|Jim and Jennifer Stolpa|
Years ago, in 1993 to be precise, all of California was glued to the television because of the Stolpas. Jim and Jennifer. Oh...and baby, Clayton.
An Army private, his wife and their 5-month-old child survived a week in a freezing, snowbound Nevada wilderness by eating snow, cookies, corn chips and vitamin pills, the couple said today at a joyous hospital news conference, one day after the family's rescue.
The couple, James and Jennifer Stolpa, and their baby boy, Clayton, became stranded after setting out in their pickup truck on Dec. 29 from the San Francisco Bay town of Hayward to drive to Idaho for a family funeral.
The highway that they had planned to take over the Sierra Nevada was closed because of a snowstorm. So they took another road, a little-traveled route through the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, just over the California border in Nevada. (emphasis mine.)
Everyone who lived in California at that time remembers this story. Every one of us was glued to the TV, waiting for the next update. Would they be found? And when? What were the chances they would be alive? What the hell were they thinking?
The weather in the Sierra Nevada mountains is nothing to be toyed with. While I realize that everyone in the rest of the 49 states thinks all of California is Venice Beach, a LOT of California is rugged and unforgiving. And it doesn't show leniency to stupidity. Ask the Donner Party.
So Grandma's dead and the Stolpas decide that they are going to Grandma's funeral -- come hell or high water. Or even a HUGE snowstorm, as was the case. So they pack up the baby and off they go. What they DON'T pack up are supplies -- of any kind. And they leave their brains, too.
But off they go.
When they get to Donner Pass (yeah, one and the same) on Highway 80 -- the MAIN highway crossing the Sierras - they find that it is CLOSED due to snow. Kittens, when Highway 80 is closed, basically CalTrans has ABANDONED ALL ROAD MAINTENANCE. Closing Highway 80 is the same as saying, "You're fucked and you're NOT getting through." Everyone knows that. Everyone except the Stolpas. Not to be deterred by a silly road closure, they check their map. Oh, joy! There is this little cow trail shown going off into the wilderness and at some distant point might just connect back to civilization. Let's take THAT!
So they do. They actually think that they can navigate a small, untraveled road into the mountains when CalTrans has CLOSED the biggest highway to like --- ANYWHERE.
Not to worry, kittens. They have a bag of Doritos and a Coke. Good to go.
Of course they get stuck. And of course, they are now surrounded by swirling, driving snow in the middle of nowhere. And no one knows where they are because this is before cell phones and GPS. This is in the time when people died from stupidity.
But God takes care of idiots and innocents and I think they were both. They made it. All of them.
Why I made it today is still a mystery.
This morning we had a huge storm blowing in after weeks of balmy, spring weather. This storm was going to dump a foot or so in the Sierras. But I needed to drive to Reno either today or tomorrow. I HAD planned on going tomorrow because of the storm, but that would have created its own problems because of other appointments I had and couldn't change, so I got up this morning and checked www.weather.com. The assholes said the storm wasn't going to hit until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Yeah! I could make it up and back by then if I jumped into the car and fled! So I did. So fast did I leave that I didn't charge my phone or even put on a coat. Remember, from where I left, it was 50 degrees and just a little windy. Never mind that my husband told me to take a ski jacket and gloves, etc. Yeah...yeah...yeah...blah...blah...blah...
So off I go. Just call me Stolpa.
I realized almost immediately that www.weather.com is run by a stupid bunch of stupid weather guys, probably the same stupid morons who are telling us we need CFL's to save the planet, because I drove into the storm within 20 minutes of leaving the house - at 8:50 a.m. in the morning. This would have been an excellent time to just turn around and go to Reno tomorrow.
But nooooooo. I have 4 wheel drive. I have all-weather, super-duper tires. Good to go.
Sitting there waiting for the highway to open again, I checked my phone. Did I mention that my cell phone battery was so low that I had turned off my phone to conserve what little battery I had? Just another incredibly great coincidence to a super-fan-TAB-u-lous day. So I turned it on now as I sat there and discovered that my daughter had texted me a dozen ALL CAPS messages about answering my phone. NOW! Well, "now" had long since passed and now I was stuck with a road closure at Kingvale. With a dead phone. After picking up those pleas for rescue or contact or attention or whatever, my phone's battery died altogether.
When they eventually opened the highway, I headed down, determined to get home -- come hell or high water.
Just call me Stolpa.
No more than a few miles down the highway, there was a blockade where they were enforcing chains for all vehicles that didn't have 4 wheel drive AND snow tires. I had both. Good to go. But I did ask the CalTrans guy if my connecting highway was still open. It's not that well traveled and is often closed. If closed, it would have added an extra hour at least to my trip as I would have had to go much farther down Highway 80 and then double back. He said, "Yes, it's closed. We always close it when we have chain control on 80 so no one gets out there and gets trapped."
Like the Stolpas.
Highway 80 was open, but just barely. The conditions were a white-out, people were swerving all over and you no longer could determine the road for all the blowing snow. But when I got to the exit for my connecting highway, it was open! I took it. Yeah...just me. Going down a little used highway through the woods.
Just call me Stolpa.
I didn't even have any Cheetos by now. I'd eaten them all. The only smart thing I had done all day was fill up my gas tank in Reno. So if I got stuck I could stay warm for a couple of hours before dying.
Heading down the road, I quickly realized that it hadn't been graded by a plow all day and the snow was at least a foot across most of it. I dropped down to 15 mph and crept along for MILES. Do I have to tell you that I was screaming swear words into empty space just to release the tension and keep my head from blowing off my neck? You probably already assumed that.
So I made it. You probably already assumed that, too. And I only lost control once, doing a full across-the-road-spin-into-the-snowbank-corrected-at-the-last-minte-only-to-end-up-in-a-heading-straight-off-a-cliff-spin-corrected-like-a-boss to end up heading back down the road in the proper direction.
So I'm good.
And I rescued my daughter. I got her pickup off the side of the road, where she had spun out and so left it to go to a friend's home, and got home in time to feed the horses.
So, just like the Stolpa's, no one died (except for Grandma).