Jen Rogers, We Almost Didn’t Make It to Canyonlands Alive
Had you asked me the night before what I felt like doing in the morning, my answer would have been an exhausted, irritated sideways glance, and a sarcastic, “Nothing!” We’d been hiking for hours. The sun had long since set and the cairns our headlamps searched for in the dark would’ve been hard to find under a bright afternoon sun. We’d already trekked about 8 miles and had lost track of time taking too many photos of the beautiful sandstone bridges we came across before the sun went down. Of course, we had thought nothing of it an hour earlier. I mean, a night hike under the stars in beautiful red rock canyons under a full moon sounded nothing short of magical. It’s not like we had never done it before. We were prepared.
But at this point, I was annoyed and hungry for something more than a protein bar. I needed food and I wanted to get out of this maze and put my feet up. I mean, it seemed like we were headed the right direction but we wouldn’t know for at least another mile.
The cairns were proving as useless as if they were a shell game. You know the street corner swindle where the guy bets you two dollars you can’t guess where the magic marble goes as he places it under one of 3 bowls, swirls the bowls around faster than the eye can see and asks you which one it’s under. We were completely guessing which cairns were legit and which were someone’s idea of cairn art. Eventually, we were relieved to learn our instincts had been right all along, and found ourselves safe and sound back at our desolate campsite.
We were too tired to make a real dinner, ate chili from a can by a small campfire in the freezing cold then crawled into our double zero sleeping bags, passing out before our heads even hit the pillows.
Much to my own surprise, I awoke in the morning, completely up for a new adventure, the frustration of the night before long since forgotten. Funny how that works when you’re out having fun in nature.
We were already driving in the general direction of Canyonlands and decided it would be fun to check the maps at the ranger station for remote backroads there. I mean paved roads are just so boring and overrated. Who knew what fascinating things we might see in the backcountry. As luck would have it, Forest Road 088 showed promise. Despite pleading with the ranger to part with her cherished map, that stubborn girl wasn’t about to give in. Exasperated, I took a bunch of quick photos on my cell and off we went on our next big adventure.
I followed each and every curve of the zig zag turns on the map proudly announcing every 5 minutes how I knew EXACTLY where we were. Gold star for me! We climbed up and down the steep mountains hugging Bear’s Ears through icy hairpin turns with sheer cliff drop-offs for miles. Everywhere we looked were fiery red rock and pine trees dusted with fresh snow, vistas for days, not a single soul in sight. It was just gorgeous, and we had it all to ourselves. What a great decision.
But then it happened. About 60 miles in, I made a grim discovery. At first, I thought it was my imagination, it couldn’t possibly be so. But eventually, I had to come to terms with reality. I turned to my husband, “um, honey, I think the map just ran out.” Of course, his initial response was denial and disbelief. It wasn’t possible. He knows his wife is an expert navigator (not) and the road keeps going, I can see it with my own eyes. Well, yes, that was true. In fact, not only did the road keep going, we could see a T up ahead and a decision would have to be made soon for which way to go. Well, hmmm. I mean what could I say? So, with the most innocent smile I could muster, I shrugged and softly whispered, “oops.”
Well, we knew we had more than enough gas to make it but not if we made a bunch of wrong turns and got lost, and we had plenty of gas to go back the way we came. As far as I was concerned, a choice had to be made and there was only one right answer. We should turn around and go back.
But he just kept driving. I mean, we really should pull over and discuss this. Again, my pleas fell on deaf ears. He just kept driving. I was seriously beginning to question his reasoning the way that any good wife would which he no doubt appreciated, demanding we stop and think about this. Again, he just kept driving. Perhaps he didn’t hear me? So, I raised my voice louder and repeated myself as the van made a quick left.
“We will be fine.” Well, at least I had proof he heard me.
At this point, I grew concerned so of course I sarcastically blurted out, “you know we only have enough gas if we DON’T get lost, right?” He must’ve really appreciated my tone because he stopped the car dead in its tracks just as I had requested, he’s so good like that! I continued stubbornly demanding we turn around. I mean it was just utter stupidity to keep going. There’s still plenty of time to just turn around! It’s the safe thing to do, don’t be silly. Well, I’m pretty sure all he heard was “blah blah blah, nag, nag, nag.” And of course, I just kept right on. In fact, I kept going on so long that eventually his complete and utter silence just made the situation awkward, so I stopped.
He turned his head, keeping his annoyance at bay and calmly asked, “are you done?”
“Yes, I’m done… but I mean… another thing… it would be…” That’s when he stopped me.
“We are not turning the car around!”
He cut me off again. “I said we are not stopping!”
“Jen, no! I am not driving back over those icy hair pin turns on the edge of those cliffs, we are not going back!”
Well, now I became a little concerned. Since when do a few crazy turns bother my husband? That’s when I asked it. That question that no one really ever wants to hear the answer to, “what’s wrong?”
He just looked at me, “I don’t think it’s a good idea, the van is a little SQUIRRELY!” The cab grew quiet. The deafening silence weighed heavy in the air as if the Earth had suddenly stood still.
“Wait... What!?!?” I shot him a puzzled look. “What exactly does THAT mean... “squirrelly?” Only I pronounced it real long and real drawn out all ominously, “squuiirrrellllyyyyy.”
I will tell you what it meant, it meant we were NOT turning around. So now of course, my mind began to wander. All I could think of was how pissed I was gonna be if we ran out of gas and I’ve got to hike over 40 miles out. I could just picture it. Hours and hours of hiking, day after day, exhausted under the hot mid-afternoon sun, barely enough water to survive, foraging for leaves to fight off starvation. My parched lips all dried out, barely able to speak. The last dramatic words I would ever speak before I died in his arms would be a soft, silent choked back whisper... “I told you so!”
But then I started thinking of the upside. I mean it would be an adventure and I do love an adventure. Imagine what a great story it would make. I mean it could be done... Heck, it might even be fun. Work wasn’t expecting me for another week anyway. And if we got really really lost, I could take another week off. A perfect excuse. Total win! Okay, I’m in. Let’s do this!
So, I sat back, kicked up my heels and turned on the tunes, and onward we went. To our absolute delight (and an “I told ya so” glance from the hubby), we found ourselves just 30 mins later right where we wanted to be—Canyonlands! I let out a huge sigh of relief with a Cheshire cat grin.
But that wasn’t the end of this story.
We quickly found a spot to pull over. It was beautiful, right by a pond underneath a red rock butte, wild turkeys wandering about, golden hour lighting. I just love how my husband always pulls over for me for great photo ops he’s spotted. Only, he wasn’t interested in the view.
He quickly got out like a man with a mission, walked around to the front of the van leaning his head down, inspecting the vehicle. As he came back up, I knew something was wrong. His face had gone ghastly white, a look of shock and disbelief. For you see, the front driver-side tire was practically sideways while all the other tires were perfectly aligned and straight. Seems we found our squirrel.
Apparently, that mechanic back home, the one who “fixed” our alignment…well, he forgot to tighten the bolts! We were seriously lucky we didn’t find ourselves in a real-life Saturday Night Live Toonces the Driving Cat skit flying off those icy sheer cliff roads.
Look out below!