2013—Day 265—A Harrowing Day

Yesterday will stand forever as one of the most stressful and harrowing days in my life. My sister-in-law and I traveled to Lake Tahoe to photograph a wedding, my first. She accompanied me as my photography assistant. Our day was one of continuous stresses. The stress we experienced yesterday between 7:55AM and 7:55PM, exactly a 12 hour period, ranged from an annoyingly misplaced set of car keys that started the day, to driving over Donner Pass through near blizzard conditions. And, yes, thoughts of the infamous Donner Party’s experiences did cross our minds as we jokingly wondered whether the wedding favor shortbread cookies would sustain us if we got stranded or if we would have to take more drastic measures). In between these stresses was a first ever wedding photo shoot for me. Despite meticulous planning on my part, nothing went right, creating more stress.

Our drive to Lake Tahoe became harrowing when torrential rains inundated the roadway and created hazardous driving conditions, slowing us to half our normal speed. When we finally arrived at our destination, the weather at Lake Tahoe was cool with stiff breezes causing large waves to lap on the shore. The storm hadn’t arrived but was on its imminent way and it was clear that Plan B was necessary.

Only an hour before the ceremony, the decision was made to move it indoors. Planned outdoor pre ceremony photos of the bridal party were cancelled because of the high winds that would have ruined hairdos. Last minute indoor preparations delayed the start of the ceremony by 45 minutes.

The indoor location, in which I had expected to take only a few reception photos, became the location of the wedding ceremony, and the location of all of the wedding party photos, along with guest photos originally planned outdoors with the lake as a backdrop. The indoor venue turned out to be a dingy, rustic room with worn dark carpeting and large picture windows facing the lake. These windows were the backdrop for most of my photos. I had to use my speed light to overcome the glare of the windows but due to the high, dark ceiling, I was unable to bounce the flash effectively. I hoped to be able to bounce it off a reflector or ceiling or wall but there were no nearby walls and the ceiling was too high and was too dark.

The hastily arranged room was crowded with chairs for the guests, wedged in between the already decorated and set tables, so there was no room for me to position myself for optimum photographs of the ceremony. One guest decided to video the ceremony with his iPad and chose the aisle where I had planned to take photographs of the ceremony. I ducked under him as I moved about the room to avoid ruining his picture but he never offered to move so I could capture photos of the ceremony. The bride and groom’s request of me was that if I had to miss a picture because taking it would inconvenience one of their guests, I should miss the picture…so I did. I stressed about whether I was doing the right thing, not asking him to move, but in the end, I took the shots from angles other than those I’d planned.

After a several hours, Sue and I were able to relax with the other guests for a brief time with a lovely meal, a Wet Woody (an obscene sounding and obscenely delicious signature drink from the venue), a glass of wine and a sip of champagne. My assistant cut me off after a single sip of champagne so I would be able to drive home safely. When we heard that it was starting to snow at Donner Pass, we consulted with the bride and groom and they graciously released us from our task.

At 4:30, we climbed into the car and headed home. The snow flurries turned to heavy snow and the roadway sign announced that chain requirements were in force over the summit. What? I’ve never driven in any kind of snow, let alone with chains. And where was I supposed to get chains? It was the first day of fall. Winter storms aren’t expected until later. The roadside chain monkeys haven’t started their businesses yet and there is no place to stop to buy them. We inched forward as the road became thick with snow, the car became piled with snow, my jaw became set in a clench, and my hands wrapped the steering wheel in a death grip. Our speed was well under five miles an hour as the snow deepened. We finally called my brother Arthur, awaiting our return at my house… “What is the AM radio station we need to dial to get current road conditions?” We called him back…”What gear am I supposed to drive in?” We called him back again…”What does it mean when the tires make a thumping sound? Can I drive without chains?” Then we called him back again…”OK we’re at Soda Springs, can you find current road conditions?” By this time, Art was able to find a real time video of the highway a couple of miles from where we were, so we were encouraged to learn that the road might be clearing slightly by the time we reached Kingvale. It was getting to Kingvale that was the issue. After an agonizingly snail’s pace of a drive, through the ruts created by the car ahead, we finally found ourselves heading out of the snow about 6PM. It had taken us more than an hour to travel the few miles over the summit.

We arrived at Famous Mo’s in Rocklin about 7PM. We were greeted like celebrities (we’d called ahead), and given calming glasses of wine, then headed home for the final leg of our journey, where Arthur waited for us with homemade butternut squash soup. At 7:55PM, exactly 12 hours from the time we discovered the keys were missing, we arrived home safely. And, as I reached into the back seat of my car for my camera bag/purse, there on the back seat lay my car keys. WTF?

Here are a few iPhone shots taken during our snowy drive. Sue took the first three shots. The first is at the summit, I believe, with the two ruts in the roadway we were trying to follow. The second is one of the first snowy shots she took before it became harrowing; me: “oh, isn’t it pretty; oh, I wish I could stop and take some decent photos; oh, be sure to take good shots, Sue.” The third, as I’m beginning to freak out. I took the last shot, when we had come to a complete stop. It is my blog, after all, so at least one shot has to be mine!

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