I thought I smelled a little bit of spring in the air today when I left work. That's only a guess, because it had to fight its way through the cloud of cigarette smoke that was, as usual, blowing past the door to the rear parking lot. I am thinking I should take up smoking, at least at work, since they seem to get about 15 minutes of every hour off. It was the usual crowd, even including the woman I call the choo-choo train. When it's warmer outside, she does this hilarious, arm-pumping power-walk around the building, smoking the whole time. I think she figures one offsets the other. Anyway, I digress.
The smell of the almost-spring in the air reminded me of a backpacking trip I took with a buddy of mine one early April to a place called Pine Orchard. This is in the southern adirondacks, and it's named that because there's a large stand of old growth pine trees that date back to 1815. These are probably the biggest, fattest trees anywhere in NY state, and it would take 3 or 4 people linking hands to surround one. The place reminds me a bit of something you would see in Rivendell -- on the right sunny, spring day, it can seem enchanted.
I had just purchased a brand new pickup truck, and we loaded the packs in the back and headed out early one friday afternoon. We figured we'd have just enough time to get there, hike in, and set up camp before it got dark. You have to park pretty far away, since this parcel of the forest preserve is surrounded by privately owned land, and there's really not a trailhead, per se. So we drive in as far as we can which is probably about 2 miles past the last house on the road.
When we reach the private property and the beginning of the easement that leads to the trail, there is nowhere to park. The road is narrow, and there is very little shoulder, certainly not enough to pull the truck over on -- we would be covering half the road. We talk it over, and decide that maybe the best thing to do would be to drive back to that house we passed, and see if we could park in his driveway, or off to the side of his property, and then hike in.
I begin to turn the truck around, and in the middle of my K turn, I can feel that something isn't right. We are listing like a battleship that took a torpedo low in the starboard side. My truck was new, but unfortunately, it wasn't 4 wheel drive. I stick my head out the window and I can see that what looked like solid ground was actually pretty close to grass-covered quicksand, and we were already mid-hubcap. I put the truck back in reverse, and looking out the window to make sure I don't hit any trees, I give it some gas, trying to rock us free.
I instantly get a faceful of mud. The rear tires have worked themselves deeper into the thick, soupy muck, and the entire truck is now buried up to the running boards. I do my best to wipe the mud off my face, and we get out to assess the situation. Both of us sink down to mid-calf, and slog the few steps to the road, trying not to lose our boots to the suction.
We come up with this plan. My hiking buddy, a pretty big dude and strong as an ox, will get behind the truck and push, and I will attempt to drive us back on solid ground. I climb back in the cab, and he slogs around behind the truck.
It's early spring in the Adirondacks, and not much above 35 degrees, so this mud, and the truck are very cold. He puts his hands under the bumper, and I can see his face just above the bed gate. He rocks us, and on three I give it the gas, and I see his head disappear from the rear view, like a scene from Jaws. Yoink! He's gone.
I get out of the truck and run back to see what happened, forgetting that the truck is still in gear. The rear tire is spinning slowly, and is covered with a rich, light brown slurry. The thing looked indistinguishable from a pottery wheel, except that it was vertical instead of horizontal.
When I gunned the engine, he lifted. Unfortunately, the truck was heavier than he was, and this effort resulted in only one thing. The force of his lifting shoved him down and backwards, which meant that his feet had at first simply sunk further, but then had gone out from under him in the muck. He had ended up on his hands and knees, pretty much buried up to his thighs. He got up -- unhurt, but now entirely covered in wet, cold mud.
OK, this was clearly getting us nowhere horizontally, but seemed to be making the situation much worse from a vertical perspective. The running boards were now completely submerged. My brand new truck was sinking before my eyes, and I only drove it twice.
We decide we have to walk back to the house, and see if we can call a tow truck. I turn the engine off, lock the doors (hey, it was a new truck, ok?) and we start walking. Two miles later, we're standing in front of an old farmhouse, covered in mud, and we knock on the door. We can hear some shuffling movements inside, but it's taking a really long time for someone to answer.
Finally, the door opens, and there's an old, bent over farmer standing there. He looks us up and down and says, "Y'aller stuck, ain't cha?" We answer that yes, we are indeed stuck. We ask to use his phone.
"Ain't got one." he says. A pause. "Whereabouts n' how bad?" he asks. 2 miles up the road, and pretty damn bad, we tell him.
"Where was ya off to anyways?" he inquires. Pine Orchard, we say.
"E'yuh." he grunts. "Y'all wanna stay away from Pine Orchud this time'a year."
We agree, that yes, that probably would have been best.
Then he says something puzzling.
He says, "I can pull ya out. Let me go get muh tank." My friend and I glance at each other, thinking to ourselves that the guy is probably insane, reliving some WWII adventure in his mind. On the other hand, we are really, really stuck, he doesn't have a phone, and it's about a 15 mile walk to the next nearest house. Besides, up here anything is possible. We rationalize that a tank might be very useful vehicle indeed in a place like this. A decommisioned Sherman, perhaps? An old Pershing? Even a surplus Panzer would do the trick, we thought.
"That would be great," we say, informing him that we would be much obliged if he would fetch his tank and thus prevent my truck from becoming one with the earth.
Without a word, he turns back into the house, and slams the door in our faces.
We are unsure as to the correct course of action. Should we knock on the door and replay the entire scene again, like some sort of back-country Groundhog Day? What if he completely snaps and answers the door with a loaded M-1, a flack jacket and no pants?
Should we just consider it a waste of 15 minutes and start hiking toward town? We had decided to do just that when the door opened again.
He came out on the stoop with his coat on, holding a small object the size of a thermos with a plastic tube coming out of it. The tube ran up to a small, clear breathing apparatus.
An oxygen tank. Ah. In retrospect, a lot more likely than a 100 ton military vehicle.
All three of us walked over to the barn, and he indicated that we should open the barn door. Inside was the biggest, rustiest, highest Ford F-150 you've ever seen in your life. The tires on this thing were up to my armpits. We all climb in the truck, I'm in the middle, holding the tank, my friend is on the end. Right about then I realize that the old guy smells really, really bad -- like old pee, cigarettes and dirt, and I'm wishing I had a tank of my own. I motion for my friend to crack the window, and I try to take shallow breaths. I figure a few minutes of holding my breath is worth getting unstuck.
He starts the truck up, and it clearly has no muffler at all. If you've never heard an uncorked big block through the non-existent floor boards of a pickup truck, IT IS THIS FUCKING LOUD. Conversation is instantly reduced to lip reading and hand signals.
We barrel down the rutted road at about 45 mph, bouncing our heads off the roof, and we're there in no time, although we are almost completely deaf. He pulls a tow strap out of the back, and ties one end to his trailer hitch. He gives me the other end, and I climb down in the mud and hook the strap to the frame of my tiny, puny, completely pussified miniature S-10 chevy. I signal him that I am ready, and I back away. He guns the monster Ford, and the air explodes once more.
Over the sound of the engine we hear a giant sucking sound and my truck leaps sideways out of the mud. It looked exactly like some giant, invisible hand just reached down and grabbed a Tonka toy from a mud puddle.
We thank him, and ask if we can park on his property and hike in. He graciously agrees, and we jump in my truck and follow Frank the tank back to his house. My buddy and I pool our cash, and come up with 25 bucks between us. We offer it to him for helping us out. He nods, and curtly accepts. He knows he earned it, and so do we. We paid 25 bucks to avoid a 15 mile walk and a 65 dollar tow charge. That still sounds like a deal to me.
We did finally make the hike in and have a beautiful couple of spring days. We got to see the stand of trees, and we had an excellent trip, not including the truck thing.
With any luck, Spring is almost here.
Y'all wanna stay away from Pine Orchud this time'a year.
I'm just sayin.