Reminiscent of Gilligan’s three hour tour, I lost my way on a jeep ride with my wife. We had a couple free hours, one day, before I had to go to work. I suggested we go for a quick jeep ride since we hadn’t had it out yet. We have a 1975 CJ5 that we enjoy driving in the hills. It doesn’t have a back seat, so it’s kind of like a date when we go; no kids.
Driving a 1970s Jeep, or any vehicle from that era really, is like a constant wrestling match. They just don’t steer, handle or brake as well as a newer vehicle. Our jeep is no exception; it’s a constant flurry of clutching, braking, shifting, adjusting the choke, and wrangling the steering wheel…and that’s just backing out of the driveway. All the passenger has to do is hold on for dear life. Yes, this is what we do to relax.
My intention was a quick drive in the foothills to check out the jeep. It had been sitting in the garage all winter, and needed fresh gas and fluids checked. It jerked and coughed a little until the engine warmed up; then it ran perfectly. As perfectly as a 40 year old jeep runs anyway.
So, off we went. Properly accoutred in shorts and flip flops for a short drive…not so much for anything else. Afternoon temperature in the 90s with no water or sunscreen. What could possibly go wrong, right?
I chose to head into the brush covered hills north of town. Countless dirt roads criss-cross the landscape in all directions. I chose a generally northerly direction with the intention to drive no more than 30 or so minutes before heading back to town. That would give me an easy hour before I had to be at work. We crawled along parallel to the Salmon river canyon with Salmon often in sight behind us when we crested a hill.
We chatted about nothing and let the intense, dry heat wash over us. (Along with a fine layer of dust.) The jeep growled along; plowing through ruts and ravines without missing a beat. I was anticipating a branch road that would take us closer to the river for the return drive. At the thirty minute mark, when my road didn’t materialize, I picked up the pace and continued on.
Looking back, I probably should have turned the jeep around and retraced our route. I would have been home, as planned, with time to spare. Stubbornly, I pressed on, sure that I knew exactly where I was. My wife, not knowing the area as well, chose to trust my choice. We could still occasionally see town, but it seemed far off. The road became just a track through the sagebrush, with steep, rocky grades. I knew I would get us home; I just wasn’t sure how long it would take.
What the hell?
We started seeing cattle frequently; including huge bulls that snorted and stomped, irritated at our presence. I began seeing green fields and ranch houses. Slowly, I recognized the trees that grew in the creek bottom. We were looking into Carmen Creek. I knew we should be able to get to Carmen Creek road from where we were, but fences blocked our way. Reluctantly, I turned the jeep south.
Before long we came upon a barely perceptible cart path that angled toward the river. Eureka! (I actually said this.) The road was so unused, we lost it momentarily every time we crossed a hill. My wife clutched her seat as we careened off large rocks and bounced over washed out sections. She started looking a little white around the edges, except where she was burned, as the ups got uppier and the downs got downright frightening.
Older 4-wheel drive vehicles are great; the passenger has to get out and manually turn the locking hubs into place. This is generally done with the driver standing on the brakes and clutch because he attempted a climb not possible in 2-wheel drive. Yep, we did that.
Even though the road was rough and steep, we appeared to be going in the right direction. I might yet make it to work, and I was really pushing the jeep hard. As we came over another hill, I slammed on the brakes; stalling the jeep. I looked uncertainly at the drop in front of us. It was longer and steeper than anything we had come on yet, and it was covered with round fist-sized rocks that would make it sketchy.
Too late to turn back now
I kissed my wife and put the jeep in 4 low. She scrambled in her seat; not sure if she should jump or stay. We started bouncing and sliding down the slope, the steering wheel jerking every time we struck a rock. If I pressed the brake pedal, the rear end tried to slide around. We had to just ride it out. I bounced my off the steel top and my wife exclaimed, “Oh, my spleen!”
Incredibly, in the middle of all that, my wife observed the fuel gauge. While clutching her spleen, she asked through gritted teeth, “Do we even have enough gas to get home?”
Sure enough, the fuel level indicator read less than E. A rough calculation in my head put us about 2.5 hours walking to get back to civilization. That could be a test on our relationship I didn’t want to try. As we roared off the slope and the jeep leveled out, I saw the fuel gauge surge a little above E. Thank heavens.
We were making good time as the road started to get better when we found our way barred by a gate. It was a gate common in cow country: wire and posts secured to a fixed post with loops of wire. I looked at my wife expectantly. She stared at me for a moment before exiting the jeep. “I’m beginning to think riding shotgun sucks,” she said.
“Watch for rattlesnakes,” I replied.
It was kind of fun watching her wrestle with the gate. I provided helpful directions from the driver’s seat. When she got it clear; I drove through. I then watched her re-secure the gate from the same side she started on. Once it was fastened, I asked, “Are you going to climb over?”
Cursing, she went through the whole process again. I didn’t say anything obnoxious like, “You know, we’re kind of on a time crunch here.” OK…maybe I did.
Miraculously, we arrived home with ten minutes to spare before I had to report for work. We were parched and sun-burned; we both sighed as I turned off the jeep in our driveway “See, I knew where I was going.” I told my wife. She kicked me in the spleen as I turned to climb out of the jeep.
She said “You might want to turn the hubs out while you’re rolling around down there, Gilligan.” That’s my girl. Getting lost in sight of town may suck, but Idaho doesn’t!