*Wrecked: A Night In The Ditch*
19 May 2015
I do a lot of work way out in the woods far from civilization, hauling logs in the winter and fixing/building forest roads the rest of the year. In the late summer of 2014 we were working over 60 miles from the nearest town, 2 hour drive just to the nearest town almost 3 hours from home to the job.
One of the excavators we use broke a hydraulic fitting and I was tasked with going to town in a pickup with a car trailer to pick up the needed part for the excavator, 120 gallons of fuel and more metal culvert pipe. The parts place opened at 7 a.m. and the boss wanted me back ASAP in the morning. By the time I was ready to head out it was about 9PM, I decided to skip dinner figuring I could eat a snack when I got home. I started out and about 15 minutes into the trip I stopped to check for the part because I didn't remember anyone putting the part in the pickup. No cell service meant I couldn't call camp and ask if someone put the part in the truck. Since I couldn't find the part and would need it to compare at the parts store to make sure I returned with the correct part I turned around and headed back to camp. I picked up the part from the other guys, attention to detail. We were working near a large reservoir and when I had originally started off back to town we were in a gravel pit and I had started back to town on the road that went down the West side of the reservoir now that I was back to camp I was closer to the cut across road and I decided to take the East side road since it doesn't have as many sharp curves. I figured I could make better time driving faster than the recommended 30 miles per hour and hopefully be home some time between midnight and 1 a.m.
About 20 minutes into my drive I came into an area were they were doing a controlled burn and had to slow down a little because of the smoke. I was soon able to pick up speed again but after several miles the air become thick with what I thought was smoke and I had to slow down a little. After several more miles I realized I wasn't in a cloud of smoke but I was in a cloud of dust following another vehicle. So I speed up some, I'm not sure how fast I was going because I was comfortable with the speed and I was only checking the dash for warning lights and to make sure none of the gauges were in the red I am sure I was going faster than the recommended speed of 30 mph.
It was around 10:30 p.m. when it happened. I missed a sign indicating a left hand hairpin turn on this dirt road I was traveling too fast and despite my best efforts to slow the truck and make the sharp turn I slid off the right side of the road down an embankment and into the brush. This was the second of three times I would put a truck in the ditch in 2014 but I'll save those stories for another time.
So there I was late at night in the middle of no where stuck in the ditch. The first thing I did was get out my flashlight and check how stuck I was. The truck was down the embankment quite a ways and I could hear a creek very close by. I decided to try and back out any ways. This particular company pickup was having problems with the 4 wheel drive but I wouldn't know if I could back out unless I tried. No luck going backwards so I tried to inch forward with no luck at all. The truck was stuck, it was a pitch black moonless night in the middle of nowhere with a pretty good breeze blowing. I wasn't going anywhere until someone else came along.
I took stock of what I had, a flashlight, my gun bag with a 45 and about forty rounds, a space blanket in the gun bag, wipes in the gun bag, a granola bar in the gun bag, a jacket, my lunch box with 2 cans of pasta, a p38 can opener in my lunch box, 3 bottles of water in my lunch box. I learned my first year working out the woods to always take your gear with you when you get out of a vehicle someone might use the vehicle to go to another part of the job and your left without your lunch and other gear. I had a lighter, pocket knife and handkerchief in my jean pockets. Along with this gear the company truck was equipped with a two-way radio with several of the log company frequencies and some government frequencies. Since the radio is an older radio with only numbered channels and no list of what frequencies where on which channel I had no idea what channels to use. I only knew what channel was our company channel. Lastly the truck had a CB radio mounted and wired up but no antenna for the CB radio.
I evaluated the situation. It was too dark to see to try and dig/hack my way out of the brushy ditch and I didn't want to injure myself stumbling around in the dark possibly even falling into a cold creek, I had plenty of fuel in the truck even if I had to let it idle all night to run the heater a good wind was blowing so it wasn't likely that I kill myself with the exhaust from the diesel engine, the last mile marker I remembered passing was the 32 mile marker I didn't recall going past the 31 mile marker and definitely hadn't passed the 30 mile marker so I had a pretty good idea of where I was at; I had food & water, shelter and heat if needed, I was on a fairly well traveled road even though the rafting/tourist season was pretty much done the hunting season was starting and there was a large ranger station with a land line telephone at the 59 mile marker area.
The ranger station usually had a lot of forest service personnel traveling on this road during the day so I could reasonably expect a vehicle to pass by before mid morning the next day. I knew I was over 30 miles from town, almost 30 miles from the ranger station and over 30 miles back to camp. Even if I could keep up a 3 mile an hour pace it was a 10 hour walk either direction to civilization in the pitch black in woods that I had seen large predators, a black bear, a wolf (where you see one wolf there are many) and mountain lions. It was late and I didn't think walking down the road was a good idea. Even if I found campers along the way it wasn't likely anyone was going to go out in the dark and try to pull the truck out of the ditch. I figured my best plan would be to spend the night in the truck and try and use the radios to call for help, I knew that they were logging on the other side of the reservoir and I knew what frequency the log trucks would be using if I could find the right channel on my radio I might be able to call one of the trucks when they were heading into the logging area early in the morning. The pickup was also equipped with flashing amber lights for piloting oversize semi loads so I could try and attract the attention of anyone nearby with the flashing lights, not too likely that late at night.
So I had my plan: try and use the flashing lights to attract attention, call out on the radio hoping the signal was strong enough to reach someone, sleep on the truck seat using my jacket as a blanket (I left my sleeping bag at camp since I would only be gone one night and back the next morning), run the truck for heat as needed while I waited for someone to come by.
I turned the flashing amber lights on for 20 seconds or so and off for about the same amount of time while trying every channel on the radio, I would state that I was stuck in the ditch on the East side of the reservoir between the 30 and 32 mile markers then wait for a reply. I even tried channel 9 on the CB radio, I've always been told to only use channel 9 on a CB radio if you have an emergency.
With no luck reaching anyone on the radio I decided it was just time to go to sleep and hope to wake up when anyone passed by in a vehicle or that they would see the truck in the ditch and stop to investigate. With the truck on about a 25 degree slope with the passenger side downhill I figured I better lock the passenger door in case it came open in the night I didn't want to be sliding out into the brush. It was uncomfortable on the split bench seat because the hump of the split was in the middle of my back. I locked the drivers door because it didn't want to be startled awake if someone stopped to check the wreck and I didn't wake up right away. I didn't have a way to check the temperature but only had to start the truck to warm up once during the night at about 2:30 a.m.
Shortly 5:00 a.m. I woke up and thought I heard a vehicle. Then I saw lights coming around a curve. I knew I couldn't get out of the vehicle and up the bank fast enough to be on the road to get the drivers attention so I fumbled in the dark for the switch to activate the flashing amber lights on the roof of the cab. Just as a pickup truck was about to pass the flashing lights lit up the dark morning and the pickup stopped.
I got out and went up to the road and was greeted by 2 men from the pickup. I explained my situation and told them I had a chain if they wanted to try and pull me out. The driver told me that even though the manufacturer of his pickup advertised that it could pull the space shuttle he didn't want to try and pull me out because he didn't think his truck was big enough to pull me out. They offered me a ride to town so I asked for a ride back to camp since they were headed that way anyway. They agreed and cleared a spot for me in back seat of there heavily laden pickup. They were bow hunters headed for a week long hunting trip and told me that without their chainsaw they wouldn't have even gotten this far. About 5 miles from town there was a down tree across the road and a few miles after that they had to clear another downed tree that was blocking the road. That was a danger I hadn't thought about when I made my decision to stay put. Imagine getting clobbered by a tree in the dark while walking down the road.
A little after 6:00 a.m. I was back at camp, just in time for breakfast, I offered my rescuers breakfast but they wanted to get up the road and start their elk hunt. Everyone at camp was surprised at my early return, they didn't realize I had gotten out of the pickup that had pulled up and then left and they weren't expecting me until late in the morning.
The next adventure for the morning was retrieving the truck from the ditch. That story will have to wait for another article.John1lt
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