Today I want to share with you the story of the swamp van. Since I wrote about this experience almost two years ago, I have reflected on the lessons I learned many times. In moments when I have felt stuck and hopeless, I have been reminded to watch, wait and see the miracles occur. I wanted to share this experience in case any of you are feeling swamped in your life, and remind all of us that it will all work out!
Yesterday my friend Jes and I decided to take the kids on an adventure. We had recently heard of a little getaway near Mesquite, NV called Little Jamaica. Read more about it here. (We obviously did not read this article prior to departing). We had gotten directions from a neighbor of ours (who drove a big old SUV) who had mentioned that there was a way that you could drive directly up to the river and bypass the 10 minute, semi dangerous hike down a waterfall. He also stated that he thought our family vans would be just fine. We decided that with our total of 6 children (7 and under) outnumbering us that this “easier option” was a grand idea. Initially we got a little lost and actually ended up right where we should have stayed, in the upper parking lot where wise humans would have just stayed put and hiked down. NOT US! We are rugged! In the parking lot we had a short conversation with a man about the back road we had been encouraged to take. He did warn us that even in his truck he thought that route was a little sketchy. “Two mom’s in mini vans….nothing can stop us!” was the direct quote I believe I threw out into the universe. He chuckled! We left the safety of the parking lot and went around the back way. In the beginning the road was just a hard packed dirt road. No biggie! We had been given directions to stay to the right and we would be fine. So we went right. There was a small little river (no, let’s call it a tributary) to cross, so I floored it through the water and up the slightly sandy incline and made it up just fine. Nothing to worry about! I waited a 20 feet ahead to see how Jes was fairing. After a minute of waiting I ran back and saw Jes in her lower riding van peeling out on the sandy hill. She asked me if I would give it a try, so I jumped in, backed up through the tributary and then used my early technique to get back through the water and up the hill. I made it with ease. Why stop now? Onward! The road was getting a bit rough now. There were a couple of good bumps and rocks hitting the bottom of the car, but I saw no reason to not get to our destination. Right before reaching the parking area with easy river access, there was a steep hill and a wacky turn. Go for it! I turned the corner, descended the decline and felt my car slide down the sand. Safe and sound! That was easy!
Little Jamaica is a pretty interesting place. It just so happens to be about 200 ft directly below a really loud highway bridge. I may have been feeling a little anxiety because of the bumpy ride in, but the sounds from cars zipping by and the huge piece of semi truck that lay on our trail, which couldn’t have come from anywhere else but the sky above us, really put me on edge! We did end up enjoying ourselves a little, but to be honest, it wasn’t a super safe place for the tiny kids to mom ratio that we had going on.
The whole time we were playing in the river Jes kept saying how she was worried about our exit strategy. She didn’t want to go back the way that we came so we discussed our options. There were two: go back up the sandy hill that we had come down or go through the non tributary part of the Virgin River. When we asked the locals, one man said that he thought it might be possible to take our vans through the river, but then added, “hmmmm….maybe not.” I asked him if he would come and save us if we got stuck and his comment (again, with a little chuckle), “I would love to!” On the way back to the cars we made the decision to brave the river. At this point, realizing that we had a potential dilemma, I thought it would be a good idea to say a prayer with our group. We gathered the kids together and then I prayed, might I add, with great faith that we were going to get out of this place. After the prayer Jes asked me if I would go first. Her reasoning was that if I made it out then I could then come and drive her car through the river. As I approached the river I didn’t really think about stopping and checking the depth of the water or the current, because well, I had just prayed that we would make it out and I was focused on doing just that. Sometimes when I am with my kids and I am doing something difficult, like riding a bike with a trailer full of children up a hill, I sometimes ask for a little encouragement. My kids have a chant for moments like this. “You can do it! You can do it! Go Mom! Go Mom!” I had faith, my children cheering, and so of course, it was time to gun it! I don’t think I can quite explain the feeling of sinking a van into a river. There are really no words. I entered the river quickly and my van went deeper and deeper into the river. When I had reached about ¾ of the way across my van stalled. Dead. Completely stuck in a van down IN the river! No words! The cheering stopped right as when the car died. I turned around and looked at my sweet kids in the eyes and said “I just did the craziest thing that I have ever done in my whole life. You guys, we are stuck in a river. I am nuts! I cannot believe I just did that!” Mortified might be a good word! Here is a very special image my 7 year old daughter designed in remembrance of that special day.
So, I am sure that you have guessed by now the next brilliant thing I did. I opened the driver side door and rushed out into the river of course! If I stick the van in neutral maybe I could push it out with my great strength and adrenaline, right? I know, I wasn’t in my right mind all day, why start now. Right away the river came rushing in the car. Within 20 seconds there was 3-5 inches of red, dirty, river water in our van with books, lunch bags, and water bottles floating through the car.
Jes ran up to ask me what to do. I sent her to retrieve our best friend, the guy that had already committed to saving us. He drove up in his big old Dodge Ram with a big cheesy smile on his face, a cigarette in his lips and a beer in his hand. He was ready to get to work. He had already warned us that he didn’t have a tow rope but that he had some tie downs. We tied them up to the van and proceeded to bust through them a couple of times until we finally combined 3 of them and tow the van backwards out of the water. It was quite a relief to be out of the water, but the car wouldn’t start. Big surprise. Right then some random guy pulled up on his 4 wheeler and told us he would go grab his tow rope just up the hill. A little miracle! We decided that since I was already a bit wet that we would take the van back through the river and get to a place where I could be towed. The kids were in the other van watching a movie at this point. With the tow rope attached to the van we got through the river pretty easily but then got stuck in the loose, deep sand on the other side. It took us about 45 minutes to bust the rope 5 times and finally pull out of the sand. When we finally got out of the sand he pulled me through another little tributary, and then up a hill where we parked. It was quite a sight to open the doors and have a waterfall pour out of the car. Oh man, the craziness!
At this point we were all pretty excited that the nightmare was over. You can hope, right? When we got back to Jes and the kids we asked this man if he would lead us up the way we had come in just in case we got stuck and needed a tow. He said he would. I was a bit worried about the sand but pretty confident that we would be fine once we made it up the hill. She had me drive because obviously I was the best driver in the whole world and why not trust the lunatic that just drove into the river with your brand new leased Town and Country. To make a long story short (like an hour and a half long story) I got 10 feet up the sand hill, got stuck, rocked out of it, backed down, tried it again, backed down, the dude tried, got really really stuck, towed the car backwards, tried to tow the van up, broke the tow rope 5 times, got stuck, towed it back down, and then stopped to make another plan. Oh, I need to mention that the sand was probably 200 degrees and every time we had to use the haggard tow rope this amazing man would lie down on the hot frying sand and try to find a good place to hook it. It is also important to mention that the kids were amazing thanks to a great show, but at this point they were getting a little nervous. Two babies and one child were weeping and wailing.
It was about that time when a new guy entered the scene. He approached us and asked what was going on. We explained to him our plight and asked him if he had any bright ideas for us. The only advice he had for us was, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have come down here in the first place!” He drove off shaking his head and chuckling. Some people are so helpful! It was a horrible feeling to realize that taking this nice new van through the river was our only option, but we had exhausted the sandy hill option and could foresee no other way. I felt sick! We made a plan. Our buddy and his truck would slowly lead us into the river with the tow rope connected, and when we needed a little extra help, he would give us an extra tug out of the river. Evidently if you ever have to enter a river in your vehicle, it is best to go slowly. Jes told me to drive. Great! Two vans in one day! Right when we were getting in the car that man that had just deserted us decided that he didn’t want to be a complete jerk and had come back to the scene. He tapped me on the shoulder and said “I’m driving!” Phew! What a blessing! He got in and the two men in the two cars drove off toward the river, into the river (that I swear was at least a foot shallower), out of the river, over the sand, through the small river and out on dry land, all with the van alive and running. Pure relief!
So, that is the story of the swamp van! I have never felt so stuck! It was pretty painful to get unstuck from the worst stuck ever only to realize that we were still super stuck. It was a miracle that either of our vans made it out. Today I know that this will be a is great reminder for years to come. I was totally incapable of getting out of this mess on my own. It was pretty amazing to see it all work out. I still can’t believe that my van is out of the river and that we made it home safe and sound. I am so grateful!
Just for any of you wondering the rest of the story, the van did recover and continued to live a good little life. It miraculously made the trek from Utah to Texas where as second vehicle it was good to us for another year until it lost its AC in the middle of a Texas July. It was a hot month, but once again it all worked out!
A few years ago my kids and I memorized this quote by President Gordon B. Hinkley. I love it! “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. … If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.”
I love this message from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He shares a time when he was stuck and the lessons that he has learned on his road.
I am grateful for this swamp experience, and many other moments in my life where I have seen the Lord’s hand delivering me from a stuck and hopeless place. I hope when I am feeling this way that I can quickly remember to watch for the miracles and remember that it will all work out.