A number of years ago, long before the convenience of cell phones, Dick Bradetich and I (partners in Inland Forest Management, Inc.) were under the gun to complete a forest inventory project. With the deadline quickly approaching, we left before the first wink of sunrise very early one morning for the arduous two-hour drive to the project area. I was the designated driver.
Upon arriving at the work-site, we studied the maps and developed a plan of attack over steep, rugged terrain. After gathering our gear, we headed into the woods for a long day’s work.
As planned, we rendezvoused at the truck at dusk, ready to get on the road and home to a hot shower. But to our dismay, the truck would not even turn over. The battery was dead. Apparently I had left the headlights on. But, since the truck was parked on an incline, we optimistically believed a little shove down the hill would quickly get it running. No dice! The battery was so dead it didn’t seem to matter how hard or how far we pushed, it was not going to start. We quickly realized that it would be impossible to push the truck back up the hill, but we could walk up the hill to reach the main road, which, though somewhat isolated, held hope of help from a passing vehicle.
As we started our journey we were optimistic that a vehicle would soon come by. Yet, as Dick and I continued our walk, our optimism faded with each step and each hour. Not a vehicle had been seen or heard, so we continued to walk, and walk, and walk!
Finally, after about five hours, we heard voices off in the distance. As the voices got closer and louder, we realized it was a teenage party. We were aware of a favorite party spot for kids along a nearby river, and surmised that this was the source of the revelry. Eventually we came to an intersection where a quarter mile to the left was the party site, and to the right was the town of Clark Fork, two miles away. After a brief debate, we figured it would be best to continue on toward Clark Fork.
After walking another quarter mile we heard a pickup truck approaching from behind. As it came closer, we heard boisterous hoots and hollers, clearly indicating happy party attendees. The friendly driver stopped to ask if we needed a ride. We quickly evaluated the situation – a glassy-eyed, likely impaired, fun-loving driver accompanied by a contingent of like-minded friends – and decided we’d take our chances walking.
So the journey continued.
Totally exhausted, we finally arrived at our destination of Clark Fork. Our primary motivator for the long trek had been the thought of a cold adult beverage at the Clark Fork Bar. But to add insult to injury after a grueling ordeal, this too was a disappointment. When we finally got to the bar it was 2:05 a.m., five minutes after closing. If we weren’t so dang tired, we would have cried.
Thank goodness a payphone was nearby, so Dick called his wife, Karen, for a ride home. When Karen answered the phone she noted the time of 2:10 a.m., just after bar closing time. In spite of her suspicion that we had concocted a “whopper” cover story for a fun night on the town, thankfully, she came to our rescue.
The next day when Dick and his family retrieved the truck, they determined we had walked 20 miles!
Embarrassingly for me, unfortunately about five months later a similar situation occurred. Again, arriving at the work site in dark and snowy conditions, I inadvertently neglected to turn off the map light. Naturally, when we returned to the truck we found a dead battery. Luckily, this time we had walked only a few miles before a passing vehicle saved us.
Miraculously, after 30 years, Dick continued to be my partner. Perhaps the invention of the “lights-on” warning buzzer had something to do with that.
—-Mike Wolcott, ACF, Certified Forester