Life

Canadian survives 3 days stuck on Iowa road

A pickup drives along a snowy Iowa road (Jeff Raasch/The Gazette)
A pickup drives along a snowy Iowa road (Jeff Raasch/The Gazette)

A Canadian woman is thankful to be alive after spending more than three days stranded in her car when it became stuck in the mud on a rural Iowa road.

Terry Harnish, 72, of Hubbards, Nova Scotia, was visiting friends on Thanksgiving when she took a wrong turn onto a dirt road outside Fairfield.

She was rescued the following Sunday after her car was discovered by a group of snowmobilers.

“I was a bit concerned. I knew my angels and God would save me, but I’m glad those boys came along,” she told the Des Moines Register last week.

Harnish, who was staying at the Maharishi University of Management, was driving to visit friends Thursday afternoon when she took the wrong turn.

She said she passed a few farmhouses before encountering several inches of mud.

“The car started to fishtail,” she said.

Harnish tried to turn the car around, but that’s when the real problems started. The tiny Nissan got stuck in mud up to the wheel wells.

Harnish, who recently had a knee replaced, said she tried to walk to one of the farmhouses she’d passed, “but the mud was so thick” she kept getting stuck.

At one point, she lost her balance and fell face first. Harnish said she laid in the mud for about two hours before regaining the strength to stand up.

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She fell a second time trying to wipe the mud from her shoes. When she regained her footing after another long rest in the mud, she decided to head back to her car.

“I knew getting back to the car was my best bet,” Harnish said from her friend’s home in Fairfield. “If I was going to be rescued at all, I would need to be in the car.”

She made it back at 1 a.m. Friday — nearly 12 hours since she’d left the university.

Harnish said she wanted to turn on the car to dry her clothes, but the key was so caked in mud she couldn’t get it into the ignition. So she tried to sleep instead.

“I was so wet and so cold, I don’t think I slept at all,” she said.

Eventually she was able to clear off the key. She spent the next few days periodically turning the car on and off for heat and snacking on the two things she had with her — a bottle of kombucha and marzipan cake.

By early Sunday she had run out of gas. Temperatures were dipping to 28 degrees and a snowstorm was coming.

“It was so desperately cold,” Harnish said.

Meanwhile, her friends had filed a missing person’s report with the Fairfield Police Department. Police tried to trace her cellphone with no luck, Lt. Colin Smith said. She didn’t have her phone with her, Harnish said.

Officers with the police department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa State Patrol began searching, and a national missing persons alert was broadcast.

Officers checked around Fairfield, but “where she ended up being was just too far off of any travel-able road,” Smith said.

“It’s a dirt road that’s not traveled this time of year,” he said.

It was Sunday’s 11-inch blizzard that ultimately saved her.

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As nightfall neared, she saw two teenagers riding snowmobiles. She turned on her hazards, flashed the lights and honked her horn until they noticed her.

“They opened the door and screamed ‘Oh my God, she’s alive!’ ” she said. “Thank God for a miracle.”

The boys’ father came with his tractor and took her back to town. She arrived back in Fairfield around 8:30 p.m. Sunday, more than 78 hours since she’d left on her car ride.

Harnish was checked out at the hospital. She suffered no serious injuries. She remains in good spirits and plans to extend her six-week stay in Iowa.

“I’m doing well for a 72-year-old spinster,” she said.

The Canada native is a professional storyteller, operating Terry Tales International. She is in Fairfield — where she lived for five years in the early 1990s — to organize a storytelling festival. Once Upon a Winter’s Solstice is being held in Fairfield on Dec. 21.

She said it was her Terry Tales that kept her going through those three-plus days alone. She said she recited them to herself as she prayed for someone to find her.

Now, she has a new story to tell.

“I was thinking ‘Oh boy, this is going to be a new Terry Tale,’ ” she said.

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