By Pete Giordano
I headed out that morning determined not to run out of daylight while hiking the creek, which had happened to me in the past. The days were short, so I got up early and made good time up into the mountains.
Everything went according to plan, at least at first.
I successfully negotiated the maze of logging roads and found my pre-planned point of entry the first time, which limited the amount of frustrating and pointless bushwhacking I had to do. After awhile I arrived down at the creekbed and started hiking downstream, taking note of potential rapids and danger spots as I went. This kind of thing is an inexact science; what appears to be an awesome rapid with no water is often nondescript once the water comes, and sometimes the stuff you dismissed as insignificant can really surprise you.
I hiked about three miles downstream and discovered that the creek had great whitewater potential, so I hiked a mile or so upstream and found more good stuff.
Well, at this point I was feeling pretty satisfied. We now had another four miles of high-potential creeking to explore this winter, and I had daylight to spare. I hiked back down the creek and climbed up to the road, arriving back at my truck as the last of the light faded away.
Mission Accomplished! I thought as I dug my keys out.
Then I saw that my right-rear tire was completely flat.
No problem, I thought. I bet I can change it before it gets completely dark and be out of here in no time, but first I had to have my celebratory beer, which also doubled for Breakfast and Lunch on this particular day.
After Breakfast and Lunch I dug out my toolset to change the tire, but I couldn't seem to find that darned lug wrench. Suddenly I remembered that I had been using the wrench to change a tire on my utility trailer, and I had forgotten to put it back in my truck.
Not for the last time that day, I muttered some colorful expletives as I evaluated my options, which seemed pretty limited at that point..
Let's see, I was 30 miles from the nearest habitation, and it was now fully dark. It was also getting very cold, and I was totally unprepared for a night out in the elements. I had no food, (I had just drank the last of my survival rations) no water, no warm clothing, nothing.
I had seen something resembling a hunting camp five miles up (and near the top of) the mountain, but I wasn't sure there was anyone there, and the prospect of climbing all the way up there for a pile of beer cans and some black plastic didn't appeal to me very much, and besides, it was probably colder up there anyway. That was option one. After tossing that out, I went for option two, which didn't seem much better.
I'd drive out.
Now, driving on a flat tire is bad for a number of reasons, but there was something I forgot to mention: I was down deep in a canyon, and the gravel road out was so steep I wasn't even sure I could get up it easily with four good tires, never mind trying it with a flat. ( I had creek fever when I came down the road, so I wasn't really thinking about how I was going to get back up until now..) To make matters worse, my truck is rear-wheel drive, and the flat was (of course) on the back tire.
Well, I fired up the truck and started creeping up the hill, thinking that if I went really slow the tire would be ok. Well, I made it about a quarter mile until it got really steep and then the tires started spinning and I ground to a halt. I wasn't even halfway up, and I wasn't going to make it.
Well, so much for the creeping method. I slipped it into reverse and backed down the hill, and this time I just gritted my teeth and stomped on it.
I must've been going about 35 miles per hour when I hit the base of the hill, and I kept er' to the floor the whole way up. The flat tire was making an awful racket, kind of like four rabid bears rolling around in the back, but I couldn't stop now. I made it to the top of the hill, and got out to check the tire.
Well, surprisingly it was Ok, not even lacerated yet. So, I got back in and headed down the road, cranking up the radio to drown out the bear-sounds...
Approximately thirty miles of gravel roads later the noise changed from bears to a screeching, you-just-ran-over-my-foot sound and I stopped to check the tire.
Sure enough, the tire started to come off the rim, and now it was metal on gravel. At this point I was pretty sure I was near civilization, so I started walking. After a half mile or so I saw lights, and I arrived at the first house. There was a car in the driveway and lights on in the windows, so I figured I was in luck. I knocked on the door, but no one answered.
Maybe the TV was on. I knocked louder, which seemed to work, because I heard a jingling sound.
I turned slowly, like in a B-rated horror flick, and saw a large, muscular pit bull, standing twenty feet away, whining... Why was it whining? Was it because it was scared (umm, probably not..) or because it always whines before it kills something (more likely, unfortunately for me..) either way, not for the last time that day, I thought:
Thinking fast, I assumed a passive stance, hunching my shoulders and looking down, so I wouldn't seem like a challenge as I edged away...
It worked. Back on the road, I breathed a sigh of relief, and I headed up to a second house, which I could just see through the woods. Of course, once I got within smelling distance another dog, some kind of annoying Collie-thing, erupted out of the brush, barking and snapping at me like I was the devil himself.. Of course, no one appeared at the door, and then I had one of those weird twilight-zone moments..
A car appeared out of the darkness, and they pulled up to the house right in front of me. I was right there, maybe 25 yards away, and I called out to the people as they went into the house, but they didn't look right or left, and the door closed, and that damned dog was still barking and I couldn't go up to the door and I had accomplished exactly nothing.
So I went back to the first house. At least that dog was quieter..
I eased back into the Pit Bull zone and there it was. It had come down from the house to see what all the noise was about, and now I was transfixed by those yellow eyes again. I felt at this point I was taking my life into my hands, but I didn't really feel like I had a choice so I assumed my passive stance and eased up to the door, but still no one answered it. Suddenly I realized that The Pit Bull was Very Close, it had followed me up to the house, and it was whining again, and I was suddenly very nervous, especially about the killing part that was sure to come after the whining.
Can dogs really smell fear? I don't know, but when I hit the road I started to jog and something made me look over my shoulder and I saw that that dog ripping across the yard after me with his mouth hanging open and I ran like I have never run in my life.. After a quarter mile or so at a full sprint I felt like my heart was going to explode but I had so much adrenaline going I ran all the way back to my truck, where I found myself at square one, except now I was tired, really tired, and starting to get a little pissed off.
Well, I was tired of playing with dogs so I started up my truck and drove to the Collie-thing house and I pulled into the driveway, where I laid on my horn until I saw faces at the window, and then the owners piled of the house, which turned out to be three very helpful Mexican guys. One of them really got into it, crawling under my truck to unlatch my spare with a crowbar (because of course I had forgotten the tool to release my tire, too, so I couldn't get my tire off until this guy figured it out..) and when I tried to use my jack and it immediately broke they just blew it off and got one of theirs...
After we were done I was so grateful I thanked them repeatedly and offered them money for their time but they just laughed and said, "No, we don't want your money; we're Mexican, we help people who are in trouble, that's the way we are, keep your money..." so I shook their hands and flew into the nearest town, ravenously hungry, to a Safeway where I ate a huge pile of questionable chinese food that may have been chicken at some point, I'm still not sure about that part...
The tire, post-mortem..