Snowbound in Utah

In my first book, Mother Trucker, trucker Shelby Mathews finds herself on a perilous journey in the mountains of Utah. It wasn’t a coincidence that I picked that particular setting. When I was a rookie driver in my first year, I was sent to Vernal, Utah to deliver a load of sand. It was December, just a few days before Christmas. The trip to Vernal was not only a wonderful drive, but a great learning experience for me.

I was traveling with other drivers who were making the same delivery. After taking our break, we left Farmington, New Mexico early in the morning. We took Highway 64 west into Arizona, grabbing 160 until we reached Highway 191 northbound toward Moab. If you’ve never taken this route before, I encourage you to do so when you get the opportunity. It is absolutely beautiful; especially when you reach Moab and the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Our plan for the trip to Vernal was to take a straight shot on Highway 191 to Interstate 70, then to grab 191 again out of Green River toward Duchesne, and then go on to Vernal. Everything seemed to be going well for us until we reached Price. We were warned in Green River that the 191 pass might be closed because of early snowfall. No one was certain of the road closures, and there was more snow in the forecast.

When we reached Price, it became quite obvious from the barricaded roads that we were not taking the shortcut to Vernal. We would have to go around through Provo and Orem, to catch Highway 40 through the mountain pass or go all the way up to Interstate 80 out of Salt Lake to the top of Highway 40. Regardless of which direction we decided to take, Highway 40 through the Uinta National Forest was the only way out. The snow showed no signs of letting up as we made our plans.

I had no experience rolling an eighteen-wheel truck through snow-covered mountains, so I was nervous to say the least! My best friend, Billy, was ahead of me when we hit the mountain pass. I remember the last thing he said to me over the CB before I lost sight of him in the blizzard, “Take it easy. Just take it as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable with.”

I took his advice to heart. I don’t think I went over twenty-five miles an hour the entire time I rolled through those mountains! I knew that I had a train of cars and trucks behind me, because I could see them in my side mirrors. I hated holding everyone up like that, but I wasn’t taking any chances driving an eight-thousand-pound killing machine through that blowing snow! Billy had gone on without me, rolling his truck through those flying snowflakes without any fear. I, however, maintained my white-knuckled, easy-does-it position, and slowly climbed in and out of the Uinta Mountains.

That experience in the snow not only gave me long-lasting respect for the winter elements in our country, but also taught me a great deal about the camaraderie of truckers. There were a couple of local oil haulers trapped behind me in my slow-moving train. When I was really beginning to feel like I was never going to see the end of that white tunnel, their gentle voices came across my CB radio. They encouraged me with comments like, “Take it at your comfort there darling,” and, “Just stay between those black flags.” Having their comforting words of wisdom and support helped me through that very difficult situation.

When I finally reached Roosevelt, I breathed a long sigh of relief, thanked my new oil-hauling buddies, and went on to Vernal. I made my delivery andI found the only place available along Highway 40 to refuel, park my truck, and rest for the night. I said prayers of thanks that night before I went to sleep, and asked for warmer weather so I could make it home. I truly believe that the kindness of my fellow truckers and some assistance from the man upstairs made my holiday wishes come true. I made it through the mountains and snow in one piece and got to spend that Christmas with my family. 

Read more by Robyn Mitchell!