I don’t like truck adventures. This is not to say I don’t like adventures that trucks are used in. I just don’t like adventures about trucks.
Last blog post I wrote about floods. Today I’m blogging about what happens after floods. Namely, mud. Um. And complications.
TUESDAY: About mud
Mud is soil with way too much water in it. To be more precise, mud is silt and clay with too much water in it. If it rains hard enough, many kinds of soil will become mud-like but some soils make slick, snotty mud more readily than others. For instance, my soil. I’ve got the kind of soil that can turn into serious truck adventure each time it rains or snows. Clearly it is important for me to be educated about my soil in various conditions, such as sun, wind, rain and snow.
New Mexico’s got its share of different soils, and they all have interesting names (e.g. Rizno, Aquima, Nuffel, Venadito, Penistaja, Stozuni, Hosta, and more). One fact I turned up, though I don’t know how it connects with mud, is that NM’s soils range in age from just a few years to millions of years old. We even have a State Soil, like we have a State Bird (roadrunner, can run up to 20 mph, but can also fly because of, you know, coyotes), a State Flower (yucca, a sturdy and beautiful member of the lily family), and a state insect (tarantula hawk wasp, a nectar sipper that feeds its offspring live tarantula spiders and has, by the way, one of the most painful stings of any insect in the world). There are other state things (motto, tree, mammal, etc.) but I’m not going to look them up for you today. Sorry.
New Mexico’s State Soil is Penistaja (Navajo, “forced to sit”), named for Penistaja Mesa in northwest NM. I don’t know if the soil around here is Penistaja soil, but I do know that what I’ve got is the kind of mud that makes any attempt to drive over it an unwanted truck adventure.
If only I would remember that when I’m feeling pressured to get home.
Case in point: yesterday
Yesterday was the day to make the 85 miles one-way trip down to the county seat to register the Ford F-150 I’d purchased a few weeks ago. The county seat is the only incorporated village in our county and county building houses the closest (and only) Motor Vehicle Dept. in the whole 7000 sq. mi. Getting the appointment was a job in itself. New Mexico has gone to higher levels of bureaucracy “due to COVID’, meaning that for even a tiny motor vehicle department like ours we have to do almost everything online — including making appointments. Used to be you’d call to see if the lovely MVD lady was going to be there, tell her you were coming, and then head on down. Or just show up.
Now it’s digital appointment making, checking in via text, and then waiting in your truck till you’re texted to go in. If you’re ten minutes late, too bad, you lose your appointment. What do people without smart phones do these days?
Whether weather is okay
The appointment thing isn’t really a problem — it’s just annoying. What is an issue is this business of having to make advance appointments and then hoping the weather won’t be a major obstacle to getting there or back home. We used to have great forecasts for the area where I live, but the sole weather station near me is now reporting to a weather service that apparently fabricates the forecasts from blue sky. So while I still I check that one, I also check the next nearest weather station (35 miles away), plus some USFS stations (50+ miles away), sometimes one from due south of me even though weather doesn’t come here from that direction. I’ll also look at wind patterns and radar. Everything I can when I really depend on a decent forecast (like yesterday). This might sound impressive except I still can’t figure out the weather any better than just sticking my head out the door and looking up. Which doesn’t mean much if I need to plan for anything after the next half hour or so.
One reason for the weirdness with weather forecasting is that there are so many mountains nearby that screw with weather. The end result is that major weather events get forecasted and all kinds of emergency emails and texts get sent out that aren’t related to the weather that actually occurs. Or, worse, the day’s forecast is for sunshine and then a major weather event occurs and the emergency warnings come too late.
Last week I made the appointment with MVD for 11 a.m. yesterday morning. I spent the week compulsively studying the weather. Two nights ago I did my usual weather marathon guesstimating, and pretty much all of the sites were in agreement. Maybe a little bit of rain, but nothing major. It seemed safe to go out for the day.
When I hit the road yesterday morning there was a decent amount of blue sky above. By the time I got to the MVD it was pouring rain and 51°. A great example of the effect those pesky mountains have on local weather. That much difference in conditions wasn’t shocking as much as annoying because the cold and damp was more like early winter than the height of summer, and I was unprepared (my fault — I know better). But okay, I got the paperwork done and was on my way home by 11:30 with my cool NM license plate, title to come in the mail.
It rained almost all the way to the town in AZ where I planned to hit the library and have lunch. I still thought I was going to be OK coming home — that is, until an hour later while I was enjoying a salad of fresh strawberries, chicken, and feta cheese on a bed of greens with poppyseed dressing, when I got an emergency weather alert saying that where I live and points east were experiencing major rain and flooding.
So I’m driving home, I’m seeing dark clouds above but brighter sky towards where I’m heading. I had high hopes that either the rain hadn’t arrived at home or it had passed by. I don’t know how any weather service would know there was flooding where I live anyway, since there’s just that one weather station, and it’s on a hillside — how are they getting reports of flooding?
And the truck adventure begins
Well, that mystery aside, the first 2 1/2 miles of county road off the pavement was fine. I had my fingers crossed. But by the last half mile before my two-track the surface started getting icky. Then I turned down the down the two-track to my place – and immediately had to put the truck in four-wheel drive. The further I went the slipperier it got, and one mile down the two-track, at the last electric pole, I had to drive through what had become a pond. I almost didn’t make it.
So okay, this is the first time I’ve driven the truck in mud — I only got it a few weeks ago and didn’t want to drive it till I could register it. I had no idea what to expect of it. The first thing I discover is that while the tires look impressive they’re useless in slick mud. It was so weird slipping around in the pond — it was like suddenly the drive train had disengaged from the wheels. But they were spinning all right. It was just that the tires were sliding across the surface of the mud instead of digging in and propelling the truck forward. I finally got through the muddy pond but as you can imagine, I was sweating it. Because I knew what was still to come.
I had to go even slower as I got closer to where all the flood waters flowing downhill start to congregate before rushing through my valley. When I saw actively moving water I should have just stopped, but no. Faulty and potentially dangerous judgment. Just because floodwater is only a few inches deep doesn’t make it okay. I figured I had a good chance of getting across, based on past experience, though this particular situation was not the same, in that the earlier, heavier water-flow had gouged the little gully I have to drive so carefully over even deeper, creating a vertical a mud shelf a good 6-8” high, with water running over soft mud below it.
But I didn’t stop. At least not till the truck decided for me.
I was still basing my decisions on my F-250 (now sold) but I wasn’t driving the F-250, I was driving a F-150 on essentially glorified street tires. If I had the F-250 diesel with the all-terrain tires I would have just powered my way through it. With an unfamiliar truck I should have been hesitant to try doing the same. But I slowed down because I was undecided and the truck started slipping on the mud I was on. I had to either stop right there and leave the truck vulnerable to a later flood, or try to power out anyway.
I confess, I just reacted. I stomped on the gas pedal, rooster-tails of mud flying behind me. The truck began moving… sideways. In that unique way when things are going sour, it seemed like I was moving in slow motion but in reality the truck went sideways so fast it was over before it really registered how stupid a mess I’d gotten myself into. By the time I came to my senses we’d gone thirty feet in the wrong directions — the rear tires in the gully preventing me from going forward and the spinning tires against mud just moving me along like a crab. When I came to my senses and took my foot off the gas, and stepped out of the truck, it was like stepping out of a low rider.
I got my stuff and started slipping and sliding my way home. I was so disgusted with myself, the weather, and… well, I was pissed off, too, because when I bought the truck I looked at those tires and said they wouldn’t do, but the seller got all “oh look, they’ve got so much tread and…blah blah”. The usual “what could a mere woman know”. Well, I know what driving on two-tracks in crappy conditions is like, thank you very much. Instead I listened to a man. Sheesh. I should have driven straight to the tire place and gotten all-terrain tires. I wouldn’t have been in this position.
But no, I had to get stuck first
I spent the next few hours stressing over what would happen if it rained hard before I could try getting it out. I notified the neighbor ranchers so that they’d not try driving down the two-track. Then I fretted, frustrated because I didn’t like waiting till the next day. And I didn’t. The water had stopped draining from upstream by evening and I couldn’t wait any longer. The sun had been shining some, so with any luck maybe the mud wasn’t as bad as it had been. I grabbed a shovel and marched back out there to dig ramps for the back tires. I thought if I did that the soil could dry out right where the tires needed to go. If that didn’t work and I couldn’t get it out myself I’d have to wait for the mud pond at the last electric pole to dry out enough to ask a neighbor to come over and give me a tow.
But what if it rained again before I got the truck out? What if it flooded and the rear wheels and differential got inundated with muddy water? What if the exhaust pipe got blocked?
Oh shut up, Lif
Worrying never accomplishes anything, but doing does. After I dug ramps in front of all four tires, I decided not to wait till the next day to give it a go. I managed to rock the truck back some, and kept rocking without, I hope, stressing the transmission too much. And I swear to the gods, when that truck was suddenly back on the two-track where it belonged, I could have cheered. Heck, I did cheer. The dogs, who were muddying the back seat (had to get them out of the way), thought that was pretty cool.
I parked the truck down the two-track a ways and then went back to take photos. Even with the ramps it was amazing I got out. I felt pretty awesome. Even if it was my own fault it happened in the first place.
Needless to say, I’m not driving anywhere for a while. I don’t need any more truck adventures.