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utah

me and my girlfriend got lost in the mountains of utah.

my girlfriend is french.

she has never seen anything in the states outside of new york.

we go to visit colorado, where I grew up.

we take a road trip to the great sand dunes.

she says it’s like the movies, the desert and the wide open spaces, westerns.

i laugh and say when i saw france i thought it was like the movies.

the castles and the old buildings.  King arthur.

she likes the roadside motels, all done up fifties style.

The tiny near-abandoned towns.

We find cool bottles by the side of the road.

we eat sandwiches in deserted parks.

we walk on the sand dunes at night.

there is a sand storm.

at our campsite she sees the bear box.

She asks if it’s really that important.

I say yes.

I camped a bit when i was a kid.

bears will eat your food.

they are dangerous around food.

she seems a little concerned.

they don’t really have wild animals in france.

they re-introduced bears to the pyrenees.

there are two.

they have parties for them.

She asks me about wild animals.

Yes, there are wild animals.

We leave the sand dunes and drive to moab.

we eat pancakes and i buy a suitcase in alamosa.

In moab we stay in a sustainable house.

it takes us an hour to get the power and water turned on.

we find a family of mice in a drawer.

but it is nice.

and no one is around.

we go to arches.

hike around a little bit.

it looks like rain.

we go to lunch.

it looks a lot more like rain.

we decide to take a drive.

i want to go up castle valley to see the colorado river from the top of the canyon.

i believe i know the way.

i look briefly at a map.

map shows a big loop.

great.

we start driving.

pavement turns to dirt.

starting to rain.

At the top of the ridge, the mountains and desert collide.

it is beautiful.

but there is a black band of clouds bearing down on us.

i think its probably best to get down from this mountain.

especially because we are driving a prius.

the storm hits.

the road turns to mudslicked deathtrap.

the prius is sliding all over the place.

drifting down the side of a mountain.

the car is completely perpendicular to the road.

on the dashboard there’s a little indicator light with the graphic of the car and tracks.

it beeps for a solid ten minutes straight.

Starting to become not fun.

two dirtbikers pass us.

they look at me like “WTF are you doing here?”

I smile.

I see a dip and decent hill ahead.

Smile turns to frown.

We decide to gun it and try and motor up the hill.

This doesn’t work.

We hit the dip doing twenty max and stop after about ten feet.

Commence ten or so minutes of unsticking.

Girlfriend gets out of the car to push.

She is wearing slippers, a skirt and a t-shirt.

She is a foot deep in mud.

We get the car over to the side of the road.

I thought the grass would help the traction.

This is incorrect.

I think we’ll have to sit here and wait until it dries up.

The dirtbikers return.

You looked like you might get stuck, so we came back to help.

I’m stuck.

Finally get the car up the hill.

Dirtbikers and girlfriend all pushing as i jam the accelerator.

mud showers.

Rear wheel drive car goes up in reverse.

Relief.

Thank you so much.

Good luck.

They smirk a little and ride off.

We continue.

I think of the magic loop on the map.

this road has to go somewhere.

must go on.

can’t go back.

prius won’t climb what we just slid down.

No indicators, no signs.

Road is still terrible.

Get stuck again.

No dirtbikers to help.

Spend an hour jamming sticks under the tires to get unstuck.

Smoke last cigarette.

Things getting a bit strained.

Searching for a sign.

Finally see one up ahead.

Sign is big and yellow.

It says

DANGER ABANDONED URANIUM MINE RADIOACTIVE AREA

bad sign.

needless to say, girlfriend’s english comprehension high enough to understand sign.

more strain.

Skidding down various hills.

Future uncertain.

Look in rearview mirror.

See SUV following.

Waves of joy.

Stop car.

SUV slides to a halt.

Thank god, this guy will know where we are, i can follow him out.

Guy gets out, looks at me.

Says,

do you know where we are?

Cringe.

No.

I don’t know where we are.

Well what are we going to do?

I tell him the strategy I had so cunningly thought through over the past hour.

I’m going to keep going on this road, I can’t make it back up what we just came down.

Okay, I’ll follow you.

Sure, yeah, if you want to.

I do not want to take responsibility for this man.

Continue down road.

Turn proverbial corner.

Cul-de-sac.

Which means bag’s ass in french.

and a cliff.

end of the road.

girlfriend says, what is this?

It’s a cliff.

Get out of car.

look at cliff.

it’s like a solid 700 feet.

problems.

johnny suv shows up.

what’s this?

it’s a cliff.

well what are you going to do?

Like this is something I planned for.

I don’t know what to do.

He says he’s going back.

I know i can’t go back.

must go on.

i saw a turnoff a bit back, I think i’ll try that.

okay, he says.

we go.

new road makes old road look like superhighway.

stuck after fifty feet.

prius is stuck on runoff hump.

wheels can’t touch the ground.

another hour or two trying to handle that

I realize we have come to a decision point.

We have about half a gallon of water and some apples.

The choice is stay the night in the car

Or hike back in search of reception and call for help.

My rugged mountain upbringing tells me to stay put.

The thought of only apples until morning says go.

It is getting dark.

We decide to go for it.

Walking.

There are lots of animal prints in the mud.

Girlfriend asks me to identify one.

Bear.

Another one.

uh, bear.

But that one looks different than the last.

Yeah...it's wolf.

Not happy.

We keep walking.

I look ahead.

Stop, I say.

We stop.

There’s a bear about twenty feet in front of us.

And a cub.

Again with my mountain youth.

Mother bear, dangerous bear.

Girlfriend paralyzed.

Bear sees us and takes off.

Continue walking.

Darker and darker.

Finally one bar of signal.

Call 911.

911 emergency.

Hi, I’m lost in the mountains, no one’s injured but my car is stuck.

where are you?

uh, good question, people have been asking me that for a while.

I left from Moab.

Moab?

Yeah.

Utah?

Yeah.

Um sir, this is durango 911.

Durango is six hours from moab, in colorado.

Ah, yes, I’m familiar with durango.

An exchange of phone calls with the 911 lady, she’s becoming my friend.

Waiting for her call, I see the “e” on my phone.

Google map self.

Location is in the middle of a sea of greyish khaki.

Nothing around.

No roads.

No town.

911 calls back.

We’ve located you, but it will take about six hours to get there.  Stay where you are and wait.

We are standing on an exposed cliff.

We wait.

It’s getting cold and dark.

I call them back.

We can’t stay here, we have to go back to the car to wait.

I know it’s right down the road.

Now it’s completely dark.

we start walking back.

girlfriend is barefoot.

trying to stare into the darkness.

shapes moving.

bears.

lots of bears.

I start waving my cell phone around.

Girlfriend looks at me.

what are you doing?

you need to point it at the ground, we can’t see anything.

no, no, this is fine, just fine.

bears are afraid of artificial light.

wandering down road in pitch dark.

desperately clicking key remote, hoping to see lights.

finally see lights.

get back to car.

girlfriend asks if bears can open car doors.

pretty sure they can’t.

lock car doors.

settle down in the back to wait.

we both conk out.

wake up a bit later, knocking on the window.

roll window down.

it’s a sheriff.

first time i’ve been happy to see a cop.

looks like you’re a little stuck there.

he’s smiling.

uh yeah.

what are you doing up here in this car?

i don’t have a satisfactory response to this question.

we’ll get you out of there.

they have two giant pickups.

they pull the car out.

we have enough gas to make it down, thank god.

driving between the cops.

roads still terrible, tires caked with mud.

get stuck a few more times.

eventually cops stop.

knock on window.

yes?

we got a bit further to go so if you want to stretch your legs do it now.

I get out of the car.

Look around.

Road is surrounded by huge fences and concertina wire.

interesting place for a rest stop.

one of the fences looks knocked down.

i ask about the fences.

ah yeah, these are the old uranium mines.

oh right, the sign.

yeah, had to pull a guy out of here earlier today, he slid almost all the way into the pool.

I assume he means a pool of killer radioactive uranium.

he was driving a silver suv.

I have learned the tale of johnny suv.

we continue down the road.

arrive in gateway, colorado.

it is now one in the morning.

cops take my name, address and such.

sitting in the parking lot with the cops.

awkward.

i am waiting for them to give me my ticket.

i’m not sure what law i broke, but isn’t that how this works?

i ask the cops.

aw nah, if you’re car’d been towed out that woulda cost you five grand.

right, good to know.

but we just got you unstuck, so no problems, have a good night.

thanks. um, how far are we from moab?

about six hours.

gritting teeth.

if you don’t want to drive it you can stay here at the gateway resort, only four hundred dollars a night.

not happening.

we are going back to moab.

pack girlfriend into the car.

entire car filled with mud.

full on dakar.

pedals very slippery.

pull into gas station.

frighten attendant.

buy cigarettes and terrible coffee, funyuns.

we eat and smoke sitting on the sidewalk in front of the gas station.

i barrell the six hours home doing ninety.

we get home at five o’clock in the morning.

great vacation.