Our Northwest

A Valentine’s driving adventure to remember

Tuesday, February 11, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

1961 impalaThis is a tale about teen driving, common sense, and poor judgment – mine.

I saw a reader’s comment in a recent news story about distracted driving. Essentially it said, “cut teen drivers some slack – their judgment is still forming at that age.”

Thinking back to Valentine’s Day when I was 19, I definitely had dubious judgment.

I’d recently returned from an early February  guys’ ski trip to Sun Valley. We skied hard, partied hard, and slept little. I felt punky after the trip and thought I had the flu, but later learned I had mononucleosis.

It was while I felt run down that Valentine’s Day arrived, and I hatched an absurd plan to go find Goldmyer Hot Springs, located in near-wilderness deep in the Cascade Mountains, 25 miles northeast of North Bend via a primitive dirt and rock road.

I scrounged up enough money to buy my new girlfriend, Luanne, a bouquet for Valentine’s Day, then convinced her that a Saturday drive into the middle of nowhere would be fun.
Snoqualmie RiverWeather records say the average maximum temperature in North Bend that month was 37 degrees. It was colder in the mountains. But my 1961 Chevy Impala had a blazing heater, so we motored up the rough Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road without a worry.

I’d been up that road before, for giant keggers in high school. That should tell you something right there about my teenage judgment.

Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road After about an hour we reached what then was called Taylor River Campground – now Middle Fork Campground – and turned right. Already we were 14 miles from North Bend. Deep ruts, holes, and sharp boulders marred the road, and now a film of wet snow covered the shoulders.

Nonetheless, we drove onward.

Perhaps 18 or 19 miles from civilization, and still five miles from Goldmyer Hot Springs, my Impala sank into mud. We were stuck. This wasn’t simply the tires spinning atop slippery dirt – the right rear tire sank until the wheel well touched the ground.

I couldn’t go forward, couldn’t back up.

It was raining. And cold.

Did I mention we were 19 miles from town? And that I had mono?

tires stuck in mudLuanne and I took turns trying to push the car out while the other person worked the gas pedal. Tires spun, flinging mud everywhere. Both of us got caked in wet, slimy muck, but to no avail. By now we feared we truly were stranded.

(Oh, in case you’re thinking, “Dummies – why didn’t they simply call for help on their phone?” This was about umpteen years before people even had cell phones.)

Guys, if it hasn’t clicked already, this was not a good way to impress a girlfriend.

Finally, after digging a tire pathway of sorts and then jamming a large cedar slab under the buried tire, I somehow got enough traction to drive the car forward. It had to be Divine Intervention that rescued us. Things had looked awfully futile up to that point.

Cautiously I maneuvered the car to a spot where I could turn around, and we gingerly retraced our route. We reached pavement at sunset and got home after dark.

I eventually went to the doctor, got diagnosed with mono, and missed a month of college. Luanne continued to date me despite our foolish escapade, and we married three years later. She must have figured my judgment had improved.

Did you survive your own teenage driving antics? Share your comments below!

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