Today I thought I would share a humorous story about the late-night escapades of a car loaded with Utah State University students venturing down to see the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Sanpete, Utah. Brad Hales, Mark Morris, Emily Sarà, Seth Warburton, and I made the trip in my 1998 Toyota Camry in what I believe was the spring of 2004.
The story starts with the rather unexciting drive from Logan, Utah to Manti. We took the normal route off I-15 at Nephi to drive to Manti. We conveniently located a parking spot only blocks away because we were plenty early. We met our friends who drove down separately and staked out our territory with quilts on the grassy green expanse you can see in the photo above. It is on that very same hill that the Mormon Miracle Pageant takes place. Here is a nice photo I stole from the Deseret News to give some idea of the stage and what is going on.
The pageant ended and the four of us found our way to my little Camry to head out. We were told by myriad friends that if we truly wanted to get back to I-15 from Manti in a speedy fashion that we should take the old highway out of Manti to the south via Gunnison and Levan. We started to wend our way through the darkness.
We had a great, great time leaving Manti. I do not mean to knock the pageant in any way, but we were certainly making light of it. We hold no ill feelings towards the doctrines or ideas presented, but maybe it was just that year, but the whole thing came off as pretty hokey. We decided only the local drill team was allowed to be the angels on the hill with their coordinated flag signals that only someone trained in shipping would have understood. We drove the darkness really making fun and laughing ourselves silly about how poorly some parts of the pageant were done.
The conversation turned as we continued through the dark roads. We sang along with a song and the conversation turned to Levan, Juab, Utah. I do not know how true this is, but lore goes that Levan was named Levan because that is “navel” in reverse. The area was named Levan because it is the very center of the state, about where a navel would be. I do not think this is really true since I am sure the town was founded before the final boundaries of Utah were defined, but it sure made great fodder for laughing and conversation that night. (Apparently there is a Levan, Illinois too)
Well, we made our final approach into Levan with the lights of the municipality drawing closer and closer. Some of the members of the car were preparing the cameras so we could make a very quick stop and everyone could disembark for a photo with the Levan city sign. We were laughing about getting a picture with Utah’s navel and then it happened.
Do you know that feeling when you see something and suddenly you do not know quite what to do because it is coming upon you so quickly? As I drove 70 miles an hour down this road and with the blinding of the lights just as you emerge. I suddenly had a car behind me with his lights on and that was also partly blinding me. I made out the faint outline of something laying in the middle of my lane. Just as I could see that, I had a car also coming my direction so I knew I could not really just dodge whatever it was in my lane so I prepared to straddle it. I could not slam on my breaks because of the car so close behind me, the shoulder on the right, and the car approaching on the left. I could see it was too big to straddle just as I was too close and too fast to stop. I clenched my teeth, gripped hard on the steering wheel, and yelled over the conversation for everyone to hold on.
That is when we heard it. This massive animal went under the car and we heard and felt him rolling under the car and at one point a serious thump right under the feet of the people in the back seat. The sickening smell of scalded hair filled the car. Cries rang out, “What was that?” I watched for the car behind to dodge whatever it was I hit but he didn’t even flinch. The individuals in the back of my car were trying to see if they could tell what we hit. I could see no sign of the roadkill in any of my mirrors (beyond the headlight glare from the car behind). I continued to let the car coast and finally started to breath realizing that massive thing went under the car and did not appear to do any damage at all. I continued to coast down the now four lane highway until I hit city limits cruising speed. I think I should point out at this point that this creature was already laying in my lane. Although because it was so large and lumped, I assume it was a fresh hit and I was just fortunate enough to be the next person to hit it.
Nobody seemed quite as chipper anymore. Nobody wanted to stop at the Levan city sign. It was just silence as we drove through town. As we left town somebody asked if it was a body we hit. I told them I did not know what we hit but that it looked like a really big dog. I thought he was a fresh kill and fortunately he rolled right under the car without relatively little incident. The way he was clumped up in the road though, I was sure the car would jump or he would be lodged there. The rolling of the thing under the car was clear so no need to get out and take a look underneath. The others in the car were sure that I killed the dog. Then more silence; dead silence.
After another 10 or 15 minutes or so with just the faint strains of the radio in the background, conversation started to pick up again. We named the poor beast “Navel” after Levan. I did not know what he was, but we were laughing again and having fun conversation again.
We climbed on I-15 and started heading north at full freeway speeds. I seem to remember that Seth was sitting behind me and he commented on the fact that cars driving by us were looking at us. Sure enough, we could not figure out why in the world everybody was looking at us. It surely could not be some coordinated effort to stare us down. It became a game of sorts to make faces back at the people as they drove by. This elicited some hilarious expressions back at us. One lady looked at us in complete and total disgust. I was the one driving and could see expressions of the individuals.
Finally after probably 20 minutes of this, a car pulled beside us on the freeway and rolled down his window and motioned for me to do the same. He then yelled, “Hey, you’re dragging a coyote!” In that split second to conjure and give a response, I yelled back, “It’s okay, we picked him up in Levan!” The total disgust in his face was quickly manifest and they sped off. All the occupants of my car erupted into laughter at my complete nonsense reply. Even now I realize how disconnected it must have sounded motoring down the freeway at 80 miles per hour. It took me a minute or two to realize what I just said and even I was laughing so hard I was in tears.
Then the thought came, “Now what?” I am not going to just pull to the side of the freeway in the middle of the dark. We all decided we would get off at the next exit and see what damage was done. We had just passed the Nephi exit, so we had at least another 10-20 miles to go before the next exit. In that meantime driving down the freeway, let me assure you we thoroughly enjoyed those who passed us by. I deliberately slowed down a little bit to maybe not cause as much damage to Navel.
Here is the question; how do you via some form of charades inform those in other cars that you know you have a coyote dragging behind you? A thumb up and a big smile just never gets the impression across the 3-4 feet to the passenger in the other vehicle. They would insist on pointing to the rear portion of the car. We just smiled bigger and give them two thumbs up. Of course, we were laughing so hard I don’t know how we stayed on the road. Every person trying to convey the message must have thought we were a group of sick, psycho individuals who could only laugh. They must have assumed we did not know, which means they tried all the harder. As we attempted to confirm we knew, we would all break down in heavier laughter. I cannot tell you how hilarious this was!
The Santaquin exit fortunately arrived and we left the interstate. Navel was probably pretty excited about the ending of his trip. We pulled to the end of the off-ramp and into the gravel of the road. We all piled out to see our first view of Navel. This is what we saw!
I know this will be a bit gruesome for some of the viewers out there. I need to describe this a bit more to you though. This dog is half worn away by this point! I think you can tell that half of his head is also ground away. If you click on the picture and get closer, you can see tiny chunks of hamburger all over the back of my car (Which we did not discover until the next morning because it was so dark. The picture is only lit from the camera flash). I cannot tell you the smell that was present, but my expression and covering my nose should give you some hint. It was flat-out disgusting. Also, I point out to you that Navel’s leg was jammed between the body of the car and part of my undercarriage right in the middle of the car near the axle. That means Navel is at this point stretched out probably 5 feet in length from the axle to the end of his leg you can see in the picture. He was mangled, stretched, and partly disintegrated.
Now the issue became, how to get him out from under the car? We tried backing up hoping he would become unattached. We tried poking at him with a tire iron. Brad even had the idea to stand on him when I drove off, but we then became afraid of Navel coming apart. You know how you should avoid injured dogs? None of us really wanted to lay down next this stinky dog, slide under the car in the dark, and try to get him unattached. What options are left? We decided to drive to a gas station for assistance.
We hopped back on I-15 and began another episode of being stared down by every car passing us. It was not quite as funny anymore. Levity did finally arrive as we would deliberately not look at the cars trying to get our attention and then we would break down laughing to the horror of those trying to inform of us our dire situation. The 10 miles or so to the next exit with a gas station went exceedingly slow.
Now we were parked on the sanitary and clean concrete of the Payson Maverik. We all stood around the car again trying to figure out what we were going to do. At least now we had sufficient lighting to really tell what was going on. We stood around talking and figuring a plan of attack. Emily and Seth figured out they would not have to do the dirty deed so they went in the store and returned passing out donuts! Emily remembers that I made some comment like, “What do you think this is, some sort of Relief Society meeting?” The comments from individuals as they came up to our circle and realized what we were all standing around looking at, WHILE eating donuts. I remember one lady was very disgusted.
I tried climbing under the car but it was so low to the ground that I could not reach the spot where Navel had his leg lodged. Nobody wanted to have to get out a jack so we could climb under the car. I walked into the Maverik and asked for ideas or thoughts. The attendant suggested I go grab a rod for turning valves down in the ground (about 3 feet long with a “T” at the top) and try using it to get him dislodged. We poked and prodded at him for a while. The broken leg and all the tissue just wasn’t helping me pull out his leg. I cannot emphasize how terribly disgusting of a sight that Navel was. This is roadkill that we had to deal with in an intimate fashion.
Finally our hero arrived with a couple of rednecks in a red Dodge minivan. The dad walked up and asked us what the problem was. Upon seeing Navel and then looking at my Missouri license plate he asked, “You from Mississippi?” I responded, “No, Missouri” and he walked back to his minivan and his son quickly appeared with a plastic bag in his hand. That little 7 or 8 year old climbed under my car without any fear and with his plastic covered hand pulled Navel’s limb out of its wedged location. (I warned him of the hot exhaust which he still hit with his little arm!) The kid then and went and hopped back in the little van (and did not go inside to wash!).
I walked in and told the attendant I wanted to buy that red minivan’s fuel. He let me do it. The man was appreciative, and so was I!
Now, what to do with the remains of Navel? The Maverik attendant suggested we just throw him in the dumpster at the side of the building. No small task for a bag of bones that must have still weighed 50 pounds. Nobody wanted to touch him so we used the valve rod to pick him up and walked him to the dumpster. We could not get the rod up over the top of that dumpster without Navel sliding down the rod. It clearly was not working. I finally had to reach out and touch Navel to hold him in place and keep him from sliding down the rod while Seth and I put him in the dumpster.
We returned the bloody rod to its location and later, unfortunate user. We both washed our hands multiple times in the bathroom before heading to the attendant to let him know we were leaving. He gave us both a Mt. Dew for the road! We thanked him and headed on our way. We arrived in Logan, Utah about 1:00 or so in the morning and all collapsed into our beds. But whenever I hear of Manti, Levan, or the Mormon Miracle Pageant; I now think of Navel the dog from Levan. May he forgive me for dragging him over 40 miles! May he forgive us for the endless laughs that night and many since then at his expense. I feel bad about his owners who wondered where their dog ran off to, I guess at least they did not see his terrible state.