Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

4 Pics 1 Word - The Tale of the Treacherous Trip

I've been a bit silent.  I should mention that my grandma died.  But then I'd feel like I should talk about the fact that my grandma died.  And I'm not quite ready yet.

And then I think that to say anything before talking about the fact that my grandma died minimalizes the importance of a pretty big deal.  But a lot of life is happening while I am sitting around waiting to be ready to write about my grandma.  And I'm still saying plenty in my head.  So it's time to start somewhere.

My grandma died, and that meant going to Arizona for her funeral.  After lengthy discussion, final travel plans included my mom, Alex and I leaving at 4 a.m. to begin the 669 mile drive that Google Maps suggested should take 10 hours and 9 minutes.

We arrived at 6:00 p.m.

Just in case you thought I was perhaps giving irrelevant details, I call your attention to the 14 hours between departure and arrival.

How was the drive?

Of course everyone already in Arizona asked.  That's what you do.  Just like I asked Brett and Lisa, "How was the flight?"  For some reason, the details of one's travel seems to serve as a compelling prelude to The Stuff That Really Matters.  (FYI, I just stole a literary trick from a book I just read in which I capitalized stuff that shouldn't be to make it seem proper and concrete.  Hm.  I feel like a thief.  And a bit like my grammar-teacher mother is ready to mark my blog with her red pen.)  As such, it seems like the details of my travel, which was actually quite memorable, may make the perfect - if lighthearted - introduction to my Stuff That Really Matters.  So here goes:

The Coolest Part:
We stopped for gas in a tiny "town" called Cliffdwellers somewhere between Kanab and Jacob Lake.  Actually, I don't know if it is a town at all, but there was a sign that said "Cliffdwellers," and I was never certain if it was simply stating an interesting fact about a handful of people who may or may not be dwelling in a cliff, or if that's the town name.  Either way, they sell gas there, and my mom's car was particularly thirsty.  As we pulled up to the pump, my mom took one look at the older-than-dirt gas pumps and wondered aloud if they even worked.  I noticed the displays were lit, so we exited the car.  "Well, I don't think I'll be able to pay out here!" she said, and we both laughed at the thought of actually going in to the gas station to pay.

We walked into the surprising large market and shared our observations regarding the method of payment with the cashier who was likely as old as the pump itself, and I instantly wondered how many times a day he responds to similarly unimaginative comments from tourists who think they're alone on the highway.  He quickly responded, "Nah, you just wave your card over it."  Don't tell her I said so, but my mom actually did a double-take, glancing at the old pump for just a moment before realizing his joke.

The Best Public Relations:
Turns out there are road closures on Highway 89 every Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  Apparently there were signs on I-15 and such alerting travelers to these closures, but when you are just listening to the voice of the nice GPS lady and don't really know you'll be traveling on 89, (and noticing things isn't really one of your ninja skills anyway) you don't really know about it until it is 9:30 a.m. and you arrive at a nice woman holding a stop sign.

There's a whole lot more story between that moment and this one, but fast forward to 11:20 a.m. We had joined the queue of vehicles eagerly awaiting 11:30, the vehicular equivalent of Black Friday's "open, open, open" shopping chant, and we were doing the same thing we had done for most of the previous 7 hours: talking.  I had just had a flashback of being stuck with friends on 1-15 in a snowstorm on the way to St. George last month, and I shared a story with my mom about how my friend Arlee had taken a look at the dark snowy expanse and commented, "Well, this would be a terrible time to play 'I Spy.'"

We were starting to wonder if 11:30 was an estimate or a hard-and-fast deadline and continuing to lament the fact that a nearby vehicle's horn was blasting continuously when a truck drove slowly past in the opposite direction.  Two people were seated on the tailgate looking particularly official, and I started to fear bad news.

Never would I have expected what happened next.  The truck people offered us donuts, granola bars, water, and hot chocolate. For free.  Apparently they do that every day: drive up the queue giving out free goodies to keep the inconvenienced people happy.  Well done, road construction company.  Well done.

However, I do have a tip.  If you're going to pull off an awesome PR stunt like that, brand the vehicle.  Brand the people.  Brand the water bottles.  I was so impressed, and I want to give credit where credit is due.  But alas, I can only thank the ambiguous individuals in orange safety jackets.

The Triumphant Moment (that turned out not to matter):
Okay, back to 9:30 a.m.  We've just arrived at Stop Sign Lady, and we're really confused.  Mostly because 30 minutes prior, I had gotten a text from my dad saying to take 89A, so when I had finally actually seen an "89 Closed" warning, I had assumed that wasn't a problem: I was taking 89A.  So now I'm feeling super confused and frustrated.  I try to check the UDOT app for information but I had deleted it recently and had only enough internet connection to allow the download to trickle through.  I called my dad, who pretty much treated me as though Stop Sign Lady must be an illusion because she surely could not exist.  I must be lost.  Or insane.  Had I gone through Kanab already?  "No, Dad, I know what Kanab looks like..."

Sidenote: Kanab was a pretty big part of my childhood.  Many summers featured a two-legged trip from Salt Lake to Tempe with the first leg driven by my parents.  Mom and/or Dad drove the kids to Kanab where we'd meet up with Grandma and Grandpa.  Parents drove home while grandparents drove the kids the rest of the way to Arizona.  I have super specific memories of my cousins (who occasionally accompanied Grandma in her van) wondering at the fry sauce available in Kanab.  Memories of camping there 2 weeks after Jack was born (on the return-trip exchange).  Particularly specific memories of the Shell station where the exchanges took place.  I know what Kanab looks like.

When we finally found out about the scheduled closure (which explained why both Kirk and Skye's vehicles made it to Arizona without meeting Stop Sign Lady) my mom and I decided to stop and talk to a patrolman we'd seen and ask if there were any ways around.

Nope.  That was pretty much the answer.  There is one way to Kanab, and that way happens to be Highway 89.  Well, except that he had indicated it may be possible to get through on dirt roads, but he couldn't confidently give us directions.  His recommendation was that we drive 10 minutes back in the direction from whence we'd come and wait at the restaurant.

Well, we couldn't do that.  We wanted desperately to be in Arizona with family, and with the viewing scheduled for 6:00 pm, we were on a deadline.  I called my dad, this time able to confidently explain that I wasn't crazy and that the road really was closed.  I told him that if he could find a dirt road route on the computer that we'd be willing to try it.  We waited on the roadside for his return call, which included the  directions I hastily scribbled on a nearby envelope.

We set off a bit warily, looking for things like "the brown dirt road that only goes to the left."  Dad indicated that we would actually cross into Arizona on this dirt road and shortly thereafter we would return to real roads.  The plan was to let the GPS take over at that point.

We found the indicated dirt road, which incidentally turned out to be a bit more of a sand road.  Nestled in next to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes ("So pretty," I remarked, "that we should go there on purpose sometime.") the trail seemed like a bit much for my mom's Camry to navigate.

I had another flashback of a trip to a sand dune when a family acquaintance got the truck stuck in the sand.  It was during this series of misfortunes that Kirk hit me with a trailer.  "But that's another story, nevermind..."

The Camry actually did quite well, and I was really impressed with how calmly my mom was handling this whole thing.  I was also really grateful I'd chosen to travel with Alex.  Had Dylan been there, he'd have been freaking out about the dirt road.  (He passionately hates them.)  And if Adam had been there?  Well, I'm just glad I didn't have to listen to his 8 year old solutions to every conceivable misfortune.

And then we came to a hill.  We made it halfway up before the Camry refused to go further.  While I was busy mentally planning how two women and 6 year old were going to get the car out of the sand, Mom was expertly backing down the hill without digging the tires deeper.  I mean - seriously impressed!  Well, she did back into a tree-shaped scrub brush, and I had to go stand on the branch to break it so she didn't tear even more paint off her car.  But I know I would have gotten stuck.  So serious props to her.

And then we had to decide whether to try again.  I prayed internally and felt okay about trying again.  I scouted ahead; atop this hill did the road get better?  As I scouted, I discovered that the far left of the trail, still encased in morning shadows, was actually frozen solid.  On my recommendation, Mom bore hard to the left and pretty much gunned it.  We made it to the top!  And it felt ridiculously satisfying.

The Scariest Part:
We were feeling pretty good about our success on the hill and made it a mile or so closer to the border.  But as we rounded another corner, our spirits dropped as we saw what lay ahead.  A bit of a gorge.  Some solid rock.  A huge, steep hill, with sand just piled at the bottom.  I scouted.  It looked awful.  I called my dad, who seemed unconvinced that we were on the right brown dirt road.  After I coached him through using Google satellite to zoom in on the entrance to the road and after the subsequent long discussion regarding the tree/round-about-esque outcropping within a few hundred yards of the turn, he was convinced we were on the road he'd suggested.  And he also agreed that upon zooming in, it really did look much more like a "trail" than the "road" he'd recommended.  I described the upcoming hill and told him I'd be texting him a picture so he could decided if we should try it.

His response:

"Turn around!"

So we drove back down the Hill of Triumph and headed back to 89.  Our off-roading had progressed the clock from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m., and we knew our best option would be one final visit to Stop Sign Lady.

The Nerdiest Part:
In my conversations with my dad, he had reminded me that mom's speedometer is apparently inaccurate.  He said it reads 5 mph slow, so I should encourage her to drive 5 mph faster.  Once we finally got through Kanab and hit the open road, she took his suggestion.

And she got pulled over.

She was going 85, and apparently he speed limit was 65.  Whether the 5 mph recommendation was a hoax or not, she was definitely speeding, but we both became increasingly curious whether the speedometer assessment was accurate.

Also, I really like the distance = rate x time formula and have fond memories of using it for fun on long drives as a child.  I had earlier suggested testing dad's information and with the now added impetus of the speeding ticket, mom agreed.

So she set her cruise control at 70.  I measured the time between mile markers.  55 seconds.  I found the rate of speed in mps and then converted it to mph.  I showed all my work, because that's how I roll.  And I took a picture so I could show my math students.  65.45 mph.  As usual, my dad was dead on.

If You're Wondering:
We made it to Arizona at 6:00 pm, precisely the time of the viewing.  We had my dad's suit, so he had to borrow one.  We showered and dressed and made it to the church before 7:00.  And then it got real.

And that's a story for another day.