Mark and Kristine Wathke were down to their last eight pieces of bread, a few bottles of water and a half a jar of jelly when they realized that they would either freeze or starve to death.
The Cornell., Wis., couple spent six days stranded on Beartooth Highway in Cody, Wyo., where their car had been stuck in a foot of snow before they were found Monday by a local rancher. But after surviving the vacation that nearly killed them, the Wathkes are glad to be home with the loved ones to whom they wrote goodbye letters while stranded on the highway.
"[I] had a little notebook in my purse and then I kind of took each family member and friend and I wrote to them what they meant to me, and just letting them know that I love them," Kris Wathke told ABC News Tuesday.
Their harrowing journey began Oct. 29 as they departed Yellowstone National Park, and were driving to Miles City, Mont., to continue their vacation when their GPS led them to a snowy stretch of Beartooth Highway. The highway is closed during the winter because of its treacherous weather conditions.
"We never saw any road-closed sign, any barricades, anything indicating it was trouble," she said.
But the snow proved to be no match for their new Kia Forte. "Then all of a sudden it went from a little bit of crushed snow, to a foot, foot and a half drifts," Mark Wathke recounted.
With barely any cellphone coverage in the area and no one around to help, the couple tried to fight their way through the tough conditions. They used sand, tree limbs and anything else that could give the tires traction, but all attempts failed. Temperatures plummeted below zero as daylight turned to night.
"I was unpacking everything in our suitcases and piling them on..." he said. "Every pair of pants and T-shirts and sweatshirt."
The couple huddled together in their car and slowly ate the food they had brought for their road trip.
"Once we resolved we were staying there we had eight pieces of bread, nine 15-ounce bottles of water, half a jar of that jelly and then eight packets of oatmeal," he said.
The couple ran the car every four hours to preserve the battery and save gas. Hope was dwindling and that's when his wife decided to write notes to family members she feared she would never see again.
But on Monday, their sixth day spent in frigid temperatures, they finally caught a break. Rancher Troy Barnett, whose wife read on Facebook that the couple was missing, decided to board his snowmobile and look for them.
Wathke said he started to slap his wife's thigh when he heard the snowmobile engine in the distance. Barnett rescued the couple and took them back to his ranch before the Wathkes were reunited with relieved family and friends in Wisconsin.
"And then you get back to your friends and family and you see all these letters and notes and hugs and phones calls," Kris Wathke said, "and it's just so amazing. It's absolutely amazing."