“Don’tstopdon’tstopdon’tstopdon’tstop,” I pleaded with my car as its tires whirred through the thick mud. It had just snowed yesterday in New Mexico and now the sun was doing its part to rid the state of its sloppy presence. The once-dirt road was now a five-mile-long pig sty. I was on my way to Chaco Culture National Park and my GPS told me I was getting close, though I was praying this information was legit as the No Service message glared at me from the corner of my screen.
“Come on, come on.”
“Please, please, please.”
I know begging doesn’t do much for cars, but it was worth a shot, right?
Having flashbacks from my icy adventure the day before, I was making sure I had more than enough momentum to get over the hill. As my hood peeked over the crest, I spotted it: My worst nightmare. At the bottom of the hill rested a full on swamp. If I saw Shrek bathing in it, I sincerely would not have been surprised. The mud must’ve been at least a foot deep and my little car was absolutely no match for this battle with nature. However, I had no choice. I was in the middle of the desert, in complete isolation, with no service to call my savior, AAA. Well–scratch that–I had two options: I could try to turn around, coming all this way for nothing and still get stuck trying to make it back over those hills, or I could keep going and pray for a Hail Mary.
“Okay, we can do this. We can totally do this.”
My car and I were in a serious relationship by this point, definitely on a first name basis. I began to slide down the hill, letting out a small scream as my tires smushed into the bowl of porridge that the dry desert had turned into.
The sticky mud soared off the back of my tires, flying into my open window and sloshing across my face, but I couldn’t stop, not now. Rolling up my window with one hand and swiveling the steering wheel with the other, my knuckles were whiter than the snow caps on the mountains behind me.
I’m….doing it? I think? …Please don’t stop. As me and my new best friend shot out of the mud pit, I felt as if we’d just scored first prize in a NASCAR race. I was honestly about to tear up.
How the hell did I just pull that off?
I sat there throwing a celebration-party-for-one, but as my car coasted along the paved path entering the park, a dark thought crossed my mind…….Wait a minute, there’s more than one entrance to the park right? Like, I don’t need to go back and face my worst enemy again, but UPHILL, right?
I took the first road I could find in the park, shortly finding out that it was the only road actually going through the park, and it was called Sunset Loop. Uh-oh. Nearing the end of the loop, however, I spotted a sign, a highway sign. No way….NO. WAY. I veered off to the right, eager to get out of this death trap. Although, I wasn’t about to score that victory lap so easily. Not more than 500 feet later, the beautiful, shimmering, paved road sent straight from the heavens turned back into God’s breakfast. Although, this time he seemed even hungrier. My tires whirred and spurred as I flew side to side in the vehicle. There’s no way I can get through this one, I’m going to end up stranded for real this time. I figured it was time for Plan C, to bring in the experts. After passing what seemed like a final cumulative exam (turning my car around and making it back to the yellow brick road), I began the hunt for a ranger, and what better place to look than the breeding ground of their duties: The Visitor Center.
My exhausted tires crept into the lot, but as I neared the front door, the bold words, “VISITOR CENTER CLOSED FOR COVID-19. PLEASE GRAB A PAMPHLET,” shouted back.
However, I wasn’t about to give up so easily. Circling the lot, I met the eyes of a ranger peering over her computer screen and motioned her to come outside.
“Unfortunately, the only way out of the park is on those dirt roads. Your best bet is to wait until the ground freezes over tonight in order to make it out.”
With a six hour drive still ahead of me, this was not good news. After talking a bit more back and forth with the ranger, she said,
“What if you stay here?”
“Oh, I don’t really have any camping gear, I just—“
“If you try to hit those roads tonight, you’re going to be all on your own if you get stuck. It’s 20 more miles of dirt road and about three more hours of isolated desert in the way that you’re headed. We have this community room for the rangers, no one really uses it, but it’s got a gym, and a shower, a place to sleep…”
I think I must have died and gone to heaven. After graciously agreeing to her generous offer, I followed the ranger to the place where I’d be spending my night. Since it was still a bit early, she recommended I might as well still go check out the park and handed me pamphlets and maps to get around, as well as printed instructions detailing how to get to my destination the next morning. As I thanked her again and began to leave, she said,
“I forgot to ask, what’s your name?”
“Raven,” I called back.
“You’re kidding me. Here in Chaco National Park, ravens are sacred animals. We have many that stay in residence, I actually just made a post about them.”
Curious about what she meant, I looked up the park on Facebook and sure enough, a photo of two ravens taken by none other than the ranger that I ended up running into that day was posted just moments before I found her. I don’t think it was any coincidence that I ended up stranded in this muddy canyon overnight, as I listened to the ravens caw while I watched the sunset from my safe haven.
At four AM, the blare of my alarm shook me out of my makeshift bed. Now in a race with the sun to get out of this canyon before she melted it back to mush, I hurriedly began throwing all of my belongings into the car and skirted out of the driveway. Turning on the overhead light in the driver’s seat, I squinted at the MapQuest route to Sedona the ranger had printed for me. I was so close to defeating this solo challenge that I wasn’t ready to lose it all over a wrong turn on these rent-a-roads.
Though my seat was shaking like I was on one of those ancient wooden roller coasters in the Wisconsin Dells, the blood orange glow beginning to seep over the barren land made it bearable. The dirt path that my car forced itself onto seemed to go on and on and on until finally, I felt the equivalent of land ho for a pirate: Paved Road.
“HELL YEAH!” I shouted, unable to contain my excitement [sorry, mom].
I still had a five hour drive to go, but the thought of my car being on a highway was an image of pure luxury that I never thought I’d be able to afford again. Five hours down the road, I began to feel the effects of my short-lived nap and decided to treat myself to a coffee.
“That’ll be $4.78,” stated the monotoned barista.
I opened my purse and reached in to grab my wallet. Moving my hand around like a magician searching for his rabbit, I realized this magic trick was not going to be so magic after all. The rabbit–my wallet– was not there. The wallet was in the canyon. I. Left. My. Wallet. In. The. Canyon.
After digging in the pockets of jackets I’ve never even worn before and looking in every bag imaginable, I spotted a glimmer of hope: A credit card. One of the cards must have slipped out of my wallet before I brought it inside and thus I still had a way to make my way across America without hitchhiking.
Handing the annoyed barista my lifeline, I hopped back into the car and went to finish the last stretch of my day’s journey. Plopping down on the bed in my AirBnb, I looked up the number for Chaco Culture National Park and pressed call. To my surprise, a familiar voice answered the call.
“Hi, this is Raven. I–“
“Oh! Raven! Hi! How are you?! Did you make it out okay?!!”
“Yeah, so -um- about that…I kinda left my wallet with my ID and all of my credit cards there in the canyon and I’m kinda six hours away now and I was kinda wondering if maybe–“
“Oh no! Let me go see if I can find it.”
Long story short, this saint ended up finding my wallet and shipping it all of the way to me in California.
I don’t know if there’s a certain amount of luck we are allotted per lifetime, but if so, I’m really going to be hurting at the end of this marathon.
I would like to dedicate this blog post to my guardian angel: Thank you for working overtime.