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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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A couple of weeks ago I noticed that a mountain—Buffalo Ridge for the curious—across the street from my subdivision had a dirt road girding it that I had never noticed before because you have to really be studying the mountains contours to spot it. Of course, that stuck in my craw and gnawed at my consciousness as a new place that begged—no, commanded—to be explored.

Today we had to turn in our rental GMC Envoy with four-wheel drive so I thought that yesterday was my chance to do some offroading with a vehicle that I didn’t particularly care about. I guess I forgot to mention that we got rear-ended by a big ol’ van a few weeks ago and that the Durango has been in Progressive’s care since then.

My first task was to find a way to get to the dirt road since it didn’t have a discernible entrance. It was interesting because I had explored the entrance area before without noticing the dirt road that continued off to the left. Driving on it was bumpy due to the large rocks, but it wasn’t anything that my Durango couldn’t have done in its 2WD glory. There was a section where I had to really push on the gas to get up a particularly steep grade—an omen of difficulties to come.

My trouble started when I realized that the road—a one-lane affair hugging the mountain—probably continued to the summit and was getting increasingly steep. The thought of coming to an impasse without the means of turning around troubled me considerably, as did the thought of having to retread steep ground in reverse. I came to a wide spot in the road and decided that I’d had enough and wanted out of this business.

It was at the time that I got perpindicular to the road that I realized that I was in over my head. Facing down the side of a very rocky mountain at about a 10° angle with the back wheels spinning fruitlessly, I concluded that my situation was dire and began a frantic rundown of my options. I decided that my best bet was to try and get out of the precarious orientation the Envoy was in. After alternately driving and reversing, I managed to get parallel to the road before I got completely stuck in the soft dirt. Nothing I tried could dislodge me from my excellent view of our subdivision, perched halfway up a mountain ten feet from the road that would let me descend.

So I was stuck and the Envoy was now at the 10%deg; angle with the driver-side tires practically touching the top of the wheel well and the passenger-side tires stretching out the shocks. I had no idea what I was doing and, furthermore, I had no idea how to get myself out. How could a tow truck get to where I was and manage to tow the vehicle out? I saw some workers at the base of the mountain and briefly toyed with getting them to help me, but I figured that they probably wouldn’t be interested in climbing several hundred feet up a 45° grade to help a moron in an SUV.

I called my wife to apprise her of my predicament after a vigorous internal argument about the necessity of such a move. Here’s another vital piece of information about my situation: I was ostensibly running to the post office down the street to drop off our income taxes. This little side trip was unplanned and thus not on my itinerary. Sandi, bless her heart, took it all in stride though I swear I could hear her eyes rolling over the phone. She, too, had no idea how I could extract myself but I remembered that my co-worker and friend was a 4x4 enthusiast.

Luckily, he knew exactly how 4WD worked and what I would need to do to get out. After describing my orientation and environment as quickly and thoroughly as I could, he told me to put it in something called “4 LO” and push on the gas firmly but gently. He said that I should gradually be able to feel some traction and that, by keeping at it, I could make it back to the road. With him as a virtual co-pilot, I was able to get back to the road and descend. I took it really slow because I had had enough excitement for a lifetime.

The moral of the story: I will not be doing any offroading unless he’s in the vehicle with me. I don’t have the patience or composure to calmly do 4x4 activities and I’m okay with that. I will definitely return to that road, but I’ll be doing it with a bicycle, quad, or on foot—something that I can push out of any trouble with my own power.

[UPDATE (4/17/04): Made some minor typographical corrections.]