Saturday morning, we left Cedar City for Duck Creek Village. Here, dig this.
29 miles east of Cedar City, 10,000′ elevation. Well, around the 5-mile mark I told Betty it didn’t look too good. We were in her fancy-pants Lexus 4WD, because my workmanlike Explorer took a nail to the tire Friday night and we didn’t have time to fix it.
Nevertheless, we soldiered on. Utah Highway 14 is loaded with hairpin turns and steep inclines/declines. 27 miles in, I first lost control of the Lexus. I was in 4-wheel mode, super-low gear, doing maybe 18 mph. Fortunately there was no one around to watch us circle on the highway.
All that stuff they tell you in driving school about “drive into the skid”? No one remembers to do that when it’s showtime. Besides, determining what direction the skid is in is difficult enough. We landed in a snowbank, but it was easy enough to engage and get out. And, of course, turn back. Part of me thought we should continue another 13 miles past Duck Creek, down to the lower elevations of U.S. Highway 89 and onto Kanab, but that’ll be an adventure for another time.
Light snow, plenty of ice. I continued at the same low speed, a car or two behind me but I didn’t care. (This coming from the man who regularly does 90 on Interstate 215 in clear conditions.) There’s a place on Utah 14 called Webster Flat where the signs say “8% Grade – Trucks Use Lower Gear”, punctuated by a treacherous cliff and no guardrail on the south side of the highway. You don’t think twice about it in the summer, but it was pretty memorable this weekend. At the highway’s steepest part, we were behind (and above, because we were going downhill) a small truck that had passed us. And watched him do a 720º. Now there were 6 vehicles heading up, us and a few others heading down. We decided to pull over onto the shoulder and wait for things to pass or carnage to begin.
A little Toyota hatchback passed us, heading west to Cedar City. This one only did a 360º, and then headed straight for the cliff. We were certain we were about to watch someone die. It stopped with one wheel over the cliff and the opposite wheel up in the air. Turns out there’s a lip under the cliff that you can only see when you’re helping a terrified passenger out of the car. Dad, pregnant mom, loquacious (but at least not panicky) little kid. Some Samaritan heading uphill in a big GM SUV roped him out.
I fell on my ass multiple times while trying to tie the rope to the Toyota’s bumper. I said to Betty, “I can’t even walk on this road, and my feet aren’t round.” So we continued to wait, hoping for a plow but it didn’t really matter because there wasn’t much snow to plow, just lots of ice. Eventually Betty decided to drive with the right side of the car firmly planted on the rocky shoulder: at least she’d be getting traction with 2 wheels. I was actually running in front of her for a couple miles, testing the surface of the road while she followed. I told her to drive until she ended up in the clear, don’t worry about me, I’ll walk down to town. There was plenty of daylight and it was impossible for me to get lost. I walked for a few miles (my gloves and jacket were in the truck, YES!) and eventually got a ride from a guy with a slobbering chocolate lab in the back seat. The saliva of safety.