I always wonder about people that get lost in the wilderness. You know about every three months or so you turn on the television and sure enough, someone somewhere went out wandering around in the wilderness and got lost. Why doesn't someone pull these people aside and let them know that you don't go wandering off into 500 miles of unfamiliar territory armed with a compass and a collapsible shower? It seems to me these are the kind of people that would know not to do that, you know the kind of people who buy their hiking boots at special hiking boot specialty stores and who know how to find magnetic north with a paper clip and a wooden match. I always wondered what it would be like to be completely lost...to have no idea where you were, how you got there, and how you were going to get out. I always wondered about the fear and the loneliness, the desperation, the horror. I always wondered, until tonight.
Tonight I found out.
It started about dusk. My last appointment for the day, about an hour from home on a blacktop, nothing out of the ordinary. Driving this time of year always makes me a little nervous. Normally, I would worry about deer, but this time of year, driving through the dark Missouri night I worry about the drunk out-of-towners dancing around the campfires with a can of Milwaukee's Best in one hand and a high-powered rifle in the other, drenched in deer pee, firing off random rounds to prove his manhood to the locals.
My handy-dandy GPS was on, I had a Route 44 Diet Dr. Pepper, I was listening to the 80's radio station, I was safe as a kitten...until I hit Route RB. I've grown up in Missouri, lived here all my life, learned to drive on blacktops and gravel. I've driven on CC, JJ, BB, ZZ and a couple of times I've driven on PP, but never two different letters at the same time. I should have known trouble was coming when I saw the little yellow sign: Pavement Ends.
I looked to Gladys, because that's what I call my GPS, and her little yellow arrows were pointing me in the direction of the ending pavement. Then I heard Gladys' soothing, synthesized voice: continue on the current route. And so I did. And the pavement ended...no...it didn't end. When something ends, there is a closure, a finality, a diminishing somehow. This pavement didn't end. This pavement disappeared and spread out before me is a winding, tree-lined single lane gravel trail. If I was a skinny blonde with big breasts, this would have been the point where the guy with the chainsaw steps out of the woods, climbs on top of my car, cuts the roof off and pulls me out by my weave.
But Gladys said go...so I went.
Two miles...three miles...the road was getting narrower, the trees were getting closer to my car and that's when I heard it. Shots fired! I slammed on my brakes and did what any rational, educated woman would do. I turned down the radio and rolled down the windows to determine which direction it was coming from. That way I could determine whether I was going to die from a gunshot would to the forehead, the temple, or the back of the head...Another shot, and another. I decided my best course of action was to hit the deck. I looked to Gladys for guidance, contemplated risking a bullet wound to pull her down off the windshield into safety, decided she could risk it and hunkered down in the driver's seat.
This lasted for about 30 seconds. After all, I had someplace to be. But the thought of being shot in the head, well, it didn't set well. As luck would have it, my son had left his Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet in the car. I crawled into the backseat and located the helmet which was made of a thick, white plastic and was heavy enough that when my son put it on his neck muscles soon gave way and he had to rest his head on the back of the seat. Of course, sometimes he would just fall over...so I figured it had to have some sort of protective attributes so I snagged the helmet, put it on and headed off, eighties music blaring, ducking down looking at the road through the curve of the steering and the top of the instrument panel wearing the Speed Race Sound Effects helmet.
Now while the helmet provided me with some comfort in the knowledge that my brain was protected in some capacity, there was a problem. It was a sound effects helmet. As long as I held my head stone still, I was fine. But if I turned my head to the right it sounded like cars were speeding past me on my left. If I turned my head to the left it sounded like cars were speeding past me on my right. Every now and then I could hear the crowd cheering me on and Trixie would tell me to "Go, Speed, Go!"
Perhaps it was Trixie's fault. Perhaps it was the Route 44 Diet Dr. Pepper. Perhaps it IS a bladder control problem. Perhaps it's a fact of life for me that I shall never be spared any embarassment as long as I live. There, in the middle of nature, as I lay in wait to hear dueling banjoes and catch a glimpse of a young Ned Beatty streaking in front of my car in his tightie whities, I had to pee. It wasn't just tapping at the door, it was carrying itself across the threshold. It was a full on urination situation requiring judiciary urinary intervention.
I'm a country girl and I always carry toilet paper, wipes, and Tootsie Roll Pops in my car because my Mama taught me right. It was just the thought of stopping there in the middle of the woods where I was sure they shot portions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pulling down my fabulous dressy shorts, my tights and my undies in the 33 degree darkness and leaving my scent on Turkey Ridge Road.
I stopped the car and looked at Gladys for suggestions, but she was no longer talking to me following my decision to use her as a human shield, me being the human and she being the shield. I will not give you the gory details, I will just say this: I don't care if you're in Montana, Oregon or Washington in thousands of miles of unchartered wilderness and terrain without a compass or a can opener; you have NEVER been lost until you are attempting to hold your clothing out of way so that you can pee by the light of your own headlights in 33 degree weather in the middle of nowhere wearing a Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet.
Meanwhile, back in the car, I could now rest easy. Music up loud enough to drown out the sound of Trixie and Chim Chim cheering me on, empty bladder, somewhere in Mid-Missouri on Turkey Ridge Road. That was when Gladys went black. It's not like she didn't warn me. "Satellite signal unavailable" Gladys said and then went blank.
"Gladys? Gladys? I'm sorry about the whole bullet thing...Gladys, don't leave me. Gladys...Gladys...Gladys no, no, no, no, no...." And then she was gone. No cell phone signal. No Gladys. No idea where I was... I let the Speed Racer helmet pull me head forward to bang on the steering wheel.
"M'am?" It was a male voice and for a moment I thought it was either Speed Racer or God. I jumped and screamed as I looked up to see the covered face of a deer hunter. I put my window down a little. "Can I help you?" we said to each other at the same time.
"Are you lost?" he asked me.
"Yup, I am completely lost. I have no idea how I got here, no idea how to get out of here and frankly I have no idea where I want to go when I do get out of here."
He laughed for just a moment and pointed straight ahead of my car. "Go around this corner and up the hill turn to the left and I-70 is right there."
I barely understood the directions because I was nodding so hard the Speed Racer helmet was cheering me on nonstop. I pulled ahead and about half a mile down the road, Gladys started talking to me again. I pulled onto I-70 and with the whizzing headlights allowed myself to enjoy the Speed Racer Sound Effects helmet and made myself a promise. If I ever get home, the first thing I'm going to do is nail my feet to the floor.