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Balancing pavement, patience and mindfulness on the chase for something white.
The ebony winter night shrouded the windows of my cab as I pulled off the I-15 for fuel somewhere near Idaho Falls, Idaho. After cutting the engine’s grumble and stepping outside, I heard the sound of rushing fluids slapping the greasy asphalt. Weary and unsure of what was leaking from my 2004 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins, I phoned my mechanic buddy back home. Could it be this beast’s water just broke and it’s going into labor? Upon further inspection, I discovered it was just a leaky water pump and not a breached baby lamb.
With the reassurance from my mechanic: “You’ll be OK… for a bit,” I decided to push on into the night to meet the storm brewing in Revelstoke, BC. With my eyes on the engine temp gauge as the outside temp dipped to 10 degrees, I pushed on a few more hours and pulled off in Lima, Montana, crawling into my camper for the night.
I woke up to sub-zero temps and opted for making coffee over my frozen gypsy shack in the warmth of the rest stop. With the water pump about done it meant there was no heat in the cab. The hot coffee did little to cut the bone chilling cold. I watched the outside temperature gauge dip further into the negatives with only the windshield’s glass separating me from the negative 15-degree sting and 70 mph wind chill. I quickly pulled over to throw on Sorels, a down jacket, gloves, beanie—all the riding essentials and more—just to drive.
Somewhere outside Butte, Montana, I saw my engine temp gauge ping upward—the pump had fully blown. I immediately pulled over. There I was, with a beat up old diesel, camper and snowmobile in tow, in the middle of a frozen nowhere.
I could ramble about the road a lot—the beautiful locations it leads us to, the mechanical failures of the machines that take us there. I could recommend books on tape, podcasts, or obscure rural towns to enhance the travels. But this story is about where snow takes us and why.
Whether you know it or not, or like to admit it or not, snowstorms carry more than snow with them. Stocked in that floating mass of moisture hangs anticipation, escape, credit card debt, hospital bills, bliss, friendship, cheers and so much more. The impact travels far beyond the white flakes that fall. Towns, lifts, lives and dreams are built around winter weather patterns. Whether you chase powder or not, the behavior of winter storms ultimately influences our own actions.
“There I was in the middle of a frozen nowhere.”
Think for a minute where you live and how snow and mountains have led you there. Maybe that one epic powder day during that one trip made you move. Perhaps the scroll of snowboard edits made you search out terrain park paradise in Summit County, Colorado, or Tahoe, California. Possibly you were fortunate enough to grow up in the foothills of a world class riding area like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and can actually afford to live there.
Maybe you broke it down by math, calculating the long running list of snowfall averages at said spots. You could’ve even debated drive times and chose your residence, career or school accordingly. You might have taken a job in Southern California, then fought to return to the mountains.
These are all things we as snowboarders have contemplated at least once in our lives. The urge to chase snowfall can tear at our stomachs when we scroll through the feed of places getting hammered, the bragstagram posts, the snow depth tallies. It’s a test of our patience, of our choice of residence in the meteorological place of space. When it’s not where we are, we cringe. When those flakes are piling up outside our window, we rejoice. But peace can be found in both places, though that’s the true challenge.
This past winter I logged nearly 20,000 miles of pavement in search of snow. I don’t mind long hours behind the wheel or wind ripping through the cab. I enjoy loud music and viewing the beauty of the rural West through my windshield. But this amount of travel is rough, whether it’s the inherent dangers of driving, the strain on the senses, pollution, or financial burden that come with it.
While pinging from spot to spot, I missed some storms and scored on others. There were times I wished to be couch-bound, anticipating the next storm. But waiting for snowfall forces us to reflect, to slow down, and to soak in our surroundings.
In the end, I made it to Revelstoke, BC, a day late and missed the storm after a tow and repair in Butte, Montana, set me back.
But in the end it’s not about how many powder days you chalked up, it’s a matter of making it all worth the wait.
Ben Gavelda is the 2016 National Hermit Crab Race Champion.