I love Halloween. Although, any holiday that encourages me to eat like crap without having to awkwardly purchase a gift for someone is a massive win. Halloween is only second to Thanksgiving. Every year our family plans a trip to Utah to visit my father and sometimes to pick out a Christmas tree. This year was a bit more complicated…
California is a great place to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. Unfortunately, outdoor space is dwindling due to numerous political issues such as high density housing, taxes, and of course the infamous environmental concerns. I have made it a point to teach my kids to be good stewards of the environment, but the ever growing population makes it difficult to enjoy the solitude of nature.
This year, we decided to road trip to Utah for a couple days and then head south to Arizona for a few more. Everything started off as planned. I was able to push through another day at the infamous salt mines we call “medicine” and was able to cut out a little early on a Friday afternoon. Jen and I checked the traffic and loaded the minions into the van in a feeble attempt to avoid traffic before rush hour. I am not really sure why we still refer to it as “rush hour” when we all know it starts around 3pm and lasts until about 6pm, but I digress.
The kids were settling in nicely in the back of the van. They are now becoming accustomed to the Griswold style road trips we take and they genuinely seem to like it. We haven’t had to strap grandma to the roof but we have definitely visited our share of “cousin Eddie’s” over the years. The kids somehow always manage to keep themselves busy and having fun.
Peggy Sue’s 50’s Style Diner
The drive up the 15 fwy is not the most scenic. However, there are a couple of stops that are classics to hit. The first of which is the 50’s style diner, Peggy Sue’s. This diner is located immediately off the 15 fwy just outside of Baker Ca.
This little place has ample parking and the food is also great. Prices are surprisingly affordable. The walls are plastered with things from the 50’s and the kids had a great time checking out the dinosaur sculptures in the back outside area after eating. I would also like to call out their root beer floats. As an adult, we don’t get to enjoy things like we did as a child. Having a kid order one of these and then pulling rank on them to drink most of it is a move I learned from parents.
The Valley of Fire
The next typical stop we like to hit is the Moapa Indian reservation. It is a smaller truck stop, but the store here is like a fireworks paradise. They have every imaginable firework available in bulk. They also have quite the alcohol selection. If you want to see an amazing fireworks display, come check this place out on the 4th of July. It is definitely worth the drive.
Fueled up and ready to go again we headed north towards Cedar City. Night was approaching so I had a short conversation with my dad about migrating deer. We decided taking the 14 highway through the mountains would be difficult. The migrating deer along with a windy mountain road filled with blind turns seemed riskier than one of Jen’s famous detours.
Repeating Past Mistakes
Have you ever done something you knew was wrong, but for some reason you can’t help yourself from doing it? That pretty much sums up why I follow Jens directions. You would think I should know better but yet every time there is a change of plans I ask Jen to find an alternate route. I love Jen, don’t get me wrong, but her ability to read a map is not one of her most endearing qualities. I will admit though, it always makes for a great adventure.
Following Jen’s expert advice, I exit the freeway while head east on highway 9. This connects us to the 59 just past Hurricane. The road then drops south, exiting Utah and also backtracking into Arizona before reconnecting to the 89. The 89 is our ultimate goal since my father lives near Panguitch Ut. I am happily cruising down the road when Jen speaks up and says she found a new road that would save us 45 minutes.
I am intrigued and say “what’s the catch?”
Jen continues to read reviewer comments on the road. These comments indicate it is nice until you cross the state line at which point it becomes dirt… I instantly reply “Jen, I have half a tank of gas, its pitch black outside with no moon, and we have 3 kids in the back. Do you really want to test our luck on a road that may or may not be paved?”
Out of Excuses
If you have never driven through southern Utah, it is important to note that many of the communities are very rural. The roads do not typically have well marked signs, street lights, or lines painted on them all the time. Driving at night makes it difficult to locate gas stations that remain open. Add in to the mix that we need a gas station that sells Diesel Fuel and you begin to understand the difficulties in planning some of Jens detours.
Miraculously, Jen finds a gas station for us and effectively takes away every excuse I have that keeps us from taking her new possibly paved road through nowhere. I top off the tank and reluctantly agree to take Jens detour…
Into the Abyss
It is now 9:30pm in the very northern part of Arizona. We have effectively driven across California, Nevada, the tip of Arizona, part of southern Utah, and now exiting a gas station in Arizona once again. We pull out of the station and head into the night.
I turn off the main highway onto a smaller road labeled as highway 237. The signs are old and poorly marked. There is no moon out, and the only lights visible for miles are my headlights. Fortunately, I know I am on the correct road as the GPS does not show any other options for several miles. Trusting in technology, which I rarely do, I continue forward.
We take the 237 until it heads north towards the Utah state line. The road is in remarkably good condition. I would love to comment on the scenery but unfortunately it is pitch black outside. It is so dark that I cannot even see my mirrors through the windows. The temperature begins to drop and the windows begin to fog up. Instinctually I reach for the heater, kick it on and wait for the blissful warmth of the defroster to clear my view.
The Cold Heart of Reality
The windows begin to clear the fog after a few short minutes. I can only see the road ahead that my headlights directly hit. Everything else is black. I am beginning to hear whimpering from behind. It is the kids telling me they are cold. This is a brief reality check as I realize the ambient temperature outside the van is now 18 degrees. I then proceed to crank the heater all the way up. I wait… and wait.. and then start to realize that the blissful warmth of my prior expectation was now nothing more than a maxed out air conditioner. A sharp biting pain begins to creep up my legs as I slowly start to realize the heater is not working.
The End of the Road
I am now in the middle of nowhere; there are no road signs, lights, moon, or any other indication of how far from civilization we are. All I know is that we are all freezing. I stop the van, fold out the bed, throw all the kids on it and cover them with blankets. Jen puts on a movie and makes some popcorn in the microwave. The kids are happy and warm. Jen grabs another blanket and sits back in the front seat.
I ask Jen how far we are from my dads but she replies that she has no service on her phone and cannot see the map. I check my GPS… the signal is gone. The map is blank beyond where we are.
This photo now gives you the full view of what I can see. This is not the lighting. It is actually that dark and the map abruptly stops right where we are. Clearly the road keeps going but I am now faced with a difficult decision. Do I continue ahead into the unknown or do I turn around and head back to the main highway?
Cold and Alone
With no working heater and temperatures below freezing, I figure my best option is to take the alleged shortest distance. Everyone is bundled up except me. We have no more blankets and I must keep the AC on to clear the windows. In true dad style I casually ask if everyone is ready and then resume our journey forward.
We drive for another 2 hours like this before reaching my dads house. Everyone is happy and warm except me. Jen begins getting the kids from the van and placing them in their beds at the house. I set to work on unloading their bags with my dad. I can barely feel my legs and everything is painful to move. After finally parking the van in the shop, I make my way to the house.
The house is warm and inviting. I can hear the kids avoiding sleep like the plague in the other room. I take a brief parenting vacation as I thaw my legs by the fireplace. As I tell my father the story about the heater he just laughs at me. We say good night and he heads off to bed.
Suffering in Silence
I sit by the fire silently laughing. I wonder if I have stumbled across some hidden code in the dadlife world. As a father, I am thrust into a masculine expectation to suffer bravely and ensure the safety of those around me. Is this the natural way of the world or some implicit bias that was part of the manifesto indoctrinated to me as a child? Is this why men have a shorter life expectancy?
I then begin to wonder if this is the reason Jen and the kids are always so happy. My role as the patriarch appears to spiral into a mix of internalizing animosity and physical pain for the sake of enabling the joy of others. Is this what it means to be a “father” and more importantly is this what my father had to endure for me as a child? There are too many existential questions in my head as I begin to wonder if it is carbon monoxide from the fire or perhaps I am becoming delusional from the cold. Either way, I wrap myself in blankets and head to bed.
Stay tuned for the follow up story. I find out the problem with the heater, the kids chop down a tree, and arizona is scrubbed from the trip in exchange for…