Monday, July 16, 2007

Terror on a Mini Spare

I can feel my heart pounding inside my chest. My sweaty hands grip the map tightly causing it to wrinkle. I look out the front windshield of the car to see the rutted, one lane dirt and gravel road curve steeply up the hill to the left. I could reach my hand out of my passenger window and touch the massive rock scree spilling down the treeless hillside. If I weren’t paralyzed with fear, that is. The nearly vertical hillside is covered in thousands of tons of sharp, craggy and charcoal colored fallen rock. On the left side of the car, the cliff drops off sharply continuing the flow of fallen, broken rock. I’ve been told the view from that spot was incredible. My attention however, was focused on the seemingly out of control SUV barreling down the hill toward us leaving behind it an overwhelming explosion of dust. For the first time in my life I am truly terrified. I am wide eyed and speechless as I bend over and lower my head to my legs, close my eyes and cover myself with the map to await my impending doom.

I’m not always this much of a chicken. I have even been known to seek out adventure a few times in my life. And perhaps this drive on this forest service road, in the middle of nowhere, would have been a bit more enjoyable—had it not been for the mini spare.

Our day began with a 2 hour drive into the mountains. We first visited an abandoned gold mining town that much to our surprise, was now quite populated. Our next plan was to head 30 miles back to town and then take a 2 mile gravel road up to a spectacular viewpoint with a 360 degree view of hundreds of miles of mountains and valleys. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we headed out of the gold mining town and our chances of seeing this amazing sight at the spectacular viewpoint were promising. It was then the husband saw the sign. “This way to spectacular viewpoint! Only 16 miles!” The husband turns to me. “Look honey! It’s a shortcut!” The husband looked at the map and determined that this “well maintained” dirt and gravel forest service road was perfectly acceptable for a front wheel drive, family car such as ours.

For the first couple of miles it was gorgeous. We rolled down the windows and breathed in the cool mountain air. I could feel the stresses of every day life melting away with every fir and pine tree that we passed. The wildflowers were stunning. The orange, yellow and blue butterflies were the size of a small hand. I was so relaxed that I didn’t even mind when the children began their backseat commentary of our drive. We all chuckled when the almost a teenager would yell out, “blind curve!!” at each blind curve that we approached. We laughed at the most unlikely possibility of oncoming traffic in such a remote area. Each time the boy yelled out, “big rock!!” we all debated whether that rock was bigger than the last. We even managed to find it amusing when we would hear shouted from the back seat, “death drop!!” each time we came to a somewhat precarious section of the road which was bordered by a drop off or cliff. We did have to go somewhat slow on the forest service road but it was certainly passable and the trip was enjoyable.

And then it all changed. The road started to deteriorate significantly in spots. Just when I would begin to demand that we turn around, it would clear up and become quite passable again. 9 miles into our 16 mile shortcut something did not feel right. “Honey, what is that noise?” I asked. The boy in the back seat put in his two cents worth as well, “Yeah dad. And why does the forest smell like rubber?”

Our tire was utterly, completely flat. We had picked up a nail, probably back on the paved road. We had been driving on it for miles. We were going so slow that the leak wasn’t noticeable until we were driving on the rim. Fortunately the husband has changed plenty of tires and was quite competent in this area. When he was done, the family gathered around the dust covered car with three normal sized tires and one tire the size of a large donut. We looked at the map and realized we could continue on the same road of unknown, but increasingly irregular conditions for another 7 miles to the spectacular viewpoint and then travel the 2 more miles into town. Or, we could backtrack the 9 miles we had already travelled and then drive 30 more miles into town and not see the spectacular viewpoint at all.

We mistakenly chose the “quick” way into town. The last 7 miles of the forest service road were more challenging than anything we had encountered so far. The ruts were deep. The washboard was jarring. The July snow was unexpected. The speedometer rarely got over 5 miles an hour. Even the husband later admitted that he would have never taken the road any further if he had known just how bad it would get. The kids and I passed the time by calculating that at our current pace it would only take 9 hours to make it to town. I prayed the mini spare wouldn’t get swallowed by a deep rut. I prayed the mini spare would hold up on such rugged terrain. Needless to say, I was a bit on edge. I was nervous. I was jumpy. My body was continuously tensed. My thinking was beginning to become irrational. My thoughts were all negative ones. Suddenly, the almost a teenager daughter yelled out, “Blind curve!! And look at all that dust! This time someone IS coming toward us!” The boy, amazed by what he saw, shouted out, “Wow! Now THAT is a death drop! Dad, look at that snowmobile down there. Do you think it fell off this road?” It was all too much for my fragile state. It was about then that I lowered my head below the window line of the car, covered myself with my map, entered a semi catatonic state and waited to die.

When we pulled into town many hours later I almost jumped out of the car and kissed the pavement. Despite the fact that it was quite late on a Sunday afternoon, we easily found a new tire for our car. We were also fortunate that the rim was not damaged at all. As we sat at the local Dairy Queen eating burgers, my family began to reminisce about our adventure. The spectacular viewpoint really was quite spectacular. The wildlife and wildflowers were amazing. The July snowball fight will always be remembered. And wasn’t it funny when mom freaked out on the big cliff.

I have no explanation for my unusual reaction. My extreme fear is a bit embarrassing. I have learned however, that “shortcut” sometimes means an extra 7 hours. I’ve learned that “well maintained” could mean “enter at your own risk”. I’ve learned that otherwise well behaved children are capable of inciting great fear by verbal means alone. And I’ve learned that a full size spare is most preferable to a mini spare when off roading in the boonies with your family sedan. Experiencing any one of these events is enough to push the average stressed out mother over the edge. To have encountered all four in one day? Well, all I can say is I am sure glad I had that map.

Check This Out!

The book Between Two Worlds by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund has the subtitle of Escape From Tyranny: Growing Up In the Shadow of Saddam. Find out what the private Saddam Hussein was like and how he affected this one woman's life forever.

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