A friend of mine bought her first pickup this past summer. She was sure excited, to say the least, about that foreign two-wheel-drive pickup, because, as she said, she has always wanted one of those critters in the hopes of expanding her outdoor horizons.
But I received an email this week in which she lamented that on her very first trip off-highway, she got good and stuck. So stuck, in fact, that she had to hike out a couple of miles to a house and call for a tow truck, then hike back and wait.
I asked for more details for this column but they were not forthcoming in time for my deadline. I do know that she didn't have a lick of emergency equipment with her, even though I had warned her to do so when she had bought the pickup.
I returned her note with a congratulatory "Way to go!" because she had just had her very first "truck experience" and that was as it should be. After all, what good is owning a truck if you don't take it into the boondocks once in a while?
Her incident brought to mind my own first "truck experience" and it was very similar to my friend's.
My first pickup was a foreign, two-wheel-drive compact truck, with a spunky four-cylinder engine, just like hers. It was a 1970 Datsun and the gearing seemed perfect for off-highway adventure. I allowed that I could go anywhere in it. Ignorance is truly bliss, ya know.
I drove alone to the California high desert and took off on a lonesome two-track that meandered along a brushy ridge for miles before it took me down into a deep, steep canyon.
Trucking across the bottom, I proceeded up the other side of the canyon, when my wheels started spinning and I could go no farther. I was on a stretch of hard rock with a sheen of slippery sand covering the rock.
I merely backed on down to the bottom, turned about, and headed back up the way I came-only to discover that it, too, was hard rock and slippery sand. You guessed it: I was stopped again.
Of course, just like my friend, I had no emergency equipment along and I began to sweat a mite. I sweated a whole lot more as I loaded half the bed full of rocks and boulders in order to give me traction-giving weight.
When I nudged the gas, that little pickup walked right on out of there with no effort whatsoever. I was not only relieved, but a bit smug too; I figured I could really go anywhere now! And so, I took the first side-track and headed down a power-line until it ended at a steep cliff.
Backing around, I started back the way I came, and shortly hit a pocket of very soft and deep sand. I promptly buried my rear wheels, what with all of the weight back there.
Now what to do? Each effort of gas pedal only sank the wheels further. It was near panic-city time!
Fortunately I remembered reading that if stuck in sand or snow, you should let half the air out of the rear tires (for 2WD) and that will widen the tire tread and thus give the tire more traction. I did just that and it worked!
Not feeling very smug any more, but very relieved, I got the heck out of there and went home!
I learned a thing or two that day and it has stuck (pun intended) with me. First off, I bought a short entrenching shovel that still rides with me. I also bought some new aggressively lugged, oversized snow tires for the rear and a set of tire chains. I never was stuck in that little truck ever again.
Then in 1985 I bought a new Ford four-wheel-drive pickup, and I still have it; you know it as "Ol' White." With it I've been stuck in just about every medium known to earth, and I've learned a whole lot more with each experience.
I'd like to pass along some of the rudimentary truths to you.
First off, no matter what your outdoor pursuit or what kind of vehicle you drive, the potential is always there for you too to get stuck somewhere, some way, be it in snow, mud or sand. (I remember a fella who got stuck on slippery leaves, had to leave his truck, and died hiking out for help).
You really need to carry basic equipment at all times. As I said, a short shovel is a must. Make sure you have a jack that works and you know how to use it. Carry along a piece of 6x12 board to set the jack on so it doesn't sink into the muck.
For under 35 bucks you can buy a two-ton come-along winch that will pull you out of a mess. Figure out how to use it before you put it away into your vehicle! Along with that, buy a nylon tow strap that can be used to wrap around a tree or the base of a bear-grass bunch; you attach the winch hook to the strap.
A folding saw is a must too, so that you can cut branches to lay under the tires after you jack them up. Also lay branches in a path in front of the tires. All of this will give you needed traction over the slippery stuff.
With these few, basic tools, you can get out of just about every situation, short of a breakdown. Just be patient, use your head, be prepared to sweat a little and do some hard work and, oh yeah, plan to get dirty!
That's it. I hope your first "truck experience" will become as fond a memory as mine has.
Keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless your adventures too.
Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors monthly for Desert Exposure.