Winter Roadtrip 2012 – A spectacular finish

The morning of our last day broke slowly with low dark snow clouds, poor visibility and a fresh five inches of blowing and drifting snow on the road. Following a bright orange state snow plow out of Stanley, ID we were fortunate to make it over the Galena Summit pass (8700 feet) on Hwy 75 as  it twisted its way up and down the mountain sides of the Sawtooth National Forest into Sun Valley. Not an easy road to travel in any condition, it was especially treacherous now. Traffic however was light… 🙂

Sunrise on the road to Sun Valley

We knew the views and the majesty of Sun Valley Idaho must be epic… given the rich ski history and popularity of the area for winter and summer tourism, but we had to take that on faith as our view was confined to a block or two of retro styled retail buildings and trendy condo -ranch estates blanketed with a fresh layer of powdered snow. Perfect for skiers, it was not so great for roadtripping and photography hounds like us. We pulled into a McDonald’s for some fresh coffee and breakfast as we pondered our options for the last day.

Again, Brian smugly and stubbornly insisted it was “up to me bro…since you forced me to make all the decisions last year”… Irritated I didn’t reply, Sipping my marvelously hot coffee and taking large bites out of my breakfast burritos instead. I was frustrated and weary of  the seemingly endless grey sub-atmosphere we had suffered under for most of this trip… I was tired of the cold rain, the damp clinging fog, relentless snow and the ever-present vague but oppressive sense of blah… of no color, of life on dull.

I had really been excited, hopeful this trip would refresh and renew and inspire me and us for the next eleven months of parenting, ministry and work. So far it had revealed some glimpses of encouragement and confirmation, but nothing truly “Epic” or “Awe inspiring”. As I got a refill of my McCafe… I felt like maybe… we should attempt to re-trace our steps today. To link back east and follow a scenic byway on Hwy 20 past Craters of the Moon National Monument and head North on Hwy 93 again back to Montana. It showed on our map that this route would essentially force us to totally retrace our steps back the way we had come the day before. Given the brief glimpses of  Idaho mountain glory we had enjoyed outside of Salmon ID, we were hungry for more.

It would be a LONG haul for sure. It was way back to Sandpoint ID and Spokane WA (where our Southwest flight would leave from) from here, and the obvious route was to drive due north up interstate 84 to Boise and then to Spokane directly and just be done with this trip. Maybe it was time to concede the point that the sunshine was elsewhere for the duration and although not epic, this trip was fun and it’s always great to just spend a week with my best friend and comrade on the road away from the grind of life… but something deeper was nagging at me… at us. Calling to us to risk to dare to believe… to try one more time. So we did.

Heading east on Hwy 20 was like entering the “twilight zone” in black and white… I could almost see Rod Serling waiting on the roadside in the desolate setting, ready to tell us a creepy story while the fog swirled around and hid us from view. CREEPY. Fog was thick, like soup as we drove in several inches of wet and soppy snow that caused our Edge to slip and slide all over the two lane as we headed back into the past.

Twenty minutes into this grand gamble, I felt like an idiot. Here we were driving an extra four hundred miles out of our way on the last day of our “restful roadtrip” in the vain hope to find sunlight where forecasters and common sense could easily explain there “was none” to be found. I muttered under my breath a half serious, half-joking prayer…. “God, it would be nice if you could just part this fog and open up a little patch of blue sky and sunshine for our last day“…

Our Prayer Answered

Within thirty seconds, the most amazing thing happened… it got worse, darker. The fog went from bad, to almost impenetrable. Slowing the car to 25 mph I had to drop the high beams to low to see the road and once again we were totally surrounded by a familiar grey and ghostly world. I muttered something cynical about how “that prayer didn’t get very far“… when Brian eagerly pointed forward through the windshield to a small piece of blue sky starting to grow in the immediate horizon.

NO freaking way! I felt like a 90-year-old Sarah being told she was going to have a baby!

But it was there, clear blue sky and sunshine and it followed us through the entire morning and well into the day! Like a personal escort of good cheer and beauty, the only patch of dry sky and clarity in the entire state it seemed, went ahead of and behind us in a five-mile swath of color and beauty. It followed us up the Craters to Peak Scenic Byway (hwy 20 and 93) and it followed us into Salmon ID (Where Sacajawea was born and Lewis and Clark journeyed) it followed us into Montana and over three mountain passes and into one amazing river valley after another, brushed with ice and sand and snow. It escorted us into pristine alpine forests and air as transparent as crystal,  our roads were somehow kept clear and as we went, it forced back storm after storm from our path all day.

It became like a beacon of courage for us, when after the fifth or sixth super intense snow squall / sleet storm hit us in less than two hours … Brian confidently predicted… “don’t worry bro, this too will soon fade . The sun and clear skies will be back in five minutes, these storms have no power over us today.” (my paraphrase of course:) But it was true, we were repeatedly hit by one intense downpour after another, all as ferocious and dark and oppressive as the previous six days had been, but we pushed on and forward and found the storms bark were much worse than their bite. Each were very brief and weak in their ability to consistently block our blessed path of sunshine and clear skies. With each and ever storm, the sun returned in its fullest intensity within five or ten minutes unphased by the ferocity of the weather around us.

Breaking through the Storm - Hwy 93 in Idaho

Laughing we made our way from one picturesque vista to another, winding our way over the very same territory we had just wandered aimlessly in the day before. God had come through.. God had cleared the way for us, it was obvious that something supernatural was around us and with us as we literally felt like we were crossing the Red Sea or something. It seemed that God had parted the way through the darkness and gloom of our circumstances and brought the light and clarity of God’s presence with us wherever we went.

That’s as beautiful of a picture as I could ever hope to describe…. It bookended our trip in a way that was immensely encouraging and practical. 2012 it seems will be a year of struggle, of going forward through the storms of our lives, persisting when the rain and the clouds and skies won’t part for long periods and seasons of dull will persist. But God has promised, the sunshine is coming and the road although familiar to us, will be seen in a brand new light. We just have to persist in staying on the course we know He’s asked us to travel… that takes faith and conviction and confidence that God is with you, that He will not leave you.

Peace out dear families. Carry on and keep on. God will be there with you, regardless of how it seems, He is right beside you keeping pace in 2012… as you pass each mile marker along the way.

Brad.

Winter RoadTrip 2012 – Day six and Sunshine!

Sandpoint Idaho is a really cool town. Lots of people agree, so much so that it’s commonly ranked in the top ten national categories for small towns to live in. Beautiful, clean, quiet…it’s nestled in a northern Idaho valley with a large beautiful fresh water lake and mountain peaks on three sides, it offers all kinds of activities, skiing, shopping, great food, hunting, hiking etc… a genuine four season outdoor paradise. We didnt’ see much of that, but we did see a glimmer of the sun the next morning and it was a welcome sight…

Sandpoint ID, Jan 2012 - Lakeside Sunrise

Focused on exploring Idaho, we had been so distracted by the snowstorm the night before we hadn’t given much thought to today’s travel plans… after a moment of map reading it was clear that Idaho was not a state with an abundance of roads. The center of the state was mountain and wilderness with very little in the way of pavement, and what was there seemed closed in the winter. That left us with only a few options… since Brian was sticking with his decision to have me call the ball on this roadtrip, I decided to “feel my way” again and head east into Montana before circling south and west again when we could.

So we hopped in our snow, dirt and ice encrusted Ford Edge and headed east on US Hwy 200, en route to Missoula MT and Hwy 93… a road that would turn out to be worth all of the delays and bad weather and disappointing efforts to discover sunshine and beauty. But first… we had some driving to do. It took most of the day and a lot of gray but dry weather before we finally were able to navigate back west. Four hundred miles and nine hours later we were pulling into Salmon, ID and found a hidden valley at the end of our afternoon full of sunshine and endless snow-capped peaks.

Hwy 93 - outside of Salmon,

 Sunlight was gloriously streaming across the valley floor and crystal blue sky was everywhere above… we had found it! For the first time on our trip we had found some unrestrained and colorful mountain beauty breaking across the grey barriers for us to enjoy! It was spectacular, and refreshing and so nice after so many days of driving in the grey… and as it turned out, sort of short-lived.

Within two hours of entering Salmon, ID… we lost the mountain vista’s as a familiar dark strangling line of low hanging snow clouds moved in front of us out of the west directly in our path. We were approaching Sun Valley (ironically) and had only a hundred miles to go when the snow storm hit. Within forty-five minutes we were once again driving in unplowed mountain roads, twisty across ice and snow and sleet and it was dark. Deja Vu from the night before.

I uttered the simple request out loud of how nice it would be to just find a hotel out here so we could crash and avoid the long drawn out drive to Sun Valley in another pitch black snowstorm. (sure to take 3 more hours) Almost immediately out of the snow wall we were driving into… a few slight lights glowed and winked off and on as the waves of snow waxed and waned. I was scared to get my hopes up, but what if it was a hotel? Five minutes later were checking into a newly refurbished isolated hotel with a small restaurant and grocery gas store out in the middle of NOWHERE, Idaho. (actual town name is Stanley, ID) Thank You God!

Brian and I were hopeful after the storm passed, that we would have a chance at some clear skies and starlight as only can be seen way out in the wilderness, the desert or at sea. After a meal of sandwiches and fries we drove five minutes out-of-town on a back road to see the sky as the storm was slowing in intensity. Alas, it was still overcast and occasionaly spitting out some heavy bouts of snow flurries…So we crashed in our miracle hotel room after noting our good fortune at finding the only motel for a hundred miles and at just the right time. Huge coincidence? Nah… it was favor from God. As if He knew that were tired and worn out from the drive and needed to just rest.

Our "miracle" hotel in Stanley, ID

Lesson learned in part from Day six… God always shows up for us, when we need it the most. It may feel like He’s absent or unaware of our urgent and ongoing crisis’ of faith, family and hope… but He is not. I promise that when you’re at the very end of your own strength and courage and determination to go any further on your current course… He will send sunshine and blue sky or arrange for a perfect night of rest and recuperation, at your most desperate hour.

Day six was physically exhausting, over twelve hours on the road, major changes in terrain and weather, but we were reminded… to get to your destination as a parent, sometimes You just have to push on and press forward until that break in the clouds is visible, regardless of what it “looks like” or “feels like” in-between.

Tomorrow morning would be a thursday and the beginning of our seventh and last day, and as it turned out… was by far and away our very best day on this roadtrip. As usual…God was speaking to us and we were getting some valuable insights for what lay ahead in 2012 and we were grateful for the time to reflect and project what God was up to in our lives and in the lives of those we loved. 

Peace out, RTP readers.

brad.