Off the trail: Soaked

The sleet poured down in great, slanting sheets as I walked the narrow, unplowed road. I bent my (hatless) head into the wind and picked up my drenched and booted feet and kept walking. Cars passed me, casting off heavy chunks of rain-soaked snow from their spinning tires, soaking me even more.

It didn’t really matter at that point—it was impossible to get much wetter.

“What a @# $@ idiot,” I mumbled to myself, rain dripping off my face, not one word in three fit to print.
Just a few minutes ago, I was warm and dry and clean, tucked into my Honda, driving toward the gas station on Main Street. The gas indicator light had told me the tank was low since yesterday, but the Honda can go 60 miles on such a light and I’d barely gone 20. So when the car sputtered and spluttered in the middle of Sierra Manor Road, just north of the The Body Shop gym, I still thought maybe there was just some water in the gas tank.

But no.

“Damn it. Damn it.” I tried to start it again, and again, hoping to at least inch the car over to the side of the road. It didn’t work. My two collie dogs looked at me with furrowed brows. The windows steamed from all of us breathing in the humid air.

It was another half mile to the nearest gas station and in keeping with today’s stupidity, I didn’t have a gas can in my car. If it wasn’t so embarrassing, I would have called someone at work and asked them to rescue me.

But it was.

Then I spotted deliverance.

Two men were working through the rain, piling lumber behind the Sierra Lodge. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish but when I asked them for help, they got the idea. I got in the car to guide it and they pushed me backwards to the side of the road, where I parked and thanked them profusely.

I hit the hazard lights and rolled the window down a millimeter or two, to keep the car from turning into more of a dog sauna than it already was.

I trudged to the Do It Yourself Center and bought a gas container and headed across the parking lot to the gas station. I filled up my expensive gas container with expensive gas and headed back across town in the glowering dark, gas sloshing at every step.

By the time I walked the mile back to my car, the roads were a half-foot deep in slop and it was dark. I got to the sleet-drenched car and pulled the gas cap switch. For the first time, I really looked at the gas can—and swore again.

Forget the old-fashioned, simple gas cans of yore; this was some new, complicated contraption, bristling black with levers and plastic nozzles. I moved to the lee side of the car where the wind couldn’t reach me and opened the car door and tried to figure out the gas can thing on the passenger side seat. As soon as I put my head in the car, my glasses fogged up from the heat and dog breath in the car and I had to remove them to peer nearsighted at the writing on the can.

I fiddled and wriggled and swore and cursed some more and finally, I got it. I took the damn thing to the other side of the car and poured, my numb hands almost immobile now, the wind blowing as much snow into the gas cap hole as gas.

Finally, it was done.

I slammed the lid on the gas tank and sank gratefully into the calm, dry car seat and turned on the defroster and then I just sat there and laughed.

I have lived in the mountains for 28 years. I have fought hundreds of wildfires, supervised dozens of people in rugged backcountry conditions, organized search and rescues, dug countless people out of the countless snow drifts, and here I was—out of gas and stuck in the snow in the middle of the road in my own hometown.

I drove back to work and if anyone wondered why I was soaking wet, coat and jeans and hair steaming, they didn’t ask and for that I was grateful.