Circling Back

The road looks good at first. It’s a winding backroad through sagebrush and juniper in a valley that feels elevated, like you’re closer to the sky. It was recommended as an alternative route to take from Enterprise, Utah to Panaca, Nevada.

Twelve miles in, the road turns to dirt. Fine with us, we’re used to driving dirt roads in Pepa. But soon we notice we’re sticking to the road, and there are ruts in it. The surface is clay and it’s been raining sporadically over the last day.

It’ll get better; we’ll keep going.

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I swerve left and right on the wide track trying to find the driest line. The sections of mud get longer and stickier. Water is visible in the ruts. The tires pick up the mud and slap it into the wheel wells. We both begin thinking: It’s going to get better. It can’t be too far before it gets better.

The mud thickens. We pass through sections where we barrel into it and fishtail and correct and straighten and swerve just to make it a quarter mile further to more mud.

We stop and assess at mile 7. I storm outside, fuming, about as hot as Pepa. I’m frustrated not at Paige, not at Pepa, not even at myself, but at the circumstance. The road itself demands reproach for being muddy now, just as we’re trying to cross it. I kick the road. I don’t feel better. I take a breath—a little better.

I examine our situation: The sign next to me says Enterprise 20, Panaca 24. It’s 4:30 and a full moon’s beginning to rise. It’s bound to get better. The last ten miles (maybe just eight) are on pavement.

How good we are at convincing ourselves of what we want to hear.

I hop back in and we decide to keep going! Neither of us can bear the thought of turning around. It’s twenty miles back and then a whole hour around to Panaca and that’s not even where we had planned to make it for the night. We could call it stubborn grit that pushes us forward, but it might be more accurately categorized as a refusal to accept failure. There’s a point where stubbornness morphs into stupidity.

For half a mile it’s not too bad. The road rolls up and down and we use our momentum to rumble up each incline. But the mud’s not going away. The ruts get deeper. I nearly stall in second and have to slog through in first gear.

We reach a cow grate. The road steps up in front of us and looks wet. We decide to use the grate to turn around.

A small part of us still protests: Don’t give up now! You’re so far. You’ll make it!

We push it aside, knowing it’s a prideful desire to finish, to conquer, to say we got through.

Coming off the grate Pepa meets her greatest challenge yet: an uphill with a road surface like fresh cow patties. Her tires are encased in clay. We encourage her, knowing we’re the ones who got her into the situation and she’s the one who has to get us out.

Come on Pepa, come on Pepa, come on Pepa.

She squirms, wheezes, and waddles her way up the hill. We’re jubilant on top, despite the miles of mud in front of us. There’s something about reversing course, of not pushing against something we know is a bad idea, that carries a sense of relief.

A pale, magnified moon guides us across the plateau. When we reach pavement we whoop and holler. Our foray into and out of the mud has become its own misadventure, its own story.

A few miles down the road we camp under a big Ponderosa in the Dixie National Forest. We decide we’re in no hurry but our own and leave the illogical need to punch through–to keep moving forward–somewhere back in the mud.

Sometimes the right way forward comes by circling back.

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