Night run! Next to “Uh oh,” and “Oh s--t!” they are possibly two of the worst words any wheeler can utter together in a sentence. In my over twenty years of wheeling, I never met a night run that didn’t start out sounding like a great idea. And I rarely returned from one that didn’t end up being a bad one. Of course, as a magazine editor, you love to hear the phrase, because it means that you’ll probably end up getting some pretty good photos to take back to your readers. I don’t know what it is about wheeling at night that makes people feel invincible, but it does seem to have that effect.
Looking back on all of my memorable night runs, there are a few that stand out. There was the time that we decided to take my old Ranger wheeling in the mountains and blew the CV axlejoint 20 miles away from help (and without parts), or the time at Truckhaven where rigs seemed to be falling on their roofs at a consistent rate, and I can’t forget about the time a co-worker was seen standing on the roof of one of our press fleet vehicles while stuck in a mud pit. I’d share more about that one, but I don’t think the statute of limitations is quite up yet. What do these things have in common? Well, all of these things happened at night. That isn’t to say that these things couldn’t happen during the day, but when you wheel at night, you tend to be flying under the authority of Murphy’s Law.
One of my most memorable night runs involved a couple of friends and I deciding to wheel to the top of a local peak during a huge rainstorm because we heard that there might be snow. Now that doesn’t sound all that bad to most of you, but realize snow is a novelty to someone who grew up at the beach in southern California. So with a rainy night adventure calling us to a peak only 30 miles away, we ditched our nighttime college classes and headed to the hills.
Upon arriving at the trailhead, we only needed to cross a creek to get on to the trail. At least it was a creek the last time we visited it. Now raging and with some depth, we inched our trio of trail rigs across it without too much drama. Now, looking back, I can see how that probably only served to increase our night run courage.
As we climbed the trail, rain turned to sleet, and sleet to snow. Trees were so full of freezing rain and ice that they hung low over the trail, blocking our path. Not to worry, I still had my softball bag in the back of the truck, complete with my bat. So every few hundred feet we beat the ice from the trees with the bat to gain a little more ground up the trail. This was merely an obstacle, not a warning sign.
Eventually we made it to a clearing that was not only covered in snow, but at just 4,500 feet, the cold winter storm had gotten to a point of near white-out conditions. Of course this didn’t deter us. Why go one more foot, when you can go one too many?
As we continued our climb, the approximately foot of snow on the ground all but halted our progress. When I saw one of my buddies struggling to drive his Isuzu Trooper any further in two-wheel drive, I suggested that he put it in 4-Lo. Maybe it was the way I said it, but he decided that this would be a good opportunity to share some information with me. Turns out that he recently installed a new junkyard rear axle in the Trooper, and the front and rear gear ratios were now sufficiently different enough to cause the four-wheel drive system to bind up. With that little tidbit on the table, we decided that it was probably best to halt our ascent and end our attempt at reaching the summit.
It would have been a brilliant plan, had the Trooper not gotten high-centered on a stump while turning around. So, improperly dressed, with one of our three vehicles stuck, we decided to free the Trooper with my Ranger. Unfortunately, I had to position the Ranger on a side slope, with my mild tires struggling to find enough traction to free the Trooper. As I applied throttle to pull the Trooper, the Ranger continued to swing downhill toward a 25-foot drop. Eventually we freed the Trooper, but it took our third rig, my other friend’s Toyota truck, to keep the Ranger from sliding off the hillside. What a sight it must have been to see all of us strapped together in a daisy chain, with all of us pulling in different directions.
Finally, we made it off the trail without further incident. None of us ever really thought twice about the adventure we just had, other than knowing that we now had a great “near-death” story to share with our friends back in town. We were living right that night and this was one night run that turned out all right. It could have been much worse, but you know what they say—“Ignorance is bliss.”