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There was less than a foot between life and death and it was all because they were trying to cheat the system. This is what I learned from two fellow college students I met while waiting in line for my hot chocolate at Late for the Train. Good thing there was a long line because they had quite the story to tell. What I got out of their story is that some people choose to live on the edge to get more fulfillment out of life, but many times that extra fulfillment just isn’t worth it.
Two young college students were going home for Christmas break to visit their families in St. Louis, Illinois. Dan is a guy who spends so much time in the outdoors that the critters know him by name. He lives in the back of his pick-up unless it is so cold that his drool freezes down the side of his face. In that case he finds a friend who will let him roll out his camping pad and crash on the floor, and if he is lucky they will let him use the shower. Dan’s shoulder length hair is so curly that it looks as if he got a perm but left the curling rods in for an extra day. You could probably call him a “hippy” even though he would never refer to himself as one. Dan told me most of their story while Matt stood there and nodded every once in awhile.
Matt seemed more laidback than Dan and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. He’d like to let himself think that he is adventurous, but in reality his biggest adventure is finding a gas station that’s open at 3:00am so he can pick up a bag of Cheetos. Dan and Matt decided to be adventurous so they planned to drive from Flagstaff, AZ up through Utah, and then make their way towards Illinois. They would stay in the back of Dan’s white Toyota Tacoma because he was blessed with the luxury of having a topper. This topper allowed Dan to create a home in the back of his pick-up filled with sleeping bags, a camping pad, hiking gear, dirty clothes, and old garbage from McDonald’s. Dan seemed to be very proud of his topper, because he even gave me a tour of it as I left the coffee shop.
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Dan and Matt had almost made it to Utah’s Bryce Canyon. They were running low on cash and Dan needed money to buy his McDonald’s food for the rest of the trip home so he suggested they cut their cross-country trip short and head straight towards St. Louis. Matt didn’t want to miss out on seeing the colorful and whimsical features of Bryce Canyon so he convinced Dan to go, even though they had very little money left.
Matt found a service road that they could take to view the canyon, and because it was a service road they wouldn’t have to pay the fee to get into the park. Dan agreed to try the service road, and they continued on the journey about to embark on a lonely one-lane dirt road. As Dan continued to tell me the story his voice became less enthusiastic at this point, so I could tell that he was nervous about the fact that they didn’t know what was to come as they continued the journey.
The road conditions were terrible; since it was winter there was snow and it had been melting, leaving the road awfully muddy and making it especially difficult to control a vehicle. It was like trying to drive in a huge tub of butter that was at room temperature. Dan’s truck even slid into the ditch one time because it was so hard to control, but despite the horrible road conditions, they continued up the mountain.
The canyon wasn’t what they expected and they were sure that they could find a better view of Bryce Canyon by driving farther into the park, so they continued up the hill and through the mud until the journey uphill became the journey downhill. The pick-up was more difficult to control going down the mountain, and if you have ever driven in the mountains you know that occasionally there will be a cliff on one side of the road. Any wrong move and they would be on their way off the edge of the cliff down into a valley. Since Dan was the driver he had the main responsibility of getting them out of the muddy mess they both had gotten into. At this point Dan was extremely nervous trying to drive his “not-so-white” pick-up through the mud, but he hid his emotions behind his long curly hair. The entire time this was happening Matt just sat there eating his Cheetos and looking out the window like they were just cruising down the highway. Matt seemed to care so much about visiting the canyon, but he didn’t care so much about the trouble it got them into.
The pick-up continued to slide all over the road like an eel slithers through the water, except eels don’t have to worry about falling off cliffs while sliding through the water. At one point the pick-up was sliding so badly that Dan lost control. He already had it in four-wheel-drive, so he tried slamming it into rear-wheel, but had absolutely no luck. Then he tried front-wheel, nothing. He put it back into four-wheel, but the pick-up continued to slither closer towards the edge of the cliff that led into the deep valley. Dan tried everything he could to stop it, but nothing was helping. His mind went blank. Everything was silent except for the crunching of Matt’s cheetos. Dan stared into the open valley hoping that the pick-up would stop before sliding over the edge of the cliff.
I could tell how nervous Dan must have been at this point, because as he was telling me this part of the story beads of sweat began trickling down the side of his face. They were a foot away from death. The pick-up stopped less than a foot away from the edge of the cliff. What a sense of relief they were feeling, but that feeling didn’t last for long. Their life flashed before their eyes, but the flash stayed in the back of their minds like a camera flash stays in one’s head after taking a picture because their “death valley” was still in plain sight. Dan stared into the valley wondering how he could move his pick-up back on to the path without shifting it in the direction that would have them end up in the valley. Matt sat there and stared out the window thinking “I wonder what I’ll do if I run out of Cheetos? We’re so far away from a gas station.” A dilemma was upon their shoulders. How could they get back on the road to leave the park without sliding off of the cliff? Dan didn’t want to continue the journey downhill, because the pick-up was much more uncontrollable downhill. There wasn’t enough room to turn around on the one-lane service road so they had only one option.
They went in reverse up the hill until they were able to turn around and make their way back out of the park. They got back on the highway and continued their journey home, hoping that they would have enough money to finish the journey, but thankful that they were still alive. My very first impression of Dan was that he was just a “laidback hippie,” but his emotions throughout the story led me to believe that he was somewhat uptight. For the rest of the trip home he was still in a silent state of shock. Matt didn’t have much to say while Dan told me about their adventure so I could see why Matt didn’t have much to say for the rest of their car ride home. The remainder of the trip was silent except for the “Grateful Dead” music they had playing.
Dan and Matt avoided the entrance fee by taking “the road less traveled” into the park. When someone chooses to live on the edge to achieve a sense of triumph in their lives they are also choosing to risk their lives for that feeling. Dan and Matt chose to take the road less traveled, and that road took them to the edge…almost right up to the end of their lives.