Life Preserver / by Brian Beck

Our last day in Salt Lake was meant to be one of the highlights of the trip.  The idea was that we would spend the entire day together at the waterpark.  I don't usually get those big blocks of time to play with the kids doing something exclusively for them, so the anticipation ran high.  From 10am through late afternoon we went through a maze, jumped on trampolines, panned for gems, played in the pool, screamed down waterslides and ate all manner of electric blue and red concoctions.  Days like this live somewhere in the ether of sunshine and memory, in a slipstream of summer where time doesn't seem to exist until you notice that the shadows are long and growing, and the heat of the sun has given way to a radiant warmth from the concrete that struggles vainly to overcome the evening chill that has begun to creep out of the now-damp grass and trees.  When we finally noticed the time, I tried to get us cleaned up and off to dinner but the day had been so good, so right, that I succumbed to the entreaties to do one last thing, that "just one more thing, Dad."  "You promised we'd go miniature golfing."     

You know we did.  And you probably also know that almost as soon as it started the iceberg appeared directly on the starboard bow.  I had the throttle all the way up and it was too late to pull back or steer.  Samantha was golfing terribly and getting frustrated.  Parker moved her ball.... she retaliated... and then the unthinkable was happening on our amazing day.  It was now almost dark, we were taking on water, and I had two over-stimulated and over-hungry hot messes on my hands.  Mom wouldn't have made this rookie mistake.  No, no, she would have stayed alert on the bridge, cut the throttle to slow ahead, and steered through the ice field.  Maybe we wouldn't have broken the record, but at least we would have made it through.  I got them fed and into their sleeping bags but the spell that had surrounded our trip so far had been broken.  In my haste to end carnage, I yelled at them both and Samantha took it hard, rolling out for the first time the father of all parent gut punches:  "If I'm such a pain, why did you even have me?"  The ship was going down and we needed a life preserver.

Almost on cue, that's exactly what we got.  After a relatively uneventful drive the next day through northern Utah, Idaho and into Wyoming, we rolled into Jackson Hole, WY on Friday in the late afternoon, just in time to wash the road grime off the Chief and do the same for our salty bodies.  With the kids' hair still wet, we hopped back in the Chief for a short ride out to the Jackson Hole Airport and watched as United 1644 touched down and taxied to the gate with Mom aboard.  And for the next hour, I listened with a growing smile as my children breathlessly described the adventures of the previous week like correspondents from a magical land.

With Mom back on the bridge, the weekend in Jackson has been smooth sailing.  We shopped a little, ate like kings, rode a stagecoach, saw a gunfight on the square and topped it off with a surprisingly good old-timey musical production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Jackson Hole Playhouse.  And today, with the kids safely in her care, I slipped free for a few hours to hike to the top of Granite Canyon, a grueling climb from the valley floor on the south end of Grand Teton National Park to what seems like the top of the world when you get there--a little outcrop of rock facing a 1,000 foot chasm just large enough for a one-person tent.  If it killed me, I wasn't leaving here without sitting on that rock again.

Samantha and Parker admire the sunset over the Tetons as they wait for Quimby's flight to arrive in Jackson Hole, Wy.

Samantha and Parker admire the sunset over the Tetons as they wait for Quimby's flight to arrive in Jackson Hole, Wy.