AUTOMANIAC ~ “We Girls” are driving an old truck and a new Mercedes from Utah to Arizona.

In 2001, Mina, a dear girlfriend, moved from Park City, Utah southwest of Salt Lake City, to return to Phoenix, Arizona. The trip home would not be easy. We planned on driving on Interstates, a seven hundred fifty mile journey, in approximately twelve to thirteen hours. There were several shorter routes, but the Interstates’ route, although mountainous and sporting some dangerous downhill curves, climbed up to a high point of 6000’ for several miles, then eventually dropped down to 900’ near her Phoenix home. This route only had three traffic lights to contend with in all, as opposed to the dozens along the shorter route which snaked through many small and medium-sized towns.

Our twenty-four foot, four-axle, six-tire U-Haul truck would be loaded with her numerous possessions by two, er, shall I say, “gentlemen”  whom we knew well ~ her soon-to-be-ex, and her know-it-all son. Neither had any idea of how to pack such a vehicle. They could have researched the topic, but, as I said, they were males and declined to do so. We tried to give them advice and give them focus, but were rejected out of hand. Therefore, taking the advice of the Beatles, we let them be ~ and hoped for the best. Well, you know, a stacked deck is, after all, a stacked deck.

Hmmmm, considering the results, perhaps the word stacked is a poor choice?

We started the truck loading around six in the morning. One of the packers was in his early twenties and quite enthusiastic. Unfortunately, he was not aware of the first rule of truck loading: always load the furniture right side up and not askew. The other packer, a man in his fifties who believed he knew all the answers, sat and waited for the younger man to fill up the floor area with whatever he handed to him inside the truck. There were suitcases, chairs, small bureaus, and innumerable treasured pieces of furniture. After the truck floor was covered to a depth of three feet, the fellows finally tackled heavier pieces such as a dining room table, refrigerator, bureaus, dishes, heirlooms very carefully packed by Mina in the preceding weeks, and open clothing racks. To secure the clothing, the men fastened the hanger hooks with duct tape.

We happened to see the racks disappear into the truck and, too late, went out to bring the cardboard clothing boxes. To our horror, the large dining room table had been not put in upside down on a quilted pad. Rather, a thick pad was duct-taped to the upright table top, still on its legs. It was then loaded down and wedged in with carpeting, towels, small furniture, bedding.

Our two heroes kept measuring how much head room was left, and when it reached a five-foot height, they brought out the heaviest object, which had been was saved for last. As we gasped in disbelief, huge, two door refrigerator was lifted by pulleys, pushed over to the cab space, and was laid on innumerable quilts and blankets, door side down in the space over the cab. “In order,” the men proudly explained, “to protect the coils.” 

The appliance was then wrapped in by other blankets and quilts. When we asked about the possibility of it sliding, we received a proud answer. They pointed to a large tri-section bureau standing on the ground. It was, with a great deal of effort put on top of the padded coils, then tightly wedged in by odd pieces of furniture, suitcases, quilts, blankets, chairs, food boxes, and other miscellany.

By nine thirty in the morning, the men were finished. The U-Haul was jammed with no spare space visible.

Mina and I both took photographs.

She and I had efficiently loaded the car the night before, and while the truck was being loaded, added some valuable trivia. When we came out to get into our vehicles, the men said goodbye, then drove off to Salt Lake City. Mina’s son would fly back to Phoenix ~ a short ninety minute trip.

When we had first planned the trip, Mina, who had experience driving trucks, took on the task of driving the U-Hal. My job was to follow behind her, driving her brand new Mercedes Benz sedan with the heated seats. Mina had named the auto Hannah.  

We told each other, “Two hours to the border, then another ten hours to Phoenix.” Little did we know what was awaiting us.

The local roads were no problem for either of us. Five miles later, the Interstate beckoned. Just before we entered the Interstate, we checked if our cell phones were operational. If we only knew we would spend a great deal of time communicating with each other!

As we started to climb to the first plateau, Mina discovered the vehicle was top heavy and very unstable. It listed drunkenly to starboard, then snapped back over and over again. Twenty miles down the road, we pulled into a rest stop and tried to redistribute the load somewhat. Impossible task! Even Hercules, with his knowledge of the Augean Stables, would have found it impossible.
On the road again, we climbed up endless hills and snaked down impossible curves at a speedy thirty miles an hour. Cars whizzed past us at almost three times our pace, often honking in exasperation.

As I followed closely behind the truck, I was horrified by the unstable weaving truck. At times I truly believed it would overturn. It was terribly scary for her as she fought with all her strength to keep it upright. However, as she told me the next day, it was even more terrifying to think of me, not the world’s best driver, piloting her beloved Mercedes.

We kept in touch by cell phone with growing apprehension and stopped at every rest stop to try redistributing our. Finally, we had to admit there was nothing we could do.

Three hours from our starting point, we finally reachedUtah’s high summit at 6000’ elevation. Slowly, we inched up the rise, and barely daring to breathe in sheer fear, slowly descended ten curved miles steeply downhill to the border, until, totally stressed, we pulled into an Arizona Rest Stop.

Something had to be done and we explored our options. I believe the express is holding a war council. After considering numerous options, including staying two nights in a motel while the vehicle was repacked by a nearby moving company, we decided to leave the interstate tour and travel eastward on the flatter roads wending gradually downhill through the towns and villages of the Arizona Panhandle and its polygamist Mormon towns.

Although the route was meandering, we were facing shorter mileages. Our drive was incredibly scenic: Escalante National Monument, the rose-colored cliffs and mountains by the roadsides, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, sand dunes! The immediate destination was Page, AZ, and the Glen Canyon Dam which we would cross over on a bridge over the Colorado River. It was a road well known to both of us and was actually one hundred miles shorter to home. Traffic went though settled areas, and in many places, the road consisted of just two lanes. There were a great many traffic lights on that route, but we thought with great pleasure of all the stops and the slow traffic.

The thought of reaching Phoenix in another nine/ten hours of relatively easy driving encouraged us. Two hours to Page, and then, we could expect to be home in seven more hours by continuing due south through Flagstaff, 7000’ above sea level, and a relatively minor annoyance.  Once through the city we would then enter I-17, a fairly harmless Interstate to Phoenix, one hundred twenty five miles south. The exit in Phoenix, at 900’ feet altitude, was less than a fifth of a mile from our destination. We rightly figured the gradual descents, short ascents, sweeping curves, and slower traffic at seventy five miles per hour on ascents and flats, would be safer than our earlier planned interstate route to the west, with its high summits and frightening descents.

We reached Page in ninety minutes and then began the homeward journey. Eight hours later, we were home, and parked the vehicles. Each of us went to our respective homes, and dropped into bed totally exhausted.

The younger man had arrived in Phoenix hours before we did. He showed up bright and early the next morning, and both of us refused to open our doors to him.

Later in the day, an unpacking party of approximately twenty friends showed up and emptied the truck in less than two hours. As we drank beer and consumed pizza, we regaled one and all with our adventures.

Mina’s son was not surprised that so little damage had been done. The refrigerator worked! Much to our complete surprise, although there were innumerable dings and scratches, nothing was broken.

The Mercedes survived my piloting, but for years afterwards, I could swear I heard her growl whenever I got into the passenger seat.


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