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8 Lessons I Learned While Stranded In The Desert On Our Summer Road Trip

The Universe is One Sneaky BISH.

Part 1: The Breakdown.

The majesty of the Arizona mountains is mesmerizing for a passenger cruising down I-10 at 75 miles per hour. As we whipped by the ranges of clay colored crags and cliffs, my mind couldn’t help but wander to the days of wagon travel and the wild west. The pastel palettes of nature’s paints were familiar: I knew I had seen these dreamy depictions of the desert before in works of art, vintage postcards, and vivid images on the internet.

We had set out on our journey home to San Antonio, TX from Lost Angeles, CA at 4am (PST). Alternating drivers throughout, we calculated an estimated time of arrival back into our home driveway by 1:00am (CST). It was 12:45pm, and we had just stopped to fill our gas tank. We were about 80 miles past Tuscon, AZ in the middle of the desert, and only two chapters shy of finishing our audiobook. Sure enough…the Universe, in its spontaneous and unexpected way of making its presence known when it senses you need it, delivered a surprise.

My 2014 Buick Encore began its gradual ascent up the interstate’s incline, and something all of a sudden felt very wrong underneath us. With Pudge in my lap, I held him tightly and Dan and I shot the look at each other. The one that communicates, “OH. SH*T.” The one that conveys a string of thoughts of terror, expletives, fight or flight responses, and the realization that your plans of sleeping in your own bed tonight are ruined.

We were very lucky to be near an exit. We immediately pulled off to the side of a winding dirt road into an alcove. After examining the car, googling potential issues (a serious Force was on our side because we just happened to be stranded in a wilderness pocket that had cell service), we called roadside assistance. The nearest mechanic was over 20 miles away, and we needed a tow to get us there. After waiting over an hour for help to arrive — which could have been far worse because we were in the middle of nowhere — we were able to sit inside of the car with the AC running (again, this Force…not sure what we would have done if the car wasn’t able to turn on. Pudge would have definitely passed out from heat stroke). With some time to kill, we decided to finish our audiobook.

Here are the personal / couples development audiobooks we listened to on our road trips this summer that we highly recommend:

Part 2: Willcox, Arizona…Am I in #SchittsCreek?

When you’re stranded with your spouse, there is no better time to reevaluate and revisit life goals. If you can look at setbacks and unexpected detours with a sense of humor and a greater understanding of the fact that you’re probably being sent some sort of mystical signal from the Universe about a lesson you need to learn, these experiences and adventures can carry a lot of meaning when analyzed.

Quite literally, there we were: Dan, Pudge, and me. Sitting in my broken down car on a desert road in the middle of Arizona, 12 hours from home. That was enough of a situation to have us questioning life decisions…but if you layer a metaphor onto reality, this situation made a lot of sense. We have been stranded in the middle of a difficult life situation for a year now that happened because of something we couldn’t control. It has pushed us into discomfort, caused delay toward our goals and given us an overwhelming sense of dread that we are in the middle of this challenge alone. But, the only way to pull ourselves out of this desolate isolation (and drive ourselves back to San Antonio) was to come up with a plan and work together. Somehow, we managed to come to this realization right before the tow truck arrived.

A Virginia native turned Arizona transplant, the tow truck driver was lovely in the small town kind of way. He seemed rough around the edges, yet he was warm in conversation and appeared to live in gratitude and amazement for the desert beauty that constantly surrounded him. He beamed about his children and grandchildren, and nicknamed Pudge “Fluffy.” (I told him he should see him without a summer cut.) After 30 minutes in the truck, we arrived at the nearest mechanic garage we could find open on a Saturday in Willcox, Arizona: Buddyz. We pulled in and were greeted by the toughest looking men I may have ever seen. Weathered, worn and stoic, these guys seemed all business and they were looking at me with Pudge in my arms as if I had just walked up to their establishment like this:


(On the outside I may have been wearing ratty athletic clothes, but on the inside, Pudge is always the peacock to my Titus.)

After a general engine diagnostic test, “Buddy” delivered the news that since it was Saturday, we wouldn’t really be able to be helped until Monday because he needed to order parts. Which means we may not actually get out of the middle of nowhere until Tuesday.





WELP…there we were. Up a creek without a paddle (with all of our suitcases and food). Reality was sinking in that the Willcox Holiday Inn was looking mighty lux compared to the alternative local accommodation options. And THEN, Buddy offered to lend us a car so that we could get 80 miles to Tuscon to stay the night(s). WHAT?! Seriously, underneath their burly intimidating exteriors, these guys had big hearts. We were shocked by the gesture and incredibly grateful. We loaded the little loaner Ford Focus with an embarrassing amount of personal belongings and zoomed away to Tuscon. We booked a room on Priceline and pulled in to the hotel to set up base camp for the next few days. The place we stayed was spacious, but the circa-1996 nostalgia was palpable. It’s okay though…we were in a city and we weren’t complaining.

Part 3: Tuscon has Oat Milk! And much more.

Pudge made it through the night without doing anything embarrassing. We had no choice but to bring him everywhere with us, and he was a total champ. After waking up on our first morning in Tuscon, I checked the trusty GRAM for local hot spots. Dan needed to work on writing marching band drill and I needed to be caffeinated, so we went to Presta Coffee Roasters. Much to my pleasant surprise, this place was the perfect vibe. It had drool-worthy modern architecture with desert decor (the mugs!), and they served their own delicious roasted coffee. I had just tried oat milk in Los Angeles on our trip and I loved it, but I figured it was one of those new “LA” trendy things I wouldn’t find for another few years anywhere else. I was shocked when the barista in Tuscon listed it off as one of their dairy substitution options (I realize how #millennial I sound right now, but whatever).


I then chit-chatted with the barista, who gave me a personally curated list of things to do while we were there. He suggested historic architectural sites, art museums, bars and restaurants, and more. I all of a sudden found myself excited to explore the town of Tuscon with Dan and Pudge, all thanks to a local guy who had great enthusiasm for the things that were happening in his city (I can totally relate, because I’m that person in San Antonio). While at the coffee shop, I posted this photo on Instagram:


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My 3 year old @buickusa broke down in between Tuscon and El Paso yesterday (?). Luckily, everything was safe and best case scenario and we were able to get back to Tuscon to stay- we are stranded here until Tuesday when the repair can be finished. I can’t wait to tell the full story on the blog…it’s a good one. In the meantime, we found @prestacoffee thanks to IG and I’m in my little version of desert heaven. ?These mugs…I need. Also, the architecture and the oat milk lattes ? Barista gave me a list of things to see and do here. Let’s see what lemonade we can squeeze out of the unexpected finale of our Morrison summer vacation! #tuscon #stranded #pudgehasbeenachamp

A post shared by Ellie Morrison (@eleanoramorrison) on

20 minutes later, while still in the coffee shop, I was picking up a phone call from the owner of the Buick dealership in San Antonio (Confidence is Cavender, y’all. We’re living proof.) What on EARTH were the odds of the owner of the San Antonio Buick dealership being in Montana in a meeting with the owner of the Tuscon Buick dealership that very day? No idea. BUT IT HAPPENED. What came after this were all of the logistical details that I’ll spare you.

Long story short, by the time all was said and done, we had our car back with its repairs complete by Monday afternoon. While living through the unexpected finale of our Morrison summer vacation, we were very aware of the fact that the Universe more than likely stranded us because we needed to figure some things out. And guess what? We did. And we’re already taking action toward our new goals, together.

Part 4: Life Lessons

Here’s what I learned from this whole experience:

  1. Marriage doesn’t work unless you work together. This isn’t easy, no matter how much you love each other. You have to be on the same page as you approach life’s challenges, otherwise you’re never going to get out of the desert.
  2. Everything happens for a reason. I already believed this, but I am amazed on a daily basis by how often the Universe makes this known.
  3. Exploring a new place without a plan and with an open heart can be far more fulfilling than itinerary-ing your way through a fancy vacation.
  4. Nature is freaking incredible. Take more time to appreciate it, even if you’re not outdoorsy.
  5. Attitude is everything. It literally is the difference between life happening to you and life happening for you. So work towards always choosing positivity and love over negativity and fear.
  6. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Another saying we’ve all heard, but boy did Buddy and his mechanics wow me with their kindness.
  7. Many people (like our tow truck driver) choose simplicity in life, and they seem much happier for it. Find ways to simplify your day to day and relieve as many controllable pressures as possible.
  8. If you want to change your outcomes, you must change your habits. We all know what this means, we just don’t want to do what it means. But we can’t hide from the Universe. (More lifestyle content to come regarding this discovery.)

I’ll never forget the unexpected time we spent in the Arizona desert as a little family unit. It was simple, it was real and it reminded me what areas of my life I needed to put back into perspective.

Thank you Bobby and everyone at Cavender Buick / Buick Roadside Assistance that came to our aid while we were stranded! Thank you also to the Buick dealership in Tuscon who repaired our car under warranty: the service was incredible and we made it back to San Antonio safely because of you!

View Comments (10)
  • Loved this post. I’ve driven the SA to LA route a couple of times and it is gorgeous though it can be tedious.
    Some of the best adventures in life happen when the unexpected occurs. You just have to be open to finding the best in your given situation.
    Thank you for sharing this adventure and the lessons learned. (Loved the graphics too!)

    • Thank you so much for reading! You are right about finding beauty in the unexpected. Glad you loved the graphics! -Ellie

  • I like the the view you took with all this situation, I always try to do the best of whatever situation I am in..
    great life lessons, got me thinking , reviewing my own life . Glad everything turned out well!!

  • Things happen for a reason, apparently I was supposed to read this post for a reason. I sit in London planning on making a huge move to the USA next year and wondering if i’m doing the right thing. Turns out I needed to read ‘If you want to change your outcomes, you must change your habits. We all know what this means, we just don’t want to do what it means. But we can’t hide from the Universe’. It’s time to change my habits so i can achieve my wanted outcomes, time to simplify and move forward! Thanks for sharing this, I found it really inspiring!

    • Hi Franc, thank you so much for reading and for the kind words! It’s so true…big change doesn’t happen unless we commit to the small daily shifts! Wishing you all the best with your pending move across the pond 🙂 -Ellie

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