First date gone wrong leads to shared love of outdoors

22 Feb

The following originally appeared in the Valentines Day edition of Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

Yeah, that’s where I stranded us.
(photo courtesy of

By Clint Thomsen

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a mountain stream. Whether it’s a spring brook in the high Uintas or a frigid creek in the snowy Oquirrhs, the vibrant white-noise gush of pure water is like nature’s ipod. The only thing better than listening to a stream with your friends or your kids is listening to a stream with your sweetheart.

Last week’s white-out capped off a grueling winter ruled by freak snow storms that seemed to always blow in right in time for my commute. I hoped to take my wife on a Valentine’s hike, but finding a passable back road in the county has been difficult. Luckily, Settlement Canyon Road was plowed for a mile, and we drove up to watch the sunset.

We drove up to the closed gate where the snow plows turn around and a snow-packed road continues deep into the quiet Oquirrhs. The sun was setting over the distant Stansbury Mountains, framed by One O’Clock Peak to the south and Little Mountain to the north. The thermometer in our dash read 29 degrees. We turned the heater on and rolled the windows down to listen to Settlement Creek course into the mostly frozen reservoir below.

We talked about the kids and how we hoped they hadn’t burned my mother’s house down yet. We talked about the things we needed to buy at Wal-Mart the next morning.

We reminisced about the night we first met at a gathering of friends in Skull Valley- how she broke the ice by offering me a fruit punch Capri Sun- how we sat by the campfire talking until the sun came up, and how that almost a decade later we still can’t get enough of the wilderness.

The conversation eventually turned to the disaster that was our first date. We laugh about it now, but at the time it couldn’t have been more embarrassing. I’m amazed I ever saw her again after that night. Maybe some things are just meant to be- no matter how hard you try to screw them up. Till the day I die, being in the mountains at night with her will always remind me of that ill-fated night.

Having moved here from the utterly flat state of Texas the day before we met, she had never hiked a mountain trail or watched the Milky Way from an alpine meadow.

“I’ll take her hiking,” I thought. “One breath of crisp mountain air, one look at the city from a canyon overlook and she’ll be mine.”

Initially things went well—a nice drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon and a romantic couple-mile hike along the Broad’s Fork Twin Peaks trail.

Of course that was before we walked back to the car and I couldn’t find my keys. Before we hiked all the way back up and spent an hour looking for them.

Before we got back down again and I realized I must have locked my keys in my trunk.

“We’re not too far away from the city, are we?” She asked. “Nah,” I reassured her with a faux confidence that could not have hidden my acute awareness that it was now midnight and we were exactly 4.5 miles from the mouth of the canyon.

Plan A: Somehow break into my Dodge Spirit without shattering the windows and before she starts getting cold.

No dice.

Plan B: Start Walking. Stay upbeat. Avoid mountain lions and “helpful” serial-killer-looking guys offering us rides. Pick up the pieces of my shattered pride at the bottom. “Hey, at least it’s downhill.”

We joked about our misfortune, but our guarded laughter dwindled as we rounded curve after curve of quiet road. We walked at least a mile before a normal-looking couple in a pickup offered to drive us to a pay phone (my cell phone was with my keys in the trunk). The awkward chitchat made the ride seem much longer than it was, but I was glad to be out of the mountains.

“So what are you going to do now?” The guy driving asked with all the compassion he could muster and still keep a straight face.

“Probably call a friend,” I said as we climbed out of his cab at a grocery store, knowing that calling a friend would be even more tragic than locking my keys in my car 4.5 miles up a canyon on a first date. The only thing worse than scaring a girl off is seeing her the next week at Leatherby’s, sharing a Rob’s Banana Split with your friend that so nobly rescued her from her nightmare first date with you.

No, friends were definitely not an option. I picked up the pay phone and dialed the only person who could look past my idiocy and get me out of this mess. My mother arrived in short order, and we were soon driving back up the canyon with my backup key.

When we retrieved my keys and pulled out of the trailhead parking lot, I looked at the girl I was certain I’d never see again. “I’m at a loss,” I blabbered, feeling about an inch tall. “I just don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she assured me, obviously glad the ordeal was finally over. The uneasiness had worn off and her playful sense of humor had resurfaced. “It was a great hike…and this will definitely go down as the most hilarious first date story ever!”

9 years and 4 kids later, we sat at the mouth of Settlement Canyon, laughing about that night and searching the sky for constellations. We got out and hiked past the gate and down to the Dark Trail trailhead. When it was time to walk back, I took my glove off and felt my right front pocket. Oh, good—the keys were there.

Clint Thomsen is a Stansbury Park resident who grew up climbing mountains, wandering desert paths and exploring Utah’s wilds. He may be contacted via his Web site at


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