By | Makeda Barkley
Issue II, July 2018
The story of a failed journey, as experienced firsthand. Intended destination: South Six Shooter tower. Actual destination: Approximately 1.6 miles from intended destination in a sandy wash.
There’s something about heading off into the desert without a plan. Well, maybe a loose plan of where you’re going and if you’re bringing enough water, but other than that you’re just winging it. When you feel familiar and assured with your sandstone surroundings and you’ve never really gotten into a situation that you couldn’t get out of— that’s when the desert comes out to play.
You and your friends decide to climb an easy desert tower, to drive your front wheel drive 1999 Honda Civic out into the desert beyond, on a dirt road that looks okay at first glance. You left behind the sat phone and your cares and you set off down the dusty red path that looks much like the dozens of other desert roads you’ve returned from in one piece. You’re cruising down the road, swerving to miss the potholes and the protruding rocks and blasting the music at full volume over the rush of wind blowing through all four open windows. And then you encounter the first true obstacle, a sand trap. You speed through and loosen your bumper, but you’ve made it this far and the desert has never truly trapped you before. Your company piles back into the small green car and you speed off down the road, bumping and shaking with the rivets in the road as you go, the music has now been turned off so you can focus instead of jamming out. The little front-wheel drive dust bunny speeds through sandy wash after sandy wash, slowing but never stopping and soon you’re complacently chatting, distracted again. When the ground that looked so solid is suddenly a sand trap and your tires are spinning and your car isn’t moving and because it’s a manual transmission, you stall in place in the shadow of the skree field looming above you.
You all look at each other, a little stunned. Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry comes spilling out of your mouth, as the guilt of getting everyone stuck in the middle of the desert in the mid-afternoon heat of June radiates around you and everyone slowly crawls out of the four doors to survey the damage. Someone suggests they push you out, and, even though you know it won’t work, you try it. And nothing but a cloud of sandy dust from the two front tires and deeper ruts in the sand are to show for your efforts.
Everyone remains calm, walking circles around the car, strategizing your escape to the solid dirt twenty feet away. And so begins the rock collecting and the digging and soon the jack is ripped from its dusty home in your trunk and first one front wheel and then another is jacked up, rocks laid beneath to build it above the sand that the frame has become stuck on. Your shared history of trail building and manual labor becomes the binding factor that outweighs the underlying frustration and companions become comrades in this battle to free your metal steed on wheels from the grips of the desert. Collect rocks, dig away the sand, stack flat rocks beneath, in front and behind the tires, fill the cracks with sand, reverse the car as far as it will go on your makeshift rock road before it becomes stuck in the next patch of moon sand and the cycle begins again. Collect, dig, stack, fill, reverse.
Collectdigstackfillreversecollectdigstackfillreversecollectdigstackfillreversecollectdigstackfillreverse on and on and soon it has been three hours and the solidity of the rocky wash you diverged from in the moments before your entrapment is only a few feet from your rear tires and all that stands in your way is the bank of the wash and a rabbitbrush mound and so you grade the decline and your heart is beating fast because god damnit, this has got to be the push that frees you. And it is. Your last stack of rocks and road of dead rabbitbrush (strewn behind your car for traction) lead to your deliverance from this sandy ordeal. One last push and the green honda flies over the rim of the wash and tears down the road well into safety where you stop for a second as everyone is screaming in celebration and your heart is beating in your ears and relief washes over you. Your companions pile in and you all take each other in—faces hidden beneath layers of sandy and sweat, hair splayed in every direction and fresh sunburns surfacing on shoulders. The journey to the sweet, sweet asphalt highway begins and you’re not taking any chances this time so you gun it and you fly down the wash, stepping on the gas every time the sand tries to grasp the wheels and finally you see the black ribbon on the horizon, and the breath that everyone had been holding is released. Tires screech on the pavement as you whip into the right lane and speed away, glancing back at the desert tower disappearing into distance. Music finally breaks the silence, and then someone suggests that the desert is dangerous and teaching you a lesson, that maybe you’ve become too comfortable with this beautiful and deadly landscape. Another counters, saying the desert just wants to play and is testing your worth. You agree to disagree because you don’t really care, feeling the hot wind on your faces as you drive away at full speed, doing anything to avoid another immobilization for fear of more hours wasted in uncertainty.