BRAKING! BRAKING!

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The wedding was lovely!  My firstborn was married!  Everything worked out.  Everyone was happy.

And then we went camping!

Saturday was the wedding; Sunday was the church/chill out day; Monday was camping!

The plan (you know the kind: the best laid plans. . .) was extra family members would be leaving Sunday afternoon and Hubby and I along with Lynn, Claire and Esther would leave Monday morning for Colorado.

One of the families (of six) decided to stay a few days longer at our house, without us!  You know when you’re going on a trip, how you set the thermostat, close all the blinds, set lamps on timers, give key to neighbor with instructions on feeding the cat, bringing in the mail, etc.?  Well, we did a lot of last minute editing.  With extra prayers for our house, our cat and our travels, we left on schedule.

With all the camping gear and all the people and no van, we took two cars.  Hubby and I took the lead while Lynn, Claire and Esther followed.  We had walkie-talkies which had a two mile radius so if we stayed close, we were good.  Cell phones were at a premium then and minutes costly so we opted on the walkie-talkies.

We drove to Denver where we had lined up a pop-up camper to rent for the duration.  I thought I was brilliant!  We were seasoned tent campers but just this once, thought this would be the better, more relaxing way to camp.  Hubby had experience with pop-ups and we didn’t need to haul it cross-country so were pretty proud of ourselves in our planning.  We had purchased and installed the trailer hitch a week before.

Remember about those ‘best laid plans. . .’?  We made it to Denver safely with our two-car caravan.  We located the camper place and began the proceedings.  First problem?  That ball thing on the trailer hitch was the wrong size for the camper.  Of course the camper place didn’t have the right size so Hubby had to go who-knows-where to purchase the correct size.  Meanwhile, we figured small annoyance but no biggie.  We were given a tour of the camper and more instructions than my head could carry while we waited.

Hubby returns with correct part; camper gets hitched up.  Second problem? No brake lights.  NO BRAKE LIGHTS!  No one had a clue why and it was after closing at the camper place so other than hook-up guy who was anxious to get home, pretty much no help anywhere.  Hook-up guy suggests we drive with our second car following closely and that we use walkie-talkies to anticipate/communicate.  Because we were exhausted, stressed, very anxious to get out of Denver before sunset, and apparently all crazy, we agreed.  Lord Have Mercy!!!

Off we went.  We were downtown Denver and heading north to Estes Park.  It was probably the most harrowing experience of my life!  Hubby drove while I narrated.  Hubby had to communicate with me as I shared with the car following.  No brake lights meant no turn signals, no back up lights, no night lights, no anything!!!  If we changed lanes, I needed to communicate that so Lynn and company behind us could be our spotter and make room.  The worst, the very worst problem was braking.  To this day, I remember shouting into that dang walkie-talkie “BRAKING, BRAKING,” about a million times.  We were in rush hour traffic on interstates in a major unfamiliar city trying to get to our first night camping spot before dark.  I cannot believe we weren’t in an accident or at the very minimum, ticketed!

Finally, we got out of town but didn’t make it to our first night campsite until after dark.  With no back up lights – and of course we had to back into our campsite, we all stood around with flashlights yelling instructions to Hubby about how to back up and park that tin can.  That night, there was no campfire and no extra tents.  We all piled into the camper and slept.

The next day we were at it again.  At least we were out of town and off major interstates and we would have daylight.  Finally reaching our destination, we set up camp.  Besides the camper, we had two extra tents – one for Lynn and one for Claire and Esther.  We had all the supplies and gear we needed and it was a lovely spot.  It took me a day to calm down though.  As long as we weren’t driving, I was ok and eventually was able to enjoy the scenery and the whole camping experience which is so dear to me.

One day, (being a bit mechanically inclined) I decided to address the camper light issue.  I couldn’t wait for the others to return from a hike to share what I had uncovered AND FIXED!  It was a fuse.  We changed it, and everything worked!  What a huge relief, not discounting more than a little anger toward the hook-up guy for not thinking about that possibility.

The rest of the time in Estes Park was glorious.  It was beautiful; the days were fresh, the nights were clear, the stars were brilliant.  We had campfire dinners at night and coffee on the Coleman stove in the morning.  We did all the cooking and cleaning up and sitting and reading and hiking and . . .

God’s glory always seems more evident to me in the mountains.  It is so still, so clean and so quiet.

“Be still, and know that I am God. . .” Psalm 46:10a

All too soon, our time was finished.  We were refreshed.  We packed up, loaded up, wistfully bid good-bye to the beauty of that place and special memories made there.  We drove one inch, and the brake lights went out.

It’s amazing how one’s mood can change on a dime!

We were at a loss.  Obviously it was more than a fuse and it was above our pay grade.  We headed back to Denver the same way we came – walkie-talkies in hand.

Going back down the mountain, ‘braking, braking’ all the way, I was on the drop-off side, the cliff side,  the sheer million-mile drop down, no shoulder side of the road. Did I mention Hubby was the one with the driving-while-pulling-a-camper experience?  I was so sure we were going off that cliff, I wanted to yell “dying, dying” into that black box which by now had become a permanent fixture in my right hand.   I wanted to grab the wheel with my left hand.  Instead, I practically sat under the wheel with him, assuming that would keep us balanced and help us from going over the edge.  I’m sure Hubby had already guessed I had gone over the edge!

Fortunately we made it back to Denver in one day, in daylight.  But harrowing, just the same.  We dumped, er, I mean dropped off, the camper and headed back to St. Louis.  Back home, Hubby revisited the trailer hitch place.  They opened the hood, noticed the hook-up wire was laid across something under there, thereby shorting it out when the car was running.   Moving it off that whatever it was, about 5 inches to one side, was the solution.  Fortunately Hubby was there without me so there was no bloodshed.

It’s been almost 14 years since this event, and I try, I really try to recapture the beauty of the mountains and the bonding and the sweet time.  But honestly, the memory, THE memory that always comes flying to my thoughts first is “BRAKING, BRAKING”.  And all who were with me there, if they were honest, they’d agree.  They’re all laughing about it now.  I’m still working on that.

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9 Comments

  1. Love it!!! Dennis & I had a scenario that we still laugh to each other about my first time driving on ice while he was sleeping (which is rare that he allows me to drive and that he sleeps in the car) and I came to a bridge with the cruise control still on and I could tell there was ice, and he was awakened by my yelling “WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?!?!??!” Loved your story, the memories and the “BRAKING” pictures. Beautifully worded!

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  2. BRAKING!! BRAKING!!! (I was there. I’m allowed. 😉 ) Sending you a copy of my favorite picture taken on that trip… Funny. I didn’t remember half of what you wrote…but I do recall from the rear vehicle, seeing you up ahead sitting in Dad’s lap whilst yelling into the black box, “BRAKING! BRAKING!” …..some of the BEST camping memories EVER!!

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