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  • Will Sanders

A sandy couple of months

Well, five days later, I have finally made it back to Virginia after a long drive from Montana. I’m only here for two weeks before I head on back to Missoula, so I’m intending to not drive much in the next couple weeks. However, my mother moved from Charlottesville to Virginia Beach, so I’ll have to make that trek to visit her at some point during my stay.

I was chatting with her a couple days ago, and we were making plans for my time at the beach with her. The obvious first plan… was to make sure we spend some time on the beach.

That conversation broke off into another tangent about my dislike for the beach as a kid, and how funny it is that I love the beach so much now. Hanging on the fridge at my mom’s house is a photo of me on the beach from when I was about 5 years old. I stand there, gripping my sippy cup; with a bucket hat on, a bandaid on my nose, and a frown on my face. Evidently, my mother tells me that I hated the sand and that photo encapsulates my dislike for the beach perfectly. I have no recollection of that. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved hanging by the ocean. But it did; however, remind me of a time where my dislike for sand did resurface. I decided this story would be a fun one for my blog…

Back in 2018, I was a marketing intern and staff photographer for Brighton Resort in Salt Lake City. It was a fantastic season spent with some of my best friends. But it wasn’t until the season ended that the real adventure started. I moved out of my apartment in Millcreek, Utah, and back into my converted SUV. April is when desert season is in full swing, so Moab was my next destination on a two month journey from Salt Lake City to St. Augustine, FL.

Upon pulling into Moab, we were greeted with incredible weather. Spring time is always perfect in the desert, but there was something about that sunshine and warmth that was so fulfilling after such a cold winter. Days where it got just warm enough to warrant an hour of cliff jumping into the cold desert streams, and perfectly cool enough to keep all my doors, my tailgate, and the sunroof open when I slept at night. Two weeks of this spoiled us. We didn’t bother to even check the weather anymore. It seemed so consistent and predictable - all we did was wake up, and expect another great day of hiking, biking, and climbing.

We moved our camp from Kane Creek to one of the sites on the upper rim of Canyonlands. We stayed there a night or two, where the fun continued and the weather remained beautiful. Finally, our good buddy, Zach needed to part ways and head back to Virginia. It was as if our group having to part ways changed the weather instantaneously. The temperature seemed to be dropping throughout the day, and by the time the sun went down, it was noticeably cooler. However, it wasn’t cold enough to warrant closing up all of my doors before heading to bed. So I fell asleep, bundled up, and exposed to all the elements that I didn’t know were about to become an issue.

I woke up to a stinging sensation on my face. Before I opened my eyes, I noticed my sense of sound was off and my ears felt funny, too. It was loud and everything in my car was moving around violently. I slowly opened my eyes, and immediately sand was burning the hell out of them and I realized my left ear had been filled to my lobe with sand. I quickly sat up and tried to clear the sand out of my ear and eyes, and about a quarter inch of sand rolled off of my chest. The sun has just started to come up, and with it, it brought violent winds that caused a sandstorm of apocalyptic ferocity. I couldn’t see more than 10 feet from my car, but that was only when I would get occasional relief from having sand in my eyes; otherwise, I could hardly see anything at all. I frantically shut the doors that were facing the wind. Things immediately settled down in the car, but sand continued to pour in from the sunroof, and the doors on the other side were still open and the sand was depositing into my car in the same fashion as snow would do when the wind is blowing. I quickly turned my car on and shut everything else. But now, I’m stuck in my car… and I’m completely covered with sand. My face felt raw from getting my bare skin blasted in the midst of trying to close my doors and windows. My heart was still pounding, and soon after, the frustration of having sand everywhere began to set in. There was no getting away from it. My seats had multiple inches of sand on them; my bed resembled one of those sandbox zen gardens; and sand was glued on to my chest and face unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. All that was left to do at that point was to wait it out.

The sandstorm finally let up. It raged on for about an hour, and finally simmered down to heavy gusts that still blew sand here and there. I walked down off of the butte our camp was set up on, and managed to collect all of my belongings that had blown out of my car. Luckily, the sage brush’s sharp branches caught my jackets, shirts and socks that had been carried out of the bins at the foot of my bed. At this point, the temperature continued to drop significantly, and soon there was snow falling. I went from shorts and a t-shirt to fleece-lined pants and a down jacket. I tried my best to clean the sand out of my car, but the wind, snow and occasional blast of sand was proving to be too much of a challenge. My buddies all were dealing with the same problem.

So, we decided it was time to check the weather.

This was just the start of it. A cold front was bringing in some nasty weather that we were completely unaware of, and there was no sign of it letting up on the 10 day forecast. We figured it was time to move camp again anyways… but this time, it would be best to go ahead and move it to another state. To Colorado we go.

We spent a few hours cleaning our cars out when we got to a little town outside of Mesa Verde National Park. We were well prepared with a 12 pack of PBR, as we knew this was going to take some time. The sand had deposited everywhere, and managed to get into literally everything. Somehow sand made its way into my water. It made its way into my food and cooler. It was in my clothes, and my bed; it was in my AC vents, so for a while it would randomly blow sand out when I turned it on. It was unbelievable. I must have spent $20 on the vacuum to get it all out. Even then, for the next few weeks, there was still sand everywhere. It began to get very, very frustrating. The feeling of laying down in my comfortable bed after long days of adventuring continued to be ruined by the feeling of sand in my sheets. Where was it coming from? I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that it definitely takes a while to rid a car of sand after a sandstorm.

But after a while, things were back to normal and my little apartment-on-wheels was clean again. By that point, it was just my buddy, Liam and I left. We had been through southern Colorado, then down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the weather was nice and warm again. We spent our mornings mountain biking in the Sandia Mountains, and our afternoons skateboarding in the city. Our time in that area surprisingly made for some of the best days I had on this trip, despite having no plans or beta on central New Mexico before going. However, that phase of my travels had to come to an end, too. Liam was ready to head back to Virginia, so we said our goodbyes and we both continued onward. I spent another night in the southern Sandias, where some interesting things happened (stay tuned for my next blog post). But then I went on to explore Texas. I took about five days driving through Amarillo, Dallas, and Houston, and then I found myself parked on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. All by myself, I sat out under the stars in the balmy air, listening to the small waves roll onto the beach. The oil rigs off the coast twinkled like stars, as there were so many of them in view that I struggled to count them all.

The evening of perfect weather inspired me to leave my tailgate and doors open again. I remember romanticizing the idea of sleeping in my bed, only a few feet from the high-tide line, and falling asleep to the sounds of the Gulf. So I fell right asleep with not a worry in mind. And then it happened again.

I woke up to the feeling of sand on my face and the sound of wind blowing. That next morning, the wind was coming off the Gulf at a violent speed. Luckily, this time the wind blew in the right direction, and I actually woke up to my doors slamming shut. A much better situation than before; however, I looked down to see my bed, yet again, covered up with a thin layer of sand. I closed everything up, and tried not to let myself get too frustrated with the situation. But the salty, humid air made the sand stick to my skin even worse than in Moab. So it was an uphill battle to remain optimistic as I faced the discomfort of being plastered with sand again.

I got into the front seat, took a good look back out at the gulf and decided that it was time to get the hell out of there. I began to pull forward… and then almost instantaneously, my car stopped moving. The sand had deposited around my tires, partially burying them. I was now stuck, and every time I put pressure on the gas, it got worse. So I pulled out my floor mats and used them to get my car moving again. It took a few tries, but eventually I made it back to the asphalt. But getting in and out of the car repeatedly in that wind made the issue of sand being in my car considerably worse.

Another 12 pack of beer and a couple hours with a vacuum in hand got it all cleaned up. The clear difference in color between the orangeish, dark sand from Moab and the white sand from the Gulf made me realize that I still had plenty of work to do from my last go’round, as I was vacuuming up sections under my bed that had piles of both types of sand. At some point, I gave up. I figured my plans for spending summer in Florida would continue my crusade against the sand in my car, so what's the use?

Well about a month later, I took a trip up to Virginia to visit my folks. It had been 8 months since I had last stepped foot in the state and seen my family. Many miles had been put on my old Volvo XC-90. I crossed the state line on the southern border with 289,000 miles. I passed the welcome sign into Virginia while accelerating back onto the highway after getting gas at the last station in North Carolina. Right as I was about to merge, my car made some interesting noises, rumbled a bit, and lost all of its power. I made it about 20 feet into Virginia, and I had blown one of my cylinders… my trusty steed was dead. I managed to creep on home, running considerably under the speed limit, but alas… it got me back to where I started. I was lucky to find someone to buy it. So, with a broken heart, I had to strip the SUV of it’s custom queen bed and slide-out kitchen that I had installed in it years prior.

Upon removing it, I was back at it again. Vacuuming sand for hours. Under the frame and behind the slide out kitchen, there were piles of sand. Mostly the dark sand from Moab, but the Gulf of Mexico made its contribution as well. But this time it wasn’t frustrating to deal with. It was an opportunity for reflection. That old Volvo took me all throughout the country, time and time again. That sand was an indication of some incredible travels and interesting experiences. I was lucky to get a little sandy.


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