This has been quite the trip! As I think of my last trip to southern Utah I am reminded of the experience I had over Saturday and Sunday.
I was driving in Capitol Reef on Saturday and taking in the vistas it affords when I came across (many times) the banks of water flow during heavy rains. I drove through these repeatedly and had little to no problems up to this point so I wasn't worried until I started to get closer to a muddy patch of roadway ahead of me and saw just how bad it really was. I put on the brakes, but alas, it was too late. I ended up with my front tires submerged in thick, gooey, mud up to the front bumper.
I tried just about everything could...digging around the tires, using rocks, bushes, and sticks for traction...but nothing was of any avail. I was 100% stuck on a section of road which was 25 miles from the last person I'd seen.
It was at this point that I made a decision...to hike to I-70 and find a ride back to the beginning of Capitol Reef and find someone with a 4-wheel drive who could pull my vehicle out. So, I wrote a note saying what direction I'd gone on foot, grabbed my backpack, and started walking towards what I hoped would be civilization. Only one problem...the road I was walking on was not listed on one of my maps so I had no idea of how far away the freeway really was...I figured that it was between 10 - 20 miles, and that I knew I could handle.
I said a quick prayer as I ventured among the fading light shrouding the ancient mesas and towering cliffs. Soon the light was all but gone and cricket sounds filled the air around me. The road was not overtly difficult, just long. A half moon appeared overhead and the milky-colored way shone above me while ominous storm clouds threatened rain out on the horizon with flashes of lightning.
On a distant hill I saw a light...I could tell that it looked an awful lot like headlights. I turned my headlamp to "flasher" and signaled with my flashlight as well. Still I walked on while the distant lights would vanish, and then reappear. I was starting to wonder if maybe it was a group of campers who thought I was someone playing some type of light game or something...the lights then vanished and I did not see them again.
It was dark, and after the few hours I'd been walking I will admit that I began to feel a bit leery of being there in that vast space. Behind me I could hear something from time to time...what it was I do not know, but I do know that it was there, creeping behind me in the darkness, keeping itself far beyond the strength of my flashlight. Bats zoomed around me, drawn by the insects attracted my my flashing headlamp, and I felt totally alone.
Moments later the lights reappeared...closer this time. I began to signal with my flashlight again but soon the lights vanished. When they appeared again, I could see the distinct red of taillights as the vehicle was going away. I felt horrible. To think that someone was there and then gone was almost too much to handle. I kept my headlamp flashing, shone my flashlight around behind me, and continued walking.
I did an awful lot of thinking during that time--praying too--on that desolate road where the only light came from the twinkling celestial objects above me, and loneliness crept in like a suffocating blanket over an unwary sleeper.
It was at this time that the lights appeared again! Closer this time and I could tell that a vehicle was traveling on the same road as I! After several more minutes a truck came into view driven by a girl and her boyfriend. I had never been so relived to see another person in my life, and as I explained my circumstances they did theirs as well. As it turns out, they had gotten lost after leaving the Interstate and had been wandering around on unknown roads in the desert trying to find their group of friends who were camping.
By now it was nearly 11:00 p.m. (I'd started hiking around 7:45). I asked when they'd gotten lost and they said it was at about 8:00...the time I'd said a prayer asking for help. They had been wandering for hours until they reached a hilltop, saw my signal lights, and had come to find whoever it was but had come across many wash-outs and dead-end roads so had to find the right road.
When I climbed into the back of the truck, I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me...a wave directed towards God Himself. As we drove down the road at 45 miles per hour and I felt the wind going over me I looked up that that star-drenched sky and I felt tears pricking at my eyes. I just couldn't help it...God had heard--and answered--my prayer. I hadn't really been alone at all...He was there and was aware of me and what I was going through. Here he was orchestrating the complex movements of the universe and he still found the time to send a little miracle to a lost, decrepit soul. I was important enough for him to help.
All I could whisper over the rushing wind was the words, "Thank you."
It still took us nearly 25 minutes to reach the Interstate and it was here that I was dropped off. I thanked them for the ride and they were off and away, back to Denver where they'd come from.
I walked up the entrance to the on ramp and started walking west, towards the exit for another highway that would lead me down to Fremont, a small town near the gateway into Capitol Reef. It was my hopes to find a person there who could be convinced to drive to my car with a 4 wheel drive and pull my car out. As I walked along the dark freeway at midnight I thought about the distance I'd covered before--and after--the ride I'd received. I figured that I'd walked about 12 miles and then was driven about 20 more. If those people hadn't come along, I'd have walked all night and far into the next day. I also thought about the road I had been on...there had been patches of mud, rocky areas, and a few small hills, however, that had been nothing compared to the road which had laid ahead. True, the mud was nonexistent, but there were many side roads, and steep hills with drops to the side. The road I had walked, in comparison, was easy to what had been ahead of me...the road I did not have to travel on my own. Thoughts of how many things God must spare us from, and yet we are unaware of them, came to me during this time.
There weren't many cars driving on the Interstate in my direction at midnight and the first car which I saw passed me in a flurry of taillights, not slowing down in the slightest. A few minutes later a second car passed, however this one stopped. The driver was a Hispanic man to whom I sadly cannot remember his name as I'd never heard it before...however, I will choose to call him Paul, after Saint Paul because of how much he talked about helping others and the life of people like Mother Theresa.
Paul had said that he was on a run from Mexico to Las Vegas and then to New York for business. He said that he would pick up hitchhikers if it looked like they really had a need...I fit the description. Though I had my Camelbak with water, Paul insisted that I take a cold water bottle. He pulled a bottle of water from a cooler he had and handed it to me.
As he drove, he told me about how he'd come to the United States and about his family and the jobs he'd worked. He also told me how unkindly he'd been treated by many people because he was a Mexican, however, this did not make him bitter, but instead more kind to others and he was always looking for ways which to help people.
We missed the exit to Fremont where I was going to hitchhike down to the town and ended up in Selina--REALLY too far west! Paul insisted on driving me down to the town himself--now this was FAR out of his way but he said that he didn't mind in the slightest and refused to let me walk alone down dark, deserted roads.
As it turns out, the town was nothing more than a few homes and he drove me to the start of the dirt road which would lead to Cathedral Valley and where my car was. Paul was leery about letting me off in such an empty, dark place but I told him about a campsite just about a mile up the road and how I'd be fine. Paul finally relented and handed me another bottle of water imploring that I be careful.
I couldn't believe just how kind Paul had been and all he'd done for me. How far out of his way he'd gone to help...I shouldered my backpack and began to walk up the road with wonderings of just what would I do now. I walked two miles with still no sign of Riley's Spring. I wasn't sure just how much farther it was as the map I had wasn't much help for that either. I gathered wood and built a fire. When I was ready to light it I reached into my pocket for my matches only to discover that they had fallen out of my pocket...I'd transferred the container from my pack to my pocket and at some time, I'd lost them. I began to hike back down the road and luckily, I found them about 1/8 of a mile down the road.
By 3:00 a.m. I had a fire going...this was good too because it was cold. As the flames got higher it cast shadows away and illuminated the groves of quaking aspens all around me. A wild half-moon rode the cloudy skies overhead and I thought back to the moment Paul had dropped me off.
When he had driven away I was wondering if I should just try to get some sleep there. I'd cleared a spot of ground and laid down. I took my two maps and used them as blankets to try to hold in some heat. I watched shooting stars--or meteors--and thought about my dad. I thought of his excursions to the desert when he was younger and how he and his uncle would sleep out on the ground. I'd been checking for cell phone service pretty regularly and suddenly I wanted to talk to my dad--I wanted to tell him about this adventure I was having and all I'd done up to this point. There was still no service. I turned off the phone and thought of something else my dad had said about how dumb it had been sleeping on the desert floor when there are scorpions. I got up and decided to hike up the road to the spot where I built my fire instead of taking the chance of getting stung.
Now, with a campfire going it was warmer and I watched the skies. I tried to sleep once but was a bit fearful of falling asleep. I did doze for about 20 minutes but woke because the fire had died down to embers and biting coldness was setting in. I checked the time--it was about 4:00 a.m. I added more wood to the fire and thought...it's amazing to me all of the thoughts you have when all alone in a place like that.
I took out my Mp3 player and listened to a few songs with one earbud in..I wanted to be able to hear what was going on around me too. The first song to come on was a rendition of Joni Mitchell's, The Circle Game performed by Steven Curtis Chapman. As I listened to it I thought of my 5th & 6th grade teacher, Otamay Hushing, singing that song with my classmates and I when I was a kid. I felt a little bit less alone and the darkness creeping along beyond the strength of the firelight was a little bit less foreboding and spooky.
It was about 6:00 a.m. when I got a really good scare. I'd been watching the skies and noticed that it was just barely starting to lighten when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bear off in the trees...not too close...but to far either. The fire was mostly embers so I quickly doused it and started up the road as quickly as I could without running...my police-style flashlight gripped tightly.
I walked about another mile before arriving at Riley's Spring. There was someone camped there, but it was still before 7 and I didn't want to wake anyone up. I decided to continue up the road passing campsites until I met up with someone with a 4 wheel drive who was awake.
It was 4 miles later that I met up with J.C. and his son, Jared. They were just up and awake and had a powerful truck. I told them of my situation and they were all too ready to help. J.C. also knew of a shorter road which took about 12 miles off of the trip to where my car was stuck. It only took a few minutes to get the tow rope hooked up and to dig the car out a little bit, but it came right out and I was again on my way. Like the others who'd helped me, J.C. refused any money and went on his way.
It is amazing to me that there are so many wonderful people out there who are willing to give aid to someone else who needs it. For this I find myself grateful.
The rest of my trip took me to fabulous places where I saw Calf Creek Falls--a place which I hadn't been for several years--and that night I was chasing a lightning storm down by way of Hanksville; of which, I got several great photos.
All in all this was a fantastic trip and one I will not forget again soon.