“I didn’t want it to be over with.”

How85- year- old Ruby Stein and her cat, Nikki, sur­vived five frigid days stranded in the Colorado moun­tains

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul

For about 20 miles, 85- year- old Ruby Stein wres­tled her 2007 Nis­san Sen­tra up an un­paved, steep moun­tain road south of Gyp­sum. She­was lost and search­ing for In­ter­state 70 af­ter tak­ing a wrong turn while try­ing to beat a win­ter storm home.

Alone, with no one in sight and only a back­coun­try skier’s tracks around her, the steel- haired woman then found her­self stuck at a dead end. Stein tried to rev her tiny ma­roon ve­hi­cle back and forth, as she had learned from years of ranch­ing on the East­ern Plains, but her car was swal­lowed by mud, snow and ice as her cat, Nikki, looked on with a cu­ri­ous stare.

“I blowed my horn and blowed my horn and flashed my lights un­til the bat­tery ran down,” said Stein, who lives in the north­east Colorado town of Akron. “Then my car went dead. I had a cell­phone with me, but it wouldn’t work.”

“To me,” she added in her slight drawl, “it was a nor­mal life un­til this hap­pened.”

Stein said she ended up spend­ing four nights and five

days stranded in the Ea­gle County wilder­ness, us­ing MacGyver- like re­source­ful­ness to keep her­self alive as snowfell on and off. She ra­tioned what lit­tle food she had — a par­tial sweet roll and a Rice Krispies Treat— and used safety pins to fash­ion a blan­ket from the clothes thatwere in her car.

She scooped up and melted snow in a cat food con­tainer to stay hy­drated.

“I was keep­ing my­self very, very calm,” Stein said. “I knew I ei­ther had to or it was over with. I have too many great grand­kids and grand­kids. I didn’t want it to be over with.”

One wrong turn

Stein had de­cided to make the 245- mile trip from Akron to see her grand­daugh­ter Alee Preuss be­cause three years had passed since she last saw Preuss and her four chil­dren.

“I thought, ‘ I want to run over and see them for a lit­tle while,’ ” Stein said.

But on March 21, af­ter a few days with her grand­chil­dren and with a storm loom­ing, she opted to cut her trip short to avoid the has­sle of be­ing stuck at the Eisen­hower- Johnson tunnels, re­mem­ber­ing a sour ex­pe­ri­ence she had there a fewyears back. Stein got di­rec­tions, packed up her car and took off for home.

“I don’t un­der­stand what hap­pened,” Stein said. “I thought I took a right turn.”

In­stead of head­ing to­ward I- 70, she drove far­ther and far­ther away from civ­i­liza­tion into the LEDE Reser­voir area in Ea­gle County, way out­side cell­phone range. Stein says she re­al­ized right away how se­ri­ous her sit­u­a­tion was.

“I went as far as I could pos­si­bly go, I guess,” Stein said. “I tried to get up on the snow to keep trac­tion, out of the mud, and my driver­side wheel went down into the mud— and that’s where I stayed.”

She took stock of the few items she had, dis­cov­er­ing the but­ter­scotch- fla­vored Rice Krispies Treats snack that she didn’t know was there and thank­ful that she had de­cided to keep the sweet roll. Stein al­lowed her­self two bites of each every day. There­was plenty of dry cat food for Nikki, and at one point Stein pon­dered whether she might also have to in­dulge.

“When my Rice Krispies treat was get­ting close, I thought, ‘ It might be good,’ ” Stein said. “I was look­ing out the win­dow for fo­liage or some­thing else to eat.”

To keep warm, she stuffed the clothes her grand­daugh­ter had given her to do­nate in the door and win­dow crevices.

The first day came and went with­out any signs of hope. On March 22, a he­li­copter flew over­head and Stein thought she would be res­cued — telling Nikki, “They’re here to save us!” — but it never re­turned.

She didn’t get out of her ve­hi­cle, which was sur­rounded by snow. In­stead, she spent time think­ing and read­ing a book.

“I just did a lot of think­ing,” she said. “You know, ‘ What if? What if?’ Just take it as it comes is how I felt.”

March 23 also came and went. As did March 24.

“On Satur­day, I would have run out of ev­ery­thing I had,” Stein said. “I thought, ‘ That’s it. What­ever God wants, God wants.’ ”

Fate­ful de­ci­sion

Dan Hig­bee and Katie Pre­ston made plans to ski Satur­day and were de­bat­ing a trip to the moun­tains in Aspen or go­ing to a re­sort in Ea­gle County. Even­tu­ally, they set­tled on Beaver Creek, but by the time they got there — just be­fore 11 a. m. — the ski area’s park­ing lots were full, so they de­cided to hike in­stead.

Pre­ston be­gan search­ing on an app for a place to go and found three trail­heads, one of which was up Gyp­sum Creek Road, south of Gyp­sum and near LEDE Reser­voir. They hopped in Hig­bee’s Toy­ota Tun­dra pickup and headed up.

“It­was muddy and slushy, and he was in four- wheel drive and we were swerv­ing ev­ery­where,” Pre­ston said. “In four- wheel drive, it was pretty nasty.”

The cou­ple couldn’t find the trail­head, so they opted to drive to­ward the reser­voir and hike there.

“We kept go­ing, and it was kind of a lit­tle nervewrack­ing — slip­ping and slid­ing,” Hig­bee said. “If I would have stopped my mo­men­tum, we would have been stuck. We drove un­til we couldn’t drive any­more. And then there’s this Nis­san Sen­tra.”

Ini­tially, the pair be­lieved the ve­hi­cle had been aban­doned, think­ing there was no way such a small car could make it up such a rough road. But be­cause one of its doors was propped open, they de­cided to make sure no one was in­side.

They called out, ask­ing if any­one was there and if they were OK. A faint voice an­swered, Hig­bee re­counted.

“She was in the back of the car,” he said. “She said, ‘ No, ev­ery­thing is not OK.’ ”

It was Ruby Stein, a bit dis­ori­ented and shocked to see a hu­man af­ter five days alone, but she was oth­er­wise un­scathed. She wasn’t hy­pother­mic, and she had no frost­bite. Nikki, the cat, lounged in­side the small car.

“She had more food out for the cat than she did for her­self,” Pre­ston said. “A full bowl of cat food was just sit­ting there. We gave her food. We got her water. We got her cat, her keys and her purse.”

The cou­ple says as they drove back to­ward Gyp­sum, they had to re­mind Stein— whowas talk­ing non­stop— to keep drink­ing and eat­ing be­tween words.

Jessie Porter, spokes­woman for the Ea­gle County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, said the road where Stein got stuck is just a dirt road in a ru­ral moun­tain­ous area.

“It’s not a fully main­tained road at this time of year,” she said, “and it’s not well trav­eled this time of year be­cause it can be very muddy.”

The Wash­ing­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in Akron had is­sued a statewide “Be on the look­out” bul­letin for Stein af­ter her fam­i­ly­mem­bers re­ported that she never made it home.

But Porter says no ma­jor search team was launched be­cause of lim­ited staffing at the Ea­gle County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and au­thor­i­ties had no idea where Stein had gone.

That left it up to Stein’s fam­ily to look for her. They were out every day last week, driv­ing around the I- 70 cor­ri­dor in hopes of find­ing their ma­tri­arch. Stein’s grand­daugh­ter, Preuss, said she cried all day, every day.

In the end, all it took to res­cue Stein was a last- minute de­ci­sion to go hik­ing.

“To have Katie and I change our plans as many times as we did dur­ing the day to end up in that spot where we needed to be to help some­body is one thing,” Hig­bee said. “But to see her re­u­nited with her fam­ily was so emo­tional. Katie and I, for the rest of the day we were pro­cess­ing what hap­pened. We are still pro­cess­ing what hap­pened.”

Pre­ston and Hig­bee took Stein straight to her grand­daugh­ter’s house, call­ing au­thor­i­ties and her fam­ily mem­bers on the way.

“We weren’t here when she got here,” Preuss said. “We were out driv­ing around look­ing. My cell­phone ser­vice was go­ing in and out, and then I kept get­ting text mes­sages frommy grandma’s phone. Whenwe got here, the sher­iff was here and paramedics were check­ing her out. We just cried. Ba­si­cally ev­ery­one who was here was just cry­ing.”

“Al­ways been a doer”

Stein’s rel­a­tives are still in dis­be­lief.

“She means the world to ab­so­lutely every sin­gle one of us,” Preuss said.“We love her to pieces. She’s right back to her nor­mal self.”

Stein has five chil­dren, nine grand­chil­dren and eight great- grand­chil­dren. Her hus­band died in 2007, and for the past sev­eral years she has been liv­ing in Akron with one of her sons.

Stein at­trib­uted her sur­vival, in part, to her up­bring­ing. “I’ve got scars on my body from horses,” she said.

“I’m only 5 foot and 110 pounds. I’ve just al­ways been a doer. I’m an old farm girl from the day Iwas born.”

Stein said her chil­dren have talked in the days since her or­deal about tak­ing her car away, but she won’t hear of it.

“I said, ‘ They bet­ter not takemy car!’” she said. “I’ve driven since I was 12 years old out on the farm in Kansas.”

Mean­time, Nikki, the cat, seems un­fazed by the or­deal.

“The cat’s great,” Stein said.

Ali­son Bor­den, The Den­ver Post

A wrong turn Ruby Stein made a wrong turn search­ing for In­ter­state 70 and trav­eled south of Gyp­sum be­fore be­com­ing stuck near the LEDE Reser­voir area.

Dan Hig­bee, Spe­cial to The Den­ver P0st

Ruby Stein’s 2007 Nis­san Sen­tra got stuck in the mud on an un­paved, steep moun­tain road south of Gyp­sum.

Ruby Stein said there­was plenty of dry cat food in her car for Nikki, and at one point she pon­dered­whether she might also have to par­take. Alee Preuss, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.