Monday, June 12, 2006

Stuck in the Mud

It is safe to assume that as one progresses through life, one’s interests evolve. Some are outgrown, some hit a plateau in that they no longer hold any interest and some just fade away over time. I am not just discovering this, nor is this the first time I have dwelt on this phenomenon. I am fully aware that I can be somewhat compulsive and obsessive and that my attention can be disproportionately diverted to these pursuits. Although not always or even frequently unhealthy, these “hobbies" (for lack of a better word) do represent large amounts of time in the learning and practicing of the given art.

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore a number of areas of specialized interest. Among the more recent are: Skiing, snowboarding, weight lifting, boating, four-wheeling, computers, machining, automotive performance and bicycling, just to name a few. Some have been of a longer duration than others and some are in “cold storage;” they have not been officially retired and I intend to pick them back up when circumstances permit. Some were intentionally pursued and others came by way of happenstance. Once a particular interest has captured my attention, I’ll do what is necessary to become an expert – including further formal education if necessary.

None of that has anything to do with what follows except that it’s a dandy segue to a story that involves the confluence of two of these hobbies. Overlap was not uncommon especially if a particular season was involved. There was a time when boating and four wheeling were prominent activities of mine. Boating, in the fresh water lake and reservoir or “trailer boat” sense, predated my interest in four-wheeling and was an intended pursuit, there was not much involving chance. The four-wheel drive truck obsession sprang from the unplanned acquisition of a four-wheel drive vehicle and grew from there.

Around 1991, I bought a little 13-½ foot runabout with a Mercury 65 outboard motor. The boat was around 20 years old and the motor, built in 1967, was even older. I had owned the boat for about ten years and it was getting very close to the end of it’s life – and what an end it enjoyed. That boat was on the water almost every summer weekend - it probably ran more hours during my ownership than it’s entire previous life combined. The boat was sold for chicken feed about six years ago and my boating “phase” has been in cold storage to this day.

The four-wheeling phase sort of blind-sided me. Although somewhat muted, it is still with me today. In fact, I still own one of the trucks in the following story. It is unfortunately (or not with the price of gas) in storage. Today I drive an old (1983) Toyota SR5 4x4 everyday. It has 225,000 miles on it and still runs strong. About 1999 or there abouts, however, I was driving a 1994 Explorer and I also owned (still do) a 1980 Chevy K30 dually. The Explorer was stock, but the Chevy was (is) anything but. It’s a big, thirsty monster and I didn’t drive it very much.

I was living in Truckee, CA at the time and late one summer – the weekend after labor Day – some friends and I met at Rollins Lake near the Sierra foothills town of Colfax to do a little camping and boating. With my boys, some friends, the camping and boating gear – and the boat, I decided that it would be best to drive both trucks, towing the boat with the Chevy. The Explorer had the seating capacity and the Chevy was good for hauling gear. My buddy drove the Explorer and I drove the Chevy, of course! It was only about an hour drive and the trip there was uneventful.

At that time of the year, after the main summer tourist season is over, the lake is lowered for maintenance, runoff space for the upcoming rainy season, etc. The water was already down quite a bit by the time we set up camp. The composition of the newly exposed shore is mud. Slimy, thick, gooey, gummy mud. It’s the kind of mud that squeezes through your tows like in a Play-Doh Fun Factory. Fortunately the launch ramp went well into the lake and had plenty left to go.

I usually would just beach my boat. I wasn’t concerned about scratching the hull and it was small enough to pull the bow up onto the beach. In the mud, it wasn’t necessary to pull the bow up to beach it, but it was to release it! The mud held it tight. We didn’t really notice the water receding during the day, but by the next morning the lake had dropped at least a couple of feet – enough to leave my boat almost high and dry. This is not usually a problem, but because the mud lent no traction to push it and because it sucked the hull down so completely – we could not budge it.

Finally, after about an hour with three of us pushing, pulling, scooting, shoving and of course slipping, we finally freed her from her muddy trap. It wasn’t until later that day we were informed the water is only released at night – that’s why we didn’t notice it receding during the day. The rest of that day was spent boating, basking, tubing and barbequing. I did not make the same mistake I had the prior night – I put the boat on its trailer. The next morning, after re-launching the boat, our neighbor down the shoreline was having his own problems – not with being stuck, but with a dead battery.

I determined that the best way to help was with my monster Chevy and its dual battery setup and my industrial grade jumper cables. I would drive the truck right down to the water’s edge so that the cables would reach the stern of the boat and her battery. What about the mud? No problem – remember, this truck is a monster. It has 36 inch Super Swampers – the de facto mud tire of the time, heavy duty everything and a track record of never being stuck - never. Ok, ok - once!

That Sunday in mid September made it twice. After successfully jump starting the boat, I put the truck into reverse and hit the gas. The engine roared (did I mention that this truck is heavily modified?) and the tires spun, the mud flew and the truck didn’t move. Ok, I just have to rock it a little, ease on the gas and pull right out. Nope. I tried gunning it – nothing. All it was doing was digging a deeper and deeper hole. And the crowd started to gather, which is usually an invitation to show off, but not this time. Little did I know that the embarrassment was not yet complete.

Rather than dig myself deeper and magnify the humiliation, I thought I could save face by using my resourcefulness, showing that being prepared for just such a situation is the better part of valor. I grabbed my heavy-duty tow strap and the Explorer. With the Explorer safely 100 feet up the shore, it would find traction where the Chevy failed and pull the monster just enough to get footing of its own. With everything in place, I signaled my buddy (now in the Chevy – it took an expert to perform this maneuver!) that I would start the pull. I hit the gas, he hit the gas and…

Well, either that Chevy was stuck like the boat the day before or the mud was deceptively gooey just under the surface 100 feet up the bank – probably both. The Explorer spun its wheels and slid sideways towards the left and down hill towards the lake. Quickly determining that this was not going to work and not wanting to get the Explorer stuck as well, I decided to abort and disconnect the truck. I no longer cared about saving face. And the crowd grew; one had a video camera.

After disengaging the tow strap, I nonchalantly jumped into the Explorer to drive it up to terra firma. It had other ideas as gravity assisted the mud in pulling it along the lakeshore and ever so slightly down towards the water, No amount of coaxing would allow it to travel up and out of danger. Now I had one truck hopelessly stuck and another that was not officially, but may as well have been. I also had a crowd of onlookers numbering around 25, most of them looking very amused. My friends were in absolute hysterics. Me? I did not find it the least bit humorous.

One on-looker with an old, beat-up Ford two-wheel drive truck offered to help. The Explorer was close enough to firm ground that the tow strap would allow the Ford to pull it up. Besides, it wasn’t exactly stuck yet, it was just slipping downhill. For the Chevy, that same two-wheel drive Ford truck with the addition of a chain attached to the tow strap to lenghten it allowed it to pull the Chevy out too. As it turns out, once released from the hole I had dug and with a tiny bit of momentum, I was able to power it out creating an impressive spay of mud for about 100 feet. Ah, yes - salvation!

This all happened when the TV show “Americas Funniest Videos” was all the rage. The top prize was a significant amount of cash and I expected to not only see that video on TV, but for it to probably win. I don’t know whatever happened to that videographer or the tape. I do know that it is one of my cherished memories – the weekend I got my boat and both trucks stuck in the mud at Rollins Lake.


BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I am sure that this sounds funnier than it actually was experienced!

We (at least me) never cease to crave out adventure. At least today, my sense of adventure does not usually harm others.

Have a good week!

Anonymous said...

I think I saw that episode!!! Very funny story, Mike, but like Barbara said it probably wasn't as funny during all the pushing, pulling and mud.

I want to know how come you have so many vehicles!!!

Biker Betty said...

That was a great memory retold. As with the others, probably better as a memory then at the actual time it was happening, lol. It must have been a relief and embarrasement to have the two wheeler save the day. Makes me think of the story of Goliath in the Bible.

Once again, thanks for sharing. I enjoyed every word. Betty :)

Ellen said...

So is the old saying: "I'll be laughing about this in a couple of years" true?

Just by the way you unfolded the story, I could sense the frustration, but "funniest videos" did come to the back of my mind.

Great story!

Michael K. Althouse said...

bfc ~ It wasn't too funny, but it is hillarious today. I don't know why I just remembered it though.

ss rs ~ I don't think they were cruel, and one of them helped me out. I would be watching too, it was quite the spectacle.

barb ~ I've been a "car guy" for a long time. That means I'm also a motorcycle guy and a boat guy. Right now I have two trucks (one is that Chevy) and a Harley.

bb ~ Some day I'll tell about the other time I got the Chevy stuck. It was somewhat embarassing too.

ellen ~ It was funny the next day, but still smarted a little!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a story the character of Birdie said in the film "All About Eve", 'Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her feet' this case---YOUR feet! (lol). It's humiliating isn't it? A truck and another semi-truck, STUCK! Oy! (lol) Well, it does make a very good story!

Hope you will join me on June 27th to celebrate my Birthday on my blog....I am having a "Virtual" Birthday party, my starts at 12:01am on June 27th, (my birthday) and ends about 10am on the next day--June 28th!
It should be lots of fun! I am posting pictures from my life each day till that day---This is a BIG BIG Birthday. Take a look see and find out just how Big this birthday really is! (lol)

mckay said...

excellent story of a man and his motors.

this is why i firmly believe the best place for mud is at the Napa/Calistoga day spa.


Michael K. Althouse said...

mck ~
How hard is it to wash that stuff off my truck??

Michael K. Althouse said...

ooloth ~
Nice pictures... I'll try to be there in... 13 days!

Lee Ann said...

I have never been four wheeling before.
Sounds like you love being active in the outdoors. You must love the spring and summer.

Michael K. Althouse said...

lee ann ~ Ya, but I like hanging out at home too. I also just LOVE the winter... and the snow.


Snaggle Tooth said...

Great story from old memories. I've seen trucks n boats get stuck many a time, n got good visuals from your words. The bigger the truck, the deeper they sink!

I don't drive off-road anymore unless it's an emergency- only got 2wd on my little Chevy...

mckay said...

mike, just rinse with warm water and a soft cloth. be sure to get the nooks and crannies. your motor'll have a glossy sheen and nicely refined pores.


Christine said...

Murphy's Law at's one of those things you look back and laugh, although when the scenario is happening, it's not funny.

I've been stuck 4 the middle of then night in the swamps of Louisiana. We had a heck of trek was way before cell phones.