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Wednesday, January 1st, 2003

ain’t no grocery getter

mountains + winter = snow
snow + roads = travel delays
travel delays + vacation = -1*(fun)

We were headed to Utah for a week’s vacation in the mountains. My wife suggested renting a 4WD, in case we would face snowy mountain roads. It seemed like a good idea. So for a week I became an SUV maniac, sitting six feet in the air and burning up a gallon of gas every 10 miles and telling myself it really is possible to “be environmentally correct and drive a [planet-wrecking, fume-spewing, road-hogging, visibility-blocking pig of a recreational vehicle]”. I think the Dodge Durango we rented burns slightly less fuel than the Hummer 2, but you get the idea.

I’ll admit the truck was comfortable, with electronic seat and mirror controls. A knob on the dash allowed 4WD to be engaged on the fly. The stereo played CDs as well as tapes, and sounded great.

Considering its size, the truck felt easy to drive. It performed admirably on the highway. I think we began to feel a bit invincible, as if this tank of an automobile could scale any incline, shave the apex of any turn, and still fit into a parking space (well, the RV spots anyway).

Then we ran into a snowy section of road within Zion National Park, and learned that there is no magic feature of our 4600 lb monster-vehicle to keep from sliding sideways on a patch of ice, even on a straight road. The front wheels drifted to the left, and then with a shudder the rear wheels broke free and we were riding a heavy, unresponsive toboggan on a tangent to the approaching curve.

Highway 9 doesn’t have guardrails. There was a rock wall to the right — smashing into that would have been inconvenient and expensive, but not fatal. Unfortunately that’s not what we were sliding toward.

On the far side of the low snowbank on the left shoulder, the ground dropped away several dozen feet. Had we slid over the edge, I’d be writing this story from the afterlife, assuming that there, unlike Utah, I could get an Internet connection.

Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park, UTWithin a foot or two of the edge, the tires caught enough pavement to spin us back the other way. We spun 180° clockwise, slid back to the right side of the road, then the tires caught again and we spun counterclockwise again. By this time we’d slowed down enough to regain traction; we pulled off the road for ten seconds to breathe, thank our guardian angels, and in my case correct the momentary lapse of sanity that had caused me to not fasten my seatbelt. Then we drove to the Hidden Canyon trailhead and hiked a few miles up the face of the mountain and took this cool vertical-panorama picture, which shows our truck/coffin in dramatic perspective at the bottom.

posted to channel: Travel
updated: 2005-03-08 18:26:15

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