|Our cat, Buffy, inspecting the Piñon Christmas tree at 5100 Margo Drive.|
Those first three years of marriage were turbulent, more so than the usual early marriage adjustments. Our first Christmas in 1980 came right on the heels of losing our daughter a mere twenty-four hours after her full-term birth. I won’t go into the details of those troubling first years, but I will say that the past thirty-three years (I’m writing this blog in January 2013) have deadened the pain and the Lord has blessed us with five grown boys and a brand new daughter. In what are supposed to be the "honeymoon years" I was aware that Denise & I were dealing with the grief of loss much differently. We were in our mid-twenties, not much life experience but with our whole adult lives ahead of us. My grief was more for my wife’s loss; Melissa was in heaven and we would see her again and that was sufficient for me. And although I understood her grief had to be different if no other reason than she carried our angel inside her for nine-plus months, I still exhibited youthful impatience with what I felt was protracted grief on her part. I suppose in those early years of marriage I used my fishing trips as a salve for my own pain, not from losing Melissa but from being unable to fix what was broken in my wife’s life. Thanks goes to God for our perseverance through those early years.
|Verity, Shawntel, and Denise enjoying the warm December sun at the Wilderness Camp.|
|The Vincents and Tibertis enjoying the post-tree picnic celebration.|
|FisherDad working the Wilderness Camp section of Beaver Dam Creek.|
|FisherDad casting the fly against the right-side boulders.|
The Internet didn't exist then, and weather forecasts rarely reported on obscure cities like Caliente and Panaca, both of which served as gateways into the state park. Driving north on U.S. 93 from Pahranagat to Caliente I noted a light snow sticking to the desert floor. A storm had passed through the night before, but the sun was shining on the highway and the snow on the asphalt had melted quickly. I admit that I noticed the bank of clouds to the east, but I had not connected the dots that without bright sunlight on the 30-mile dirt road that headed east into the state park it was quite possible that conditions would be very slippery. I must have thought enough about it that I let some air out of my tires when I pulled off the pavement onto the snow-packed gravel road. I had read instructional books about four-wheeling that suggested reducing air pressure in your tires could help improve traction under certain conditions, and I must have assessed the situation enough to determine this was one of them. I believe I dropped the pressure down closer to twenty pounds than I should have.
|FisherDad changing flies, alas to no avail.|
As I reached a section of the road that I knew would gently angle to the left, I failed to take into account all the physics involved in the situation. You see there was a slight rise, sort of a little hill, that preceded the gentle turn. As I traveled over that hill at 35 mph the “lift” was enough to break loose the tenuous traction my rear end was maintaining. Having already eased the front wheels into the left-hand bend my whole rear end began to slide around to the right side of the road. As usually happens in these sort of crisis situations, your mind slows everything down so what took three seconds to actually occur appeared more like thirty seconds. It was one frighteningly surreal slow motion accident. As the truck continued its 180 degree pirouette on the snow, the momentum of the rear end swinging around slid the truck into the left hand berm of the road. Obviously, the physics of the rear end swinging around in a counter-clockwise motion was stronger than the vector the tuck was heading at the top of the little rise in the road; by all accounts I would have thought I would end up in the ditch on the right side. Two other interesting things happened once the truck side-swiped the left side berm (remember that at the point of impact I was facing backwards after spinning around 180 degrees). One was that the truck gently tipped onto its passenger side, so gently that nothing broke. The passenger side door and quarter panels got dented and the passenger door mirror collapsed, but there was no broken glass. Once everything stopped moving, there I was still sitting in the driver’s seat, held up in the air by the seat belt and parallel to the ground, looking back towards the little hill with all the piñon and juniper trees growing sideways from right to left. The other interesting physics lesson was that low pressure tires do not hold the bead very well when slammed up against a berm. I didn’t discover that one until after I unfastened the seat belt and climbed out the window.
Luckily another Christmas tree hunter happened by, and using my tow rope we were able to pull my truck back onto all fours. Glad to be alive and that the truck wasn’t too badly damaged, I set upon the task of changing the right front tire with the spare. That’s when I learned my next lesson: always check the air pressure of your spare tire when traveling in the back country (good advice before trips of all kind). I didn’t get more than a couple hundred feet when the under inflated spare tire came off its bead as well. That was when I knew for certain that I was not going to fish Beaver Dam Creek that day.
Undaunted, I hiked into the woods, cut the three trees as I promised, dragged each back to the truck and hoisted them into the bed, and then waited for another friendly tree hunter to pass by. I didn’t have to wain too long. I was able to put my original tire in the back of a friendly family truck and hitch a ride back into Caliente. Once there I was able to get the tire remounted at the gas station for $5, but getting someone to drive me back to my truck took $50 (at twenty to 25 mph that amounted to a two-hour round trip for the gas station attendant). A few hours before sunset I was dropped off at my truck whereupon I changed my second tire of the day, in the snow. As soon as I made my way back into Caliente I stopped at the gas station and inflated all my tires to their proper level, including the spare.
|My post-accident Toyota with its flat right/front spare tire.|
|The youthful married couple braving the cold to harvest Christmas trees.|