So, yesterday Will asked to take a drive through the refuge. We always have our binoculars in the car for our refuge trips, and we have had some great sitings there. Usually, it's Canada geese and deer, but our best was seeing the river otters, who played and put on quite a show for us for over half an hour. Yesterday, we watched a gaggle of geese swim, then cross a peninsula of ice on foot, then swim away. It was really cute; they could have easily swum around the ice to the other side. They stood in line on the ice, waiting for their turn to get back in the water -- they got a little backed up when one of the geese stopped to think before swimming again. He was probably thinking, "This is all a little silly."
But this was all before the little accident.
There are only 4 miles of road in the refuge, unpaved. Sometimes we just make a small loop, but yesterday, since the boys were asleep in the back seat, we decided to drive down to the Meyers Cabin, the farthest away you can get from the entrance to the refuge. Although most of the ice and snow from last week's storm has melted, the roads in the refuge were still ice covered (Shady, not well-traveled and never treated with salt.) It didn't take long before I realized I had made a big mistake. I knew we had to turn around, and started a 3-point turn at a T in the road. But while backing up to get ready to turn around, things went south. We started sliding in reverse. It was pretty scary, but at last I got the car stopped.
But we were stuck, right beside a ditch. I couldn't go forward, and was afraid to try reverse again. Will and I got out to assess the situation. The road was as slick as glass. I fell on my rear, and Will slipped and his foot landed in the icy cold water in the ditch. We tried shoving sticks, rocks and some old clothes I had in the back (destined for the Goodwill) under the tires, but no good. Then Will said,
"Mom, I think the car is sliding."
And it did. Sideways.
Right into the ditch.
(You can see how far we slid from the tracks and brown mark to the right of the van)
And from the rear:
We had already called Clay, who was on his way with the jeep and a tow strap, but now we knew we were in big trouble. But we had slid as far as we could slide. We would just have to wait it out.
And then Tommy woke up.
He never wakes up very happy. He was upset and crying, so Will took him for a little walk up the road a bit, very carefully (some spots were in the sun and ice-free -- I guess that's how I got lulled into driving out too far). They came back when they got too cold, then Nathan woke up. I changed his diaper, and the boys took turns playing with the steering wheel until Clay got there.
(It took him about 40 minutes to get home, get the jeep and get out to the refuge. It was perhaps the longest 40 minutes of my life.)
He hardly ever gets mad at me, except when I overwork myself or make dumb decisions. And he didn't yell or curse; he just gave me that "I am disappointed in you" look, just like my dad did.
We strapped the boys into their seats. Clay hooked up the tow strap and we tried and tried and tried, but he couldn't pull us out. We knew we had to call a tow truck.
(Now, along with all this, I am getting worried because the sun is on its way down. The refuge is open from sunrise to sundown, when the gates close. Being in the refuge after hours is a federal offense with a large fine. I only know this because sweet Josh from Knit Night has a federal record for just this infraction! Soon after Will and I knew we were stuck, I had called the refuge offices and all the extensions offered on the voice mail, but couldn't reach a human to speak to. I did leave a message on the refuge manager's voice mail, but didn't hear back from him.)
After calling 3 towing companies, we found one that was free to come help us. He told Clay, however, that he had to call a conservation officer to come out with him. He further told Clay that people had had to pay substantial fines and had even gone to jail for damaging refuge property.
Jail. Holy shit. At that point, I was extremely glad I had taken a Xanax earlier.
When we knew the tow truck was on the way, Clay helped us move the car seats into the jeep and sent us home. On the way out, we passed the tow truck on the way in. Followed by a State Police car.
We made it home just fine, gave the boys some juice and covered up on the couch, waiting to hear when they were coming to take me to the Big House.
Turns out, when they got back to the van, the State Trooper himself slid down the road I had slid on, and the tow truck had to go get him out before he worked on the van. Then, he couldn't pull the van out; he had to use the winch and lift it out. The trooper and the tow truck driver were both good guys, Clay said. That makes it a little better.
Luckily, it was only $65 to tow the van out of the ditch. Clay then turned to the trooper and asked, "So what now?" The trooper waved him off, and told him everything was OK, just go home. So he did.
And he made it out before the gates closed. Whew, again.
After some crying, some scolding and some prolonged re-hashing of the whole story, we were soon laughing about it. Clay even said, "After you left, I took a couple of pictures with my phone, in case you wanted to blog about this." How thoughtful. I sort of wanted to forget the whole thing. I did a dumb thing, with my three most precious boys in the car, in the middle of nowhere.
But Will was a great help and support through the whole thing. He tried to take the blame, insisting that it was his idea to go to the refuge, and his idea to turn right and drive in a little farther instead of taking the small loop. He held my hand, and told me I handled the situation just right, not panicky. And I think he learned this lesson: if it looks doubtful, don't try it. I still feel a little shaky and stupid today, but I think I learned that lesson, as well.
This morning, as he left for school, he yelled from the front door, "Hey mom, want to go out to the refuge after school today?" Smart aleck.