4 Wheel & Off Road - - CONTENTS -

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 UACJ6D 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

“The sky was clear, with a full moon ahead. Ev­ery star in the ta­pes­try was out”

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.

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