It was a dark and stormy Christmas Eve. Unseasonably warm rain misted us relentlessly, as it had for two straight weeks. Thick fog crept up the riverbank to cover the road, as I lowered Matilda into gear. Douglas was already deep in his headphones, so I had Fynn climb in front to relay shouted instructions from Bethany, standing guard at the rear of the trailer. I was skeptical we'd escape without getting wedged in the trees, or going over the bank into the river, but we pulled out, smooth as you please, in one easy shot.
Bethany climbed in, and we let out a collective cheer, which turned quickly from "Yay!" into "Car!" Someone approached from behind, and we thought it best to let them pass before continuing. The car pulled up alongside, and stopped, and we realized it was Mark, the neighbor who'd be keeping an eye on the house we were leaving. We piled back out of the truck, excited that someone else could share in our first moment of triumph. "Your tail lights are out!" Mark said. "What?! No!" we said. We went to the rear. The lights were all on. Our immediate decision was to ignore this hiccup, and continue.
We said our final goodbyes to Mark, and his raised eyebrow, and climbed back into the truck. Mark's taillights were quickly swallowed by the fog, which appeared to be getting thicker, and we began creeping along the 7 miles of Masthope Plank Road. This road is a narrow, winding, unmarked, pot-holy terror in the daytime, and now seemed endless, as white-knuckled I wondered how overweight the trailer really was, and how well I'd actually remembered the hitching process.
But Matilda kept pulling, and the trailer kept following, and eventually the stop sign I longed for squoze like a turtle head from out it's shell of fog. I breathed a sigh of relief, and looked at Bethany with both eyebrows up. "Nervous?", she asked. I nodded vigorously. "You don't show it" she said, in a tone of admiration, that put all the confidence in the world right back in me. "We go right?" I asked almost rhetorically.
Some years back, I don't know when it happened, Bethany made a silent decision to Always let me drive, and took on the role of constant navigator. I would never have asked for this; Bethany is my equal in driving. As a matter of fact, the first truly competitive argument that started us dating, was over who would get to drive. But here I am, always in the driver's seat, un-resented by someone I KNOW loves to drive as much as I do, and it fills me with a crazy sense of Dignity.
"Yes, right" says my navigator, "Then we'll take the first left after the bridge, in less than a mile." I was feeling more confident now, the worst road was behind us. We crossed the bridge. We came to a left. "Umm ... I think this is it ... " We'd come this way a hundred times in two years, but in this fog nothing looked familiar. We turned left. Nothing continued looking familiar. BAM! We hit a pothole. BAM! BAM! Two more. We cringed, hoping the weight of the camper wouldn't break the tires clean off. "I don't remember Perkins Pond Road having this many potholes," worried Bethany. I slowed to a crawl. This road seemed, if possible, narrower than Masthope. The twenty feet I could see revealed the surface of the moon.
"Maybe the plows tore it up in the November snow" I mused, in a futile hopefulness. My confidence turned to a frustrated, crater-weaving, concentration. Fynn started humming in the back seat. "Fynnie, be QUIET!" we shouted in unison. After two or three miles, of what seemed like ten, we came up a hill to a stop sign. "Umm ... this road wasn't supposed to T", my navigator's voice dripped with defeat. "Douglas, hand me the map ... DOUGLAS!" Our twelve-year-old pulled out an earbud, "Yeah?" "The MAP!, behind my seat!" After 10 minutes of watching the occasional car float past, like an ethereal Christmas star, Bethany ascertained that we totally missed the first left turn, and took a small road called Peggy's Runway. We could regain our route by heading left.
Have you ever tried to shift out of park on a hill? How about with upwards of 7,000 pounds hanging off your tail? Thankfully, I'm a champion arm wrestler, though I admit it took a lot of struggling. This road was smooth. Narrow and twisty, yes, but smooth, with markings. Things were good till we were passing our first car, and discovered its corona obliterated the road, its markings, and any thoughts we may have been thinking. "I can't see ANYthing, can you?" Bethany gasped, as another car passed, kindly doffing it's brights at the last nanosecond. "Nothing," I said through gritted teeth. "But this is still better than Peggy's Pancake," I stammered. The road went on and on. The fog did thin a bit. "At least the cars in the fog are pretty," Bethany proffered. I was silent. Concentrating.
Two hours after leaving, we began to see signs for 84. This would be our entrance to the main highway. Clear Sailing. No more souped-up pickups roaring frustratedly past in no-passing zones. No more Fynn counting out how many cars he could see impatiently trailing us in the mirror. No more guessing where the road went, in the blaze of oncoming headlights. "You want to be in the left lane," Bethany said. I checked my mirror and eased into the left lane, coming to a stop at the light. It was raining a lot harder now. "No, wait, I think you want to go right." "Really?" I asked, in a tone that said you'd-better-be-right. I couldn't see any signs. "Yeah, there's no one in this lane, you can cross over." So I put on my turn signal, crossed diagonal to the right, and turned when the light changed.
One hundred yards in that direction, Bethany said "Oh ... no ... we should have gone left." Two cars were already following me, and my blood was beginning to boil. Normally the weight of driving was pleasurable, if not a fun burden to carry, but this had been a hell-ride, and my mind was having a Ralph Cramden moment. If there was one time, ONE TIME!, when the navigator, whose duties are LIGHT, mind you, could have checked her Map Quest PRINTOUT for the word LEFT, or RIGHT, NOW would have been the time ... "Maybe we could turn around there," Bethany suggested, pointing to a Kingdom Hall parking lot. I was dubious of my turning radius, and decided to keep going. Perhaps I was also a little loath to accept any suggestion at all.
Well. That was the last turnaround spot from there to the top of the mountain. Up and up and up it went. I pulled over twice to let cars go zooming past, always looking for some side road I might be able to use. Nothing. Was I screaming at Bethany? No. I was stone faced. Cold as ice. Maybe a little heavy on the throttle, but very, very, silent.
The road leveled out, and Bethany pointed "There's some lights, maybe that's a parking lot." But within a hundred feet we realized we were at the top of the mountain, and those were the lights of a city, in the valley far below. I pulled over. "What are you doing?" "I don't want to go up and down this mountain twice in one night," I said coolly. "It would probably burn out our brakes. I think we should turn around in the road." This did not really look possible. At all. Bethany looked straight ahead. "I think we should pray," she said.
Now it's not my intention in this blog to get all preachy on you, and I'm sorry if using the word 'pray' made your hair stand on end. But we all believe in something, be it God, Science, or Nothing, and I believe that what you believe is what you get, at least in your own mind. There's no convincing you otherwise, so I won't be trying to. But you can hardly come on this trip with us without discovering Bethany and I believe in and talk to God as a matter of daily life, but mostly when things are rotten. This was definitely a rotten moment. So I prayed. "Hey God, we really don't want to go down this side of the mountain. Help us find a place we can turn around. Please."
We started forward again. I was still seething. We started down the slope, maybe a little too fast. I began to smell brakes, almost immediately. I quickly pulled to the side, and got out. I went to the camper tires and sniffed. Nothing. I went to the truck tires and sniffed. Yup. This meant one thing. The camper brakes were not engaging, the truck brakes were. Great. I got back in the truck. "We're going to have to go reallly slow." We inched forward. "Is that a road?" Bethany was pointing. At any faster speed, we would have missed it. It had a triangle where it joined, and the turnaround was easy as pie.
Coming back down the right side of the mountain, saying "Thank-you, God," over and over, we noticed the brakes did not burn at all. At the bottom, just before getting on 84, Bethany said in a very small voice, "I'm sorry for taking you the wrong direction." and all those excoriating things I'd wished to say balled up in my chest, choking me. But after a while the dignity of Driver burned them as fuel for the "I Forgive You" that came out my mouth. I suppose this makes me sound like a Royal Condescending Asshole, doling out forgiveness like a king, but had I said "It's Okay," I'd have lied. I'd still be angry. She'd still feel guilty. This 'I forgive you,' in all it's formal attire, freed us both from a lot of useless drama. Which it was, of course.
A bit teary eyed, we got on 84 and it was just as I had imagined. Smooth Sailing. "You know, you ARE the best navigator in the world." "Oh, shut-up." I think it must have taken the kids about 2 miles of stress-free travel to pass out. It was about 12:30. "You tired?" Bethany asked. "You kidding? I got enough adrenalin pumpin' in my veins to go a few more hours."
to be continued...