Intellectually, I know that rainfall doesn’t drain in the Great Basin, the one spot where the continental divide follows two separate routes around the lip of a giant bowl of dirt. I know that we’re headed for a junction called Muddy Gap, but in my head it’s just a name. What I’m concerned with is finding a good spot to pull off the road and spend the night, which is tricky in the dark. We know that most of the land north of Rawlins, Wyoming is BLM land that we can camp on. So when I spot a dirt road heading west from the highway, I pull off. Ann hops out to open a cattle gate. A polite sign asks us to please close it again, which we do. I have a hard time getting started again because it’s a little muddy on this side, but we put the truck in four wheel drive and have no more problems. We find a nice level spot, hop in the back, and have a nightcap. It’s a quiet, star-spangled Wyoming night. Quite pleasant until Ann wonders out loud, “Will we be able to get out of here if it rains?” We sit in an uncomfortable silence. It’s all clear out. It won’t rain. We go to bed.
The rain comes at 11:30 pm. Ann sits up in bed. We wait a second for it to stop. It falls a little harder.
“We have to get up,” Ann says, “before it gets too bad.” Groggily, we pull on clothes. Outside, the mud is already pretty bad. The clock is ticking, and my adrenaline kicks in. I slip around in the goop just getting into the truck, while Ann puts on a rain jacket and goes out to open the gate. I forget that we have a plastic tub behind the truck until I start backing up and hear it crack. In a near frenzy I jump out, grab it, and throw it behind the driver’s seat. Just then Ann comes back. “You should go open the gate!” I tell her. She looks completely bewildered, then admits in a lost tone, “But I don’t which way it is.” I point her in the right direction, shove the truck in gear, and head into the sagebrush where the mud is not as deep as the road. I have to cross the road at one point, and nearly bog down in it. Once I’m on firmer soil again I point the headlights at the gate, and see that Ann has found it and got it open. There’s a pool in front of it already. I give the truck a quick pat of encouragement, then get as much speed as I can up. The side-to-side slippage is disconcerting, but my momentum carries me through the pool and the gate, and finally up onto the pavement by the highway. We decide there is enough hard surface to here to park safely for the rest of the night. Our nerves are a little jangled, but we climb into the camper again. The rain just gets heavier. Now that we’re safe, it eventually lulls us back to sleep.
In the morning we awake to an icy wind blowing over a small lake where our “road” was. The surrounding hills are covered in a light snow. I feel a little more bonded to our camper and truck – this was their first really tough situation, and they saw us through it. We’re thankful to be able to pull out on firm highway, and we feel a little more respect for the names that appear on the map in this gritty country. A settler on the Oregon trail, headed for Muddy Gap, would sense some hard experience behind that name, and in the future I would do well to put a little more such imagination into my own map reading.