Finally we found ourselves in Flagstaff. All this rushing has finally ended, although I knew the Expo wasn’t going to be the reprieve I was looking for I was very excited for it to start. We stocked up on loads of organic groceries and headed out to Mormon Lake to see about setting up camp a day early. Luckily there were people at HQ and they said it was fine for us to camp the night; I was ecstatic to have a bonus free camping night, and now we would have the entire day off before the Expo began! Life was good 🙂
We were told we wouldn’t be able to camp in the Featured Vehicle area so we opted out and set up in gen. pop. First of all, Mormon Lake used to be a lake about 14 years ago, now it is just a dry and dusty field, much like everything else we’ve seen in the Southwest. The wind was whipping, no exaggeration, the wind speeds were up to 29 mph with gusts up to 35 mph! I questioned whether or not our tent would make it, Tom assured me it would and once we had it up I knew it was silly for me to even question it, that tent might as well have plaster walls. But it doesn’t have plaster walls, it has nylon without zipping window covers and the winds picked up all the dust from the dried up bed of Mormon Lake and evenly distributed it into our tent. At first it wasn’t so bad, I moved the stove into our vestibule and made a great dinner of chicken fajitas and we happily ate inside, comfy and cozy. The next day we got our registration in order, got some ice and water and found some great items at a local store (a new and smaller speaker for the iPod that also works on the laptop and my new insulated and awesome water bottle!). I made some sort of dust barrier for the kitchen bins by hanging a rug from the table, it was futile as the wind came from all directions and there was no stopping the dust storm it created, layering everything we owned in a thick blanket of dirt & dust. Tom went for a walk and I remained in the tent where I was the safest, but not at all out of the line of fire. “I want to leave!” I pouted to Tom when he returned. We’d been in the dry desert for over a week and my allergies were taking a toll on me. The only moisture to be found in my nose was blood and I had already had enough days ago, this new environment was sure to be my breaking point. Of course we didn’t leave, the weekend was going to be busy enough without trying to drive in from town each morning and I couldn’t pass up the 5 nights of free camping!
Friday morning we found ourselves like kids on the 1st day of school; schedules, maps, and notebooks in our bags along side snacks of nuts and our walkie-talkies as we kissed each other goodbye and found our way to our classes. We met up again in the afternoon for our Advanced Driving: Reading the Trail and Marshaling class. We took one look at the course and were glad we’d be using a Range Rover for it. The first leg was over a pile of large rocks and tree stumps that we were sure we were too low to cross and the second half, well, that was a 15′ pit complete with steep grade, a sharp corner at the bottom, and an uneven and slippery climb out. There was no way Gwen would be able to handle that! Our instructor thought differently however and told us to go get her. We were a mix of giddy, excited kids who thought they were doing something wrong and worried adults who thought they might be changing this to a recovery class soon enough. We let the other 6 vehicles who were legit overlanding 4x4s go ahead of us, just in case our instincts were correct. We mastered our marshaling skills with the other drivers and when they were all safely throughout the course, Tom pulled Gwen up. It was almost comical with her low stance and the more touristy than overlanding looking Thule on top. Tom stuck his head out the window and made a joke about our obvious fate that lay ahead, I told him to have faith and waved him forward. I got him over the pile of rocks and stumps, up over the uneven ledges without hitting one sidewall. We cheered and our instructor told us to keep going. “You think we’ll make it?”, I asked nervously. “You’d be surprised”, he said which is exactly what I wanted, I wanted to be surprised at what our little Gwendlyn could do, I wanted her to be capable of much more than I gave her credit for.
I waved Tom around the bend and as he pulled up I told him Owen told us to go for it, “Really?” he asked, “He says we’d be surprised” I said with a smile. As I slipped my way down the dirt ledge into the pit I read the trail and with Owen’s help, lead Tom forward. He slowly approached the pit and as he started over the ledge I bravely stood beneath him, arms as far upstretched as they would go, directing his tires to hit the correct spot to ensure he had traction on the decline and I wouldn’t be crushed to death by our home on wheels. Slowly he crept/slide down the ledge into the pit toward the wall, I directed him to turn the wheel slightly to avoid hitting the wall but maybe not enough as the front bumper scraped the dirt, “Oh well, that’s why they call them bumpers” I yelled to the crowd watching us. As Tom straightened out the wheel I tried to figure out how I was going to bring him up and out of this pit without slashing a sidewall, or two. I crawled him up onto the ledge with the passenger tires and as I kept him moving forward I saw the whole truck tilt to one side, wheels off the ground and I was in awe, then … I fell. Right down into the dirt with a 5,000 lb truck hanging over me. As I scrambled to my feet happy that my partner is patient and capable of taking marshaling directions without going forward on his own, I yelled, “Right, when you can’t see me, that means STOP!” We all laughed as I backed up a few more feet and waved Tom forward some more. Owen said something about correcting his tires but I felt confident that he was on a good line so I kept him moving forward and before we knew it everyone was back on even ground and we all, including Gwen, were in one piece! Tom and I were so overcome with joy we didn’t stop smiling all the way though dinner.
The rest of the weekend brought more of the same, wind, dust, dryness, and classes. There was so much to fit into those 3 days I didn’t know how we could do it. But we did. We got to all of our classes (well, almost), and still managed to visit each exhibitors booth and learned as much as we could about the different rooftop tents out there; I think we even made a decision! We learned a lot over those three days; battery systems and camp cooking, first aid and water safety, 4WD courses and women’s care on the road, bribes and boarders, tire repair and recovery. We even got to meet the crews of Life Remotely and Ruined Adventures, even though I was so tired and feeling like shit by the end of each day to spend any time with them.
All and all it was a great weekend! Even better when we decided to pack it up Sunday night and hit the Motel 6 for well deserved showers, laundry, and internet!