Epic Motherhood Fail at Donner Summit

Momservation: If you can’t beat them, be the first one the hell out of there.

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I bring shame.

When the big moment came to step up and defend my family from imminent danger, I failed in hilarious or horrific fashion (depending on if you were a witness or my family).

Thankfully my family has forgiven me. However, my standing as a take-no-prisoners-bad-a**-b*tch has taken a significant hit.

It was last Saturday. There were 15 of us between the three families who decided to explore the old railroad snow sheds of Donner Summit. Starting at the tram parking lot of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort you can walk through abandoned train tunnels that were last used in 1993. The railroad tracks have been removed and graffiti covers nearly every surface of the cement snow sheds.

courtesy of throughmylens.com

It was a fascinating and amazing hike. We went through about 5 snow sheds of varying lengths (400 meters to a ¾ of a mile) for about 3 ½ miles. Between tunnels and through built in cut-outs were spectacular views of Donner Lake and the surrounding Sierras. It was a hot day and the tunnels provided natural air-conditioning. Amazingly, there were still sizable patches of snow on the ground at nearly mid-July which created waterfalls and running creeks throughout the blasted stone and cemented tunnels.

This is where I go on record of admitting that I am not as brave and bad-a** as I seem. One of the chinks in my armor of projected toughness is that I am extremely claustrophobic. Though these tunnels are large enough to accommodate a train, the only way I could muster the courage to enter was if I could literally see light at the end of the tunnel or if there was light penetrating through the cutouts (presumably for train smoke and mountain water to escape).

There was also the peer pressure of staying with the group or being left in a darkened tunnel in the middle of a mountain all alone. But each tunnel, no matter the length, seemed to offer just enough light to proceed. Plus, I had my iPhone flashlight when the walls seemed to close in on me.

courtesy of throughmylens.com

And it was just really cool. The adventure, the history, the breathtaking views (and lots of other hikers including little kids and dogs), ended up overpowering my visceral urge to turn and run out.

Until the 3rd tunnel.

This time I was actually one of the first two people into the ½ mile tunnel that curved around the mountain into darkness. We were about 200 yards in when I heard a low rumble. I froze. Did anyone else hear that or had the darkened tunnel resurrected my paranoia?

I looked at my friend, Jen, next to me. She had frozen too. “Do you hear that?” I asked with growing panic hoping she didn’t as the rumbling seemed to get louder.

“What is that?” she replied ratchetting up my fear.

I looked around at my group to gauge their reaction to the rumbling that not only was getting louder, but progressing toward us. Everyone was frozen in confusion. Instinctively we all looked down at the ground to make sure we weren’t standing on railroad tracks.

I looked at my husband who had been holding my hand and reassuring me throughout the tunnels. Seeing the look of alarm on his face did it.

Without a word I turned and ran.

I didn’t know what I was running from. But as the echoing rumbling bore down on us and intensified I thought: They built the new train tracks above the tunnel! Even though we had just climbed on top of the tunnels where there were no new tracks, I still ran because train or no train I was as sure as hell wasn’t going to trust the structural integrity of these long abandoned tunnels.

As I raced toward the daylight that offered safety, I realized I had caused a stampede. Teenagers and my friend, Mel, who had been behind me, now ran in front of me toward the clearing we had just been at. Another teenager sprinted passed me.

When we all finally reached the opening and darted toward the side of the tunnel instinctively out of harms way, fear and a loud roar was throbbing my ears. I looked into the tunnel at the now undeniable sound of an approaching rumble.

That’s when I saw a light coming at us at a high rate of speed. I wasn’t being irrational after all! It was a ghost train!

My daughter, who had popped out the tunnel next to me, also registered scared disbelief. We were about to step forward to make sense of what we were seeing when a motorcycle whizzed out of the tunnel right in front of us. A dune buggy ATV zipped out right behind it.

I looked at my daughter and burst into tears and laughter. “Oh my God!” I said with dawning horror of what I had just done in the face of actual danger and not irrational fear. “I just abandoned my family!”

“Yes, you did,” was Whitney’s accusatory reply as we bent over trying to catch our breath. “You didn’t even yell ‘Run!’”

“I thought I was just being a chicken!” I tried to defend myself still laugh-crying.

The group who ran out with me huddled together rehashing what the heck just happened and our individual reactions to it.

“That was so scary!” said one.

“That was hilarious!” said another.

“When you see a Wheeler run…you run!” said Mel explaining her flight.

Luckily my family still loves me

“I can’t believe I abandoned my family!” I wailed again in abject failure.

“Yes, you did, Honey,” announced Hubby walking out with the rest of the group who held their ground and found safety by following the dads’ orders to press back against the tunnel walls.

“I am a horrible mother!”

“But a fast runner!” offered Jen trying to make me feel better. “You should have seen your arms pumping to get out of there!”

So, yeah. When it came to fight or flight…turns out I’m a runner. I’m not the Tiger Mom I thought I was. I’m the Field Mouse Mom. And when it was time to hand out the paper plate awards for our Donner Lake trip honoring unique and special contributions to our weekend I was honored with this not-so-venerable distinction:

The Every Man For Himself Award.

I bring shame.

#DonnerSummitSnowSheds  #DonnerSummitGhostTrain  #MotherhoodFail

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