One Wedding And A Blizzard Of Good Turns
How a snowy honeymoon became an opportunity to help
When Max and Vern Frazier got married in 2016, they hardly suspected how they’d end up spending their first full day as a married couple. But dozens of people are glad they spent it the way they did.
Having both been previously married, and with the weather forecast for the Denver area promising snow, the couple spent their wedding night at their house near Colorado Springs, watching movies and celebrating together. They’d told no one they were getting married, but instead just snuck off to the DMV. “We walked in and pulled a ticket and nine minutes later we walked out,” recalls Max, an Air Force Public Affairs Officer who recently retired after 26 years of service. “Nothing ever happens that fast at the DMV.”
The next day, the weather forecast was for blizzard conditions. “I always like austere weather,” says Vern, who at the time had just finished a season as a wilderness ranger for the U.S. National Park Service, living in a cabin in the mountains, doing search and rescue missions and running education programs “in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’m a bit of a weather junkie,” he told Good Turns recently. “I grew up in Oklahoma. Tornadoes were a common occurrence. I’ve lived in Alaska. I like extreme weather.”
But this round of extreme weather coincided with a call from one of Max’s good friends, whose son was stranded at the Denver airport, where every flight had been cancelled. “This was a freak weather occurrence,” Vern says. “There was 12 inches of snow on the runway, and there was no forecast relief in sight. The storm was going to get worse as it got dark, and everybody was recommended to stay home.”
But the call had come mid-morning. “We decided, for fun, to get in the truck and make the trip to Denver and get him before the storm got really bad,” Vern recalls. “On a normal day, the trip was about an hour and half to get to the airport.” But on this day, it would take the couple almost eight hours.
“When we started driving north [toward the airport] it was snowing pretty good, but I could see the traffic for at least a mile ahead of me,” Vern said. “As we crested Monument Hill [at close to 8,000 feet elevation], I started seeing a weather front moving in harder, across the high plains. Then within minutes of us laughing and joking that we were doing this honeymoon adventure, it literally became a whiteout. I could see maybe ten feet in front of me.”
“You’ve got to find your bearings on where the road typically would be, and have faith that you’re going to be okay”
At the airport, the teenage son of Max’s friend was in a panic. “I think they cancelled 140 flights that day,” Vern said. “They had crammed everybody in, pushed them back out of security and into the main terminal. It was standing room only, people sleeping in the middle of the floor, things like that. I told Max, we’ll just go for it. We’ll get there. We had everything, emergency-wise, to be able to make it through the blizzard. So we just kept going. At one point I was doing a max of 15 to 25 miles per hour, on a road which is typically 75.”
And conditions were only getting worse. The couple passed tractor trailers stranded on the side of the road, and any number of smaller cars. As they did, it became clear that they had the opportunity to help more than just a single stranded teenager. “It became this issue of driving down the road, talking to cars that were stranded on the side of the road,” Vern says. “One woman in particular was just totally panicked in fright. She was in the fast lane, and I was concerned she was going to get hit. I told her to get behind me as close as she could safely do it, and try to follow me through the blizzard.”
Vern had put his hazard flashers on, and when he looked behind the truck at one point, he noticed there was a convoy of 40 to 50 cars following him and his new wife to Denver. “It was kind of a joke between us that everybody’s following [the newlyweds], but in reality that’s exactly what happened,” Vern says. “We were on the road and we just kept pressing forward at 15 to 20 miles an hour, and everybody just lined up behind the cars in front of them.”
News reports said that more than 200 people were stranded on the section of I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver, and that the National Guard had been mobilized in Humvees to rescue people. “Every time I passed a car that was stopped, I’d ask, Are you okay? Is your car operable? Can you get behind us? Just fall in line and we’ll try to get to Castle Rock, which is the first town, about 20 miles away. So that’s what we did, and when we got to Castle Rock, people got off the highway, but we got some gas and immediately got back on,” Vern says.
From Castle Rock to the Denver airport was even more difficult going, as roads had been closed and Max had to locate an open route on her cell phone as Vern drove. Progress was slowed by more rescue operations, as well. “We kept running into people stuck on the side of the road,” Vern says. “I had a very capable truck at the time, so anybody I could help, I’d stop, hook up the tow strap, and pull them out of the ditches on the side of the road.” The couple pulled at least five cars onto the road as they went. After pulling a final car out, the road had become impassable in front of them, and the couple had to backtrack the way they came, when they were just 10 miles from the airport.
Finally, they made it. “The airport was surreal,” Max says, “It was like one of those zombie moves, just cars parked on the side of the road, nobody in them. I don’t know where the people were, but the cars were lined up down the road to the airport, and there was nobody there.” At the terminal, they found Max’s friend’s son. His mother had managed to book a Denver hotel room for the teen and his rescue party, so they headed there.
After finding some food, the unlikely trio repaired to an evening of television and laughter. “So we got to spend our honeymoon hanging out with a teenager,” Max says. “He had the foldout, we had the double bed.”
The next day, they drove the teen back to the airport, and headed home. “I still to this day remember it as being fun,” Vern says. “But apparently for the 200-plus people stuck on the side of the road that night, I don’t think it was fun for them. I didn’t catch anybody’s names. They’ll just remember a guy with a white truck pulling them out of ditches.”
“We both agree that that sums up who we hope we are,” Max says, “We wouldn’t want it to be any other way.”
“When I lived in Oklahoma as a kid, sometimes we would get freak weather, and when it snowed it shut everything down. You’d get one or two inches of snow on the roads and suddenly everybody loses their minds,” Vern remembers. “I have a particular memory of my dad, we used to drive around in this pickup truck we had. I remember helping him out. He would drive down the road hooking up to people and pulling them out of ditches in these weird snow events. It was something I had done before, I was capable of doing it, so I decided to do it.”
“I have always been surprised at how people let things really get out of control in their minds, but they’re not out of control in reality,” Vern says. “I told Max, I don’t see the road any more, I’m just looking out the side window of the truck to get a sense of the snow built up on the side of the road, and I just continued to drive that way. I know the road is there, you just can’t see it. You’ve got to find your bearings on where the road typically would be, and have faith that you’re going to be okay.”
Words to live by. And a spectacular good turn, on a spectacular day. From us at Good Turns, congratulations to the bride and groom, not just on their happy marriage, but on their selfless work that snowy night in Colorado as well.
Posted July 6, 2018