The first time we got stuck out there, you could probably forgive. The second time? Not so much.
Out there is Northern Nevada. Washed out, flung out, far out. Out so far that satellites don’t even pass over. We were there, me and the Jack Mormon brothers, for chukar. Or probably more correctly, for our dogs. Is there any reason to drive 14 hours from home to run around in some of the remotest country in the states, get your vehicle stuck for days, and end up getting stuck again . . . if not the dog? Come to think of it, there probably are, but those reasons are not the subject of this tale.
The first sticking came as we set up camp–a wall tent for cooking and a couple of sleeping tents. Two diesel trucks and an old Ford Bronco. Six bird dogs–four labs and two setters. Two cases of beer per person. A woodstove for the walltent. Firewood for the stove. A handful of cigars for the apre hunt. We got camp set up well enough, then I decided to move my old ’92 Dodge and the frozen earth I’d parked on dropped out from beneath me like Grandma’s Angelfood cake. We tried to pull it out with the other truck and sank that one too. Then we spent the entire day and half the next digging. We had radio coverage, so we dug and listened to the first game of the first round of the NFL playoffs, then we listened to the next game and the next. Gained a foot. Sank a foot and a half. The diesels were too heavy for the old Bronco to pull out. We put all of our firewood under the truck tires and not in the woodstove. We dug some more. I crawled under the guts of my truck and dug with a hand trowel. Got the Bronco stuck. Unstuck it. Broke a Hi-Lift jack. Got into the beer. Broke a tow strap. Went to the wall tent for more beer. Climbed out of the wall tent and retrieved muddy wedges of firewood from beneath the truck, light a fire, ate elk burgers and went to bed.
The next morning, we were at it again, digging. Broke another tow strap. Gained two feet. Listened to another NFL playoff game. Sank the trucks deeper. Then, anticlimatically, were out. Out.
Went hunting, one brother one direction, the other the other, me another following a wash of pent up dog-dom wound tighter than an eight day clock after 14 hours in the truck and 36 waiting for their human partners at the campsite mud bog. Six chukars later, I staggered back to the truck and found the Jack Mormons also with limits. We’d taken out our revenge on the birds. Reverse karma. It usually goes another way.
The morning hung low and gray and depressing, threatening more rain. We hadn’t seen a soul in three days. Not even an airplane. Rain would mean more mud. We piled into the Bronco, three guns, three dogs, three beers each for the post hunt.
The chukar were at the far end of the valley, up on a torn up patch of real estate, rock and mountain mahogany and sage and cheat grass piled up like tossed laundry. Between us and them were two stream crossings. In other weather, the crossings were arroyos. In this weather, streams. The first went well enough, the Bronco grinding and spraying water in brown sheets and then we were across. The second was less honest–an eroded bank and a cold stream of mud water and a sharp drop of more than two feet to the water, and the run out was not pretty either–another sharp bank that the Bronco would have to climb and then up onto the two-track and onto the chukar ground.
There was little discussion before the trouble started and if you talk to enough accident survivors, this is a common mantra–all of a sudden, without discussion, you are screwed. And we were. The drop to the stream lurched us forward in our seats and then the water pushed us hard left, downstream and the throttle roared and we washed out into the stream and farther downstream and then water came up over the running boards on the upstream side and we were indeed, screwed, blued and tattooed. We bailed. Dogs out. Guns out. Packs? Out. We scrambled to empty the old truck and the water washed it farther downstream. For a minute there, like a herd of elk taking rifle shots from an unknown location, we milled. Then the moment was gone and we were going, frantically pulling gear and tools, wading knee deep in strong current, balls puckered. Damn. Really? Did we just do this? My friend’s face was the color of piss porcelain.
“I’ll start walking.”
There wasn’t much to discuss. It was mid-morning and camp was eight miles away.
I ran for a while, then slowed. Hunting boots. Ike jogged beside me in that loose-jointed, toe-dragging gait of his and I walked fast then broke into a run for a while. I’d been running to train for the chukar hills and it felt good after a day and a half of crawling beneath the pickup and only a half day of hiking. So I did this for a while, thinking now and again, of our predicament.
We had two good pickup trucks back at camp, but there was that first crossing of the stream. No jack. A tow strap that had been broken and retied and was now about six feet long. A broken shovel.
I ran again. Then speed walked. Ran. Walked. Ran. Walked. Ike wondered where the hell the chukars were. Ran some more. Ike jogged.
I heard it before I saw it, an engine somewhere, so far off it sounded like an airplane and I looked skyward and saw nothing except gray bile. Walked some more. It got louder and then, it came around the corner like some sort of yellow metal dinosaur–a backhoe. We were well and truly stuck and here came the one thing that could really make a difference–a backhoe. The operator slowed and opened the cab and asked with the heck I was doing out there and I told him and he said climb aboard. And so I wrapped my right arm around a strut on the outside of the cab and Ike jogged alongside, going back the other way.
The Jack Mormons welcomed me like a snowbound wagon train cheering Jeremiah Johnson to the rescue. I hopped off and slapped skin and the operator–who was traveling to his mine site in the desert and just had happened to come that way that morning–extended the arm of that big hoe and tied a tow strap to the Bronco and half lifted, half pulled it out of the water. We fired it up and water and gravel shot out the tailpipe but it ran and we backed up away from the stream and damn near kissed the ground. We promised a bottle to the operator and then looked at each other and shook our heads and, without consultation, waded out into the stream and forded it, to the knees, then thighs. There were chukar to hunt, by God.
There are no photos. You are just going to have to believe me.