Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons. Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.
To read the preface, click here.
To read Part 1, click here.
To read Part 2, click here.
To read Part 3, click here.
To read Part 4, click here.
On the third day of our two-family camping trip, things finally started to look up. After cargo that spilled all over the highway, one child that ran a fever and one child that vomited all over a minivan, 32 hours with no sleep, a punctured tire, tents that had to be assembled in gale-force rain and winds, and an exploding toilet, I thought surely our vacation would settle down.
After so much rain, the road was still too wet and slippery to drive on. Fortunately, Sandy had brought along a mountain bike. Because there was no cell phone service on the mountain, Mr. Mom decided to ride Sandy’s bike down the mountain to the small valley town below us, where he hoped to reach his brother Lloyd by phone. Lloyd had promised to join us from his home in Texas during the last half of our camping trip, and Mr. Mom thought he ought to be getting close.
Mr. Mom reached Lloyd by cell just as his brother was driving into Pueblo. Mr. Mom knew Lloyd’s small Ranger pickup would never make it up the road, so he told Lloyd he’d wait by the Unfriendly’s gate, and they could hike up the mountain together. It was a half-hour drive from Pueblo to the base of our mountain, so Mr. Mom expected to see Lloyd soon.
Two hours later, Lloyd was still a no-show. Mr. Mom had tried to reach him again by cell, but Lloyd didn’t answer this time. It was late afternoon and Mr. Mom gave up and walked back up the mountain alone. “Where’s Lloyd?” was the chorus we greeted Mr. Mom with as he arrived back at our campsite. “Dunno,” Mr. Mom replied. “He was in Pueblo, but never showed up where I told him to meet me. He’ll either find his way here or not.”
It was almost time for dinner so Sandy and I discussed our options. We had a cooler full of food – hamburgers, chicken, pork chops, steaks and catfish. What should we cook tonight, we wondered aloud? We stoked up the fire and while Sandy prepped for hamburgers, I pulled out paper plates, cutlery, cups and everything we’d need to feed our hungry group. Mr. Mom and Jeff and the kids sat around the fire and chatted.
Before we could get a single burger on the fire, we were startled by the sight of Lloyd walking toward our camp site in what appeared to be his work clothes – a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, trousers and dress shoes – carrying a small knapsack and balancing three large pizzas over his shoulder like a pizzeria waiter. “Pizza delivery!” he shouted at our surprised crew.
Our jaws dropped, then we all burst out laughing. Turns out, Lloyd had decided to stop at his family’s favorite pizzeria as he drove through Pueblo. The Do Drop Inn was legendary in Mr. Mom’s family, and for years we had heard story after story about how much Mr. Mom and every one of his siblings missed their favorite pizza once they moved away from Pueblo. Lloyd hadn’t been back to his hometown in years. He didn’t know what kind of provisions we’d have on the mountaintop, and he wasn’t going to miss a chance to rekindle his love for Do Drop Inn pizza. Sandy and I put away our hamburger meat and we all dug into the pizzas, which – astonishingly – were still warm after the drive from Pueblo and Lloyd’s hike up the mountain. Who knew you could get fresh pizza delivery on the mountain?
After supper, we showed Lloyd and his knapsack (full of more street clothes – he never was a very savvy camper) to our spare tent. It had dried out by then, as had the sleeping bag we brought along for him. It wasn’t long before we turned in, our bellies full and our bodies tired after a day of play on the mountain.
The next day turned out unseasonably hot. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperature started to soar and with the recent rain, there was surprisingly high humidity on the mountain. By lunchtime, we were sweltering in the direct sun of the meadow. Jack had shown up that morning on his bulldozer with our repaired tire and he and Mr. Mom fixed our truck. Jack said the road was almost dried out – just a little slippery in a few spots. Given the heat, he invited us to his sister’s cabin, just down the road from the base of the mountain, where there was spring-fed creek and a good-sized swimming hole.
We loaded up in our truck and headed down the mountain to his sister’s place – all of us dressed in swimsuits (except for Lloyd, of course, who borrowed a pair of Mr. Mom’s shorts but still had to wear his dark socks and dress shoes). The swimming hole was just what the doctor ordered on this trip. It was freezing cold, which mountain springs usually are, but on a 90-degree day, nobody cared. We splashed and we swam and we jumped off big rocks and dared each other and acted like giddy children, the whole lot of us. If you got too cold, you simply crawled on a hot boulder like a lizard and warmed yourself. And – like children who spend the entire day at the public swimming pool – we waited until we were completely exhausted and famished to leave.
We had no sooner driven away when we heard a clap of thunder. As soon as we turned out of the canyon surrounding the swimming hole, we saw that dark clouds had covered our mountain. We made a quick stop at a convenience store to buy ice for our coolers, then we hightailed it back to our mountain. By the time we got to the Unfriendly’s gate, it had started pouring – for the third time in four days. We tried to get up our road, but after only a few yards our tires started slipping in the wet mud and we knew there was no point. There were five adults and four children crammed in our four-seater pickup – and a wet dog in the pickup bed. Mr. Mom turned off the engine and we sat quietly in the pouring rain for a moment as the situation dawned on us. Finally, Jeff spoke up. “Well,” he said. “Looks like we’re hiking up the mountain. Everybody out!”
“I’m hiking up the mountain in the rain wearing flip-flops?” I bothered to ask. “Well,” Mr. Mom said, “I suppose you can always sleep in the pickup.” This couldn’t possibly be happening. Kate and I looked in astonishment at each other and exchanged glances that made it clear we thought this was the final straw.
Sandy – always a trouper – grabbed the hand of her oldest son and started up. Jeff grabbed a bag of ice and the hand of his youngest son and started up. Mr. Mom grabbed the other bag of ice, and then he and Parker and Lloyd headed up. Ed ran ahead of them as if this was the funnest day ever. Kate and I stared at the crowd leaving us behind, looked at the flip-flops on our feet, then finally fell in step. I wanted to cry but I wasn’t about to break loose unless Kate did first.
To be continued . . .