Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Christmas Week, Part Three

On Sunday, December 30, we headed up the road to load the back of the van with rocks for my arboretum plantings, and to provide ballast for our trip into the Christmas Bird Count circle in case of snowy roads. We found snowy roads. But others had been there before us and the first mile into the circle on Forest Service road 2283 was easily navigated. Johnny had put snow tires on the van before we ventured out.

 We turned west at the 14 road, a rather main road up in the woods, to drive to the end of our sector where a clearing would let us have a beautiful vista on this sunny, clear day. But before we had gone a mile on this road, we came to a tree completely blocking the road. A big tree. 24 inches in diameter, in fact. Johnny had brought two chainsaws, including one big enough to tackle this tree, which he did.Cleverly figuring how to cut through the log without getting his chainsaw stuck, he worked from both sides. And succeeded, only getting the saw stuck once.

Then he used the van to push the separated log section to where we could roll it, downhill, off the road. Mission successful! We drove onward.

But did not get far. No one had driven on the far side of the log except one tracked vehicle that had apparently rolled right over top of the log, but turned around shortly thereafter and went back across again. The road beyond looked like an elk superhighway. There were deer and coyote and rabbit tracts, too, but mostly elk.

Our van is not four-wheel drive and we didn't think we could make it up the 14 road hill to our destination even with chains, so we turned around and went back through the log and down to the 2283. Next we tried going north on the 2283, toward the trail to Niagara Lake. Someone else had provided tracks to follow. However, in half a mile the tracks turned around and headed back and so did we.

Next we went east on the 14 road, intending to drive all the way out to Bible Creek Road, as we had done last scouting day. Soon we had to chain up as the snow was icy and deeper, although there were quite a few tracks of no doubt 4-wheel drive rigs. In several places, we noted, even they had slipped sideways. Not a good sign.

At milepost 2.7, we met our waterloo. The van's rear end slid toward the steep dropoff on the north side of the road... and off the road. We each said a few bad words, climbed out and assessed the situation. It was grim. Having been in such situations before, I grabbed the shovel and started shoveling snow and mud away from the tires while Johnny tried to figure out what to do. His first several attempts landed us closer to tipping off the edge. Clearly, we needed help, I thought. But cell phones don't work up there. Johnny thought some more. Eventually, he rigged up a come-along to a tree on the south side of the road and attached it under the front of the vehicle. To do that he had to jack the front up, allowing it to tip frighteningly (in my opinion) toward the abyss. And I was enlisted to get *in* the van and take it out of gear, keeping the wheels from whipping the wrong direction. I sure hoped Johnny knew what he was doing.

Apparently, he did. He tightened the come-along bringing the front of the van little by little toward the center of the road until it fell off the jack. Then he replaced the jack and did it again, each time warning me when the jack was about to fall so I didn't have a nervous breakdown... or bale out the window. His system worked. Soon the front tires were on solid ground. Then he did it all again at the back of the van. This time I had to turn on the motor and use the brake to keep the wheels from going backward when he tightened the come-along, now affixed to a tree closer to the rear of the van. I kept looking at these puny alders he was using to keep us (me specifically) from going over the edge and hoping they stayed where they were.

Little by tense little, the rear of the van was pulled away from the precipice. Soon Johnny had me put it in low and drive slowly forward as he tightened the come-along to keep the tension sideways on the back of the van. And then, two hours after the saga began, we were back on the road and I could breathe again. I did not get any photos as I was too busy either shoveling or praying. I did take a photo after the fact. You cannot tell from this how far off the road we were; how tipped the van was; or how steep the precipice. It's just as well.

A few yards farther was a place to turn around, which we did, and headed back to the 2283 and home. The snow was out of the tracks on the 2283 where we stopped to take off chains and the evening sky lovely. I was so glad we were driving instead of walking the long way home.

Johnny said, "Reminds me of when I got stuck in Wyoming in the snow and ice, while working for the forest service. That time the drop off I almost went over was 200 feet down. Took me 8 hours to get out of there." I am so glad he did not tell me when we were stuck up on the 14. His was not a story to inspire confidence. But, all's well that ends well, as they say. However, I will be walking my sector on count day, not driving. Johnny just has to get me to the edge of the count circle. I've had quite enough excitement for one bird count season.

1 comment:

  1. Just in case....., I had in the van a shovel, 2 chainsaws with extra gas, 16' and 20' lengths of logging/tow chains, 2 come-a-longs, enough snow tire chains for 6 wheels, and a handyman jack. Just about used it all before we got out! Have since added another couple logging chains and come-a-longs before we head up there next.