Dear Oregon Department of Transportation,
This weekend I took a group of scouts on a winter camping trip to Mt. Hood. We left on Friday morning at around 8am and arrived at Frog Lake at roughly 11am. The driving conditions were terrible as they always are in Oregon when it snows and freezes. The shoulders of the roads were littered with cars and semis that had slid or rolled off the road. When we arrived, we donned snow shoes and hiked in about a mile from the parking lot to the lake. It was a beautiful hike with some light snow and gospel conversation. The assistant scoutmaster and I discussed the implications of belonging to a Church run by imperfect prophets who make mistakes and often reflect the biases of their times and culture.
We picked a very nice spot by the frozen lake and spent the afternoon making shelters. We marked off areas for our igloos and started adding to the 3ft base of snow by piling up another three feet in those spots. Then the fun began as we tunneled in from the bottom and carved out the insides of our three snow piles to turn them into snow caves. At about 6pm, after hours of shoveling snow nearly non-stop, our shelters were ready, the sun was going down, the temperature was dropping rapidly, and we huddled around our stoves to heat our dinners. Hot chocolate, chili, Roman noodles, and an assortment of other just-add-water soups were held tightly as we crawled into our snow caves to enjoy some much needed warmth and calories.
By the time we finished eating, it was only 6:30 or 7 o’clock, but no one wanted to venture outside because it was so miserably cold. Five scouts tucked themselves into sleeping bags and started getting ready to sleep 4-6 hours before their usual bedtimes. The 4 hours of shoveling snow helped out here and in no time most of them were fast asleep. Except for one.
One of the scouts had been sick on and off for the last week and after eating, the exhaustion of too much digging caught up with him. He crawled into the palacial snow cave that was the leader’s shelter and said he was feeling terrible. Long story short, he needed to get off the mountain because he wasn’t going to make it through the night. He and I strapped back on our snow shoes and hiked back to the cars. Our first choice was to find a hotel on the mountain, but alas, it was New Year’s weekend and all the rooms had been booked for months. So, we headed down the treacherous roads toward Hood River to find a hotel where he could get warm and hopefully sleep through the night. Due to the icy roads, this trip was slow and dangerous. It took more than an hour to travel the 30 miles down the mountain.
We were just entering Hood River (within 1/2 mile of the city) at around 10:30pm when we were turned around and sent back due to the road being closed. At the time, we had no way of knowing what had caused the road closure, but it turned out to be this accident which tragically took the lives of three people. The guy on the road told us to go back about 4 miles and take the road over to Odell to get to Hood River. Unfortunately, he neglected to mention that after turning into Odell, we would find no signs to help us navigate that maze of a city and being from out of town, we got lost and ended up miles away in the wrong direction.
I hadn’t seen a gas station for a long time, we were getting close to being empty (which is bad in Oregon because you can’t pump your own gas (don’t ask) so after about 12:00 if you need gas you’re out of luck until the next morning). Our cell phones had not been any use to this point, but just as I was about to give up and come up with a plan to sleep in the car for the night (hoping to save enough gas to keep the car warm until morning), I got reception on my cell phone and got a call through to my wife. Chloe! She was able to help us get back to Odell and navigate that maze of a little town. Salvation.
During this trecherous journey, my scout had gotten warm enough to fall asleep in the passenger seat (thank goodness) while I was white-knuckling it over the slip and slide of black ice they call roads here in Oregon. Of course, this is not news to you because you are ODOT and you are intimitely aquainted with the deadly road conditions you preside over on a daily basis. We finally got into a bed at around 1am.
The next morning, we had to make our way back up the mountain because we needed to carry our gear out and also because the rest of the scouts would never get their stuff home without the truck we were in. We headed up highway 35 to meet up with the rest of the troop. Unfortunately, we soon ran into a line of cars as far as the eye could see and moved at a snails pace for over an hour. I am not sure of the exact cause of this delay, but it may have been the head-on crash mentioned in this news story. When we finally got up the mountain and hiked into camp, we arrived just in time to leave. The rest of the troop enjoyed some purportedly awesome sledding in the morning and after giving up on our return had packed our things onto sleds and were preparing to pull them back to their one remaining vehicle for a very cramped ride home. They were glad to see us. We strapped on our packs and turned around to retrace our steps on the mile hike out of camp.
So, ODOT, why do I tell you all of this? Because I am fed up with your ridiculous, nay, intolerable refusal to use salt on icy roads. I know, I know, it hurts the cars and destroys the environment. Tell that to the families of the dead. Your insane policy against salting the roads is killing people. Their bodies are piling up every weekend and their blood is on your hands. I love the environment too, but this refusal to use salt has a cost in human lives. I can only imagine how I would feel if instead of being inconvenienced this weekend, I had lost a loved one. Think about it an get some perspective. Next year when it snows, salt the roads.