Thursday, February 09, 2006

Stuck in the Mud

Today was an interesting day. All went smoothly up until the end. I heard from a co-worker that they too thought there would be some kind of a mishap. Indeed there was.
We leave the site sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 pm. I had some time to kill so I was on a short hike up the bluff. The snow is pretty hard-packed right now, so the uphill walk is pretty sure-footed and easy to stick the tip of your boot into and take a step. The climb is pretty steep and it doesn't take long to get out of breath. I climbed for about 10 minutes, straight up, and on turning around realized that it doesn't take long at all to gain elevation.
While catching my breath I heard a somewhat discomforting sound. The rumble of a Sub not going anywhere. A Sub is neither a sandwhich nor a below water-level floatation device (in this case). It is a Chevrolet Suburban (today it was New Old White, a 1984 model, white with blue pinstripes, and jacked-up a little so that the basebooards are about mid-thigh - I'm 5'10"). The rumble of the engine travels pretty well in the desert, especially when other noises are Eagles, Coyotes and Jack Rabbits.
Even to the untrained ear there is a distinctive rumble-whir-sloosh that goes with a large rubber wheel rapidly rotating in a slice of sticky desert mud. Looking toward where the noise was coming from I saw our vehicle moving stationary up the road. I had a wonderful view of it. If I held a ruler up at arms-length it wouldn't have measured no more than 8mm. I recall thinking to myself (and anyone else that was listening) - 'that's an odd place to park...oh well...perhaps Midnight Ember is just running over to Slanty Camp to drop something off, and parking there in the meantime'. I then saw the door open and she stepped out. I kept going up the bluff. The noise previously described incubated and gradually caught up with the image and thoughts I had just had. Not a moment later my mobile rang. It was Midnight Ember, the Sub was stuck. Would I be able to assist? Well of-course. After all this was my (and 6 others) ride back to town, about 90 miles away. The sun was steadily setting (as per usual) and I soon found out that the Spirit Chaser (the Head Field Instructor) was not in the field with the other Sub. Hmmm, I began, this could take a while.
A fifteen or so minute walk later and I was looking at the problem. The left rear wheel was floating in water, surrounded by goowey mud. A couple folks where already there doing some proactive problem-solving. It started by cutting small sage bushes and shoving them in the hole in hopes of gaining some traction. No go. As soon as we got that left rear somewhat grabbing, the front right would start to dig and sink. Another ten or so minutes later we had 8 orange-wearing teenagers tugging on a rope tied to the front tow hook. No go. Another ten or so minutes later we each had grabbed an arm-full of split wood and tried to rail-road-tie the tires. Less of a go. With each attempt we were just digging the Sub deeper and deeper, until the under-carrage of the vehicle was just inches away from the mud. Lion requested all the staff together for a huddle. The decision was to stop now before we just dig ourselves deeper. The Spirit Chaser was about an hour and a half to two hours out. We'd wait.
I went for another walk. The Sun had gone behind the bluff and it was getting a little chilly quite quickly. Medicine Heart and I walked out further into the desert to where the Sun did still shine. An hour or so later we landed ourselves back at the Sub. She stayed while I went to a near-by camp to see what they were up to. I had time to spend. After chatting with kids and Staff at the camp I felt it was time to return. There was a fimiliar rumble of a Sub in the distance, struggling up and down and through mud pools. It was the Spirit Chaser.
I'm always amaized by how long it takes to travel horizontal distances, especially in the sage desert. You can see for a long way, but takes a way long time to travel from there to here. I walked back to our Sub, and arrived while the "rescue" Sub (Old Blue, a Suburban made in about 1979) was a couple minutes away. He approached.
Instead of stopping and saying Hi, How are Ya? He whipped on past us, stopped, and, speedily, hasily, and somewhat wrecklessly backed up to within 10 feet of New Old White, promptly digging his left rear tire almost as deep into the mud as ours was originally. The four of us that were standing outside our vehicle couldn't believe our eyes...and with a glance at another told the Spirit Chaser to get back in his Sub and step on it. He did as the four of us now adrenalin-pumped-desirees pushed like tomorrow was not an option. We pushed the Sub for a good 40 feet. The tire track left in the mud from that left rear tire was knee deep at best.
After a short discussion he repositioned the Old Blue in a more appropriate place, and hooked a yellow tow strap between the vehicles. I climbed in the New Old White and everyone else climbed in the Old Old Blue to weight it down as much as possible. Old Blue reversed a little then he gunned the bejeepers out of it. As it fish-tailed down the muddy road I stomped on the gas (in first gear, and 4 Low) as the nose of my Sub figuratively lifted up and hopped out of its grooves and on to the muddy road it should have been on in the first place. There was much rejoicing.
After that we were left to our own devices. With barely enough twilight to get us to the tarmac we hustled off along a pretty trecherous mud and water-soaked single-track road toward Hampton - a town which consists of the Hampton store. Nothing else. No houses. Nothing. Nice quirky people who make decent road-diner food. Spirits were high and bellies being filled, as per usual, on the Sub-ride home.

1 comment:

blacksmith star said...

reading this alarmed me in a down to earth way. if you knew me you'd know how vehicles are animals that I have herded. I'll share what I have found in coaxing stuck wheels. you might even guess that I like old machines and tend to go slow and still have my mishaps.

What concerns me, friend, is having people around gas powered energy. That drivers may be a little reckless and not communicating can be dangerous. It can be nigh impossible to avoid other's habits. So lets concentrate on some mud dynamics and perhaps some organizational guides in operation and equipment.

Train drivers to recognize mud, learn to apply momentum and stay out of ruts. The more you fight mud, the worse stuck it will get.

Group dynamics can be its own study, but get it out in your group to go slow as a Quaker. (think of the slow Quakers you may know) Stranded in the evening might need going slow at times, and certainly don't get the machines flying around.

A high lift jack, blocking, a come-along hand winch will help a couple of people to get out eco friendly.

Finally, (birdshot in the face reaction), tow straps are missiles when used the way described. What happens is one end comes loose or breaks the hook and now you have a missile flying coming straight at the people in vehicles. Google that, there are statistics on how many people get killed doing this.

Perhaps find the entrepid local mudder truck people. They will be more than happy to look at your tow straps, vehicle hooks, and give you pointers on getting out.