Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Story For Your Sunday

This is a story of what NOT to do when 4 wheeling. Enjoy. 

In the early 1980’s I did a lot of four wheeling and a lot of camping. One of the places I liked to go is called Upper Clementine Recreation Area on the North Fork of the American River above Auburn, California. Today this area is accessible only by hiking or mountain bike, but back then you could four-wheel your way as far as you could and nobody cared. 

In 1980 I purchased a Black Toyota 4x4 pickup. It was tricked out with a roll bar, KC lights (those 1 million candle power lights), and big tires. I took that truck everywhere. 

To access the camping place I liked in the Upper Clementine Recreation Area, you had to drive down a winding road to Lake Clementine, drive around the lake, and then from a parking area, cross the American River two, three, and sometimes four times until you reached the desired camping spot.
I had one particular spot I liked the best because it was on a bend in the river and had a nice pool that you could wash off when it got too hot and hot it got. Summer in Northern California at just below 1000 feet in elevation can easily be in the lower 100’s. 

Now that I’ve set the stage, here are several stories about that area. 

One weekend I thought it would be cool to take my gold dredge with me when I went camping. If you’ve ever mined gold in a river you know that a pool behind a big rocky area is a prime area for trapping gold. The spot I mentioned above was exactly like that and this area is part of the Mother Lode. While everybody else was doing whatever it was they were doing, I put the dredge into the pool. I got it running and with mask on, weight belt on, and regulator in my mouth (just like the one on a SCUBA tank) I went under water. 

Lying on the bottom of the pool, on top of the sand was a wallet. I brought it up and looked inside. There was a driver’s license for a guy who lived in Malibu (Southern California by Los Angeles), a pay stub from a local company, and about $200.00 in cash. I laid everything out on the hood of my truck to dry and celebrated my new found wealth. Then my wife (at the time) came into the picture. “Got to contact the guy, give him his money back”, all that goody, goody stuff. Personally I believed in finders keepers, but was over ruled.   

Now comes the Twilight Zone stuff. On the drive out we passed a bunch of guys doing what guys do on the river and the truck parked by them had the name of the company that was on the pay stub in the wallet. We stopped and asked if they knew the guy whose name was on the driver’s license. One guy said that was him and verified the address on the license. Turns out he was up there in May of that year (it was August) and lost his wallet. The $200 was from his paycheck he had just cashed. We gave him his wallet back with all the money in it and he gave us $20 for dinner. Good Samaritans all around.   

Another time camping in the same place, we were relaxing after a hot day, sipping an adult beverage when we heard a bunch of trucks coming up the trail. One of the trucks decided he was going to dash across the river, but in the middle of the river (keep in mind the river was about a foot deep at the crossing) his truck stalled. Do you think his friends would stop and help him? Oh hell no. They thought it was the perfect opportunity to drown the guy and his truck. So they split up, one going upstream about 100 yards and the other going downstream about 100 yards, turned around and began their run. Now, if you’re not familiar with vehicles before electronic ignitions, turning the key would allow you to inch the vehicle along, that is until the battery ran out of course. It was the only option this guy had other than being drowned and that is exactly what he did. He managed to get the truck up on the side of the river and from there I don’t know what happened because I went back to the adult beverages. We just considered it “on the river entertainment”. 

On that same weekend we again heard the loud whining of a vehicle racing up the trail. This time it was a VW dune buggy attempting to make a dash across the river. You have to understand that a lot of people out there in dune buggies and four wheelers aren’t very smart. Well this guy (and I’m assuming it was a guy) hit the river at about 50 miles per hour. Are you still with me? OK, when the water settled the VW was sitting in the middle of the river. I don’t know the condition of the driver or the VW. We just chalked it up to “on the river entertainment” and went back to the adult beverages. There were a lot of adult beverages consumed on those weekends. 

This time we’re at the initial crossing at the parking area somewhat early in the year. The previous week I had been up there and the water was running high and dirty, but this day it was lower and clear. In low range 4 wheel, I started across with the current. Half way across I realized that the other people we were with were not experienced enough to attempt this. If you read the book, you’ll remember the guy at Upper Sardine Lake and the girl with no clothes. Yup, same guy. I got across and turned around, got out of the truck and yelled at him to stay on his side. I guess he didn’t hear me because he started across. I jumped back into the truck and started back across, but this time bucking the current. I didn’t stop to think what I was doing, just wanted him to stop. Half way across the river, water (running over the hood) got into the carburetor and the engine died. He, on the other hand had stopped, but was stuck. 

Now we’re both stuck in the river and to our rescue came a guy in a Dodge Ramcharger. Guess what, he got stuck too. Are we having a good time or what? Meanwhile back at my truck, it’s going down for the third time. The river was washing away the sand and gravel under the tires and by then all that was above the water was the roof of the cab and the KC lights. 

Suddenly, out of nowhere this big Ford 4x4 appeared with a winch on the front. So big, in fact, that the chassis of the truck never touched the water when he crossed the river. “Eureka” (a little gold miner talk there) we were about to be saved. He winched out the Ramcharger, my friend’s truck, and finally my truck. I removed the spark plugs, turned over the engine a couple of times to push the water out of the cylinders, got it started, and drove home. Shortly thereafter I got a new truck.  

So take it from an experienced 4 wheeler and that the old adage that if you own a 4 wheeler you will get stuck at least 10 times. Doesn't hurt to have a winch on the front of your vehicle either, except when the only tree to tie onto is behind you. OH, and if you're 4 wheeling in mud, roll up the windows.

Words of wisdom from the Shoreman.  



  1. Good stories Mark! I've got some good stories myself...and not so good as well. 4-wheelers are a special breed.

  2. My uncle used to say that four wheel drive just allowed people to get into trouble faster and farther from help. Thanks for the stories. That was very entertaining.