Wrong Highway

Steven Douglas Elwood


Copyright 2007 by Steven Douglas Elwood 

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@zacdurant?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Zac Durant</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/silhouette-of-man-in-snow-storm-LiGTtFoyI2M?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

 It was 1978 when I started from Oregon City, Oregon, (Where my mother had moved us), to Newport, Minnesota, where I had lived my whole life. (Well, all 15 years anyway.)

 I didn't know anyone in Oregon and I wasn't making any friends in school, so I figured I would just hitchhike home. Easy enough, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Well, it wasn't easy and it wasn't a piece of cake. Hitchhiking was different then, people were nicer and happier to see you and there weren't as many weirdos.

 Several times good hearted people with good intentions would show me shortcuts on the map. They would say, "Yep, taking this highway here would knock off a hundred miles or so." And I would believe them. So, normally what would happen is I would wind up facing a dead highway in the middle of nowhere at dusk. (By dead highway I mean no traffic).

 It was cold that time of year. One particular evening the snow started to blow and the temperature plummeted. I was so cold, the wind made me feel like I wasn't wearing any clothes.

 I was walking and walking, seemed like forever. I was shivering so bad and I was so tired. I was thinking if I couldn't get out of the wind I would die, serious business. I looked for shelter, there wasn't any. There weren't any towns or houses or trees or anything, just miles and miles of white snow covered hills. So, I kept walking.

I came across an old wooden fence, most of it had fallen down, there was still ten feet or so of the fence still standing. I thought to myself, I will get out of the wind and rest awhile. All I could hear is the howling wind and my teeth chattering. I curled up behind the fence. I knew I shouldn't go to sleep, but I was so tired. I started drifting off to sleep and right before I did, I realized I wasn't cold anymore. That's when I understood I was dying. I came to believe this is it, the end, I prayed.

 I don't know how long I was behind that fence before I heard a sound of a diesel truck. I knew I would never make it to the highway fast enough to flag him down, he probably wouldn't see me anyway through the blowing snow. I heard the sound of air brakes. I remember thinking why the heck would he be stopping here for? Then I thought, who cares? As long as he is stopping! I drowsily and stiffly got up, I was staggering, I must have looked drunk. The truck was about a hundred yards up the highway. Apparently the driver was checking his load.

I got to about ten feet behind his rig when I yelled over the wind in a squeaky 16 year old voice.

 "Can I catch a ride?" I know I scared him because he jumped and looked around at all the white nothing. Then he yelled back,

 "No riders!" I was stunned, then I yelled,

"If you leave me here I'm gonna die!" That's exactly how I said it. His head snapped towards me, he looked me dead in the eye. We stood there staring at each other in the middle of nowhere with a blizzard all around us for many seconds before he nodded his head and said, "Get in."

 It was warm in the cab, he handed me a hot cup of coffee from a thermos. We rode and talked all night.

Come late morning, he said that he had to head north now. I said, "Ok, thank you, you saved my life."

 "Well, let's see what else I can do." The trucker got on the radio and called his buddies. He had arranged a relay to get me to Newport, to my big sisters front door! I'm fourty-four now, I have always wanted to thank that trucker-- he saved my life that day.

I asked the trucker late that night, why did he stop? The trucker said that in the 17 years of his driving tractor/trailers he had never lost a tarp. He prided himself on the way he tied his loads down. He couldn't understand how the tarp came loose just at that particular moment. I will always wonder--was it a coincidence?

Now, when anyone asks me for help, I reflect on this experience and I say, "What can I do to help you?"


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