the neighbor’s house had vanished completely. In places, the buck and rail fence seemed about to disappear.
I looked out the front door at bedtime to find a new work of art in the garage light.
They say this is the worst snow in about 40 years. Every conversation seems to begin with how much you think you got and how long it took you to get out.
It’s not politically correct to say so in town just now (and I guess herewith I’ve blown my cover), but even for all the shoveling and plowing and knee-deep trailblazing, I love this world.
It was beautiful on my long journey home, and it’s even more beautiful here.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.