20 December 2010


OK, so perhaps “I Survived” is a little melodramatic. All I did was make it in to town and back. But, please hear me out. There is more to it than you might imagine.

You see, when you live in the middle of nowhere Montana life is very different from your typical urban lifestyle. In fact it may even be hard for you to imagine anyone in the U.S. still lives the way I do. Here is the low down or high up whichever you prefer.

I literally live in a National Forest. The way to my place is via an un-maintained Forest Service road. It is also a single track. That means someone has to pull over if you meet him or her coming in the opposite direction. My elevation is close to 4,000 ft. so there is a nasty downhill section in the form of a very tight S curve, a.k.a. “the Luge”. None of this is any big deal except during winter which, of course, lasts nearly half the year.

Initially things are pretty OK as fresh snow has a tendency to be a little sticky and you can get some traction. But, holy mother of Methuselah! Once the traffic, it doesn’t take much, packs down the snow and we get a thaw and freeze those “curves” turn into a luge. You know luge? Those ice tracks that one man sleds rocket ninety miles an hour down. People are always asking if I’m afraid of the grizzlies, mountain lions and such. I can honestly say no. But ice? The stuff terrifies me. I’m pretty sure this is partly due to my being a control freak. One can lose control on the ice so very easily and once it happens all you can do is hold on and hope for the best.

This winter, and it’s not even officially winter yet, has turned out to be no exception. Well, except for the fact that we have had more snow earlier than in any of the past nine winters that I have spent here. (See:" Montana Winter at the Sanctuary") We have been in the midst of a huge thaw and everything has turned to ice.

There are people who live south of me; some must traverse “the Luge” everyday. I have tried to get some support for a sanding fund but to no avail. For some reason people around here think it makes economic sense to risk crashing your car as opposed to pitching in $50 a year to sand. Let me assure you at least half a dozen cars have some mishap every winter. I can’t think of any kind of damage you could do to your car that would be less than $50. Oh, well….

My solution? Stay home. I could easily stay here all winter but there are a couple of problems. First, I have no mail delivery. UPS and FedEx stop coming as soon as the snow flies. The gals down at the post office get a little testy when the box doesn’t get cleaned out after what seems to them a reasonable time. If I haven’t cleaned it out they just keep mashing mail into the box until I need blasting caps to get anything out. I have done everything I know to reduce the amount of mail I receive but the junk just keeps on coming. If you don’t already know about it here’s a great place to get unwanted catalogs to stop coming “Catalog Choice”

Second, there is no trash service up here. One must haul garbage down to the valley dump. I don’t make a lot of trash but I still need to make a dump run about once a month. Some people might find this a pain but I actually like this system because I’m in “control” and can also haul ranch refuse to the dump and it doesn’t cost a farthing extra.

So, whether I like it or not sooner or later I must screw up my courage and address “the Luge”. Today was the day. I loaded up the trash and Koty Bear in his crate. I drive a heavy SUV with four-wheel drive and studded tires. So, I’ve got the proper equipment. I keep my driveway properly plowed. Because I do plow with great regularity, any kind of thaw, I’m right back to the road surface. I love my driveway. It’s a winter driving dream. The problem is, it’s only about an eighth of a mile worth of happy motoring!

Once outside the gate it’s a virtual ice rink. I can’t even walk on the road. When Koty and I go out for a hike I wear these Katoola Crampons. They are absolutely the best for walking on ice. I wish I could put them on the truck! I’d never worry about “the Luge” again.

So, away we went, at the speed of a turtle. Even on the flat I slide around in the ruts and I’m OK with that. But then I come to the lip of “the Luge” and peer over the edge into ice hell. It’s at this point that I put the truck in first, engaged the 4x4 and put my foot on the brake. The foot on the brake defies conventional wisdom but I’ve made a wonderful life for myself by defying convention. I’ve found that if you start out with your foot already on the brake thereby reducing your speed to nearly nil it works very well. I end up going so slowly that when I do start to slide I only go a few terrifying feet. If you stomp on the brake after the fact well, I’m afraid, you’re screwed. Over the edge we went. We slid a little in the turns and each time I prayed we would stop. The really annoying thing: once you’ve traversed “the Luge” you are practically at the county road which is maintained like my driveway.

Once in town I ran my errands. All the while Koty is in his crate in the back whining for a walk. If you’ve ever seen the ad for Beggin Strips where the dog goes racing around the house saying “Beggin” Beggin” “Beggin” that’s the way Koty feels about hiking. He wouldn’t eat a Beggin Strip on a bet. Hike is his favorite four-letter word. So instead he runs around screaming “Hiking” “Hiking” “Hiking”. His enthusiasm for exercise may be why people guess his age at around three when he’s actually eleven. No one ever thinks I’m younger than I am. I hardly think that’s fair. I get as much exercise as he does. I suppose his secret is having all that fur to cover up the wrinkles.

I started out thinking to take the walk to Rexford but a check of the trail revealed it was too icy and I did not have my Katoolas. So we settled for the Riverwalk. It’s short but sweet walk. (See: "Eureka Riverwalk". It was pretty dreary on the river walk so we also wondered around the historical village. Some of the old buildings are decked out with Christmas wreaths and look very inviting.

I don’t like to hang around town for too long because “the Luge” doesn’t get any better later in the day. I truly dread ever meeting anyone coming down. I never have but the odds are getting dicey. At the bottom of the hill I switch on the four-wheel drive, shift into first and put my foot on the accelerator. The trick for getting up “the Luge” is to go just fast enough that you don’t spin out in the curves but fast enough that you don’t start sliding back down the hill. You can see why meeting someone coming down would be a bit of a problem? I must have been a little off my game because I did do some slipping and sliding in the curves but we made it to the top and home again.

Once home, I open the back of the truck to let Koty Bear dismount and there right where I put it is the trash which I apparently have hauled to town and home again. Everyone needs well-traveled trash. I look at Koty at and wonder why, with the trash right there beside him, he didn’t bother to mention it. Koty looks back at me with an expression that says “Not my problem. Now let me out of here”.

So, now perhaps you can see why I say “I Survived”. Life in the wild is a constant struggle for survival in one way or another and I wouldn’t want to live any other way!

Below are a couple of photos I took at the historical village. I especially found the “Safety First” sign appropriate for this article. And, last but not least a photo of the road leading to "the Luge". I hope you will excuse me if I didn’t stop on “the Luge” to photograph it? ;)





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©Kinsey Barnard


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, you must write a book!
Cheers, jay

Dave said...

You are not only an outstanding photographer, you are an outstanding writer! I loved that story about the luge.

Walker said...

Well, guys, flattery will get you everywhere! Thanks a million.

Ken Thomas said...

I know tire chains are a pain to install and remove, but have you thought about getting a set for the SUV? When it comes to ice, they're a lot better than just studded tires, and the new(ish) plastic ones aren't nearly as much hassle as the old ones were.

Walker said...


I draw the line at snow chains. I do a lot of stuff that most women would never ever dream of doing but rolling around on the ground in the mud to get to town is not one of them. You see once I get to the county road I'd have to take them off and then put them back on to get back home. I have cables but I've never used them.

the dafthermits said...

Hi Susan

popped over from blogcat and have liked you fb page

really enjoyed this as someone who lives in the Scottish mountains love and light

Walker said...


Thanks for "liking" me.

It may be in the genes, this love for the outdoors and mountain life. I have quite a bit of the Scot in me. :)

Monday I shall publish "Cabin Fever" I think you'll enjoy it.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Dave said...

I agree with your solution: "Stay home!" That's one of the main advantages of being snowed in.

Can you get your Post Mistress to 'hold mail' when the weather is bad, and pick it up at the PO when the snow melts? I do that when we travel, and it seems to work very well. I just take a big Costco Bag in and they fill it up with accumulated mail.