A Good Day for a Drive

It was a beautiful day for a drive. Labor Day Weekend in the Colorado Rockies. Our family cabin is nestled in the high altitude farmland of Gunnison, a small community downriver from the majestic peaks of Crested Butte.

On a whim, we piled into our restored 1976 Jeep CJ-7…three kids, two parents, one dog. Our only plan: to go as far as we wanted to go. Supplies included some snacks, warm clothes, raincoats.

The Jeep’s configuration perfect for a family of five. The front bucket seats are roomy, with enough space on the floor for some supplies and the dog. The rear bench seat faces backwards, adequate for three small bodies.

We rose high traversing the four-wheel-drive roads, rolling, jerking, up and over. The surrounding twelve to fourteen-thousand-foot peaks displayed themselves beautifully as rows of shark teeth.

After six hours of slow, bumpy travel, we descended upon the picturesque town of Aspen, our dusty, dirty bodies and tangled hair no match for the community’s refinement. Forgetting the holiday weekend did not bode well for procuring suitable lodging less than $700 per night. Multiple phone calls revealed no room in the inn…anywhere. Our only option to commence the return trip. Fear and panic surfaced by bits, bubbling, surpassed only by the desire to be warm at home, while the sun began its rapid decline.

Before embarking on the supposedly shorter, more direct return route, we heavily bribed our children with hamburgers, milkshakes, and candy followed by a romp in the park to loosen cramped bodies.

Witnessing the peaks silhouette themselves against the pink sky, the temperatures cooled severely as daylight faded. We bundled in our warmest gear, which wasn’t much considering we planned for a sunny day in early autumn.  Rolling through the wilderness, the dirt road before us, boulders jutting, Jeep rocking exhilaration moved toward concern.

Once darkness settled, our navigation failed, the round vintage headlights providing only a short-sighted, non-peripheral view. Multiple roads appeared seemingly out of nowhere pulling us off course, yielding repeated dead ends. Backtrack, start over, new road, dead end.  Following the tumbling water of the Crystal River we moved forward to the best of our ability. Stop. Check the map. Start. Dead end. Turn around. Repeat.

Rumbling along we meandered downward toward two bobbing lights. Inching forward, unsure of what was before us, we rolled by two campers jumping enthusiastically, whooping and hollering,  “No way! He’s gonna do it. WOO HOO!” Eric and I looked at one another quizzically, unsure what they were referencing. We made the severe right angle turn, light revealing the only bits we needed to see – a rickety, old bridge followed by a narrow shelf road, tipped generously in favor of the tumbling river valley. A hefty drop traversed by a narrow loose granite path interspersed with boulders, wide enough for just our vehicle. Schofield Pass. Little did we know, discovering later, the most deadly stretch of dirt in the state of Colorado, aptly named Devil’s Punchbowl.

Everything I envisioned did not happen. We did not plummet to our deaths, nor did we have to sleep in our cold, cramped car. Every obstacle eventually offered a solution. One map said one thing, the other offered an alternative. Our journey revealed itself through piecing and connecting the dots. Thank God we had no idea what lie before us at the outset.

Anytime we find ourselves in a fierce predicament choices are available. The fear will envelope and immobilize us if we let it. The looming problems of life and world require us to faithfully take the one next step.

The diagnosis, the divorce, the tragedy, the layoff…all of it hits hard in our core. While no one would choose the harsh difficulties of life, they still come. The work requires us to honestly evaluate what we are up against, take the known information and boil it down to the smallest particle. Peering down the road, squinting to see, attempting to anticipate the future leads to fear. Our only option that night was to manage each presenting obstacle, while doing our best to remain on the road, and to pray…a lot.

Hopelessness hit hard, over and over, each time we had to turn around, each time we hit a snowbank, a boulder. Yet, every overcome obstacle yielded a rush of relief, appreciation, peace – a recognition of the beauty, the joy of adventure, a sense of pride.

I would like to climb Devil’s Punchbowl again, on my own two feet, in the light of day. I want to witness the river deep below, the peaks rising high above. I want to relive that night, celebrating how far we came, but I will never again choose the same set of circumstances.

Life brings about so much we could never anticipate. The things I see around me seem so awful, so hard, yet there is a way, always a way. I pray we choose the next hard thing, the next remotely clear thing and follow the path of breadcrumbs until eventually we stop, stand firm, turn around in amazement at see how far we’ve come.

Here is where we can find joy and hope again.

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