I’m going to skip ahead, past the stomach flu that hit us on night No. 2 of our camping adventure around the Southwest. Yes, the incident did occur in our small, but cozy, two-man tent. So I’ll spare you the details, and jump ahead to the next “this isn’t really happening” moment. That split second between when everything is going according to a plan, and when the realization that the thing you had occasionally imagined — but assumed would not — is actually happening.
And for me, it happened about an hour and a half south of Moab, Utah, down the desert highway, where service stations seem to vanish for 100-mile stretches. I’m sure, if you love road travel the way I do, you know it well. That stretch of the drive to Arizona, out of cell range with no services and towns boasting populations with a ratio of 26 human residents to 14 pit bulls. It was a scorching 100 degrees with mirages appearing on the steaming road when I noticed that unfamiliar little gauge on the dashboard, that I rarely glance at, plummet.
The “Check Engine” light started flashing and my beloved 1998 Jeep began to chime and ding with curious sounds I had never heard it make. Engine smoking we rolled to a dead stop. And there I was broken down roadside with two little kids, a dog and a car packed to the gills with camping gear. Did I mention no cell service?
Knowing very little about car engines, I could only assume that opening the hood would offer me little diagnostic information, but might blow my face off. So, we sat sweating and rocking with each passing vehicle. Inadvertently I was teaching my kids some new adult words that kept leaking out, but I did my best to console my anxious passengers with music from my otherwise useless cellphone. Have you ever heard “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Flying on Rainbows”? It’s as contagious as vomiting in a tent, but ridiculous enough to add humor to any situation, or was it the fumes?
Here’s where I started to play out the potential movie genres in my head: tragedy — small family snuffed out by semi-truck; horror — Texas chainsaw hitching disaster; sci-fi (hey, it’s Utah there are UFOs there, right?); maybe an educational survival series — mom teaches kids how to survive a hike in the desert.
How about Action Adventure? Seemed the least daunting at that moment: I’m in. Once the smoke seemed to clear, I started her rolling down the hill hoping for a jump start to the engine or enough momentum to land us somewhere less vulnerable.
Miraculously as we started rolling, the engine started.
And though it chugged and kicked, bouncing us around like a rickety railroad-car theme park ride, I could see a distant settlement of sorts and felt hopeful. Pushing on the gas seemed to do nothing but lower the pedal to the floor, the power steering was gone and the breaks required additional exertion feeling extremely unreliable. But we were moving and I could see a gas station sign ahead. So I aimed for that to the triumphant soundtrack of “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Flying on Rainbows.” Perhaps this was an animated action adventure.
With billows of smoke now pouring from the engine, I turned on the wipers, as if that would help, and we slowly but aggressively rolled up onto the walkway where I had to pull the handbrake to narrowly avoid knocking over said sign.
Safe? I’m already playing out round two of movie genre scenarios as we scurry from the now angry vehicle. Luckily, the local towing company was right around the corner. After waiting an hour for the car to cool, the diagnosis was grim. Blown head gasket, and ultimately, I’m not sure of the technical terms presented, but from what I ascertained the engine was a kaput.
With no rental car companies within a 100-mile radius, and only a slim possibility that the car could be fixed within the week, I searched for a preferable movie scenario.
RomCom, single mom finds love in unlikely place. Looking around I felt safe to say that I wouldn’t have to live through the agony of my least favorite genre.
Social drama perhaps? Stalled for days in a tiny town, family and community bond, overcoming diversity and learning to accept our differences. With “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers decorating the pickups and unoccupied store fronts, I felt fairly certain my boho-look and hippyish curiosity wouldn’t be stimulating healthy conversations.
Musical? Well … the pinkish skyline and billowing clouds had us all still humming “Pink Fluffy Unicorns,” and I’m pretty sure the lyrics had even imbedded themselves into my dog’s head by then.
Perhaps it was still the fumes, but I had to explore the possibility of sci-fi once more. After a week of car repairs we leave the tiny town to discover the rest of the world has been abducted by aliens. I considered this, but decided to get proactive. We were not spending our vacation here. That was for sure. Sedona or bust.
So, I opted for Episode 1 Season 5 of “A Rather Unextraordinary Life.” Where modest resilience and creative thinking saves the day. Genre? Let’s go with absurdly whimsical.
You’d understand better if you could see the selfie I took as I drove the only rentable vehicle in town, a semi-truck sized U-Haul, (yes, the really big kind) to Sedona. With loads of apples and healthy produce locked safely in the bowels of the truck we instead noshed on the only snack we could find — red hot, gas station Cheetos, something you should never do when you can’t wash your hands and dare not lick your fingers. We sang our unicorn song, and I saw one bonafide UFO, maybe lingering fumes or perhaps it was a sci-fi scenario. Still we landed in Sedona by midnight.
Theme? Not sure, but I’m a seeker of adventures, and as I found myself driving a semi-truck down a windy pass after five hours with a 7-year-old boy half in my lap while losing his mind, a dog licking my feet and red hot Cheeto powder in my eyes I think I had found exactly what I was searching for.
I guess, as absurd as it all seemed, when you go in search of adventure, sometimes you find exactly what you are looking for.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at [email protected].