For a couple months now, I’ve been trying to forget this story. But….in the interest of the greater good, I’ll attempt to conjure up what memory remains and hope that someone can learn from this experience.
Twas a mid-summer afternoon, a Tuesday I believe, and my friend Nick had suggested we take a half day away from work to enjoy the empty trails. I gladly obliged.
We arrived to the trailhead around 2:00 pm, ready for a nice, calm, enjoyable ride. Is there a sarcasm text? Considering it was mid-week, we were a small group. One grossly underpowered, zip-tied together Arctic Cat Wildcat piloted by the one known as Nick, and one finely tuned piece of off-road perfection that is my Can-Am Maverick. Just to clarify, talking smack about each other’s rides is probably a larger part of the sport than actually driving for Nick and I. We also had two other mostly innocent passengers along for the ride. If they become important later in the story we’ll give them names then.
And off we go, me in the lead as usual. Nick is in the back, complaining about something I’m sure, probably peddling his SxS like Fred Flintstone on his way to the bowling alley, but the ride is going well so far. There is no traffic on the trails, and a rain the day before is keeping the dust down and the corners tight. The Maverick’s clutching is on point…BAM! 8000 rpm. I love life.
And then……it happens.
What always happens. Every. Fricken. Time.
Nick is stopping in the trail. I die a little on the inside, but hold on to the hope that his giant beard just got in his eyes or something. Please, not another wheel bearing, not another belt, not another oil leak, please…. And then, there it is…… Just a flat tire! Maybe we can deal with this.
And then another miracle……Nick explains that this has happened many times before…..”that tire goes flat all the time”, he says. He’s got a 12v air pump with him! I can’t believe it, but it makes perfect sense I suppose. I mean, why would you go through the wildly strenuous activity of breaking down a bead and cleaning/re-sealing a tire when you can just carry around an air pump wherever you go? I need that sarcasm text again.
He breaks the air pump out. I quickly estimate it’s value between $1.50 and $3.25, but, it appears to work. 2 minutes pass. 3 minutes. 5. This tire is not moving, time for a closer look. Ahh, there it is. A gash the size of…………………..something large. This tire is done. Up the trail we see a spearhead shaped rock protruding from the earth. Mystery solved.
That’s alright. We’re used to these situations. In fact, just the week before we were jokingly summarizing the number of times Nick’s equipment had lead to shortened rides. The number was 19.
So, a quick look at the GPS reveals that we are roughly 15 miles by trail away from the trailhead. Further than we want to drive anything on a totally flat tire. Not a problem. We limp the Cat a short distance to the nearest access point with a truck. Our two innocent passengers will stand guard, and Nick and I will head back for the vehicles. Shouldn’t be a problem….. We’ve got the Maverick, and all we have to do is just get back. Just get back. Just. Get. Back….
Nick and I strap into the Maverick. We pull the 5-points tight. I know the most important thing is to just make it back to the trailers. But this is my chance, my chance to prove how superior my 101 Rotax horsepower are. So I channel my inner Robbie Gordan, my inner BJ Baldwin, my inner Ivan Stewart. Shit, I’m channeling them all. It’s go time.
We tear through the trails…..a thing of beauty. Smooth, yet violent. Aggressive, yet in control. How is someone not paying me to do this? I’ll be discovered one day. Anyways…….we’re about 10 miles into our journey when we come across the whoop section. And I mean THE whoop section. We’re not talking chatter bumps here. We’re talking about a half mile of man-eating, dream-crushing, widow-making, freaking mountains…. That’s it, I’m slowing down.
Ugh…..here it comes, I see it coming, Maverick suspension jokes. Nick seizes his opportunity to point out his additional 4” of suspension travel and how he wouldn’t be slowing down here. I wonder to myself how much slower his Cat could go anyways, but keep it to myself. You wanna go fast big boy? Ok, here we go…. belt temp gauge be damned.
I plant the throttle, because I know we have to stay on top. Any loss in speed here is sure to result in death. We hit the first of them. It’s as bad as I imagined. Everything is a blur. My eyeballs literally quit working.
We’re not slowing down.
I hear Nick laughing. It’s that funny bone laugh, when that’s the only thing you can do when it hurts so bad.
He used to be 6’ 4”. He’s 6’ 2” now.
I see what resembles a stop sign coming, we’re halfway through. Somehow I manage to bring us to a stop without doing an endo. We’ve done it. Half of it anyways…….we can just cruise from here.
But I know we’re both too stubborn to admit defeat this easily. Here we go again. Full throttle as soon as possible…we need speed. The belt temp gauge is reading “whatever”. What does that even mean? I don’t know, no time to worry, only 5 miles from the truck.
We’re mid-way through the second set now. We’re actually going to survive this. Then……
I think North Korea has attacked? Or did something just break the speed of sound above our heads?
Nay. That was my belt.
What once was one, is now one thousand.
I coast the Maverick to the side of the trail, and it sets in immediately. I. am. an. idiot. All we had to do: Just. get. back…….ugh.
We are 5 miles from the truck. FIVE MILES. I ran a 5K once. It was terrible, and I know that MILES are definitely longer than K’s. Of course we can’t get a phone call out.
I guess we’re walking……
We discuss the possibility of hitch-hiking as we begin our journey, but who are we kidding? I haven’t shaved in a week. Nick hasn’t shaved in two years and is 6’ 4 eeer 6’ 2” tall. We’re both dirty and generally unfriendly looking. I’m still wearing my driving gloves trying to pretend I’m BJ Baldwin. We’re not getting picked up…..
And then the the third miracle of the day occurs.
Well, maybe the first, since the other two didn’t really pan out. But the point here is that what is about to happen is a fricken miracle.
This WONDERFUL woman pulls her Dodge Caravan to the side of the road ahead of us (it’s beige, of course it’s beige), and waits for us to walk up. I approach slowly, assuming this can’t be a normal person. But not true! She is very friendly, and apparently smart enough to have seen the stranded Maverick (luckily visible from the road) and determine that we are just a couple idiots and not really dangerous.
We jump in the van and off we go, ecstatic to be expediting our walk.
The normal small talk ensues…..we explain our situation, she explains that she is a local campaign manager for Ben Carson 2016, and gives us her pitch. Hmm, unexpected, but okay. We’re going the right direction, and now she’s playing us her new Celtic music CD. It’s actually quite soothing.
We’re coming into town now, so I begin to clarify the location of our vehicles. Then she says it…..”oh, I’ll take you back to your trucks, but not right now”.
Thankfully, she finishes her sentence before too many scenarios run through my mind…..”We’ve got to go pick up the kids from school, you don’t mind do you?”
Is this lady for real?
Of course we don’t mind, but you are going to take two perfect strangers to your children’s school to pick them up???
Yep, that’s exactly what she did.
So here we are, rolling into this elementary school in a beige Caravan with a woman we just met, to pick up her two kids. We sit there for a few minutes, not getting too many odd looks, I guess this is cool.
You can tell she’s getting impatient at this point, they should have been out by now. And then…..she’s gone. Off on a mission more important than us two fools, she leaves us to go find her kids.
I thought this whole situation was a little strange before, and now I’m sure of it….. We sit in a town we’re not from, in a beige minivan we’d never drive and owned by a woman we don’t know, at an elementary school where we have no business, with the keys still in the ignition……..alone…….listening to Celtic music.
What is going on?? How did we get here??? Did we just get framed by Chris Hansen????
We actually begin to ponder whether we had crashed in the woods and were taking part in some joint after-life experience.
Nope. A few short minutes later, she returns, kids in tow. I see the youngest boy jump up in the van through the rear view mirror, and I try to mitigate the obviously awkward situation by being overly friendly…..”Hey dude! How ya doin?” Then I turn around and I see the pink backpack. Ugh….she’s a girl. Damnit…. She’s cool about it though. We’re all cool. Please take me to my truck now.
So finally we arrive, back to the trailhead. Of course the woman is too nice to accept any money, so we thank her greatly and part ways. I take a second to appreciate the fact that there are truly good people left in the world, but there isn’t much time to waste, our friends back at the Wildcat surely think we’ve been eaten by wolves at this point.
We hit the road and head for the 3-legged Arctic Cat. We’ll pass the Maverick on the way but I don’t want to take the time to pick it up yet, I just want to get back to the guys we left stranded. I see the Maverick in the distance. I see police cars. I guess we’re stopping now…..
I pull to the side of the road, window down, and as I’m shutting my truck off I can barely hear my name called out. I haven’t made eye contact yet (that part is important). So I jump out of the truck and simultaneously reply with a “Yes sir!”. Then I look up. She’s a woman. Son of a b!&%. Did that just happen again? Yes it did.
The encounter goes fairly smoothly from there. We exchange pleasantries and I explain what happened, which they already know because the very nice lady from before had stopped on her way back through to tell them the whole story. Of course she would do that.
And it’s at this point where the tale starts to wind down. We’re able to retrieve both SxSs and our passengers hadn’t started eating each other yet. We all get a great laugh about the whole thing, and head for the nearest pizza shop.
So……that was a long story just to tell you not to beat the hell out of your only running machine when it’s the only thing you have to get you out of the woods. But not really, you should all know that anyways. The real point here was to tell the story about how a potential disaster of a day was swiftly turned to the better by a simple act of kindness. I wish I could tell that woman and her kids thank you one more time, but at least I can remind everyone who reads this to help out your fellow human when you get the chance.
And watch out for rocks too.