Adventures in the Salt Flats

Why does everyone keep saying I’m not in my right mind?

by Brice Carroll on March 1, 2008 - 4:03pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 2

The plan was for my wife and me to take the narrow, two-lane blacktop road that deadends onto Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Then leave the end of the blacktop road just before dark, drive a few miles off across the salt flats until night fell, then turn around and head back home.

But we couldn’t find the way back to the blacktop in the dark, drove off the salt flats onto the adjacent, almost identical mud flats, got our van buried down to the axles and were stranded with no one around for miles. Just me and an unhappy wife.

It was bad for me, but my wife, Sharon, said it was worse for her because she was stuck in the mud with a stick-in-the-mud. I wanted to complain to her that she should have paid closer attention to her driving, but I was above that. Plus, I was the one who was driving.

I used our cell phone to call for a tow truck, but was told that no driver would consider venturing onto the mud flats to pull us out. At least no driver that was in his right mind. So I made a few more calls trying to find one that wasn’t. Still no luck.

The county sheriff’s office was no help. All I got out of them was, “What did you think you were doing driving around there at night?” They very strongly implied that I was not in MY right mind. I told them that I was in a wheelchair, but that only seemed to make them think I was even more left-minded. By then, the sheriff and I weren’t on the best of terms.

So I called Chris and Travis, our teenage boys, and told them exactly where we were. Well, within a five-mile radius anyway. And I told them to bring jacks, shovels and boards. Hours later they walked up, complaining about carrying tools and boards for three miles. I told them to quit being sissies. I’d ridden further than that in my power wheelchair and didn’t break a sweat. Not only that, they were wildly exaggerating the three miles. It couldn’t have been more than two and three-fourths.

We couldn’t get the van unstuck, and decided to try again in the morning. They had brought sleeping bags with them, so it was obvious they had little faith in my van extraction abilities. I didn’t let on that I had even less.

Chris told me he was awakened during the night by an old man walking his dog. The poor guy was also stuck, somewhere across the flats. After visiting with him a few minutes, the old man mumbled something about being old and “not in his right mind, getting himself stuck” as he wandered off.

After he related the man’s last remark, he added pointedly, “At least the guy’s not alone.”

I said, “That’s right. He did have a dog.”

Chris replied, “I meant he was not alone in not being in his right mind and getting stuck.”

I then said, “Be careful, or I’ll send you after more boards.”

The following morning, the boys went back to work. It was bad for them, but worse for me because I was inside the van and couldn’t really see what they were doing. But that didn’t stop me from trying to supervise them. As I gave them instructions on what to do, their answers slid from, “OK, Dad” and “Right, Dad,” to “No kidding, Dad” and “Go back to sleep, Dad.” I thought I heard one of them say something about the blind leading the unblind.

After numerous tries, I was about to give up for good. Then one son said something about the Donner Party. I envisioned a plaque on a rusted, abandoned van that read, “The Carroll Party Monument.” I panicked, put the van in reverse and gunned it. I expected it to bog down, but it kept picking up speed until it was out of the grip of the devil flats. Although I was going too fast to be in reverse, and I’d left my family behind, I couldn’t take a chance on stopping until I found the blacktop. I probably looked like a maniac driving backwards and weaving back and forth while trying to find the road through my rear-view mirrors.

Finally, in the distance I saw a vehicle. It had to be on the illusive road. Or was its driver hoping I was there to pull HIM out of the mud flats? I slapped myself twice for having such thoughts! I’m sure my wife would have loved helping me out with that chore.

But it was the road! Now all I had to do was hope my family could find their way back. If not, I knew I’d miss them. But at least they’d have an old man and his dog to keep them company.

Brice Carroll, a retired accountant, lives in Hot Springs, Ark. He has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.

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