Vernal Utah, United States 7 Jul 09
Odometer 57,047 m 91,808 km

How could I resist? Her brown, curly locks nearly obscured those perfectly dimpled, rosy cheeks. And that megawatt smile? Well, I simply had to smile back. In fact, I had no choice but to hang around long enough to find out what a girl like her was doing in a place like this. After all--she could soon be dead.

Heading south from the Canadian Rockies on my way back to Colorado, I decided to steal away to my secret campsite deep within the Flaming Gorge. The last time I rolled into this particular canyon was back in 2005, while on my way south to Central and South America. It was a hot afternoon, and the cool desert waters beckoned to me like a Siren’s song.

The moon was full that night. It shimmered off the reservoir to illuminate my tent from two directions, coaxing me and a lot of other diurnal creatures out into the spooky netherworld. I don’t know what time it was when I finally decided to fold up my tripod and finish shooting photos for the night, but it was way past my normal bedtime.

Morning came much too soon and it didn’t take long for the mid-summer temperatures to climb. Dragging a bit, I scared up some breakfast, slowly broke camp, and prepared to depart.
silver bean
Jack and Linda's classic 1956 Chevy pick-up and Airstream trailer were photographed here along the Yukon River in 2005, as Jeremiah rode south from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
I know from past experience that I can make it home from here in a single, long day, but it requires a concerted push during daylight hours to pull it off. But not long after finding my way up and out of my hideaway, I came upon something I always hate to miss: a dirt road I’ve never explored.

Despite the late hour, I rode down to investigate.

The road eventually found its way to a small campground along the shoreline of the reservoir, not too far south from where I had spent the previous night. It deserved a closer look, so I slowly spun around the loop until I spotted some grazing antelope. Quickly dismounting, I rushed to set up my tripod and attach my telephoto lens.

Cognizant of the fact that I was burning valuable daylight during this little off-route foray, I soon jumped back on El Viento and began to roll out. Then, above the sagebrush, I spotted something vaguely familiar. It was a vintage Chevy truck towing a miniature Airstream trailer that seemed remarkably similar to one I had seen up in the Yukon, back in 2005.

“You don’t have time to stop and investigate,” I reminded myself, so “keep rolling towards the campground exit!”

But I just couldn’t. What if this was the same couple I spoke with four years ago as El Viento and I rolled south from
Prudhoe Bay?

“Good morning,” I called out to the grizzled character seated at the picnic table engrossed in his map. “I couldn’t help but notice your unique rig.”

Glancing up as I approached, before quickly averting his gaze to my bike, the gentleman immediately replied with a surprising question: “Is that El Viento?”

Before I could utter a response his wife called out from within their silver bean, “is that Jeremiah?”

Needle in a haystack. It was indeed the same retired couple from California, Jack and Linda, that I had met four years before, and they had been following my pan-American odyssey on my website ever since. We enjoyed our chance re-meeting before I was forced to push on.

By the time I pulled into Vernal it was lunchtime, so I filled up with gas and headed over to the local Smith’s grocery store for supplies. It was hot: 91 degrees according to the bank down the street. My peanut butter purchase began to melt as I walked across the sun-baked parking lot to rejoin El Viento.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had company. Not far from where I started packing up my provisions sat a red, sun-faded Dodge mini-van. In it, climbing all over the front seats, were two, beautiful little girls, obviously sisters, around four or five years old.

They seemed fascinated with me and my bike, and weren’t about to let me get away without offering them some attention in return. Then it occurred to me: what were two little girls doing out here all by themselves? Aside from having no one to look after them, the extreme Utah heat bearing down on their closed car had to be pushing the inside temperature to well over 100 degrees! They were sweating profusely, but I saw no available drinks.

Furious at the reckless abandon of their guardian, I ran back into the grocery store to tell the manager. I hoped he would make an announcement over the store intercom, that their parents were there shopping and not somewhere else, and that they would quickly make their way back out to the children.

peanut butter

No such luck. The only employee I could find in my haste to locate an authority and return to the scene was a pimply-faced 19-year-old. His only response was, “I better find someone older.” I had no cell phone to call 911, so with that I rushed back out to stand guard over the girls until someone showed up.

A full 35 minutes from the time I first discovered them alone, a woman calmly strolled across the parking lot towards the minivan with her shopping cart brimming with groceries. She had to be their mother.

I tried to compose myself and be diplomatic, but that didn’t go so well. As she opened the rear door to place her groceries inside, I lit into her...

“Mam, do you have any idea the danger you just subjected your girls to? You must
never leave them alone like that again, regardless of the circumstance. They’re much too young. It’s blazing hot out here and even hotter inside your car. They could die of heat exhaustion, choke on the seatbelts, crush each other in the electric windows, wander off into traffic, or even be abducted!”

She bowed her head and cringed as she swallowed her medicine. Without ever looking me in the eye, she pleaded with me to forgive her mistake and guaranteed it would never happen again. I helped her load her groceries and walked away.

Sometimes ships just pass in the night. Other times they go bump.

Had the moon not been full, had I not slept in, had I been able to resist that little dirt road and the antelope, had I not run into Jack and Linda or have needed lunch supplies--I would not have been in the parking lot at Smith's on that particular day at that particular time.

Maybe the girls would have been fine, this time, with or without my intervention. But tell that to the women who have lost a child to a senseless tragedy. The mothers who cry themselves to sleep every night wishing someone, anyone, would have stepped up in the moments before their own disaster struck.

I waved goodbye to Curly-Locks and her sister as I departed for points south, hoping my two little friends live long, happy, healthy lives--under a watchful eye.


On average, in the USA, 38 children under the age of 15 die from heatstroke each year after being left in a car, according to the National Safety Council.

Children's body temperatures rise much more quickly than adults, and they can begin to suffer heatstroke when their temperature reaches 104 degrees. A body temperature of 107 degrees can be fatal, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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