“It’s hotter than a gypsy on fried chicken night,” Dicka said as we stopped at the visitor center in Death Valley’s aptly named Furnace Creek. The temperature read 109 degrees, so if that was warmer than the nomadic folk got, the kid wasn’t wrong.
Back in the car again, we spotted sand dunes, salt flats, and craters that tricked me into thinking we might be on another planet. Although otherworldly, we were definitely on planet Earth, navigating through a valley that covered 3,000 square miles—the hottest, driest, and lowest point in North America. As we curved through Artist’s Palette, the colors dazzled us. Metals had oxidized the clay of the mountainside, creating reds, yellows, greens, blues, and purples so vibrant it seemed humans had interfered with cans of spray paint.
Husband’s phone rang, his mother’s name popping up on the screen.
“We’re heading through Death Valley right now, but we shall fear no evil, because God is with us,” he told her, “and we’ve got ice water.”
As we exited the national park, he filled her in on our car adventures, and I sighed. What a relief our tire’s patch job held in the extreme heat, and our other vehicle troubles were miles behind us too.
Passing through the Mojave Desert yet again, Husband pointed the car toward our next destination, Las Vegas. But it wasn’t long before I caught him squinting at the car’s dash lights.
“What?” I said, a niggling worry growing.
He fiddled with a button. “What does the little wrench symbol mean?”
Whenever vehicle indicator lights appear, panic sweeps my memory clean. And this time was no exception. What did that symbol mean again? Dread raced up my spine, and my fingers fluttered—faster than my heart—through the pages of the Honda’s owner manual. But all was well; we were just due for a service appointment—or to have that little notification light turned off. Either way, the desert wouldn’t claim us today.
We entered Las Vegas under a cloak of darkness, a requirement if one were to truly capture the essence of the famous Nevada destination. Who imagines Sin City bathed in the light of day anyway?
From our hotel, we caught an Uber to Fremont Street, in the heart of the downtown’s casino corridor, excited to view the city from the air. Strolling along the electrified streets to find the SlotZilla Zipline, Dicka’s eyes flashed like the strobes around us. Wonder danced across her features.
“I wanna have my bachelorette party here.”
Just what a mother wants to hear. I groaned. “Say it isn’t so.”
But shock value is fun on a family trip, especially when one is fifteen and hopefully far from marriage.
We arrived at the SlotZilla, a zipline boasting a height of eleven stories and a length of five city blocks. I remembered my fear of heights, of course, but I had done fine year after year flying on the Screamin’ Eagle Zipline across a ravine speckled with trees in rural Minnesota on our family camp weekends. So, how would this be different?
SlotZilla’s young employees suited us up with all the lines and carabiners that would save our lives, should it come to it. I assessed their ages—and their casual strap-tightening ways. Were they old enough to feel empathy for strangers—i.e., value other people’s lives? How often did someone get fired for cutting corners in this job? But each worry that surfaced I punched back down with memories of my successful ziplining past. This flight overlooking the famous street would be nothing. As easy as Sunday morning—and the Screamin’ Eagle.
We waited in 90-degree heat for over an hour with countless others in an open-air building that was no more than a massive scaffolding system eleven stories above ground. Our jump time was 11:00 p.m. and we would fly in groups over Fremont Street while an eighties rock n’ roll cover band serenaded us.
Husband and I were somehow grouped with two strangers, while our girls were together several jumps behind us. Soon, we were at the front of the line. Like cattle, the four of us were herded into our individual stalls. When our metal grates opened again, we scrambled into prone positions on our respective vinyl mattresses, an employee hooking up the straps on our backs to lines from above. We’d be zooming Superman-style through the late-night air.
And that’s when the queasiness kicked in.
“You okay?” Husband mouthed to me from his mattress one compartment over. The crowds and music were blaring, my fears deafening. What had I done, agreeing to this?
“I might throw up,” I mouthed back.
A pity look. “Don’t do that.”
Our mattresses lowered then, separating from our bodies, while we dangled in the air, suspended by cables.
“When you get to the edge, use your hands to push off,” some young pup who worked there yelled, like this was supposed to be fun. “Ready?”
No. One-hundred times no.
“We’re leaving together,” the rock band’s rendition of Europe’s song blasted, “But still it’s farewell, and maybe we’ll come back to earth, who can tell?”
Who can tell? The lyrics of “The Final Countdown” weren’t making this better. “I guess there is no one to blame, we’re leaving the ground—” The metal doors in front of us, like garage doors, once blocking out the view of Fremont Street and the partying hordes far below, opened, and a mechanical system propelled us forward. “Will things ever be the same again?” The edge loomed just ahead. Here it came. “It’s the final countdown.”
Ready or not…
Come back next week for the final installment of the story (for sure this time. I promise.) I’ll also include the rest of the links to our epic trip playlist.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.