WRONG TURN AT POCATELLO
This feature originally appeared in print in Issue 19.4.
The last thing you want to see when you’re on a long impromptu road trip at 3 in the morning while limping along in a vehicle that feels like it’s dismantling itself internally, is a sign telling you that you made a wrong turn 50 miles ago.
It all started 10 hours earlier at a Bellingham, WA bar. I was waiting for some film to dry in my darkroom down the block. I heard my name and turned around to see two guys who we’ll call “Grant” and “Qbert” approaching with cheeky smiles. We were friends from the mountain, but they were a little too excited to see me. Something was up.
“What’s up, guys”? I asked.
“Dude, we’re on our way to a snowboarding contest in Utah but our car broke down on the way there,” they said.
“What happened to your car?”
“We had to ditch it.” That’s all they’d say.
I think they’d literally left it in a ditch.
“We’ve got to get down there; we’re fully sponsored!” they told me.
I knew these guys well enough to wonder who the hell would sponsor them.
“Who?” I had to know.
“Our boss gave us her credit card and Gnu is flowing us two new Paul Ferrel boards,” Qbert said. “We’ve got a place in Utah to crash with good friends—”
“Plus meals and free lift tickets for a week!” Grant insisted. “It’s totally legit; we’ve got the flow! Plus, it’s gonna be a sick contest with pros coming and shit! You should come with us to Utah in your van, all expenses paid.”
Like a good dirtbag dilettante, I ignored the little voice telling me it was a bad idea and was soon behind the wheel of my trusty Westfalia van. Yes, the van’s transmission had been making some weird noises lately, but it should be fine if we take it easy.
There actually were two GNU Pharoah boards waiting for us in Seattle, so I had more confidence as we crossed Snoqualmie Pass heading east. That confidence plummeted two hours later in Ellensburg when I learned the guys’ sponsor “credit” card was just a gas card to BP, useless anywhere east of the Cascades. The voice in my head had warned me. That’s when I became their new gas sponsor.
On the road again, I handed them the wheel at 2 a.m. with a strong warning to keep it under 70, even on the downhills. An hour later I was woken briefly by the smell of weed, blasting punk music and the sound of the engine revving faster than I’d ever heard. We were going 85. “Slow the fuck down,” I yelled before falling asleep instantly again. The sound of roadside gravel crunching woke me up for the second time as we pulled over somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Grant muttered, “Somethings really messed up in the transmission.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” I thought to myself as I got behind the wheel. The engine ran fine but the van’s ridiculously long gearshift lever telegraphed the sickening, grinding crunch of metal bits colliding inside the gearbox. First gear was gone but I was able to cram it into second, third and fourth. We rigged a bungee cord to keep pressure on the shifter, which kept it from slipping out of gear. We were on our way.
Twenty minutes into our drive, we pass a green interstate sign looming out of the darkness. “Pocatello 50 miles.” Pocatello? Pocatello was the wrong direction. All those googans had to do while I was sleeping was stay on I-84 all the way. Instead they added another hundred miles to our trip.
We made it through Salt Lake City before rush hour, losing fourth gear along the way. Third gear held out and we limped the last 200 miles South to Parowan. However, third gear didn’t last long so we readjusted the bungee again to ride second gear in the slow lane and shoulder for 170 miles. Second and first both gave out as I pulled off the ramp into Beaver. I was in the phone booth arranging for a tow when I looked back to see a glistening pool of various engine fluids growing under my car. Such finality. This stage of the adventure was over.
The next rolled out exactly as promised. Friends picked us up. Our hosts, Jeff and Jayne of the infamous Jeff’s Surf Shop, hooked us up with lift tickets, food and lodging. We had some great powder turns at Brian Head Resort then headed to the Mt. Holly Challenge up the road. Local legend Lance Gilman helped pull it all together—hand-dug features and all—with support from the shop. Andy Wright, Broccoli Richardson and then-grom Brody Orton were throwing it down. Pennywise played a riotous show after the awards ceremony.
We got the van back the next day and bolted town. Again, we did so in the wrong direction, this time to Vegas where Qbert’s mad video poker skills won enough money for beers, hot dogs and a full tank of gas. The next stop became Reno, where we’d heard there were plenty of BP gas stations.