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A Thanksgiving to remember

Once in a while there’s an adventure so unusual, it ends up being an experience you never forget. My wife Betsy and I had such an experience when managing our bed and breakfast, Gold Mountain Manor, near Big Bear Lake over the Thanksgiving weekend.

It was no surprise a large snowstorm was marching toward Southern California starting the day before Thanksgiving. By Wednesday afternoon, it was clear most of our guests with reservations were unable to drive up the mountain because of snow. Most simply cancelled their reservation for a refund.

Now that our once full Manor had five rooms open (out of seven), we prepared for a slow holiday because the roads were closing to the Big Bear area. But it didn’t take long before a non-stop express of people stuck in knee-deep snow started calling the Manor desperate for a room. By the end of the day, the Manor was filled again, even overbooked to accommodate these frozen travelers.

Their stories were all pretty similar. Most people simply could not get out of town because the roads were closed. That included a mother of four who tried to leave in the middle of the storm Thursday, only to get turned back in all directions. When she called and discovered there was a room cancellation, she became quite emotional, relieved her family had a place to stay.

To my wife’s credit, she kept answering the phone, trying to help when she could. The problem was the area was so overwhelmed with snow, hotels were filled, tow trucks were backed up for hours, and the roads were almost unusable even for the biggest of four-wheel drive vehicles. Many people were simply left to fend for themselves in the middle of a snowstorm.

I have to admit, I was surprised how unprepared people were for a blizzard that was forecast to arrive days in advance. Which brings me to the story of Joseph (name changed to hide identity), his wife and teenage daughter.

When Joseph first called, his minivan was stuck in a church parking lot covered by a foot of snow. How he got to that point is still unclear, but he was calling hotel after hotel until he finally called us at the Manor. At that point, he not only needed a room, but also a ride since his family could not walk in the frigid weather.

This is when I had to make a decision whether to risk picking them up, even with our four-wheel drive SUV. Given they were less than one mile away, I dug my car out and went on my way.

When I found Joseph, his entire family was huddled in their car, buried in snow, with no one around. Once I started talking to them, it was obvious they had little to no experience with snow. Unfortunately, with the added weight of three passengers, we were not going anywhere because my SUV didn’t have enough ground clearance to drive over the snow.

This is when I decided the only way out was to dig. Joseph got out of the car and I started clearing snow from under the vehicle with my hands. It was hard, cold work, but this was our way out. I then looked for Joseph to push. But where was he? It took a minute, but I finally noticed he was huddled in the entrance of the church to stay dry.

Now getting a little frustrated, I asked Joseph to help push the car. After 30 minutes and three tries, I freed the car and took everyone over to the Manor. But this story is not over.

After feeding Joseph’s family, he was able to book a room to wait out the storm. But as the day progressed, Joseph was growing impatient and wanted to get out of town immediately. He kept calling even though we told him numerous times the roads were closed.

Eventually, he was able to find a driver with a large four-wheel drive truck. But we had numerous people calling and could not hold his room. He insisted on doing both, but it all quickly became moot since his ride was now stuck trying to pull a car out of a ditch. It would be 24 hours before a tow truck could pull the truck to safety.

The issue now was Joseph wanted someone to get the person he called to rescue him. Finally, one of our guests with his own large truck agreed to drive out into the storm. Within an hour we had another guest, who would sleep on our couch for the next two nights.

It was Thanksgiving night and because of my wife, we were able to celebrate the holiday with a wonderful meal. By Friday morning, we were buried under two feet of snow with still no way out of town.

It wasn’t until 24 hours later on Saturday, our guests were able to leave using the one open road down the mountain. But Joseph still did not have a ride. So I told him he could come down the mountain with us in the afternoon. But Joseph could not wait and booked a ride from a local resident. We then made new plans to drive someone else down with us. Our taxi was full.

When we were about 15 minutes from leaving, Joseph came up to me and said his ride had fallen through. He now wanted to go with us. But the best we could do was offer his family couches to sleep on. The Manor was full with people who made reservations. I suggested he start calling other hotels since rooms were now available in Big Bear Lake.

The final solution for Joseph and his family came when one of the Manor employees offered to drive them down the mountain to Lucerne Valley, even though there was a four-hour traffic jam to get back up. Joseph paid $450 to get his family that ride.

As we were driving, we passed the church where Joseph’s car was parked. The lot had been plowed and the only snow was around his car. They could easily get out now! We called Joseph to tell him. But he was too tired to drive. I’m thinking, “Yes Joseph, we know the feeling.”

In situations like this, sometimes the best solution is to keep your head down and just plow ahead. For most of four days, Betsy and I dealt with one issue after another. We ended up housing and feeding 12 surprise guests stuck in a Thanksgiving storm. But we would not have done anything differently.

In the end, we all gave thanks everyone remained safe. Heck, it was Thanksgiving! But if it’s your first time up in the mountains, we highly recommend checking out the scenery in the summertime.

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