Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stuck In The Mud

I know this post is too long, so feel free to skim if that’s your thing.

Last Saturday evening didn’t turn out the way I had planned.

I was planning to drive out to a little cemetery about 40 miles from my house to do some more research for a family member who’s into genealogy. Like I did here. In fact, this cemetery is pretty close to the one I went to in May, and I wanted to go back there too to take some photos of the bison herd that is across the road from it.

The cemetery I was heading to is very small and is located along a small country road. As I noticed that many of the county roads I was seeing were dirt or gravel, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I wouldn’t be able to drive down them because we’ve been deluged by rain for the last month. However, when I got to my turn-off, the road looked to be fairly hard-packed gravel, and although bumpy it was easily drivable. I took a right turn at a T in the road, and the gravel continued up to a driveway on the left that led to a house about a football field-and-a-half away. Beyond the driveway the road was dirt. Only it wasn’t dirt – it was mud. Lots of mud.

I thought I would be OK if I drove with my tires out of the ruts in the road. I was wrong. The going was very rough, and my car got stuck and wouldn’t go any further. An initial bout of panic set in as I realized that I was stuck. After getting out and looking at the situation, I decided to try and see if I could drive in reverse back to the gravel road. The road wasn’t big enough to turn the car around. I got back in the car, put it in reverse, and after some hesitation the car started moving backwards. I went maybe about 20 feet back towards the gravel road when I got stuck again. My tires were spinning so fast that they started smoking. Crap.

The passenger side of the car was in a deep rut that was filled with water. The front end was lodged up against the raised spot in the middle of the road (although I didn’t know this until later). I tried to go forward and backward several times, but the car wouldn’t budge. Not good.

At this point, I still thought I could get myself out of it. “I’ll just get something under that tire to get some traction, and then I’ll just haul ass backwards out of here” I thought. Um, not so much. I put all kinds of crap in that rut – long grass from the side of the road, gravel from the good part of the road, some brick pieces that I found by the driveway to the house, my passenger-side floor mat – but nothing worked. While I was doing this, three dogs appeared from the area of the house and started making their way towards me. When they made it out to the road they gave a few half-hearted barks, but when they sensed that I wasn’t a threat they came over to me.

This was a pretty motley dog crew. There was a little one that looked to be part Pekingese, a lab that was either pregnant or nursing, and a large dog that was part boxer and part something else. They appeared to be farm dogs and thus were not exactly the cleanest animals. I didn’t mind them being around, but I was hesitant to pet them because I didn’t want them jumping up and getting mud on my clothes (I still cared about staying somewhat clean at that point). Which two of them did anyway. So I mostly ignored them and eventually they got bored with my doings and they headed back home.

It’s amazing how even in the direst of auto situations a man can be hesitant to ask for help. Or maybe that’s just me? I really didn’t want to have to walk up to that house and beg for help. I think I was hoping that someone up there would see me and at least let me use their phone to call for help. Oh yeah, did I mention that I didn’t have my cell phone? After a while though I got the impression that no one was home at the house, an impression which turned out to be correct.

I actually wasn’t too far from the two lane highway that I had turned off of. In fact, when a semi went by I could see the lights on the trailer from where my car was. I was hesitant to go up there and stand by the road because I was doubtful that anyone would stop since I didn’t have a broken-down car right by the side of the road.

Since I had gotten stuck about 5:30, I knew that eventually it would be getting dark. It was this point that I began thinking that I might have to sleep in my car. At least it was relatively dry and warm in there. By the time I got done trying to dig canals in the mud with a piece of PVC pipe that I found and a screwdriver to try and channel water away from the rut, I was pretty worn out. And I had blister on my office-soft hands. And I was getting kind of dirty. I was thankful that I had brought along a bottle of water to drink.

I noticed at one point that I could hear cardinals and other birds in the trees by the road, although I was much too preoccupied to pay them any mind.

After night fell, I turned on my hazard blinkers, grabbed my flashlight, and decided to head up to the highway to see if I could get anyone to stop since it was now pretty apparent that nobody was in the nearby house. There was a hawk in the field next to the house that started issuing the freakiest screeches every so often. Good thing I like birds or I might have been freaked out. The dogs must have seen my flashlight because they came back out to the road. Eventually two of them wandered off, but the lab followed me as I went up to the highway. It was actually nice to have the company.

There were plenty of cars passing by on the highway, but none of them even thought about stopping as far as I could tell. Can’t say that I really blame them. If I saw a guy standing on the side of the road in the dark trying to wave me down with a flashlight I don’t think I would stop either. It seems way too dangerous. Although my car was relatively close to the highway, you couldn’t see it from there even with the hazard lights flashing. I didn’t stay long because the dog didn’t know enough to stay out the road, and I was terrified that it was going to get run over. I tried to shoo it home, but it wouldn’t go. So I walked back down the road towards the house.

I did some more digging under my car’s tire to see if I could somehow wedge a brick under there or something. That’s when I found out that the car’s frame was pretty much wedged up against the middle of the road. The dog stood watch for a while in front of my car. It must have picked up on my distress because occasionally it would give a whine and come over to me as if to see if I was OK. Gotta love a good dog like that.

Eventually I gave up digging again and got in the car for a little bit to ponder my next move. I have an air compressor that I carry in my trunk that has a light on the front that can serve as a hazard blinker. I thought I would carry that up to the road and maybe it could persuade someone to stop. I just wanted to use a phone to try and get in touch with the county sheriff.

After a while the dog had gone back home, so I thought it would be safe to head back up to the road. I turned on the blinker, stood in front of it so I would be silhouetted, and waved my arms when vehicles drove by. Nothing. I decided to try and see if I could find some piece of civilization somewhere where I could get access to a phone. I started walking along the side of the highway with the blinker in my hand. I hadn’t gone too terribly far when someone finally pulled over!

As it turns out, this guy had seen my car because he lived in that nearby house with his parents. I think he had come home and seen my car, and maybe went looking for me. He let me use his phone and I dialed 911 because I wasn’t sure how else to get in touch with the police. The dispatcher told me that the sheriff didn’t have any towing equipment, but she gave me the numbers of two local towing businesses. I dialed the first one and got an answering machine. I got a hold of someone at the second number, but he pretty much blew me off by telling me that the roads were too bad even for them. Sorry. I don’t have any friends who have trucks that could’ve pulled me out of there, so I really didn’t have anyone else to call. So I guess it turns out that even if I had had my phone it wouldn’t have helped much. The guy who stopped told me that his parents were gone for the day, but that they would be home about 10 (it was 9:30). I thought that sounded promising, but my hopes took somewhat of a hit when I could hear his mother tell him that she wasn’t sure they would be able to help me.

He gave me a ride back to my car, and I settled in and tried to go to sleep. I was kind of resigned to the fact that I would be sleeping out there, but at least there were people who knew I was out there. I had been listening to the radio with the seat reclined for about half an hour when I saw some lights behind me. It was the kid’s parents getting home. I saw the truck drive up to the house and I thought “Well, that was that”. But soon I saw lights again and a truck pulled up behind me. It was the kid’s father.

He agreed to try and help pull me out of there, but said that he couldn’t be responsible for any damage that might occur. I agreed and he tied a piece of rope to the hook under my rear bumper so as to try not to damage it, and then he tied the rope to a thick nylon strap which he hooked to his truck. I got in my car to drive it in reverse as he tried to pull me out. When he started pulling, there was a snap as the rope broke. He re-tied it with a stronger knot and we tried again. The rope snapped again. He said he would go get a chain and we would try that. He came back a few minutes later and said he didn’t have a chain, but he had a bigger nylon strap that he hooked directly to the hook on my car. This time it worked! He pulled my car all the way back to the road in front of his driveway. I got out and it looked like my rear bumper didn’t rip off or anything. I told him “Sir, I can’t thank you enough” (truer words were never spoken) and shook his hand. Then I got back in my car and started the drive home.

It was 10:30, and I couldn’t have been happier to know that I now had a pretty good chance of sleeping in my own bed. The car drove OK except for the fact that I could tell my front end alignment had been totally hosed. I decided that I would wait for the roads to get nice and dry before I try to go out there again.

I had my camera with me since I planned to take some photos at my original destinations. I really wish I had had the guts to take some photos of my predicament. I knew that I had my camera, but I was kinda pissed off and stubbornly refused to consider using it. In hindsight it might’ve been kind of interesting to take a few photos. This one is of a clump of mud that came off my car the next day.



Blogger m. heart said...

As I was reading this, I found myself going through the same list of options that you ended up trying — reverse! Put something under the tires! I wouldn't have wanted to go to the house and ask for help either. It's humbling to be in a situation like that. I'm glad it worked out ok eventually!

10/17/2009 9:05 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I am so relieve you made it out okay. I don't think it's a man thing that you didn't ask for help right away. I think I would have done exactly the same thing. I felt myself shivering for you as you tried to doze off before the dad came to help you. Uhhhggggg.

10/20/2009 12:29 AM  

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