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Jul 11, 2021

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

My birthday is sacred to me and also happens to be a national holiday – the Fourth of July.  I’d planned a trip to California to be with family on The Day. My brother generously invited me to celebrate at a neighborhood restaurant near him. Perfect! I would party with people I love. But, shortly after extending the invitation he called to say that local venue would be closed on the 4th, and could we move it to Friday, the 2nd? No problem.

My daughter, Laura, and I had planned to explore Joshua Tree starting on the 2nd, so moved our rental to the 3rd– 5th. Being with my youngest on my birthday would be a thrill since she lives in LA, and I rarely see her. Before I arrived at LAX, Laura called with news. Her husband ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing tennis and needed surgery—on the 2nd. He’d need her nearby while he healed.

After concerted efforts to curate the perfect arrangement for ushering in my next year of life, it was clear that I would go to the Mojave Desert solo. What once would have panicked me—being alone on my birthday– instead felt serene. I arranged a car rental and headed east by myself. “Be careful!” my daughter warned in a role reversal. “Don’t hike alone, and bring plenty of water.” Temps in the west were particularly high, hitting 116° the week before my trip.

One of the recommended sites I chose to explore was Giant Rock. It’s located about 3 miles from Integratron, another spot on my list. I plugged it into my GPS and headed towards this geological wonder. The road turned from pavement to sand. It began to get bumpy. “I shouldn’t be doing this,” an inner voice whispered. My google maps showed that I was about 2 miles from the destination. I had the AC on and plenty of water, although the outside temp was 99 degrees. “This probably isn’t a good idea,” my intuition echoed getting louder.

There’s a fine line between being an adventurer and being stupid. I wasn’t sure where I was on that continuum that afternoon, but the risk-taker continued to press the accelerator. Four-wheel drive would have made a difference, or riding in a dune buggy. With only a mile to go, I thought, I’ve come this far. It’s on the map. It must be ok. Driving 5 miles an hour, I got to the destination, which as promised, was a giant rock. Disappointingly, it was covered with graffiti. I chose to not even get out of the car. Plus, the small crowd nearby consisted mostly of beer drinking dune buggy-ers. I headed back.

But the tracks were hard to see. It’s a desert, not a ride at Disneyland. There were no street signs or arrows. Just sand, cacti and brush. I was clutching the steering wheel, taking in the scenery, and inching along. When I glanced at my phone’s map there was no route visible, just an arrow floating on a blank surface.

I didn’t panic, but my heart was racing. There were no cars around. I didn’t know where I was or which way to go. I have no sense of direction, but I did note that there was a mountain range to my right, and if I stayed on this side of it, I must be heading away from Giant Rock and toward Integratron.

After what felt like an eternity, I spotted tire tracks in the sand and began to follow them. My GPS eventually picked up a signal, and I reached the paved road.

It’s complicated to unpack the thoughts and feelings of this experience. Mostly, I felt shame. That I might be found unconscious, or worse, having made a questionable decision. I did think, Laura would not have allowed this if she’d been with me, so a touch of guilt was in the mix.

But I also thought, what an extraordinary adventure! To be lost in the desert and to find my way out. I’d made the decision to take a chance on exploring unknown territory and gotten lost. With a map to get me started and an unseen guiding hand to help me out, I emerged with a story to tell and a newfound sense of my connection to a power greater than myself. My level of trust increased, and my ability to be vulnerable and find my way grew exponentially.

Sounds a lot like entrepreneurship. Oh, and life.







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  1. Ran Tryggvadottir

    Wonderful – you are a role model

    • Jane Pollak

      @Ran Thank you!

  2. Barbara Hogan

    *sigh of relief*
    What an adventure! You describe the tension superbly. I know the feelings well myself – the encouraging self talk that is so easily replaced by criticism. In the end, it’s up to us to choose the language that describes our experience. I admire your gift (or well-practiced habit) of selecting language that affirms growth, learning, faith and wisdom.

    • Jane Pollak

      @Barbara I find that by sharing my experiences, and having them affirmed, I change. Thanks for the affirmation that you are a witness to that.

  3. Elizabeth Cates

    Great story and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! The most upsetting part about the story was the graffiti on the rock; thoughtless humans.

    • Jane Pollak

      @Elizabeth Thank you for the birthday wishes! I completely agree with you about the graffiti. Deeply sad and disappointing – to have so little respect for a national treasure.

  4. Barbaara Garelick

    Happy belated birthday! Once a writer, always a writer, so beautifully written, your feelings well defined, the imagery and descriptive brought me there with you, and your success, once again achieved. Go Jane!

    • Jane Pollak

      @Barbara Thank you! What a wonderful compliment!


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