Nova Scotia

Hubbards woman, 72, survives 4 days stranded in car on rural road

Terry Harnish turned her car on periodically to keep warm and nibbled on fruitcake and drank kombucha until help arrived.

Terry Harnish was stuck with nothing but a fruitcake and 2 bottles of kombucha

Terry Harnish was rescued four days after her car became stuck in mud on a remote road. (Courtesy: Terry Harnish)

A 72-year-old Nova Scotia woman is thankful to be alive after a nearly four-day ordeal alone in a car on a rural road outside Fairfield, Iowa. 

Terry June Harnish of Hubbards was visiting friends for American Thanksgiving when she took a wrong turn in her small rental Nissan on Thursday evening. 

"I journeyed by some farmhouses, and then went over a hill and another hill, and realized it was all mud and not paved," she said. "I was fishtailing through the mud. Thank heavens I've been a driver since I was 11, and I could manoeuvre through the mud." 

Harnish made a U-turn and tried to head back to the paved road, but went over the embankment. 

"I was up to my axles in mud," she said. Harnish tried to get out and walk, but the chilled mud clung to her Clarks shoes and caused her to fall into it several times, both face first and backward. 

Getting nowhere

After struggling unsuccessfully for hours to walk out, she returned to the car to take refuge around 1 a.m. 

"My car keys were so encrusted in mud I couldn't get them in the ignition, so I lay there on the seat soaking wet all night, shivering up a storm," she said. 

In the morning she chipped the mud off the keys and started the car, keeping it on for only short periods at a time in order to warm up. Harnish said she didn't want to run out of gas. She had seen no sign of other people in the time she was stuck. She had no working cellphone and limited supplies. 

"I had a fruitcake that I'd bought that morning — a Christmas fruitcake — and two bottles of kombucha," she said. "That was it, for four days." 

'Oh my god, she's alive!'

To add to Harnish's troubles, a blizzard began and the temperature began to drop below freezing. According to the local Fairfield Ledger, the area received 28 centimetres of snow by Sunday afternoon. 

It was about that time that Harnish's rescuers arrived in the form of two boys out for a jaunt on snowmobiles. 

"I'd put my hazard lights on when I heard them approaching and my headlights. And they stopped their snowmobiles, and they were just teenagers," she said. "They looked inside the car and screamed, 'Oh my god, she's alive!'"

Meanwhile, by Sunday, Harnish's family in Nova Scotia had learned their beloved aunt was missing. They and many other people in Hubbards were frantically exchanging messages trying to figure out what had happened. 

"She's so personal in her lively discussion with anybody that she meets that you just immediately fall for her," said Robin Morrison, Harnish's niece. 

"It's no surprise to me that hundreds of people, within hours, were on the Terry train making sure that she's safe. Because she's that person that gives that extra all the time."

Well known in Hubbards

Harnish is well known in Hubbards for her annual storytelling festival. She is also known to many through her family as she is the eldest daughter of Roy Harnish, the founder of the popular dance hall the Shore Club. 

Morrison hopes Harnish will have no lingering health problems from her long stay in the car. When she finally learned that her aunt was safe, she laughed. 

"My aunt Terry is a beautiful storyteller, and my immediate thought was, well, that's going to be one for the books." 

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca