Over the years, travel has continually evolved. Bulky road maps transformed into revolutionary GPS devices which soon morphed into convenient phone apps that now provide invaluable assistance at the touch of a fingertip to every motorist in America – except, unfortunately, to me.
From the moment I slide behind the wheel of our car, it is only a matter of time (and not that long) before I become hopelessly lost. My wife and traveling companion for more than four decades is resigned to the fact that she married a man who is utterly incapable of following even the simplest directions.
But as you are about to see, I don’t have to be in a car to get lost. It can happen even when I’m on foot.
Years ago, my wife and I went to Colorado on vacation. We had never seen the Rocky Mountains and compared to the grassy plains of the Heartland they were spectacular.
Of course, my spouse wanted to fill every moment of our trip with activity and one of the areas she wanted to visit was in Colorado Springs. It is a registered Natural Landmark called The Garden of the Gods. It’s an unusual formation of red rock that is visually striking, certainly the kind of thing you want to photograph which brings me to the point of our story.
After spending a significant amount of time, along with many other tourists, following some of the 15 miles of trails through the rock sculptures in ninety-degree heat, my wife and I returned to our car to head out for our next adventure. But just as we were getting ready to leave, my bride suddenly remembered there was one particular rock formation she had forgotten to photograph.
Turning to me and smiling in her adorably cute way that is so endearing and which always makes me suspicious because it is usually followed by something I don’t want to hear, she sweetly asked, “Would you mind going back and taking a photo of the Cathedral Valley area for me?”
Sitting in the shade of the car with the air conditioning running created a not too surprising lack of enthusiasm on my part at the idea of heading back into the rocks and the heat.
I made a counteroffer. “Couldn’t we just stop at the Visitor Center and buy a postcard of it?” (We were parked reasonably close to that facility.)
“No, Dear. A postcard is not the same. I want to show our vacation photos to Shirley down the street.”
I looked at my watch. It was two-thirty which meant we were venturing into the hottest part of the day. I was tired, my feet hurt, and I was thirsty. Not to mention the fact that a mild sunburn had made itself at home on my pale delicate flesh.
Sensing an intense reluctance on my part (I’ve always been a big fan of shade and AC) my wife skillfully pivoted from sweetness to guilt. “Oh, never mind. I know it’s too much to ask. I’m sorry I bothered you with it.” She turned and looked dejectedly out the window.
So, there we sat. I quickly considered my options. I could follow my natural inclination which was to throw the car in gear, step on the gas and head for something cold to drink – but that meant I would feel selfish and once again lower my wife’s opinion of me – or I could fulfill her simple request, at the expense of my own discomfort, and make her happy.
As I sat and carefully weighed the options, my wife sighed heavily, a clear signal of her growing disappointment in me.
I reached back, gently touched my sunburned neck and said, “Okay. Give me the camera.” (This was before we had cell phones, so I had a real camera and no phone.)
My wife’s demeanor instantly changed, and she happily handed it over. “You are a wonderful husband! Thank you so much for going back.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“You remember how to get there, right?” Apparently, the blank expression that swept over my face provided a not so subtle hint that I had no clue what Cathedral Valley was or how to get to it.
Of course, after all these years, my spouse knew better. “Okay, I admit that was a ridiculous question. Let me show you.” She pointed to the appropriate area. “Just follow that walkway straight into the rocks until you come to the first trail. Turn left and you will immediately see the rock formation on your right. Take a picture and then retrace your steps. It won’t take five minutes.”
Seemed simple enough. But I’m sure it seemed simple to land the Hindenburg too.
I got out of the car with the camera. I’d taken maybe twenty steps when I heard my wife’s voice call out. “Michael, you’re going east. You need to go west.”
That should have been our first clue to the debacle that was to come.
I did an about-face and took off in the other direction. I followed the walkway and sure enough at the first trail, I turned left and there was Cathedral Valley on the right. (At least that’s what the sign said. To me it looked pretty much like all the other red rocks.)
I took a couple of photos and then wanting to impress my wife, I decided to try and capture it from another angle.
It was a regrettable mistake.
After finding what I thought was the best perspective, the one where you could see the biggest collection of tall pointy rocks, (okay, I’m not a geologist) I took several more shots. Satisfied that my wife would be amazed by my photographic wizardry I headed back to the car.
The sun was beating down, and I was looking forward to that cold drink more than ever. Carefully, I retraced my steps, and when I walked out of the sandstone formation, I was stunned to see that our car was nowhere in sight. But there was a good reason for that. There was no parking lot. In fact, there was no sign of civilization whatsoever.
I found this to be quite a perplexing development. Just ten minutes earlier there had been cars, a busy road, and a large visitor center, but now, everything had disappeared. Strange……
But as I stood there pondering my plight, I knew the ugly truth. Although I hated to admit it to myself, I was once again lost.
You have to understand that I have spent most of my adult life not knowing exactly where I am at any given moment. It can be disorienting, and unsettling. And as my wife can sadly attest to, this particular mental deficit has led to many unusual adventures much like the one I was experiencing now.
As I looked left and right there was nothing to see but open country so my only real choice was to head back into the rocks to see if I could find the correct exit that would lead me to back to my car.
Being hot and tired made me feel a little cranky about the thought of more traipsing around, but I had no other options. Reluctantly, I trudged back into the spiraling rocks which by now had become far less beautiful and were beginning to seem more like a prison.
And so, I began to walk…and walk…and walk…but for some reason, I wasn’t seeing any other hikers or tourists. I figured if I met someone, they could direct me to the ever-elusive Visitor Center. But over the next two hours, I did not encounter a single human being. Occasionally, I would see an animal scurrying around, which made me keep a close eye out for snakes, both large and small, but there were no other signs of life.
Meanwhile, as I was wandering aimlessly all over creation, my wife began to get worried, so she decided to go to The Visitor Center to report me missing……plus she really needed to use the bathroom. (Two birds with one stone, so to speak.)
As my wife later explained to me, she approached a park ranger at the center to ask for help.
My wife: “I want to report a missing person.”
Ranger: “How long have they been gone?”
My wife: “Over two hours.”
Ranger: “How old is the child.”
Embarrassed, my wife hesitates for a moment. “It’s not a child. It’s my husband.”
Ranger covers his mouth to keep from laughing.
My wife becomes indignant with the officer because in her words, “No one is allowed to laugh at my husband – but me.” She adds for emphasis, “That is the right of every wife.”
The ranger apologized and struggling to keep a straight face said that he doubted I was in any real danger, and that two hours was not long enough to consider a grown man to be missing.
Ranger: “After all he is a mature adult.”
My wife: “Well……he is an adult. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Then the love of my life spent the next few minutes regaling the ranger with horrifying examples that illustrated just how profoundly compromised my sense of direction was. She told him story after story about my complete incompetence at following even the simplest of directions, but each one only made him struggle harder not to laugh out loud.
Although she wanted to continue her heartfelt efforts to convince the ranger of my desperate need to be rescued, the increasingly urgent need to use the bathroom superseded her concern for me. (It’s always good to know where you rate among your spouse’s priorities.)
But enough about law enforcement’s disturbing lack of concern for a vulnerable citizen, let’s return to my exasperating escapade.
As I became hotter and thirstier, I could only hope that my wife had become sufficiently worried to report me missing and that there was now a large search party systematically combing the rocks in a life or death race to find a struggling lost soul who was in imminent danger.
At one point I thought heard a rescue helicopter, but when I shielded my eyes from the blazing sun and looked skyward, all I could see were some large birds. It took a second, but suddenly it occurred to me that I could cleverly follow them back to civilization – but after going in circles for several minutes I realized they were actually vultures, and they were circling me.
Although I tried to be brave, I eventually began to wear down, and I could not help but feel despair over what I was now certain was going to be my inevitable demise.
Two hours later……dying of thirst and sunburned to a lobster red, I staggered out of the rocks and was shocked to find a dirt road. Civilization! Just barely, but I’d take it. I followed the road for a few minutes, and then off in the distance, I saw an old pickup truck belching smoke heading my direction. I was saved!!
I frantically began waving my arms to flag it down. Thankfully, the driver took mercy on me and pulled over. The rusty old truck was being driven by an elderly man in overalls. His wife was in the passenger seat.
He looked at me curiously. “Son, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“Can you please help me. I got lost in the rocks, and I can’t find the Visitor Center.”
The elderly woman shook her head and said, “Oh, you poor thing. That’s on the other side of The Garden of the Gods! I don’t know how in the world you got clear over here.”
The man looked at me with pity. “Tell you what Sonny, you climb in the back with Boswell, and I’ll drive you to The Visitor Center.”
Even in my weakened condition I couldn’t help but be curious who Boswell was. From where I was standing, I couldn’t see anyone in the bed of the truck – but this was not a time to be choosy about traveling companions. As they like to say, any port in a storm.
I stepped up on the back bumper to climb over the tailgate and was shocked to discover a humongous hog laying on his side. I conservatively guessed him to be at least 700-pounds. And this was a hog that had clearly been rolling in slimy mud and other stuff. The smell was, shall we say, rural. Boswell appeared to be sound asleep and not the least bit disturbed by the huge swarms of flies that were irresistibly attracted to his distinctive swine scent.
Carefully, I climbed over the tailgate and wedged myself down next to the putrid-smelling porker. Boswell opened one eye, looked me over, grunted and closed it shut. I was grateful. I had no desire to get better acquainted.
Suddenly I felt a slight jerk as the pickup took off and started to accelerate. Unfortunately, Boswell felt it too. Raising his heavy head to see what was going on, it only took a heartbeat for him to became acutely aware of the flies that were biting him. I watched in horror as he began to vigorously shake his enormous head in an effort to rid himself of his tormentors.
I threw my arms up to try to protect myself – but it was too late. In an instant, I was showered with huge splatters of mud and the other stuff. It was, in a word, horrifying. A couple of more flicks of his ears and then Boswell settled back down and peacefully returned to dreamland.
As I sat with the vilest mixture of God knows what dripping off of me, I couldn’t help but reflect on the unfortunate turn of events that had befallen me – all because I had no sense of direction. Looking over at Boswell, who began to snore loudly as his curly tail slowly wiggled, I decided on the spot to give up eating bacon.
We rode for a while, and the slime that coated me from head to toe seemed to congeal into a curious form of gelatin which, unfortunately, drew the attention of a significant number of Boswell’s flies.
Finally, as we rounded a corner, the dirt road turned into pavement, and I knew I would soon be reunited with my spouse. Before long we passed the spot where we had parked, but I was not surprised to see the lot was empty. I knew my wife had gone to get help. Sure enough, a minute later we pulled up to The Visitor Center and my car was by the entrance.
The truck came to a gentle stop. I hopped out and turned to take one last look at Boswell. The bucolic beast was snoring contentedly, completely unconcerned about whatever it was that we were now both covered in.
I walked up and thanked the kind folks for giving me a ride. I tried to reach in to shake the man’s hand, but he quickly rolled up his window to ward off the stench.
As the rickety old truck headed off, I turned and entered the crowded lobby. I’m sure I was quite a sight, an exhausted man who was now crispy from sunburn, covered in a thick layer of mud, manure, and other mysterious matter.
So, allow me to set the scene.
I’m sure most of you have seen the classic movie THE TEN COMMANDMENTS by Cecil B. DeMille. And I know you remember the amazing moment where Moses parts the Red Sea. The reason I mention it is because that is exactly what happened as I walked through the lobby.
People literally cleared a path for me as they tried to flee from the crimson man who smelled like……well, just supply your own description.
As I approached the information desk, I spotted my wife talking to a park ranger. They both glanced up at all the commotion I was causing and for one brief moment a look of joyful relief swept across my bride’s face, but as I got closer that look was replaced by one of complete shock at my appearance.
When I got to her, I held out my arms for a hug, but she pulled back in revulsion and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!! What is that smell?!”
“What?!” Apparently, my one-word answer did little to clarify things.
“The smell is from Boswell.”
“You must be delirious from the heat.”
“No. Trust me. Boswell is very real.”
By now everyone, including the park ranger, had moved a considerable distance away from us so we were essentially alone.
“Michael, tell me the truth. Did you fall into a latrine or something?”
“No. No. It was Boswell. He did it”
After a long stressful afternoon, my wife was running low on patience. “Who is this person Boswell?!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Boswell is not a person.”
My wife closed her eyes and hung her head in frustration. “Could you please try to explain?”
“Boswell is a pig.” Instantly I realized that the word pig sounded cute and cuddly which in no way accurately described the massive monster who had so willingly drenched me with his DNA. “Actually, it is a hog. An unbelievably huge hog.”
My bride was bewildered. “What on earth were you doing with a hog?”
“We shared a ride.”
Then, just as my wife was about to intensify her interrogation, the manager of the center approached us holding a handkerchief over his nose and mouth.
“Sir, I am very happy and relieved that you are safe – but I must ask you to please, for the sake of our other guests, leave this facility. Immediately. Now. Go!!”
My wife glared at him, but I understood. “Yeah, okay.”
As we made our way to the front exit, my wife suddenly stopped, and a look of genuine regret clouded her face. “Michael, I am sorry. This was all my fault. Please accept my apology. I only wanted that photo to show to Shirley – but it was not right to put you in that position. I should have just obeyed the rule.”
“What rule?” I asked.
My lovely bride sighed heavily and then pointed to a large sign by the door that read: DO NOT LEAVE CHILDREN UNATTENDED.