I was 11, sister Kris was 9. We were off to the Rockies from our suburban Denver house for what Dad liked to call “A Bum’s Vacation.” This meant we left Mom at home because she made us brush our teeth and eat healthy meals. What fun is that? (Years later, I confessed to Mom that sometimes I felt guilty when we left her behind. She laughed and said, “Believe me, it was a vacation for me, too!”)

The old blue Jeep (hand-painted by Dad with paint he found on sale (best not to look too close at the paint job) got us the 100 or so miles into the mountains to a motel off I-70 near our destination – Sumner’s Creek.  The next morning we took off after a breakfast of diner doughnuts and chili to find adventure, chatting, laughing and with the occasional sister spat.

Dad hadn’t expected that so much rain and runoff would swell the creek. Nor did he expect the bridge that spanned Sumner’s to be out. We had followed a narrow dirt road up and up the side of the mountain – rocks spitting out from under our tires. I watched as they launched into free fall mere inches from my shotgun-seat window. We had all gone quiet.

I’m not clear on how we found ourselves stalled in the middle of the rocky stream. But I do remember the Jeep getting stuck and Dad turning to me and saying, “I’m going to have to get out and push – and you’re going to have to drive.”

A peculiar pre-adolescent mix of terror and excitement gripped me. I gulped. He showed me how to work the gearshift (the Jeep was 4 on the floor) and the clutch, the gas and the brake, and had me practice (and stall) the Jeep a few (maybe four) times. In the backseat Kris started to cry as Dad headed for the back.

We could feel the car rocking with Dad’s grunts. At his command, I again turned the key and stepped on the clutch, put the gearshift into what I remembered (hoped) was first gear and stepped on the gas when Dad yelled, “Go!” Kris bellowed, “She’s going to kill us!”


Well, I didn’t kill us. But I did drive that Jeep through about 20 feet of cold water, boulders and shale, knuckles white on the steering wheel, foot heavy on the gas, fueled by adrenaline, Dad’s faith in me and my first strong taste of Power! Which ended abruptly in a sandbank.

Dad came up to the driver’s window, ruffled my hair and said “Good job, daughter!” Kris stopped whimpering as Dad took over and got us back on the road.

After lunch at McDonald’s (extra fries for me!), we made our way home.

We all agreed that maybe it was best not to tell Mom about this particular adventure.

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