A Christmas Adventure: Our Family's Mountain Vacation
By Jordan Waldmeier
The year was 1995: OJ was finally considered innocent, Seal was singing in a Batman movie, Bill Clinton was still blowing his horn before his someone else was, and I was in the fourth grade. That was a weird grade for me. I started taking French, got stabbed in the hand with a pencil(the graphite is still there), made my first “C,” I’d consider it the downfall of my education. The movie everyone was talking about was “Clueless,” a perfect title for what everyone was. Seriously, while they’re all making “W’s” with their fingers, all I could think was “isn’t she 16 but is dating her exstepbrother who is in college? I’m sure there’s a word for this.” I do remember my mom taking us to see the latest Halloween movie on...Halloween; I was even dressed as Robin. But I digress, this article isn’t about my fourth grade experience, Halloween, or adored movies filled with pedophilia(that’s the word!), it’s about Christmas and the amazing/crazy adventure that was to be had.
As best my imagination can figure, I’m going to say it all started one fall Saturday morning. I’m pretty sure I was laying on the living room floor, eating frosted flakes and watching XMen the Animated Series, when my mom called all of us kids into the kitchen. She had just got off the phone and informed us that we were going to visit our grandpa this Christmas. My first thought and statement was, “We see grandpa ever christmas.” To which she replied, “No, we’re going to see MY dad.” My maternal grandfather was Charlie Price, who was very absent throughout the years, only seeing my mother a handful of times in his life. The only time I could remember meeting him before was in 1992. He flew into New Orleans, where my siblings and I met him for the first time. All I can really remember is walking around the city with and riding a ferris wheel with him. He seemed like an alright guy. The thought of getting to see him again excited me. A visit to grandpa’s she says. That shouldn’t be a big deal. It can’t be that far. Well, come to find out grandpa Charlie happens to live in Washington state, and the best part about it was we’re going to drive there!
The Road Trip Begins
I’ve always been a fan of road trips, so this sounded like it was going to be the best one yet. I was so excited that I even told my fourth grade history teacher who in response asked me to show the class our route on a large map. I totally bullshitted that route Mrs. Carrier. In true National Lampoon’s Vacation form, my mom traded in her Pontiac TransSport Minivan for a brand new Isuzu Rodeo SUV. It was radical and green. All packed in with our belongings and plenty of rations, we hit the road! You should really listen to Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” right now, I’m sure we were. Northwest bound, passing by all the familiar sights of usual road trips to Galveston and Houston and then upwards to Dallas. Looking back, Dallas was the farthest I had ever been from home, so after it, everything to me was a new frontier. Soon we made it to Amarillo where we saw America’s version of the Easter Island heads, Cadillac Ranch.
Shortly after seeing the ascend up rows of Cadillacs and the sun starting to set, I saw the most amazing thing for the first time ever, snow. It was beautiful, and kind of muddy, and on the side of the interstate, but regardless, mom pulled over to let us play in it. We were playing in it like kids at a beach, but colder. It was a memorable experience, and the suddenly my hands felt as if they were being stung by hundreds of bees. What was this terrible pain? Frostbite. After that it was time to call it a night. We still had a long journey ahead of us and surely that’s the worse that could happen, right?
The Scenic Route
Over the next couple of days our travel was mostly safe and uneventful. My mother, who is notorious for taking the “scenic route,” showed us some of the beautiful landscapes this country has to offer, and eventually making it into the Rockies. Our next stop was to be in Breckenridge, Colorado where we were to meet my Grandmother who was visiting her friend. The town was your stereotypical mountain village; I’m pretty sure it’s the basis of those lame Christmas village dioramas people like to collect. When we got to the house, it was like a winter wonderland. Kids were sledding and building snowmen. People were traveling on snowmobiles and I’m pretty sure there were victorian-esque carolers. We exited the car and ran towards my grandmother, whose arms are wide open in preparation of hugs, but quickly bypassed her to play in the snow.
As my sister and I ran towards the trees, we suddenly sank waist deep into the snow and once again received a minor case of frostbite. Karma, I guess. We stayed there for the night, and ventured out the next morning. Now, I don’t really remember much from that day of traveling because what happens next is so traumatic it would cause a nine year old to forget many things. Yes, this is where things get really crazy. So insane that it deserves it’s own book and possible TV adaptation in “Law & Order” style recollecting. This next part of the story will be respectfully titled........THE MOUNTAIN.
Witness 1: Jordan Waldmeier
Age at time of incident: 9 and a half
Enroute to Washington, departing Breckenridge earlier that day, it was becoming quite late in the evening. With the snowfall becoming worse and kids fighting in the vehicle, my mother decided to take the next exit and find a hotel for the night, but unbeknownst to us, that exit was supposed to be closed. As we were traveling down the road it became apparent we were driving up the mountain. It was completely secluded with no sign of businesses or houses, but we pushed forward in hopes to find shelter. After what seemed to be an eternity of searching, the snow was coming down even more, and we were becoming scared. Mom decided that it was time to turn around and we were in agreeance. As she made the Uturn we suddenly the car jerk and then struggle. We were stuck. Mom looked back to us with a face of “this isn’t good” and we realized we were stuck on top of desolate mountain, then came the crying and panicking. Mom eventually calmed us down, but that didn’t stop us from playing the blame game to see whose fault this was. While mom was trying to keep us somewhat sane, Josh was trying to figure out how MacGyver would get us unstuck because he’s G.I. Josh. Jake had to go number two but didn’t want to do so in the dark, so he turned on the headlights for our viewing pleasure. Megan was unpacking all of our luggage and making room in the back of the vehicle so we could have somewhere to sleep. I was blamed for eating all the Jello cup, because, well I probably did. Even though it was negative five degrees, and we quite possibly could have been on the brink of death; we got to see the purest starscape that night. And then I threw up up Josh’s letterman jacket.
Waking up the next morning and stepping outside, we realized just how bad our night could have been. Not ten feet away was a canyon which we thought was the continental divide and had we not got stuck we likely would have fallen off. The land and scenery around us was breathtaking, but the fact remained; we’re still stuck and need help. Mom decided to let Josh go back the way we came to look for help. A little while later, Megan went after Josh, and to my mother’s current knowledge, Megan never told mom she was going. In a panic of where her daughter could be, mom took after Megan. So it was just Jake and I left at the car and shortly after we went after them all. Josh walked several miles; at one point passing a spot full of bloodytorn deer carcasses that looked to mauled by wild animals. Then there was the moment he locked eyes with a wolf, who just walked away. He eventually found a guy in a truck, who come to find out was the one responsible for not closing the exit. He hopped into their truck and made their way back to us, picking up Megan, who had just seen the deer murder scene, and then my mom. Jake and I hadn’t even got past eyes view of our car when we saw them coming. We were saved. The men pulled us out of our icy rut and showed us the way to civilization, which was a few miles away from where we were. Just crossing into Wyoming and devouring breakfast like the survivalist savages we became.
Witness 2: Megan Waldmeier Tyler
Age at time of incident: 12
That night still remains one of the most beautiful nights I have ever seen in my entire life. The stars in the sky were like something out of a painting. We all didn't get much sleep that night. I remember my mom stayed up and would turn the car on and off at different times for the heat and we would have to keep waking up to wrap more clothes around us. The next day, however, is one that I will for sure NEVER FORGET! Josh had gone out to get help and after a while I started worrying, so I told my mom "I'll be back, I'm going to look for Josh." and still to this day she denies it, but I really did tell her. It was so cold and all I had on was a sweatshirt, my Saints starter jacket, jeans, and Nikes. My hair started to turn white, there was deer carcass and blood all around. So freaking scary and again, freezing so I decided to pee in my pants. I immediately regretted doing that! Now I was even colder before and I looked around at all the mountain tops and knew that I was going to die here. I had walked for 5 miles and had not seen any house or form of human life and then out of nowhere a truck is driving up towards me and stops. In this truck is a man named Andrew and his passengers are my mom and Josh. Tears started running down my face and in my mind I'm thinking oh my gosh I'm saved, I'm not going to die here, etc, but the first thing I did was say, "Mom! I peed in my pants and I'm sorry it smells!”
Witness 3: Jacob Waldmeier
Age at time of incident: 14
*(THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT HAS BEEN ALTERED FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE WITNESS)
Witness 4: Joshua Waldmeier
Age at time of incident: 16
So we were in the backwoods trying to get to Washington. They have snow gates to close off certain roads and when conditions are bad, and they didn't close off one snow gate and that's how we got lost. So we're going through backwoods mountains road and mom ended up in a snow bank. The sun was already down. Mom tried getting out but we were stuck! We put down the back seat to make a bed. We all piled in the back and slept under an old strawberry vine pattern blanket...We didn't have any food or drinks beyond some snacks. Mom stayed up turning on and off the car long enough to keep us warm in the back. And that night Jordan ate a whole Bag of Doritos and threw up all over my brand new letterman jacket. In the morning, we knew the roads were impassable so I convinced mom to let me go for help. So I wrapped myself in the strawberry blanket and walked back towards the houses that I knew we'd passed by. It took like two or three hours to walk back through the snow. On my walk I saw a pack of wild dogs or coyotes, and it was a real OH SHIT moment, but I just kept walking. I got to one no one was home, so I walked another 30 min, found another house with smoke coming from the chimney. I went through wastedeep snow dragging that DAMN strawberry blanket. I knocked on the door. They let me in, I told them the scenario, they gave me half a pot of boiling hot coffee and I couldn't even feel the heat because I was so cold. They told me that they could've sworn they heard a car the night before which surprised them because they thought the snow gates were closed. That was us!
END OF WITNESS ACCOUNTS.
In winter the night approaches fast and we didn’t want to be in the same situation as the night before. But guess what? As we are coming down a mountain the clutch gives out, but we’re going downhill so mom just glides it all the way down. And where do we land? In the driveway of someone’s mansion of a log cabin. We all get out and approach the front door, where we are welcomed and invited in by the family. As my mom is explaining what all has happened, we kids are sitting with the other kids drinking hot chocolate and watching Dumb and Dumber. The family could not get over the fact the we are from Louisiana; asking us if we traveled in canoes to get around town. Come to find out the patriarch’s brother, who was there, was a mechanic. The men wouldn’t approach our car until we convinced them we did not have a pet alligator in the car. Soon after they came back in from working on the car announcing “We rigged your rig,” and said it was in bad condition but should be able to get us to Jackson Hole. We departed the family’s home ever grateful, and made it to a hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where the car died. The next day was Christmas Eve; my mom had enough with the car and arranged for it to be put in a shop there. She rented a car and we drove to a nearby airport, which was the first time I ever rode in an airplane. But of course it had to be the smallest, rickety, held together with duct tape plane. Regardless, we took flight and made it to our destination that night.
Grandpa Charlie and his wife Iris picked us up that night. I hardly knew him but I was so glad to see him. They lived in Spokane(how do you pronounce that?), which we thought would be full of snow but there was no trace of it. To be honest, it reminded me of how DeRidder looks. They lived in your typical old person house, featuring a Betty Boop themed bathroom and a room full of guns he made; yeah, he’s a gunsmith. He would not just build them but engrave them as well, including a pair of pistols for John Wayne. We stayed up most of the night with them visiting and having coffee avoiding the fact that tomorrow was Christmas. Though when morning did come around we kept it very quaint; we were just eager to spend time with them. Looking back, that’s mostly what we did the few days we were there. Very low-key with a few outings here and there. The most memorable one was when he took us out to a field and let us choose which gun we wanted to shoot; and these weren't your standard guns, these were guns so powerful that would make Dirty Harry smile. As said before, one would look back and see how much of an uneventful visit it was, but it left an impression on me. I never saw him again.
Back to the journey at hand, it was time for us to venture home. I’m not going to drag it out like the end of “Return of the King.” Charlie brought us back to the airport and we said our farewells. When it came time to check-in and drop off our luggage, my mom told the clerk that she had a gun with her; a derringer pistol that Charlie gave to her, which I now possess. The clerk simply said “Okay. Just keep it in your carry-on.” Remember, it’s 1995. My second flight experience was much better than my first. We land in Idaho Falls where our car is waiting for us. The drive home always seems quicker than the drive there. It was smooth sailing the whole way home...Well, except for a record blizzard and being introduced to black ice. Many have asked my siblings and I if this story is true, and I simply respond, “I wish I could make this up.” Though this was only one of many adventures we’ve been on, it’s one we tend to recollect on quite often. And one lesson we learned and tend to tell our mother, “Don’t take the scenic route!”
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