These photos…. oh, where do I even begin?? They are magical, and the location was my all-time favorite, ever. The weather cooperated perfectly, the children were wonderful, I mean really -every single piece came together perfectly. What’s funny is that the time we spent with this family was almost the only part of our trip that went well – and since I’ve promised the crazy story to several people, it’s at the bottom of this post, along with more about this wonderful family. 😉
Liz, the mother in these photos, is a very talented photographer based in Dallas, TX. She contacted me early this summer to see if I might be able to travel to their family cabin in Priest Lake, Idaho, where she grew up spending summers and which holds countless treasured memories for her entire family. Even though I’m in Idaho, Priest Lake is nearly to Canada, so it was about a nine hour roadtrip and I took my husband and kids and we stayed in Coeur d’Alene for a couple days and used it as our ‘home base’ instead of staying in the very remote area of Priest Lake (where we didn’t even have any cell coverage), which was still a couple hours away.
After this magical session and a lovely day spent with Liz and her extended family at their cabin, we packed up the kids and set off on our two hour drive back to our hotel in Coeur d’Alene. It was already dark and late, and about an hour into the drive we were still making our way through heavily wooded forests, still with no cell coverage, and our car started acting up. As the middle of the woods late at night is NOT the best place to break down, I just started praying and praying that our car would make it to civilization. Not too long after this, we hit the outskirts of one of the only tiny little towns between CDA and the cabin, and our car started smoking like mad and died just as we found a gas station to pull into off the highway. Since it was late, the gas station was being closed up, and we were left on a dark highway with a car that wouldn’t start and three kids in the back. I’m always a little paranoid, but this setting had ‘horror movie’ written all over it, and we stuck out like a sore thumb. Parker cried in the back for a while because somehow he thought he’d broken the car, but at least all the kids finally fell asleep and we managed to stay warm enough in the car even without jackets on a very chilly night.
Fortunately we had just enough cell service on my husband’s work phone that we had randomly brought that we could call AAA. Not so fortunately, they couldn’t get us a tow with a ride for more than one passenger and figured we could get a taxi for the rest of the family (they don’t have any taxis where we were, at least not in the middle of the night), and after an hour of waiting in this extremely uncomfortable, unsafe feeling situation while they kept looking for other tow options, we decided we’d had enough, and Justin tried the car again – which miraculously turned on and limped with us about a mile down the road to a motel. But by this time, it was midnight, our cell phones were almost dead, the motel was deserted, the after hours numbers were turned off, and we were praying hard for some ideas of what to do. We figured our only option was to sleep in the car and call the local mechanic when they opened in the morning, so we limped another mile down the road with our very crippled car to the police station, hoping at least it would be a safer spot to park and sleep with the kids than most other places in town.
We couldn’t believe our luck when there was actually an officer in the teeny tiny little police station (he’d just arrested someone and was about to make the hour-plus round trip to the nearest jail to drop him off – I’m not kidding when I say we were remote). But he was so helpful, told us to park in front of the station, and that he’d check up on us when he was back. The one other officer working also stopped by to check on us, and at least at this point we felt pretty safe, despite our high stress levels and the large number of abandoned buildings nearby and the crazy woman who parked her car, got out and punched a bush a few times, and drove off again.
A little after 1am, after trying to sleep a little in our car, God answered our prayers: AAA had found a tow with a cab that would almost fit us all and they would be there in an hour or two, however long it took to get there from Spokane. Our tow truck driver was not thrilled with being up at 2am, but he loaded our dead SUV up, we crammed five people and the kids’ carseats into too few seats, and finally, FINALLY made it back to our hotel at about 4 or 4:30 in the morning, with Parker chattering away about how cool riding in a huge truck was the entire trip.
The first thing I did when we made it back was put the kids to bed, and the first thing Justin did was see if we could keep our room another night, since we were scheduled to check out in a few hours. Buuuut there were no vacancies, and since our hotel was one of the cheapest in CDA (while still VERY expensive), that was more than a minor stress – there are only so many places to stay in that area. After a quick nap, Justin was back up to call all the local mechanics as soon as they opened to see if they could get our car in that day. He called about ten different places and every single one said they could maybe look at it by the end of the week or next week – until the very last one, which miraculously said they’d look at it that day. (Also, my husband is my hero for keeping it together during all of this after about one hour of sleep.)
We got our car to the shop, which was progress, but still had nowhere to stay that night, and no way to get anywhere in town without a car or a stroller (and I didn’t mention, the weather was over 100 degrees and extremely smoky from all of the fires in Oregon and Nevada). But more prayers were answered, and a room at our hotel opened up, and we only had to move down a couple rooms. While spending almost two full days waiting for news on our car, we tried to walk a couple places, but the location of our hotel really wasn’t ideal for that, and neither was the 100+ degree smoke outside (or the fact that in our total sleep deprivation, we’d forgotten to get our stroller and swim suits out of our car so they were stuck in it miles away at the shop). By the time we finally got our car back (with a new radiator and some $$$$$ repairs), we were SO done with the vacation that had ended up being anything but relaxing and made a very late, but very very VERY welcomed long drive back home as soon as we were loaded up.
If we hadn’t had so many great road trips before, I might be traumatized from this one and never take another. 😉 BUT good thing we’re pros at them, and we’re even headed to San Diego for Thanksgiving and a whole bunch of family sessions! Also, I cannot help but be overwhelmingly grateful for the kindest people that we encountered along our disastrous trip – the hotel staff, police officers, mechanic, etc. all did everything in their power to ease the burden of being stranded with young children. I can guarantee that wouldn’t have happened in a big city, and while being in a smaller area meant we didn’t have quite so many resources, it also meant that every person we were working with was looking out for us. That was a gift of tremendous value. Also, aside from a couple very, very stressful hours stranded next to the highway, the rest of the time we were totally safe, and I know it was a miracle that we made it to civilization before breaking down. There were so many mercies in the madness.
Anyway…. if you hung in there, I hope you can get a few laughs at least! It’s a trip that I’ll never forget, and though I never want a repeat, the memories are pretty special, even sleeping in the car and trying to convince the kids that this was all a fun adventure. Our problems are so small in the scheme of things, and that’s something I always keep close to my heart.
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© Hannah Mann 2020