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A breakdown and a shakedown

It was a quiet Wednesday morning at The Needles Outpost — the lone commercial operation just outside Canyonlands National Park — and the yelling from the back of the store caught me off guard as I browsed dusty aisles of canned goods.

“What about your friends, do they have money? Get out! This is a business!” barked a shriveled, red-faced old woman, chasing after my friend Nathan who had asked to use the phonebook.

Before I knew what exactly was happening, I was being yelled at for cash as well and told to get the hell out, along with our friend Steve.



Two hours earlier, sipping coffee at our campsite in the middle of nowhere, hours away from cell phone service, Nathan discovered his van had a significant oil leak. The Toyota Previa banged a rock on one of the rough roads we had been driving the day before and now we were facing the consequences. I’d driven out separately to meet my friends a few days before, so we weren’t stranded, but morale was low.

The trip was not going anything like we’d planned. We’d originally wanted to meet in Zion National Park, where we would attempt to climb a big route I’ve dreamed about for years. Congress crapped on that plan with the partial government shutdown four days before I left, however. Indian Creek was the fallback, since it is a great climbing area that is not within a controlled boundary. Despite the quality of the place, we still had traces of residual anger even as we enjoyed good whiskey with desert sunsets.



My attitude was further burdened by the fact that I was not physically conditioned to succeed on the hard routes I wanted to tackle. This was apparent on my first day and I pulled my groin on the second day, cementing the fact that I needed to readjust my goals or risk having no fun at all.

So there we were, stewing in camp on Wednesday morning. We’d noticed misspelled, hand-written signs posted at the camping areas: “Free Wi-Fi at the Needles Outpost — still open!”

The Outpost was 20 minutes away. Moab was 90 minutes. We decided to hit up the “free” Wi-Fi, buy some supplies and hopefully order some parts for the Previa.

Nathan asked to use the phonebook and the woman demanded $2 cash. Everything was cash and the Wi-Fi definitely wasn’t free. None of us had any cash beyond $3 in change, and we weren’t about to give it to the angriest human being we’d ever met.

We regrouped at my car parked in the swirling dust 100 feet from the store. Nathan turned on his phone to see if it had any service. A screen door slammed in the distance and the woman’s crackle split into us once again, waving her boney arms and cursing at us to leave immediately.

“I’m a business! It costs money to run a business! Everything costs money! Show me your cash or leave!” she kept repeating.

We were dumbstruck during the encounter and later analyzed all the problems she must have in her life. We agreed that it was ultimately a good reminder of how we didn’t want to end up as people.

We got things straightened out in Moab and arrived back in camp just in time for a huge rainstorm that dumped for a solid 12 hours. My tent and our cars were in the middle of a small lake when I dared to poke my head out late the next morning.

There was a lull in the rain that lasted long enough to brew coffee. It was almost as if the universe was telling us to spend more time digesting our recent experience, because the skies opened up again. I found myself in the car with my coffee, working on my attitude.

I decided the only way to not end up bitter like the old woman is to let things go. So life doesn’t give a damn about plans — what are you going to do about it?

Our attitude is among the greatest powers or weaknesses we have as humans. I was reminded of that choice as I wrote in my journal and watched the patch of blue sky grow bigger on the horizon.

I didn’t climb much of anything to brag about on the trip, but the last three days were literally smiles and sunshine.

It also felt good to tear down the woman’s signs falsely advertising anything as free.

Even in business, attitude counts for a lot.

— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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