Sobczak column: The unexpected blessings of a blizzard

Effort to give Los Angeles buddy a wood-stove sauna experience went awry.

Cloquet High School graduate Robbie Sobczak shovels out during the blizzard after getting struck while trying to give his Californian friend a true "Northern Minnesotan" experience. (Photo courtesy of Robbie Sobczak)

My time back home over Thanksgiving weekend was eventful to say the least. As a college student at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., which is four hours south of the small mill town where I grew up, Cloquet, coming home felt like I was venturing into another country.

With the temperature being 15-20 degrees colder on average in Cloquet than Winona, and a blizzard on the way, I knew bringing my friend from Los Angeles home with me for the holiday was going to be an experience he will never forget.

“Is this the blizzard?,” asked my southern Californian friend. The snow had just started to trickle down and he was curious as he was hearing rumblings all around town about this big storm that was about to hit. Funny thing was, the heart of the storm was still far away.

He asked me this question mid-day and our plan was to go sauna at my high school buddy’s place later that night. I thought, “What better way to show him Northern Minnesota lifestyle than a wood-stove sauna experience during a thick snowstorm?”

My high school friend said the sauna would be roaring around 7 p.m., but like many Northern Minnesotans and their sense of time, he had the sauna ready to go around 8:30. As time stretched on, I knew the drive, although it was only 3 miles, was going to be a sketchy one.


I told my college buddy to get dressed to bear the weather. We then trudged through the deep drifts in my yard, only to get our car stuck before even getting out of my driveway. I sullked back in to tell Mom where I just put the car and, without even taking a second to think about it, my tough-as-nails mother yelled, “Get the shovels! You can’t pass up a chance to sauna!”

She was right. So, my buddy and I went right back out to the howling winds and thick powder to look for the shovels we used to clear my driveway only a few hours prior. I found my shovel and started working. It didn’t take long for me to start sweating with all the snow that had built up. My buddy, however, couldn’t find the other shovel we used.

Mom is literally shouting orders at us before she even steps out the front door. Then when she realizes my buddy can’t find the other shovel, she starts going off every other sentence: “How do you lose a perfectly good shovel?” I am starting to laugh at this whole situation as I am getting a sense that my mom is crazy and I’m even more crazy for agreeing with her.

Panic stricken by Mom’s shouting, my buddy resorted to bringing something out of my garage that made Mom laugh harder than I heard in years: a garden shovel. A measly, 4-inch-wide, garden shovel to help with the heaps of snow. Mom’s laugh was one of those that started with a loud wheeze and then continued, but didn’t make noise because she lost air. My chest started to ache seeing this. This Californian was way over his head.

Fortunately, we somehow get out of my driveway and are now looking down the road that is so far from "safe to travel" it’s unreal. I look back at Mom, who pushed us out and yells through the howling wind, “Are you sure we can make it?”

I should have turned the car around when I could hear her voice break with a chuckle as she yelled back, “Just keep your momentum!”

Get the shovels! You can't pass up a chance to sauna!

So we set off. I am zipping down my country road, trying to keep a good momentum, all while my buddy in the passenger seat is commenting over his Snapchat video with a trembling voice: “If you’re seeing this, I don’t know how I’m still alive!”


Sure enough, we get no more than a half-mile down my road and "BANG!" We hit a huge drift and slowly became engulfed in the massive snowbank off the side of the road. It’s insane thinking about it now, but all I could do at the moment was roar with laughter.

I should have known this was going to happen, but my want for my buddy to experience the gift of a wood-stove sauna was too much.

After a good hour or so of me shoveling and my buddy documenting the whole event on his social media platforms, help arrives. Mom called a friend of ours to come save us with his four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Sadly, even with the help that came, we could not get the car unstuck — it was set in the bank overnight — a true shame as a Northern Minnesotan.

The next day was a busy one. All hands were on deck to get our car, as well as the many others that were stuck in the ditch because of this storm.

Looking back on this unforgettable blizzard, there was an unexpected blessing that came from this beast of a snowstorm: Neighbors, strangers, dogs, cats, everybody was out helping one another the next day. Everyone was lending a hand for the common good.

Mom said it best. This crazy mix of disaster and kindness was simply “good wholesome fun” for us Northern Minnesotans. Even though my friend couldn’t experience the gift of a wood-stove sauna, he did get to experience the joys of one remarkable snowstorm.

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