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Fickle Creature Comforts
What to do when humanity's greatest innovations leave you stranded, sweaty, and shaken
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A Successful Day in the Mountains?
I transferred the last of my snowboarding gear from the trunk of my friend’s car, into my own. We’d just wrapped up fantastic late-May spring skiing day at A-basin, trying to squeeze in a few more precious turns before the lifts stopped spinning.
“That was way better than I expected,” he said.
“Great way to end the season,” I agreed.
I slammed the tailgate closed, and we bumped fists.
I hopped into the driver’s seat and took a breath, already feeling exhaustion taking hold. I had plans to rise early the next day and summit Quandary, before the new paid reservation system kicked in. Bags were packed, and everything was ready to go.
All I had to do was get home and go to bed.
I turned the key and heard the engine’s familiar first stuttering breaths as it tried to turn over. But the customary roar to life never game. I sat back in my seat and thought for a moment. I could already feel the temperature rising in the cabin.
Maybe that was it; the car’s just been sitting in the sun all day, I thought.
I removed the keys from the ignition, counted to ten, and tried again. Still, nothing.
Could it be the battery? This would be welcome news: I knew how to replace a car battery. I even had the necessary tools in my trunk, along with a portable jump-starter I could use to get myself going. The process would probably take less than an hour. I’d still be up dark and early, on the trail before sunrise.
I turned the keys one notch forward, and the radio blared. Not promising. I flicked on the headlights to confirm my suspicion and of course — they worked too. Not the battery. Great.
No longer able to bear the building heat inside the car, I popped the door open and let my legs dangle over the running boards. I still had more options.
The car has a standard transmission, so a push start wasn’t entirely out of the question. Unfortunately, my friend had pulled out of the parking lot before I realized my predicament. Even if I called him back, I wasn’t sure the two of us would be able to get my heavy car moving fast enough for me to hop in and pop the clutch. The parking lot was flat, after all.
I checked the time. My mechanic closed in an hour. As much as I hated admitting I couldn’t solve the problem on my own, I’d need professional help to salvage the weekend trip.
I dug my AAA member card out of my wallet and called for a tow. Shoddy reception made it impossible for me to share my GPS location with the driver, so I had to resort on describing my surroundings as best I could, praying the call wouldn’t drop.
That tow truck driver was the highlight of the experience: a talkative, gangly man with a huge grin perpetually plastered across his face beneath a wild, orange beard.
“Starter, probably.” He speculated. “Ain’t so bad, cost wise. One afternoon I came out of Cracker Barrel and saw the front of my truck sittin’ on the sidewalk. Front axle snapped in half.” He threw one of the tow truck’s sturdy chains beneath my front wheels.
“What did you do?” I asked.
The man shrugged. “Started buying the cheapest thing I can find on Craig’s List. Drive ‘em into the ground. Less hassle.” He finished hooking my car up to his truck in record time, then asked, “You comin’ with me?”
I nodded, hopped into the cab, and we were on our way.
We arrived at the repair shop just as it was closing. The mechanics told me to leave my keys in the drop box, with the promise they’d tend to the car first thing in the morning.
True to their word, they called me a little after 7:30 a.m., with both good and bad news. They knew what was wrong with the car. The repair cost would be lower than I’d expected. But the parts wouldn’t make it until the end of a long holiday weekend.
My hiking plans were completely dashed, but I could still reschedule for later in the week. Soon those hopes would be dashed too.
When test driving the Wrangler to ensure everything was in working order, I noticed the car sounded like a fighter jet preparing for takeoff after just a few minutes on the road, with the temperature gauge creeping upward.
I brought the damn thing back in, and we discovered a massive leak in the radiator. More work would need to be done. While the parts were on hand, this repair was far more costly.
I love my car, but it’s been letting me down lately. Last summer, I missed an entire month of the optimal hiking and camping season while it was in and out of the shop.
I’d now been stranded 3 times. More than money, I was annoyed I had to give up time spent in the outdoors. Perhaps after going 5 years without having to make a car payment, it was time to go shopping.
And so, the next two weeks passed: budgets and spreadsheets calculating exactly how much I could afford. Every morning, I woke up early before work and went to a different dealership. Every night, I crunched more numbers and started again.
My thoughts couldn’t have been farther from my writing, or the outdoor adventures that normally fill my free time.
Until bad luck struck again.
My apartment felt warmer than usual when I returned home…
The thermostat was at its usual spot in the high 70s. I tried lowering it — just to get a little temporary relief.
I heard the AC kick on, but the sound wasn’t quite what I’m used to. It sounded more labored, heaving. The fan chirped like a horde of angry crickets.
The weekend was hot, and the unit was broken.
No longer able to bear the building heat inside the apartment, I opened the door to my tiny patio and stepped out into the evening air. A cool, gentle breeze rolled down off the mountains. The nearby creek babbled in the dark. I thought about going for a walk to dip my feet in.
I suppose no matter what else fails me, I always have that option.
These back-to-back breakdowns did well to remind me: even our sturdiest creations are temperamental compared to the forces of nature.
Driven from my fickle, malfunctioning creature comforts, I thought back to the first piece I wrote on Cole’s Climb. I stood atop a mountain where you could see Denver, sprawling suburbs, and mountains at the same time.
“From here, everything from the humblest of homes to the largest mansions look indistinguishable; like tiny plastic monopoly houses crammed into meandering subdivisions. Nothing we accomplish — not even collectively — can stand toe-to-toe with nature.”
Lasting comfort — real peace — rests on unshakeable things.
Everything else is just temporary.
I Want to Hear from You
Where do you find comfort when everything seems to be going wrong, or breaking down?
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