Alex Johnson: 2010 Outdoor Retail Tradeshow Family Road Trip

I’ve already had some mildly epic trips in my short nomadic life, but traveling with my family always seems to take the excitement to the next level.
My mother, father, brother and Fritz all road-tripped out to Utah to fetch me from my international flight at the Salt Lake City airport, and hang out at the Outdoor Retail Tradeshow. My mom and I have been going to the OR Show for years, and we thought my dad and brother, both being outdoor gear junkies, would really enjoy checking out all the new equipment for the upcoming year. I flew into Salt Lake from Munich on Monday, August 2nd, and within just a few short hours of being back on US soil, my mother was already telling me about how tall the corn was back home in Wisconsin.
“We had so much rain in June. The corn is twice as high as it should be this time of year!” There’s nothing like finally being reunited with my family for the first time in months and being caught up on how the crops are doing. I swear we don’t actually grow corn.
The Tradeshow was as it always is—hectic. Although there are a few things I’m extra excited about for next year. The famously retired Velcro Dragon from Five Ten has been resurrected! Its improved features include the same down-turned, talon-like toe of the lace-up Dragon, combined with the narrow, tight-fitting heel from the Blue Team Shoe. The finely tuned fusion of two of Five Ten’s highest performing products will be called the “Black Wing.” There will also be a women’s version consisting of a slightly narrower frame, higher arch, and tighter heel cup. I’m looking forward to testing these things out.
 
 
         The annual bouldering competition was fun as always. It was also unbearably hot, as the desert usually is in August, and the scantily clad girls were out in full force. I understand how dreadful the summer heat can be, but some of the outfits are beginning to cross the line. It’s out of respect for my fellow female competitors, and the respect that I hope they have for themselves, that I wish for the provocative attire to be taken down a notch. Yes, we all know sex sells, and that sadly it seems the less you wear, the more you’re photographed. But I believe trying to gain publicity using your body is pushing our sport in a negative direction and it’s sincerely disappointing. My desire is for women climbers to be notarized for their personalities, ethics, morals, professionalism, etc. Much further down the list lands climbing ability or accomplishments, and never should seeking attention for clothing, or lack thereof, come into play. Women are strong and powerful, and beauty can be portrayed in many ways. Over-sexuality doesn’t always have to be one of them. Come on, girls, leave something for the imagination.
 
Turning full circle towards a more positive subject, during the competition finals on the roof of the Shilo Inn, there was an exciting announcement made about the Unified Bouldering Championships (UBC) partnering with USA Climbing to become the official Pro Bouldering Tour of America. I think this is much needed for our sport, and can’t wait to see things start heading in a direction we’ve all been waiting for.
 
Photo by Eric Horst
 
Beginning our journey home was when the real excitement began. My brother got involved in a pick-up rugby game where he was the youngest player by probably ten years. His youth did absolutely nothing for him against his elder teammates and opponents. He did manage to score once, and immediately afterwards I captured this candid moment. It’s one of my proudest photographic achievements to date.
 
 
      After we left Salt Lake our plan was to head to Moab to camp and check out some of the parks. Little did we know we were heading straight into a deathtrap.
            Arches National Park is home to many beautiful cliffs and rock features. It gets its name from the many massive arches in the area that were created over thousands of years.
 
 
Apparently dogs are not allowed in the park, but obviously that didn’t deter us one bit. The park also boasts one of the most famous natural sculptures in the world, the Delicate Arch. This spectacular arch is even notoriously featured on Utah’s license plates.
 
 
 
While the arches were fascinating, my dad was more interested in the 4x4 off-road trails. We stopped to ask a ranger how rough the trails were and he insisted we’d be totally fine.
            “It’s a bit technical at the start,” he explained. “But after that you should have no problem.” This man could not have been more wrong.
            The off-road trail began miles into the center of the park, splitting off a rough dirt road. It took us more than an hour to conquer the first mile of the trail, and there was no going back. My brother was driving and my dad was walking ahead trying to direct him where to go. My mother disappeared in the midst of a panic attack and was nowhere to be found. Fritz and I were following behind, picking up the pieces our truck left behind. Instead of improving, the trail got worse. We should have seen the signs…
 
 
Barely into our second mile was the first time disaster struck. With no sign of Trish anywhere, we crawled over a ridge and spotted two other vehicles ahead of us that were attempting the course. At first it seemed like they were making very slow progress, but then I realized that they weren’t moving at all. I jogged down the rocky path to see what was going on and heard, rather than spotted, my mother hyperventilating behind a shrub. She peeked out when she saw me coming.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“We’re all going to die in the desert!” She wailed. I had to keep moving down the hill so she wouldn’t hear me laughing.
It turns out that both of the vehicles ahead of us were stuck, buried in sand as fine as powdered sugar.
 
 
Luckily the Johnson’s arrived on the scene!
 
 
           The cars had been stuck since ten o’clock that morning. It was past two in the afternoon and our truck thermometer was reading almost 110. We tried for hours to pull them out, getting ourselves stuck in the process. As soon as we got buried I saw my mother standing on a huge rock frantically waving her phone in the air trying to get cell service.
“I got it! I have one bar!” She exclaimed after a few minutes, standing atop a hill. “I’m calling 911, no way am I going to die in this desert. Watch for the rescue helicopter.” The issue was that nobody knew we were even on the trail. But when my mother managed to get ahold of 911, they notified park services.
Almost three hours later, we were running out of water, and I had serious fear of Fritz dropping dead from the heat. We had managed to pull the van out of the sand. The van wenched the jeep out not long after. We were free! Or so we thought. The trouble was far from over.
We all started to pull away, and as we rounded a turn I finally saw a ranger truck making its way behind us. The ranger told us we had less than a mile to go, and that the hardest part was over. This was great news, because somehow after we got out of the sand our truck lost four-wheel drive.
 
 
 
Turns out both of the Arches rangers were incompetent. The first one, who told us to take the trail, had never even driven it before, and had only worked at Arches for two weeks. The ranger who eventually showed up to help us must have skipped the distance unit in fifth grade.
After nine more miles of powdered-sugar sand, the sun was melting into the horizon and we were still trying to get out of the park. We finally reached the paved road after eight hours of being stuck on the trail.
“No more parks.” Trish exclaimed. “Tomorrow we’re rafting down the river.”
The next day while we were floating down the river we got caught in a terrible rainstorm. We left Moab the day after.
We managed to make it out of Utah and through Colorado until we hit trouble again. Kearney, Nebraska was where the truck broke down for the second time on the trip. We spent two days in a hotel twiddling our thumbs, watching a Law & Order marathon. Believe me, there is even less to do in Nebraska than in Wisconsin.
We eventually made it home safe. I’m currently sitting in my room procrastinating the dreadful chore of unpacking from Europe that lies ahead of me. Not because of the actual labor, but because of how sad I am that it’s over. My time abroad was the most fun I’ve ever had. It went so fast, and to come home and have to go straight to the Tradeshow was pretty overwhelming, and left me feeling decently bitter. I don’t have any immediate plans right now, but I believe I’ll be back overseas very soon.
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