Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bulls in the Ruts

Most hunters have a close association in their minds between “radical insanity” and “bulls in the rut.” Consequently, if anyone had seen Nick G—— and me four-wheeling away from our elk hunting camp this year—no one did, because everyone else had already hightailed it out of the place—they would likely have mistaken us for bulls in the rut. And they would have been right, in a way; for much of the journey back to the civilized world (the part of the world where roads are differentiated from roller coasters) we were stuck in eight-inch-deep ruts.

There were three of us elk in the pickup—Nick in the driver’s seat, Muni Beduhin in the passenger’s and a cow in two coolers. The bed of the truck and the trailer were stuffed full with a wall tent, a large roll of carpeting, a stove with a grill, bottles of propane, a water heater, two cots, four sleeping bags, bins of clothes, bins of cooking utensils, coolers of food and many other articles. After we got out of the backwoods onto the open highway, we topped out at 30 mph over a 65 mph pass. It should not be hard to understand that while we were still where the character of the road meant that 15 mph was closer to demolition than titillation, we didn’t float over the mud.

The mud, resulting from several inches of snow that night and morning, was closer to fish slime than something made of dirt. Driving that road when it was mostly dry wasn’t for wimps. The ruts are deep, the mud holes are numerous, and the rocks embedded in the road are large. I was glad Nick was driving now that the road had confused itself with a slough.

We had chains on all four tires, which was helpful for pulling ourselves forward—and backward the time when we almost fell into a deep hole—but we had no side-to-side traction. The trailer was fishtailing behind us, jerking us all over the road as we remarked on how hard it was to stay out of the ruts. When we reached the top of a hill, the road curved quickly to the right. The truck, like a belligerent ox, plowed straight ahead. The drop-off was steep. Considering that our mini-caravan had been obeying Nick’s steering about as well as most of us live out our doctrine, it was not surprising that Nick was hollering as he steered wildly to the right. “Nice ruts!” he cried. “Ruts are wonderful! I want to be in them!”

We hadn’t learned our lesson completely, though. As we approached “The Pond,” Nick pulled us out of the ruts again, in attempt to escape the worst of that worst of mud holes. But once again the truck refused to turn, and Nick barely got us stopped. Six more inches and we would have been nose-down in a deep hole. We backed up and resigned ourselves to going through The Pond in the ruts. However, someone had put aspen logs at the bottom of it for traction, and our left front tire picked one up and jammed it between our axle, bumper and steering shaft. It took the bow saw to get us out of that mud hole.

After that we stayed in the ruts, and discovered an unexpected perk of doing so. I was looking out the window when Nick said, “I don’t even bother to steer anymore.” His right hand was resting on the gear shift and his left elbow was sitting on the open window. The wheel was turning according to the ruts as we went down the winding road.

I don’t know whether or not it is advisable to hunt the rut, but it is definitely advisable to drive in it when you are going over a slick, three-dimensional road with an elk and a hunting camp in tow. Not going over any cliffs is more important than not pushing logs down the road ahead of you.

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