With a sigh that all but shouted the word “WUSS!” Mountain Man bent to the offer and as the motel came into view, we pulled into the mostly empty parking lot. Our residence for the evening was exactly what you’d expect of a motel that was out in the middle of nowhere. It was thread bare, tired, and I’m guessing, last updated in the seventies judging by the paint choices of avocado green and harvest gold. What it did do is keep up out of the rain that night. To be honest, it was a fairly light rain and the news didn’t report of any tornados swooping out of the sky in search of young girls in blue dresses and accompanying dogs. As I lay in bed listening to the patter on the roof that night, I admit I felt fairly vindicated. We might not have been in mortal danger had we camped, but getting damp involved the crappy shower in the bathroom rather than a squishy sleeping bag.
The next day we were out and on the road as early as we could stand it. Mountain Man had instigated a cunningly evil rule for our road trip. Something to get us moving and moving with determination. Breakfast could not be had in the town where we slept. We needed to rack up some miles before dealing with our stomachs. Out here, that could mean quite a spell. We trundled along and eventually found sustenance, but not our friendly waitress’s friend. It’s an imperfect world. By lunch, we were making some really good progress and were closing in on the upper peninsula of Michigan. We decided that we would take our mid day break on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and pulled of the main road to search for food. What we found, were bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.
Here’s something that you might not know. The Mayfly is a little over an inch and a quarter long. It lays its eggs on the surface of fresh water, which then sinks, and hatches into a nymph. This nymph can live for about a year or so, nibbling on all sorts of aquatic interests. Then, one day, it will go up to the surface, break through its outer skin and emerge into the air as a fully formed mayfly, looking for love and looking fast. It often has only a day or so to fulfill its function. Now imagine all of these nymphs doing this at the SAME TIME. What you get is roughly a billion-zillion mayflies cavorting around, mating and getting squished on your car.
As we pulled into town, the place was literally alive with mayflies. They covered every horizontal surface. They covered every vertical surface. They covered you if you stood still for more than a minute or two. Having them crawling and flying everywhere was revolting but it wasn’t half as disgusting as the sound each foot fall made as you walked from your bug-guts covered car to the MacDonald’s, flattening mayflies as you went. The thing that finally killed the last vestige of my apatite was when I grabbed the door to enter the restaurant and my fingers squished a couple of mayflies that had been hiding out of site on the back side of the handle making whoopie. As I did my little gross out dance, furiously trying to fling the mostly crushed yet still wiggling remains of the hidden lovers from my hand, Mountain Man and I came to the same conclusion. We nodded, bolted back to the car and got the hell out of this freak show. I honestly do not remember getting lunch that day. It was going to be a while before I could face anything I would want to ingest.
It was shortly after this that the trailer caught fire.
Well, “fire” might be pushing it since there were no actual flames, but it was burning up. Mountain Man was driving at the time and happened to glance in the rear view mirror. What he saw was blue/white smoke billowing out from the left wheel of the trailer, totally obscuring the road behind us. He immediately pulled off the road and we leaped out to find just what the hell on an empty, open trailer could possibly catch fire. There was no break system, no electrical except for the lights and nothing not built of steel. As we waded through the evil cloud of burning rubber, the culprit made its self known. Each of the two trailer wheels sported a little sheet metal fender and the one on the right had come half loose. One of the two bolts that held it there had wiggled loose and dropped the fender on top of the spinning wheel and done a top notch job of chewing it up. The friction from the fender had just about completely burned through the rubber. So, a tire change was made with our one spare and the fender was reattached with a twisted bit of coat hanger until a hardware store was located and better fix made.
I remember getting some sandwiches at a truck stop in Minnesota and checking our next move on the map. It was getting late. By the time we left the last inhabited landmark on our map, it was dark. The episode with the bug invasion and especially the tire cost us a lot of driving time and left us looking down the dark railroad cut with me behind the wheel. It was right about then I noticed that the dash lights had died. All of them. It was a moonless night and it was pitch black in the car.
“All we need to do,” declared Mountain Man, “is drive down the railroad bed about two point five miles and look for a grassy landing on our right.”
“The problem,” I pointed out, “is that I can’t see the odometer. The dash light is dead. I’ll have to use the dome light.” This is the point when we discovered that yes; the dome light too had bit the dust.
I looked at the black spot where I gauged Mountain Man’s head should be as he sat in the passenger seat. “Do you have a flashlight?”
“Um.. No. Do you?”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Neither of us brought a flashlight?”
This was going to be tricky. You couldn’t see anything in the car and the only light to be had anywhere was from our own headlights. Not so handy to see things INSIDE the car, as it turns out. Then I remembered my keychain. About a week before as I had prepared for this outing, I had gone to make a pilgrimage to Eastern Mountain Sports, our local camping supply retailer. As I had been cashing out, I spotted these silly little keychain fobs that looked just like miniature Colman lamps.
On an impulse, I bought one. Inside the diminutive lamp was a sixteenth of a watt bulb that was powered by a watch battery. I fished it out of my pocket, turned the knob and, Voila, we had light. Not much light to be sure, but when it’s pitch dark, it’s amazing how the tiniest bulb can make the biggest difference. I set the “lamp” in front of the odometer and crawled the car down the cut.
Let me take a moment to describe this so called road that we were on. It had been made, perhaps a hundred years ago by the railroad to cut across the swampland of this corner of Minnesota. Having seen its last train decades ago, the tracks and ties had now been stripped and the top of the bed smoothed a bit. It was still fairly bumpy but more importantly though had the added bonus that it was almost exactly as wide as the wheel base of the car. Plus, it dropped off heavily on each side. If you happened to take your eyes off it as you drove, you and your hapless vehicle would very quickly slide down a forty-five degree gravel bank for perhaps eight feet and wind up in the trees. You might be able to recover form this situation if you were lucky. Maybe.
My hands were glued at the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions and my eyeballs were focused directly forward as I navigated the car along at just better than running speed. I had been driving unblinking like this for perhaps ten minutes when Mountain Man spoke.
“Um… I think we missed it”
Filed under: Back Packing, Food, Guys, Helpful People, Humor, Travel, What the..?, Writing | Tagged: bugs, canada, driving, fire, friend, friends, mayfly, Michigan, Minnesota, Mountain Man, rail road, railroad, road trip, trailers |