SEATTLE, Washington » John and Patricia Norvell kept thinking someone would come help them as they sat trapped for four days on a secluded, forest road near Mount St. Helens with only jelly beans to eat and snow for water.
But as the third and fourth days approached, John said he felt dark at times, even as his wife’s spirits remained high.
The 63-year-olds from Vancouver, Wash., played cribbage, spooned snow into water bottles, and ran the engine just a few minutes at a time to stay warm and save gas. Sometimes, they turned the ignition just enough to run their heated seats off the battery.
Their ordeal, which began when the couple’s Jeep Grand Cherokee slid into a waist-deep ditch, ended Friday when they were spotted by campers.
"’Good Samaritan’ doesn’t even begin to cover these guys, what they did," John Norvell said in a phone interview Saturday. "They shoveled us out and they pulled us out, they gave me five gallons of gas and they didn’t want nothing in return. I’ll never forget these guys."
The couple was 30 miles from the nearest town when their SUV slid into the ditch Monday during a drive amid the snow-freighted evergreens. They wanted to try a new camera that John received from the Frito-Lay plant in Vancouver, where he worked for 38 years before retiring in January.
During their ordeal, about 2 feet of snow fell and the temperature dipped into the teens at night.
By the middle of the week, their family was worried. They went to the couple’s home to find their cats unfed and called authorities. Their granddaughter’s husband, Leland Foster, said relatives frantically tried to figure out where they might have gone. They hadn’t used their credit card since Saturday.
"No one had any clue," Foster said. "Normally they tell you, ‘Hey we’re going to drive to the beach today,’ or ‘We’re going to go here.’ They had talked about maybe going to the seaside or Port Angeles. We called every hotel in Port Angeles. It was a dead end everywhere we went."
The couple said they had tried to call their family earlier Monday while having lunch in Cougar, to tell relatives they would be driving into the mountains. But they couldn’t get cell phone reception.
They drove up a single-lane Forest Service road and finally decided they had gone too far. Norvell said he backed the vehicle down the road, hit a rut and slid into the ditch.
They made a list of what kind of supplies they wished they had — shovel, food, more water — so they’d remember to pack that in the future.
"We talked about what we were going to do if things got worse. I was having anxiety attacks. I had to take such deep breaths. She kept trying to tell me she wanted to walk out," John Norvell said, referring to his wife. "My gut was to stay in the vehicle. It was warm. It had gas. It was sheltered."
John, who had grown tired of the jelly beans by the second day, said the snow helped them endure the ordeal: "Every time my tummy growled, I just drank more water."
The couple, who are diabetic, tested their blood-sugar a few times a day. Their readings had never been so good.
John said their rescuers came Friday afternoon as he got out of his SUV. A woman walked over to check on them, accompanied by three men with Toyota trucks. They had dropped off some gear at a nearby cabin when they came across the stranded vehicle covered in snow.
On the way home, the Norvells pulled into a gas station, where they ran into an EMT. They talked to him for a few minutes; he told them they seemed fine.
Norvell said despite the stress, one good has come out of it.
The couple will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary early next month, and "I tell you what, we are closer now than ever," John Norvell said.