I tell you a Tuesday Tale today not because it's such an amazing tale of adventure, or a vignette in a faraway exotic land. This happened just up the road on one of our 4x4 adventures that we take often in our own beautiful backyard. (See more adventures accessible in my own backyard ... a wonderful place for anyone else to come visit!) The reason I felt motivated to tell it is because of the two serendipitous coincidences, which are fun to share, and also -- knock on wood -- it's so illustrative of the strange kind of luck that Erik and I have traveling, both at home and abroad. So often when we get in a sticky spot and suffer a blow of bad luck, we seem to have a knack for then being blessed with a really unlikely, amazing stroke of good luck, fortune or blessing, whatever you want to call it, that gets us out of the situation in far better shape than we could ever expect.
Enter The Tale of Last Thursday.
It begins when we took out our Pinzgauer for what was supposed to be a relaxing, easy jaunt around the Switzerland Trail, nothing technical or challenging. This is Pinzy, below (on a different adventure).
I know, he should have a more masculine name, but it's Pinzy, deal with it. He's a 1973 Austrian army vehicle (model 710K), used to be a radio truck. Allow me to insert here, that no matter how ardently Erik makes these consistent proclamations that we're going on a mellow outing, just going out for a scenic drive, not going to get into any challenging situations, "no you don't need to wear snow boots; you don't need to bring snacks or feed the cats before we leave; nothing will tire your arms out." And then ... I cannot stress enough how utterly inevitable it is that I will end up shoveling the Pinz out of snow or out of mud, or spotting Erik over tricky spots that take forever, or spotting a 6-point turnaround on a narrow trail with a cliff on one side because we can't go further for one reason or another, or some other calamity that often brings us home later than forecast, hungry, with hungry cats at the door.
4-wheeling life with our 4Runner was seldom so unpredictable. But our Pinzgauer is an entirely different beast, and it certainly has its pros and can do a number of things that the 4Runner never could. But it also has its idiosyncratic weaknesses (idiosyncratic to Pinzgauers in general), and the biggest one is its propensity to tip over in situations where a traditional 4x4 vehicle likely would not. I don't need to go into the how and why physics of this, you simply need to know that it's just the way it is. We have, in fact, tipped over once on a trail (the trail pictured above, in fact). We got the truck back upright with the help of the manpower of several strangers and one them had an electric winch on their dune buggy, which was the real hero.
Anyhoo ... back to this tale. We were driving up the Switzerland Trail in a spot that is less than a breeze to any high-clearance 4x4 vehicle. However, we came up behind a lady driving a regular passenger sedan, not even an AWD like a Subaru, just a run-of-the-mill little 4-door car, making its way up this super steep, deeply rutted and washed-out section of road. We could hardly believe what we were seeing. Normally we would be a little annoyed at coming upon such a slow driver who didn't pull over when it was possible (there was a spot that she just drove on by). But in this case, we were so astounded and mostly convinced she was not going to make it, that we patiently followed until there was a wide spot in the trail where we zoomed around her. And on we went with our afternoon, pretty impressed with the balls of that driver. That seems like an irrelevant detail, but it's actually the beginning of "the story."
Well, we were bouncing pleasantly down the old road and drove past a small side spur with a Forest Service road number and no sign that said "dead end," so, in spite of the promise of a no-risk drive, we turned down this 4x4 trail with no idea where it went or what kind of shape it was in (this is our typical modus operandi). It turned out to be very steep and quite seriously rocky with the occasional huge tree ruts. But the Pinzgauer's exceptionally high clearance rendered it all fairly inconsequential.
Eventually we could see that this spur ended at what looked like a much more traveled road, so that it was a T intersection. We had absolutely no idea what that road below was or where it went or came from (which is weird because we know the area pretty well). But we'd cross that "bridge" just as soon as we got over the last insane pitch of our current trail. There were two possible routes over the pitch. For reasons of cambor too subtle to discern in a photo, we had real concerns that the Pinz was going to tip over no matter which of the two lines we chose. They were both nail-bitingly scary. Like, butterflies in the stomach scary. Like, get out and hem and haw about it for a long time scary. Like, after we decide on a line, I can't even bear to watch scary (I'm outside the vehicle to spot it). Photos NEVER do justice to a situation like this, I've almost quit taking them of 4x4 situations because they never look remotely as crazy or dire as they are. But these were our two options -- view them with an absence of salt: they're far more formidable than they look.
I had my opinion on a line, but ultimately everything is up to Erik, the driver. He was having a very difficult time committing to the line I thought we should try, but the other one really was not any better prospect. As we mulled all this over, Pinzy began to putter out of idling and soon stopped running. And then decided he'd done enough for the day. Erik managed to get him started a few times and make an inch or two of progress each time. But then it would die, and if Erik was going to commit to my suggested line, this could not happen -- he needed to be able to gas it over the section most likely to cause tippage. So Erik can't decide which route to take down the pitch, still, and Pinzy becomes ever more unresponsive to starting, until finally he just won't do it at all.
And now the sun is lowering alarmingly close to the horizon. I expected to be home by this time. Finally, we decide we must bail. We risked running the battery down if we continued to keep trying to turn the unresponsive ignition. So for the first time ever in decades of 4-wheeling difficult routes and hairy situations, we abandoned the vehicle and started to walk back up the trail from whence we came. Fortunately -- and this is a very rare case where there is something so public as a trailhead parking lot anywhere near the types of trails we are usually driving -- there was indeed a parking area not far away for people wanting to walk or bike on or around the Switzerland Trail. So we decided we would head for that. We didn't have a cell phone. We hoped we could find somebody in the parking lot who would have a phone with cell service and we could call a friend to come pick us up. The walk back uphill was pretty brutal. Wished I had a snack, but at least we always stock the vehicles with plenty of water.
We got to the parking area, there were maybe 8 or 9 cars parked. One of them had two guys standing outside it. We briefly explained our situation and asked if they had a phone with service. They had a phone, but after trying to put a call through, it was clear they had no service (common in the mountains). But they said they could drive us as far as Sugarloaf Road, a paved road that by mountain standards is fairly well-traveled. But they lived the opposite direction of us, so would turn toward Boulder then, while we needed to go many miles the other way to Nederland. It would be tough to hitch a ride because most people driving that direction would be driving only as far as their own house, as this road is not the most direct way to go to Nederland from Boulder. I thought our best bet was to go up to one of the houses and ask to use their phone, hoping to contact our friends. I know exactly two phone numbers by heart of friends in the area. All our hopes rested on one of those two being able to come fetch us and take us home.
The guys weren't ready to leave quite at that moment, so we milled around the parking lot waiting, and a woman emerged from the trees with a large dog, walking down a pedestrian trail to the lot. I went up to her and asked if she happened to have a cell phone with reception we could borrow to make a call. And she said, "I know you!"
I was taken aback and didn't reply because her face was not ringing a bell. "You're Shara!" (even pronounced correctly, which means she probably really did *know* me). As she pulled up beside me and I could look more closely, I recognized her. Now, here I cannot stress enough how few people Erik and I know in the area despite living here for over 20 years. We're hermits, especially me, we belong to no social groups, clubs, churches, don't have kids in school, etc. I've never even bothered to introduce myself to our next-door neighbors who moved in a few years ago. We knew this woman, Terry, because of an artists' co-op we were all in together for a couple years a decade ago. Without any hesitation, she offered to drive us all the way to Nederland right up to our house. To do this took a good 40 minutes or more unexpectedly out of her day.
Erik and I continue to be stunned by the coincidence that in this parking lot with only a few cars, in our hour of desperate need, we ran into one of the exceedingly few people we have met in the area, just exactly at the moment she was returning to her car from a hike, and she had the time and heart to take us home. Mostly only people from Boulder go to that parking lot, as we have our own trails in Nederland. Boulder has a population of over 100,000 people ... not overwhelmingly great odds that one Boulderite we knew would be there.
So hurray! We got home before dark but of course had to formulate a plan to rescue Pinzy. Our hope was that we could locate that unknown road on Google Earth and find it passable to take the 4Runner in to where Pinzy was parked. Then we could maybe use Chewie (the 4Runner) in such a way as to support Pinzy so that if he tipped, it wouldn't be completely over to the ground and we could use Chewie and ropes and winches to get Pinzy back up. I didn't sleep very well that night; Erik said he hardly slept at all, his stomach full of butterflies. So the next morning, Erik went to the hardware store to get some special type of vehicle starter fluid to hopefully help Pinzy start. When he left the neighborhood, he saw a woman walking on the highway with a gas can. When he returned home, she had made a bit of progress up the road. As we headed out back to the Switzerland Trail, she was still further up the road, now with her thumb out. Sadly, people are really uppity and scared about picking up hitchhikers, when this used to be a common activity around here.
We stopped to pick her up. Her car had (obviously) run out of gas. Turned out she was camping at a spot where we had started our journey the day before. As conversation progressed and she realized she had seen us in the Pinzgauer (when we explained to her what it looked like) the day before, we realized that she was the crazy woman trying to get her car up the steep, rutted section. She was from Missouri, no clue about mountain driving. She and her daughter were camping out for a few days. Poor woman walked several miles to town to get gas, then was walking uphill for several miles to get back to her car, from a low-altitude state while we are 8,200 feet above sea level in Nederland ... that's rough for someone not used to altitude. She was so grateful for the ride; even though it wasn't on our way to where we were going to access Pinzy, we took her all the way to her camping spot and car. So we thought that was a pretty funny coincidence as well, and we got to pay forward almost immediately Terry's rescue of us.
Our hopeful plan was that we would drive Chewie up to the T intersection where Pinzy spent the night via that other road, get Pinzy down, then I'd drive Chewie back home and Erik drive Pinzy. Well, the road down, we couldn't tell from Google Earth, turned out to be way, way, way more than I could have handled, as I myself have 4x4 experience only as the passenger. Even Erik found a couple spots tricky. But we made it to Pinzy. We could tell from Google Earth that the road petered out at a dead end a short ways away from the side spur and so we took Chewie all the way to the end to turn around. Turns out there is an abandoned mine and several buildings at the terminus. We took a little time to get out and explore. I think Chewie was probably happy to feel useful, since his 4x4 days have mostly been usurped by Pinzy.
I love the colors and texture of this rusting plate on a storage tank ... it was like a gas or propane tank, not sure exactly what.
But back to Pinzy ..... I took this photo of where Pinzy spent the night as we were coming down the other road with Chewie. It's not a good pic, blurry, but if you look, you can see Pinzy near the bottom of the steep trail.
At the end of the day (so to speak), we decided the best option was to try backing Pinzy up to a spot a ways up the trail where it was wide enough to turn him around and go back the way we came, avoiding the scary pitch altogether. There was going to be only one hairy spot to get Pinzy over driving backward. But first we had to get him started. With the starter fluid and a new idea Erik had about adjusting the timing, and the tool to do so, Pinzy fired up and stayed strong. So we did manage to get back up that spur the way we came. Here is where we found a wide enough spot to turn around. And I also took the liberty of enjoying some early spring high-altitude flowers.
Then we parked Pinzy in a wide spot on the Switzerland Trail and walked back down the spur to Chewie. Erik drove him out the way we'd taken him in, and then went to Pinzy, I took Chewie the rest of the way home, and Pinzy has been running great since then (Erik's taken two test runs after that, his timing adjustment seems to have done wonders). So what was advertised as a brief jaunt with no technical challenges, just to get out in the nice weather, turned into a two-day "adventure" ordeal with one incredible coincidence and another fun, if less remarkable, coincidence, which resulted in two parties (us and the Missouri lady) being rescued in our hour of need.