The sun felt so very good.
I was part of a group of 9 friends touring Iceland for 8 days. We flew into Iceland in the middle of a snowstorm, and the weather had been unforgiving ever since. That didn’t stop us. Daily, we drove our rental cars far-and-wide in search of epic scenery and unique dining experiences.
But today, today things were different. There was sun. Not tropical-style-warm-sand-and-beach-sun. This was normal run-of-the-mill sun, but it was magical nonetheless. It kept poking its head out from the clouds. It had even managed to melt all but the deepest snow, which lingered miles from the road. Clouds swayed like Hula hoops atop ranks of friendly looking mountains. All was peaceful and calm.
What could go wrong? Nothing, obviously.
That day in particular was a long driving day. We spent hours driving hundreds of kilometers. But only one kilometer stands out in my memory. A kilometer where they could have died.
Unbeknownst to us, our GPS had taken us off the main road and onto a side route that left the coastal highway and detoured through the mountains. Snow was no longer miles from the road. Rather, it now covered everything except the black ribbon of pavement cutting up into ever higher elevations.
We turned a bend and suddenly the road disappeared. Where the road should have been there was only a blanket of white. And atop the white was a car desperately spinning its tires in hopes of moving a few hundred feet forward to where the road once more appeared. The map below shows roughly where we were.
We quickly parked our cars and raced to help the stranded motorists. They turned out to be very friendly Taiwanese Americans from New York City. With much pushing and pulling, and digging out of tires, the car was finally dislodged from the snow and made it safely to the bare road.
Seeing their luck, and the tire tracks that now led through the snow, we also decided to drive through the snow to the other side. Both our vehicles had All Wheel Drive, as well as snow tires. The driver of the first revved his engine and then took off! He got stuck, but our snowy pit crew was now well trained. It wasn’t long until he was free of the snow and onto the other side.
Then it was my turn to take the second car through the snow. I also got the car stuck. Another 30-minutes of pushing the car, and digging out the tires, and our second car was safely through the snow.
Then it happened. A group of Chinese tourists asked if we could help them take their car across the snowy road, but in the opposite direction from the way our cars had traveled. “Of course” we said. After all, we had taken three cars across the snow patch at this point. Sure, this would be the first car traveling in the opposite direction across the snow. But how hard could it be? We would find it hard! Very hard!
Within moments their two-wheel-drive vehicle was stuck up to the front bumper in snow. The harder the driver revved the engine the deeper the car dug. Soon all four tires were completely buried. We started to dig them out, but then the weather turned against us.
The car was situated in a shallow valley between two mountains. Everything was covered in snow. Suddenly the wind appeared, caught up all the surround snow in its arms, and whipped it around the vehicle. We were getting buried faster than we could dig ourselves or the vehicle out of the snow.
Furthermore, the tourists spoke very limited English and had no cell phone reception. Even seeing was impossible since the wind drove the icy snow against our faces. The situation had become dire fast. At this point, someone in our group said we could do nothing else to help them, our own cars would be soon snowed in. We had to leave them!
“No” I screamed above the wind and snow. “If we leave them they WILL DIE!”
A short debate ensued. Thankfully I won. We were staying to help. But would could we actually do to help?
Thankfully, we found someone in our group who had cell reception. We were able to call the police, and then get transferred to the tourists’ car rental agency. A tow-truck was dispatched with an one-hour ETA. As if by fate, a German tourist drove up at the same moment. He parked on the far side of the snowy road, in the direction the tourists were trying to travel.
Once again, serendipitous, someone in our group spoke German. He was able to ask the German man to let the Taiwanese tourists stay in the shelter of his car until the tow truck arrived. Thankfully, his side of the valley was protected from the wind, and no new snow had fallen on the road.
We then departed in our cars a few moments before they would have been snowed in completely, being on the side of the road at the mercy of the wind. Within 10 minutes of driving away from the scene we were passed by a tow truck speeding in the opposite direction. Our new Taiwanese friends were moments from being saved! We had done our good deed for the day.
Travel Takeaway: The easy approach would have been to leave our fellow tourists when things got rough. I am glad we didn’t, as they could have easily died from hypothermia.