Since March 1, 2019 I’ve driven nearly 3,000 miles, I’ve been through eight major US cities, and I’ve had the opportunity to ‘Couchella it’ (couch surf) because of six lovely people. However, there was one mile that stood out above the rest.
Tonight (March 6th), as I was driving west bound on Highway 70 in Eastern Utah (around Mile Marker 212) I lost control of my 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The speed limit in this part of Utah is 80 MPH (if it’s not raining of course), the roads are old, worn down, and it was pouring rain. I hydroplaned and it was the scariest moment of my life. Scarier than swimming with sharks, scarier than running with the bulls, and definitely scarier than asking for a beautiful girl’s number.
My Jeep slid for nearly 100 ft across the road until it went into the median. Lucky for me, there was no guard rail, but that didn’t stop me from skidding across the mud. Out of instinct, I grabbed the wheel because I KNEW I was about to flip. Yet, I didn’t. My Jeep halted in the middle of Highway 70 in Eastern Utah.
In utter shock, I jumped out of the Jeep to find two men running at me. These two men were behind me in a Ford F-150 and saw the entire thing play out. “You were in the air man, like you literally were flying.” I don’t remember flying through the air, and I’m not sure I want too.
The two men were nice enough to hang around long enough to see if I was ok (btw, I didn’t even have a scratch) and give me a tow truck company’s number. Since I was in the middle of Eastern Utah, the nearest company was 60 miles away. Oh yeah, and it began to pour. My little gray Jeep just kept going deeper and deeper into the mud.
Still in shock, I sat in my Jeep and waited. It wasn’t 10 minutes after the two men pulled away that I met my first Angel of the night. Cullen Barker.
From the moment Cullen got out of the car I could tell there was something different about him. He didn’t ask if I needed help, he just did. He put on his rain suit because by this time it was really raining. He grabbed his tools and assisted me on trying to get my Jeep off of this median. I could tell you about all the things we tried to get the Jeep out of the median, but we weren’t successful. Even though we weren’t successful, Cullen didn’t mind. He never complained, he encouraged me, and he never acted like I was taking his time. Cullen Barker stayed with me for 90 minutes in the pouring rain for a reason I can’t explain. I wasn’t waving him down, I wasn’t calling for help, Cullen Barker just showed up. When it was time for Cullen to leave, he wouldn’t accept any money, but he did offer his address and pose for this incredible selfie.
When the tow truck had finally arrived, I think we had done more damage than good. Or, at least I had. The Jeep was dug nearly 8 inches below the surface of the ground, which made it difficult for the tow truck operator to hook to the frame of the Jeep.
Eventually, my Jeep made its way out of the mud with only a few scratches and dings, well and these shakes that led me to my second Angel of the night.
The mud that had settled in on my wheels had caused my Jeep to shake when it got above 60 MPH. And when I mean shake, it made you feel like the world was coming to the end. After calls with my Dad and Uncle, they confirmed that it was the mud and I needed to go to the nearest car wash.
As luck would have it, my back-left tire began to go flat. So, I rushed to the exit with the car wash, wheeled it into the 24/7 service station to meet Brad. Brad didn’t have a last name on his name tag but know that Brad was the second angel I met on March 6th.
Brad had the look of a good ole boy, and the smell of a Miller Lite on a Friday night. He wore a big dip in his lip and had a way about him that seemed perfect for fixing my Jeep. “Where are you from again boy? You don’t have an accent!” I laughed as most of you know, I’ve got Western NC written all over me. Brad spent 30 minutes fixing the hole in my tire, told me how to rinse the wheels properly so it’d run smooth again, and told me I didn’t owe him a dime. But, what? The second stranger in Utah to help me…for what reason? “Just give it to someone who needs it, you’re lucky to be alive.”
Right after the tow truck operator pulled me out of the median, I called my parents. Upset as I was, my mama thought she’d make matters better by asking me, “What has been the best part of the trip, Austin?” Through tears of joy, I said, “the people.” 3000 miles is a long way for anyone to drive, but the people, especially on the eve of March 6thmade this drive the most important drive of my life. Thank you to my parents, my Aunt and Uncle, my Granny, all the people that reached out checking in on me, the tow man (he did charge me, lol), and my man smiling down on me, Jesus.
I decided to drive across the US to find out what’s next in my life, who I’m going to be, and I wanted to see people and places. Yet, tonight, that wasn’t the lesson. Tonight, I learned that sometimes you need to slow down. Sometimes you need to turn down the music. And sometimes there’s mud on your tires and you need to pull over.
Even though I feel lucky to be alive, I keep coming back to those two angels. Believer of Jesus or not. Those two guys were angels to me. In fact, I believe we’re all angels.
Cullen and Brad changed my life tonight on Mile Marker 212.
Just a kid,