The following originally appeared in the August 6, 2009 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin. The insparation for this piece was a post I wrote back in June. This article is basically a more fleshed-out version of that post.
by Clint Thomsen
“Whatcha got for me?” I asked the rutty gravel road beyond the cattle gate. Not quite as epic a quip as Jack Sparrow’s “Bring me that horizon” from Pirates of the Caribbean or Captain Kirk’s “Let’s see what she’s got!” from Star Trek IV. But for a completely ad lib callout, it would do.
Out of habit, I slowed when I reached the end of the pavement. That’s where I usually turn around and drive back to SR-138, wondering what adventure lies in the inaccessible canyon ahead. Not today.
The moment marked a breakthrough in my ability to explore Tooele County’s wilderness. No longer would I be confined to pavement and manicured roads. I continued through the gate, hitting the gravel with a new confidence.
“That’s right,” I goaded, “I got me a truck.”
A man can only explore so far in the family minivan. For my wife, Meadow, the final straw must have been when I pulled into the driveway in after my last trip to Iosepa. Upon seeing the minivan’s mud-caked wheel wells, she was terribly confused.
“So where did the mud come from?” she asked. Skull Valley’s a pretty dry place in the summer—at least in the areas a responsible minivan owner might travel.
“From the river,” I teased.
There’s no river at Iosepa, but there are streams in the non-minivan friendly mountains behind it.
She shook her head– “I don’t even want to know.”
I got a text message from her during a meeting the following week. It was a picture of an old red Ford. “I think I found you a truck,” she captioned.
And a great find it was. I couldn’t dream of buying a new truck, and none of the used trucks we had looked at were even worth a test drive. This one was a 1985 F250— solid as a rock, no frills, with a lift and four wheel drive. It was the perfect vehicle for exploring in the desert. The seller had marked it well under Blue Book, and Meadow had talked him down even further. The decision was a no-brainer.
“Not a lot of technology in this truck, is there?” observed 7 year old Bridger as we pulled away with our new toy.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“No buttons anywhere, no air conditioning– that kind of thing,” he explained. “Kinda old fashioned.”
He paused and contemplated for a few seconds. “But it’s a man truck, so old fashioned is a good thing.”
Indeed it is. I remember riding in my grandpa’s old truck when I was a kid, windows down, Johnny Horton on the AM radio. I think grandpa’s truck had air conditioning, but we always rolled the windows down anyway. No matter where we were going, we’d stop for a drink at the gas station first. Then I’d sit on that old leather seat, holding a 32 oz. Sprite in one hand and hanging the other out the window to ply through the rushing air.
Now I had my own truck. I’ll admit it’s not much to look at. Its sides are scratched and rusted, and rear windows are covered in old hunting brand stickers. Its interior smells of dirt, old foam and plastic. The cantankerous nineties-era stereo will only pick up one FM station. It needs a good tune-up and I’d best get rid of the pink heart seat cover, but otherwise it’s in excellent shape.
“This is a great King of the Hill truck, Dad,” said 3 year old Coulter, alluding to the popular Fox TV series, which reinforced the pickup’s manly credentials. Its maiden voyage was a trip up Ophir Canyon later that day, and it didn’t take me long to plan our next manly truck drive.
West Canyon Road in the Stansbury Mountains has taunted me—mocked me and my minivan for years. I probed the road a few times when I first began writing this column but never made it past the first gate. Hiking the canyon trail would be impossible without some means of getting to the trailhead at the end of the 5 mile road. Its windy route and deep gravely nature had kept me helplessly at bay.
In time I began to focus less on the trail and more on the road that led to it. The goal of hiking the canyon was overshadowed by dogged determination to conquer that menacing road.
West Canyon Road isn’t the really that bad. No serious dips, stream crossings, or boulder obstacles. As far as dirt roads go, it’s fairly tame. Which is probably why it tormented me so. It’s a decent road, but not decent enough to drive a minivan on.
Driving my new old truck on the road was a walk in the park. The dust wafting through our open windows was slightly annoying, but complemented the experience. What’s a man truck without a nice layer of desert dust blanketing the dashboard?
I stopped at the trailhead and used the posted map to scope out a future hike. “Is that it, Dad?” Bridger asked, clearly not grasping the gravity of my triumph. We looked out over the valley below. I would have taken a picture or two had I not forgotten my camera in my haste to get under way. The trip back down would be a nice test for the truck’s breaks, and I worried about its worn front tires.
I’d cross those bridges when I came to them. For the moment I was a non-tragic Captain Ahab– proud of my truck, glad that future expeditions will no longer be inhibited by rough roads.
It’s a win for everybody. Meadow gets her van back, the kids get the experience of riding in an old fashioned truck, and the family dog, Ziggy, will finally get to come along on our outings. Whoever owns the gas station in our neighborhood should also be happy. In fact, between the drinks and the gas, he or she may just end up the happiest of all.