Sam and Rhonda take on Teton Pass and make famous friends along the way
Rhonda the Honda’s studded tires attacked the icy pavement of Teton Pass. The frosted roadway was barely visible through dumping snow. Together–man and machine–we rallied up the steep switchback turns. At that point Rhonda and the Pass had a long-running love/hate relationship. It loved her, she hated it. It was far from her first rodeo, and she often did more with two wheels than most cars can do with four. She was my full-send 2WD bad bitch till the end (or until I could afford an upgrade). As we climbed, the snow intensified. And I stomped on the gas harder.
At the top of the Pass, the parking lot was gone. Each space was covered with drifted snow. Before swimming Rhonda into the deep end, I paced out a rough spot for us. Then we carefully backed in with Rhonda’s two good wheels facing outward. Wind ripped across the ridgeline and loaded the leeward aspects with snow. I fought through the storm, put my kit on, and headed out into the furious blizzard.
Back at the road an hour (and many face shots) later, I found Rhonda, and every other car in the lot, totally and utterly buried. But we had seen this before at Silverton, Kirkwood, and Wolf Creek. This dig would be no different. I pulled out my shovel, turned on Rhonda’s engine, and got to work. Fifteen-ish minutes later, we were in pretty good shape with a new path dug for Rhonda’s escape, visible wheels, and a defrosted interior.
Just as we were about to roll away, a stranger emerged from the whiteout and asked if I’d help dig out his friend. “Sure,” I shrugged. I followed him to the outline of an all-wheel drive, turbo-shred wagon that was hopelessly bottomed-out and buried with its ass-end facing the road.
“Holy shit, that car’s fucked!” I shouted to no-one in particular.
The owner of the entombed vehicle turned and looked at me. “Hey, I’m Jimmy,” he yelled through the storm. “Thanks for the help!” Jimmy Chin–one of my personal heroes–extended a gloved hand. I knew that he lived in Jackson Hole, and over the years he’d passed me many times while hiking up the Glory bootpack. Usually I was heaving for breath as he and a posse of pro bros powered past in full conversation, barely breaking a sweat.
But now here he was, stuck like the rest of us, his car buried by the same unforgiving storm. Human after all. A fierce determination took hold of me. I couldn’t let him down. The guy who climbed Meru! The dude who filmed Alex Honnold making history on El Cap! Now he needed my help. I threw myself at the wheel wells and crawled into the snow-choked nook under the hood. I hammered my shovel into the loaded snow until it hit grit. There in the dark under that car, I waged war against the Snow Gods—for Jimmy.
Twenty minutes later I was saturated with sweat and Jimmy Chin’s wagon was finally ready to roll. He thanked me with a fist pound and that was that. Rhonda and I made a show of tearing out of our parking spot, both front wheels spinning and spitting up gravelly snow chunks. The flex was aggressive, and I’m sure Jimmy’s squad was either deeply impressed or emasculated. Maybe a little of both.
During the drive back to town I pondered the meaning of it all. Up to that day, I’d always put some people on a pedestal. In my mind they were ‘hero-proofed’ from consequence. Groceries, bills, fighting with a partner, getting stuck in a storm—the mundanity of life surely didn’t affect the likes of Jimmy Chin?
But I was wrong. Nobody is immune. Everybody is an equal, at least in the eyes of nature. And no matter how much you’ve accomplished, your car can still get buried. Seeing a hero humbled that way made me realize that if such a man could fall, surely I could rise. And then, gripping the steering wheel and crawling downhill at a meager 10 miles an hour, it hit me: It wasn’t Jimmy that I aspired to be like. It was Rhonda. A humble steed, maybe even a little beat up, but ride-or-die and willing to step to anything. She punched way above her weight for a two-wheel-drive Civic. On any given day in Jackson Hole, it was Rover, Wrangler…and Rhonda.
I never saw Jimmy Chin again (not counting his Disney+ series). And I eventually lost Rhonda to marauders in Salt Lake City. But the lessons I learned from both linger still. Any of us can get stuck, so you might as well give everything you’ve got, fearless and free. That’s how I want to be–in life, storycraft, and riding–powering through the falling snow.
Sam Morse is a Peter Pan Syndrome survivor and the celebrated author of classics like The Ski Town Fairytale.