Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Canyon Trip Interruptus
by Ram

It was Thursday, November the 11th, 2016—three days after the election. I needed an escape very badly. Fortunately for me, I was slated to start a 13–day canyon trip. First up, was meeting the gang at Page, Arizona for five days on the Glen. But I still had to find my way there.

I love the 4 AM start for the long drive from Fort Collins, Colorado. But last minute work intercedes and I now stare at Denver rush hour if I leave at 7 AM. I decide to take a nap and wait a few hours. Good plan ... that ends poorly. Leaving just before 11 AM, all is well until the back–up, on the interstate due to an ugly traffic accident. An hour plus disappears as we wait at full stop, the 75 MPH speed limit sign mocking me. Tick, tick, tick, goes the time bomb.

I am through Moab and get the call from Brett. We were to caravan if we could. But he is an hour ahead of me. Day slips into evening and then night. I am south of Bluff on 191 going south, less than 10 miles from the Arizona border. Another car comes northbound. Both of us are going the speed limit, perhaps a bit slower than that. Our dueling headlights show the outline of ... what?

It’s big, that is for sure.

It is in my lane, right of center.

Time slows down and clarity is at hand.

As I brake hard, the choice is clear: Go left and hit the oncoming car head on ... or plow through whatever is blocking the light ahead. I see the reflection of an eye. If I could just move 2–3 feet left, I could miss whatever it is. But the option is likely suicide. I am under 30 miles an hour now, slowing quickly when the THUD and the impact occurs. Was that a burro? A BIG burro? The hood flies open, all the way to vertical. I can not see a thing, as I slow further. I open the window and lean out and try to find the shoulder, but not the drop a few feet beyond it. I am stopped. I get out and look quickly. The car is still a few feet out, in the road. I appraise the shoulder, jump back in the car and ease it over to safety, on the shoulder.

Hazard lights get switched on. I breath. I know ... in an instant ... all my preparations and plans are out the door. A new ‘route find’ and ‘exploration’ awaits. I needed this trip so badly. The stress in my life had been huge. But it is moot. I grab the headlamp and go appraise reality. I am sure it is bad. I am right. The right head light area is GONE. The radiator is missed by an inch, but the battery ... the crushed battery occupies less than a ¼ of the space it is suppose to. The smell of antifreeze wafts in, along with battery acid. I feel like I am shaking. I look at my hands. They feel like they are trembling. They are not. On the outside anyway. I note the tiny bit of shock I think I am experiencing.. This I take into account as I process a plan. It is 7:30 PM .

First, I pull the hood down a bit. Then sit in the drivers seat and turn the key. The car starts. Well that is a surprise! Then I look at the phone. Very little cell service down this way. Not even a light from a home or anything. I look. Two to three bars. WOW! How can that be? I call Brett and tell him that my trip joining him and the others is over and wish him well. The car that had been going the other way when I hit the ... burro? ... circled back and pulls up along side. I meet Matt. Nice fellow, full of compassion and offering support. It is hard to think as clearly as I think I should be, but the pieces fall together.

I call AAA Colorado. They put me in touch with AAA Utah. I am smack in between tow zones. Keyenta or Monticello? I am closer to Keyenta by a few miles. I BEG to stay in Utah, They are kind enough to allow this. They promise to call back. I notify several folks, some by voicemail, others directly. I call my buddy, Jarad, sheriff in San Juan County where I am presently marooned. Get his answering machine. He will call back a little latter. I say goodbye to Matt. He would have stayed—wanted to stay—but I shoo him along. Nothing to do but wait. After all, I have survival gear for over two weeks, without rationing.

Cars are 5 to 10 minutes apart. And about every other one of them stops, asks if I am OK, if I need anything, offer to help. All sorts of folks, men, women, big, small, white, brown, young and old. It is the highlight of this journey and I feel connected to something bigger ... better. The lift from these folks engaging me matters and leaves a sweet aftertaste. I wander down to the impact site. It is easy to tell where it is. The debris stream on the road ends. I have kicked the larger debris to the side of the road on the way over. I scan the side of the road. I see nothing. Could the big burro be OK? Unhurt enough to have slipped back into the night? Then I see it. No, the burro is along the side of the road, quite still ... but wait ... that ain’t no burro! I have killed a horse. I come closer and the smell! GAWD! I hold my nose and look. No brand to be seen.No horseshoes. A wild horse. Sigh!

The sheriff comes and then the highway patrol. They both know Jarad. I am name dropping to good effect. I pick their brain for ‘what they would do’ if they were me. We laugh, chat, review the accident, take notes, and they give me the report for my insurance company before they take off. It is 9 PM and they share that there was a totaled car from a deer north of Monticello, a totaled car from a cow west of Blanding and a single car roll over fatality out Montezuma way already tonight. Canyoneering is not dangerous. At least not as much as driving anyway. I wait for my ride. AAA Plus rocks! One hundred miles of free towing! A good deal.

George from Monticello comes and we load my former ride up on the flat bed. I jump in and he takes me the 55 miles north to Draper’s Towing and Repair in Monticello. It is 11:30 PM. George heads home. He says Steve the owner will be in early the next day. There is a motor lodge next door. There is a motel across the street. Occupancy looks to be less than a quarter at both. I crawl into the back of my wrecked vehicle and chase sleep. I only catch it occasionally as my mind tries to wrap itself around what has happened and what there is to done.

At 6:45 AM the next morning, Steve comes in, to his shop. For the next hour, I will ask him various questions, one at a time, as I slowly piece together a plan. He is very kind and very patient with this stranger loitering around his shop. I turn the key and the car STILL starts. Pieces are just shedding off the thing and it’s still drive–able! My insurance company had been notified the night before and it seems likely that the vehicle will be totaled. Just in case not, I leave the car be. The only rent–a–car outfit for many, many miles, in any direction is Enterprise in Moab. They open at 8 AM. Two blocks away is a bus station and Greyhound heads north to Moab leaving at 8:13 AM. I mull over what to take with me IF a car is available. If they have a drive–away option. IF they won’t put me in the poorhouse. The window is narrow. I call Enterprise and get Kim. Yes they have a car. Yes they do drive–away and yes it is reasonably priced.

I sprint to the bus station and, an hour and a half later, I am in Moab getting fitted out with new wheels, temporary as they may be. On my way to Moab, I meet the bus driver. Just  another of those people you likely never meet—from a different world and slipstream. A retired construction worker, who upon retirement, adopted several kids, literally a rainbow of backgrounds. This fellow walks the walk. I hope he overcomes the return of cancer. People, living their lives. Makes a crashed car seem ... well, what it is. Trivial. First off, is the 55–mile drive, in the wrong direction, back to Monticello, to my car. It must be emptied of everything that is mine. As I sort stuff, the insurance company calls. It is official. Totaled. I finish the stripping of my ride for the last 4 years. It has been a good vehicle. My first and only new car in my life. It has almost 109,000 miles on it as we say goodbye. One transfer case was all that I put into it ... except for the new struts and shocks the DAY BEFORE the crash. LOL! That $750 was not well spent.

I thank Steve Draper and head north. I strongly consider doing a solo in Pleiades, already thinking it would make this story into a trip report and add levity to the whole affair. But I am a tad shook, to be honest. I want home before driving the mountains, in the dark, dodging deer. Or maybe I am just getting staid in my old age. I let this opportunity go, and today I feel some regret, for doing so. I arrive home 23 hours and 23 minutes after the accident. This seems remarkable to me. I take satisfaction in that.

I have been home 67 hours at the time of this writing. Not sure what the insurance company will compensate me for, but they say I have the same insurance rate on the next Pathfinder., Pathfinder number four, that I bought, that I have had in my possession, for the last 28 hours. And yes, I am packing, to reinsert into the later part of this interrupted trip. Forecast for the passes is snow. I will try to get through before it hits hard.

No surrender!


P.S.—Jared later informed me that traveling through Monument Valley—rather than taking 191—into Arizona, one is much less likely to find animals on the road.

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