Barry Smith: Trepidation off the beaten path |

Barry Smith: Trepidation off the beaten path

The plan was for a long weekend of car camping. Being mostly Americans, we brought along two cars and enough camping gear and food to start our own homestead.

Arman was driving his Nissan XTerra, and I was in my Toyota pickup – being Americans and all. At some point along what was meant to be a nice drive through the mountains, we decided to go off The Beaten Path.

Off The Beaten Path is where real life exists, right? Out there on the edge, into the unknown, shaking up your paradigm, right? Right. So off it we went. Suckers.

Things went OK for a while as we bounced along the washboard road. As the road grew rockier and steeper, I shifted into four-wheel drive. Then four-wheel low.

I’ve had my truck for seven years and have previously used four-wheel low only twice – once to back out of a snow-socked parking space, and the other time by accident, because I hadn’t yet figured out how the stick shift worked. Now I’m in 4WD-L all the way, and the road is getting worse.

“This is fun, right?” my wife, Christina, asks with a bit of uncertainty as we grind up another hill.

And at that moment I was having fun. I had a little adrenaline buzz going, and was pleased to be off The Beaten Path, seeking out some adventure.

Then, over the next hill, Arman attempted to navigate his way around a large puddle of water. I watched his left rear wheel leave the ground as the opposite wheel sunk down into the far-deeper-than-anticipated puddle of water. At that point, the puddle officially became a pool, Arman was officially stuck, and I officially stopped having fun.

When Arman first got his car a few years ago, I used to delight in teasing him about being an SUV owner. Of course, I did so while enjoying its air conditioning, comfortable seats, sound system and the general joy of having friends with nicer cars than yours who don’t mind driving. But suddenly his big SUV looked like a fragile little toy as it teetered dramatically between uprightness and turned-over-ness. And the only thing standing between the two was the counterweight of Arman in the driver’s seat. Yeah, just like in a Roadrunner cartoon.

After an hour of tow ropes and cutting up fallen trees for alternate routes, we were past the pool and heading deeper into the woods. We met some Mennonites on ATVs (look, why would I make this stuff up?) a few miles later who looked concerned for us. They kept looking at our vehicles and asking if we were sure we were OK to go further. There was something very ominous about being the recipient of Mennonite pity.

Still, we pushed on. Suckers.

Though the road continued to be at the very limit of my driving ability, vehicle clearance and testicular capacity, I was constantly thankful for two things: At least the roads are dry, and at least we’re in the woods and not on the edge of some cliff.

So, when the hail storm started, my “thank you” list was cut in half. When the storm passed and we continued on along the edge of the cliff, I no longer had a use for the list. When we realized that the road we had just turned down was not in fact a road, and that the only way out was to back up the now muddy road – the one on the edge of the cliff – well … I started a whole new list. The first item read “Tell the world I died doing what I love to do.” A total lie, but I didn’t want the world to know that I died because I was a moron.

Obviously I didn’t die, so there’s no point in milking the drama too much. But as I backed up that road I was genuinely scared. I mean, I was scared shitless driving DOWN it.

Leo, who’s visiting America from England for the first time, skillfully guided me back up the narrow, slanted, muddy road. Arman followed, also backing, but was clearly not as big a wuss as me.

Safely out of immediate danger, I get out of the truck and let go with a profane hallelujah. Leo asks me if we do this kind of thing often. I don’t have the heart to answer him.

Twenty miles and seven hours after our little detour, we are back on The Beaten Path.

So, lemme give you an update on The Beaten Path – I like it. I like it a whole lot. There are coffee shops, interesting people to talk to, the occasional good movie, Internet access and souvenir refrigerator magnets. The Road Less Traveled is that way for a reason – because it’s muddy and steep and the only reward is that you get slightly high from inhaling the transmission smoke as you reverse up it.

[Next time: March to a Different Drummer? No thanks!]

Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at

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