Named more for the pun than the primary class of road explored, I started dreaming about a West Texas escape when I heard that my position may be on the chopping block. Big Bend has been great times with great people on several occasions, and is a great expanse for a recharge. We also did New Year’s Eve 2018 out that way, so maybe bookending this year with return out west would feel like a peaceful closure.
I recently discovered the “Texas Epic Adventure Trail,” a ~2,500 mile route prioritizing overland, unpaved, and scenic highway routes from Guadalupe Mountains National Park to Paris, swinging down into Big Bend, across the Pecos River basin, and up the Central Texas Hill Country. The whole thing would take longer than I had, but I could make some of this work.
My last workday was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Family Thanksgiving on Thursday was at my folks’ house. And on Friday, I picked up the usual tradition of joining another branch of family at the ranch between Gatesville and Waco.
On the way up, I went a bit out of the way to catch 50 miles of the trail from north-of-Lampassas to Clifton, where I was asked to fetch some groceries for dinner before cutting back south.
The day was very dark and cloudy, so the views weren’t spectacular, but it was a fun drive with neat bridges, creek crossings, abandoned buildings, and ranch animals. Also it put me into the ranch caked in an admirable amount of mud.
Once at the ranch, I sat by the fire as it got dark. I raised a glass to seven good years with some amazing people and, in ranch fashion, burned a small token to memorialize their end.
Late into the evening, an exasperated cousin wandered back up to the main house from the creek along the edge of the property. His new 2WD Chevy Silverado was stuck in the riverbed. Having packed for some light offroading in Big Bend, I had some recovery basics and offered him and my uncle a rescue. The sin of hubris.
The gravel down by the creek was loose and had been rained on all week, offering no friction and making it shockingly easy to dig oneself into a hole. Ultimately, this was a four-step operation that took far too long:
- Some self-service. We wedged my knock-off MaxTrax under the drive wheels of the Silverado. Unfortunately, between its road tires and light back-end, there was no grip and this gained us nothing.
- A sharp tug. I roped the Xterra to the Silverado with a snatch strap to try and jerk it free. The Xterra’s manual transmission and comparative light weight gave it fast enough low-end acceleration to rip the Silverado away from the river one or two feet at a time.
- A strong pull. With the Silverado now out of the worst of the sand, I swapped out for the ranch’s RAM 2500 and a tow chain. That vehicle had no acceleration and its automatic transmission was very grumpy. But with some encouragement and a ton of throttle, it offered lots of power to its mud tires, just enough to drag the Silverado back up to the road.
- A tricky reverse. This all started because my cousin wanted to turn around. Now he had to reverse back to the nearest clearing in the dark.
I left the Xterra running to keep its offroad lights on for the setup. I’d wondered if there would be any funny video to be had off the dashcam…
The 2019 International Photography Award for “Offroad Recovery Audience Selfie with an iPhone” goes to David.
During the photoshoot, we three motorists continued in our labors. A more rational lot would have recognized — at some point in this hours-long saga — that we should have called it a night and returned with help and sunlight in the morning. But to the benefit of the narrative, some misguided masculinity took hold: I said I could rescue this truck, so dammit if I was still there right now, I wasn’t leaving until I had achieved victory. My cousin, proud of his new ride, couldn’t stand to leave it in the mud all night. And at some point, it was suggested that the line that got the truck stuck in the first place may have been my uncle’s idea. From a keen sense of self-preservation, I did not ask for clarification on that, but he was working the hardest of all.
After many attempts, lots of digging, legendary mud flinging, a little under-the-breath grumbling, a beer or two, and an audience who had faded from riotous laughter at our expense to complete boredom asleep in the Xterra, we got the Silverado freed.
The next morning, I had a minor difference of opinion with a dog.
After consulting my Dad (a physician) and an ICU nurse friend over the phone, I was encouraged to run into Waco to get it handled. Intent not to allow this incident to become a scene, I told my aunt I was leaving and slipped away quietly. It felt odd to ask the Xterra’s sat-nav to navigate me to the nearest hospital. What a very different request from last night’s shenanigans — which I would later discover left empty beer cans rolling around the footwells as I rocketed toward the city.
About half way there, passing through a tiny town, my hand slipped on a gear change at the only stop sign. I slammed my bloody palm into the shifter, shouting and bleeding all over it. In a place where drivers slow down to wave at each other and smile, I sure hope no one noticed me screaming expletives as I zoomed on by.
Thankfully, Waco Providence patched me up and sent me home on Augmentin, mega-Ibuprofen, and a TDaP shot relatively quickly. I credit rock climbing for being able to drive like this:
Back at the ranch, it was steak and potatoes and leftover pie night. And I was under strict orders from the doc to take the Augmentin on a full stomach. After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening under the stars by the fire. In the morning, I’ll head out to Marfa.