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Forget The Road Less Traveled; Take The Vehicle Less Traveled In


Christian HazelPhotographer, Writer

At 3 a.m. the alarm clock in my iPhone obnoxiously roared to life and I begrudgingly sat up to turn it off instead of hitting Snooze. The bedroom in my Moab condo was cold. Rats! While the coffeemaker did its thing I layered up: six on my core and two on my legs, including some heavy quilted bib overalls that were the height of fashion in Utah but that would no doubt illicit weird stares in metrosexual San Diego. I topped off my insulated tumbler with strong and black Dunkin Donuts regular blend.

I tossed my bag in the back of the UACJ-6D and belted up. Master power to On, fuel pump to On, transmission to Neutral, ignition On. As the Cummins diesel rumbled to life I turned the headlights on, dropped the Jeep in Reverse, exhaled ice particles, and did the math in my head to cover the 800 miles home in time to get my mom to the airport for her flight out after she’d been watching my kids while I was in Moab for the week.

I pulled out of my condo northbound on Highway 191 and rowed through the gears like Cletus Snow: Second, Second Overdrive, Third, Third Overdrive, Fourth, Fourth Overdrive. The R2.8 was feeling frisky and accelerated the UACJ-6D easily up to 65 mph, where it stayed for the next 30 minutes. Even at this relatively low altitude I was feeling the bite of cold on my ribs until I remembered the insulated vest in my bag, which I’d forgotten to put on. Parked on the shoulder of the I-70 onramp, I donned the vest, slid on my Warn winching gloves, and pointed the grille at the 8,000-foot peaks ahead.

Climbing the grade up to Fish Lake National Forest outside of Green River on I-70 west, I dropped from Fourth Overdrive to Fourth gear and tightened my elbows to my body. As the altimeter on the Magellan TRX7 rose, the temps dropped. The sky was clear, with a full moon ahead. Every star in the tapestry was out. Quite the view, but it did nothing to hold the heat of the previous day. The opening around the Overdrive shifter in the UACJ-6D floorboard let in a blast of engine compartment heat, but it dissipated into the howl of arctic air assaulting me from the door openings and through the Jeep’s wooden floorboards. At least I could hold my right hand low over it and thaw my fingertips to get some feeling back in those digits. As for my left hand, nose, and even left arm, the best I could hope for was the sun, which was still hours away. I plugged the rhythm of the engine at 80 mph into my brain and kept the throttle down so I wouldn’t have to bother looking at the Murphy gauge tach or Magellan speed display and went on circadian cruise control until sunup.

By the time I passed Richfield, Utah, the sky was getting pink. The very moment I hit the ramp from I-70 to I-15 southbound the sun finally washed over the mountaintops, warming my cheeks.

It was then, as I merged into I-15 traffic, that I saw him. A little guy in a sterile white-collar shirt at the wheel of a bland 2000-something econobox. Just driving at 80 mph, not even looking at the crazy patina’d Jeep on 38s coming up on his right. His morning held no smell of gear oil with a hint of pine needles and juniper. No stinging bite of crisp mountain air. He wouldn’t have to stop and peel off layers of clothing as the temps gradually rose from the low 20s to the high 90s. He wouldn’t feel inclined to wonder how much fuel was left in his tank or stop on the shoulder to investigate an errant noise or vibration. He wouldn’t have breakfast on his tailgate or have to stop and tie down a loose bag the slipstream was trying to peel away. His travel was sterile and dead, devoid of memory and experience. No thanks. I’ll pass.

Forget the road less traveled; take the vehicle less traveled in. You’ll remember it way longer.

-Christian Hazel