Friday, March 8, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 90: The Value of Friends

Key Text

"Some friends don't help, but a true friend is closer han your own family." Proverbs 18:24 (CEV)


There are times in our lives when we do things we shouldn’t, even though we know better. This story is about one of those times. Most guys are into big 4x4 trucks and off-roading at some point in their life, even if they never actually own an off-road capable vehicle. When I bought my first 4 wheel drive truck, I was ecstatic! I was the proud owner of a 2003 Nissan Frontier with a Supercharged V6. It wasn’t everyone’s dream off-roader, but it belonged to me, and I was excited! There was only one limitation, I was in college and didn’t have any money to outfit my new truck for going off the asphalt.

After a long period of saving and dreaming, I was able to stash enough money for some serious off-road tires. And with those on my truck, I was ready to tear up some dirt! I tested out my tires on a few day trips with some buddies and the truck handled spectacularly. Next, I decided it was time for a multi-day trip on an overland trail. I set my sights on the Kentucky Adventure Trail, a 900+ mile loop trail in Eastern Kentucky. This is not an official, maintained trail. It is a hodgepodge of forest service roads, old logging trails, and backcountry roads strung together by a GPS route. The route was mapped and is kept updated by volunteers from the region. No one maintains the trails themselves.  Before venturing onto the KAT as it has been dubbed, one needs to make sure they have the latest updated GPS route because the route can change drastically due to blocked or closed trails.

This was the adventure I chose as my first multi-day trip. And that is when I started down a dangerous path. I gleaned as much detail as possible from the limited information available about the route and chatted with people who had been on it. I learned all the hard portions of the trail were optional detours and that the main trail was easy enough. I set a date and invited some friends. The day for departure finally arrived after much preparation and anticipation. My wife and I would be riding in my truck. And my friends, well they couldn't attend due to last minute schedule conflicts.

Most of the first day of our trip was uneventful but beautiful. The back roads of Eastern Kentucky pass through miles of rural forest and rolling hills. Our path changed from pavement to gravel to dirt and back again. Towards the late afternoon, we found ourselves on an old logging road. It crossed a few streams and then began to climb, becoming ever-more narrow. It was muddy and my mud-terrain tires finally earned their keep. The trail became littered with large rocks that required slow crawling speed. At times one side of the road dropped dozens of feet and was barely wide enough to keep my tires from sliding over the edge. After this, we came to a tight corner that required an eleven point turn just to navigate followed by a decent so steep my tires were sliding even though I had the brake pressed to the floor. 

I grew concerned as you might expect that we had ventured into one of the challenging detours. Checking my GPS, the green route confirmed this was the main "easy" trail. I could see yellow and red sections nearby marking the more challenging detours. The trail had become so narrow by now that there was no place to turn my pickup truck around. The only option was to head down the worsening trail.

As we continued slowing along it began to grow dark. The GPS showed that we were miles from anything. We continued, mile after mile, praying we could get to a paved road. We did not plan to camp in this remote forest. We were in the midst of bear country. When darkness set in the trail became difficult to distinguish. My truck did not have a heavy duty bumper or brush guard so I went extra slow to avoid smashing my bumper on a tree or limb. Nor did it have floodlights as most well equipped off-road vehicles do to light up the trail at night.

So as a large log across the trail came into view, there was no way to be seen around it. I stopped to get out and inspect the log. Sure enough, it was low enough we could make it over the top. I just needed a little speed to get the front tires over the top. With my wife waiting outside to help guide me over, I accelerated toward the log and came to a sudden stop. I had definitely not gone over it. I looked to my left and saw the ground. Thankfully, I was not upside down. But there was no doubt in my mind, I was stuck. I had to crawl out my door's window because my door would not open. Walking around my truck I discovered that my left front tire was in a hole up to the axle. It had been completely camouflaged by tall grass. It was in just the right place to catch my front tire. My front plastic bumper was pinned against the log I was attempting to surmount. There was no doubt in my mind, things had just gotten serious.

Now I must admit my idiotic mistake. I ventured into a vast unknown forest to go off-roading alone and took no winch. Nor did I have a come-along, a kind of hand-powered winch. I did not even take so much as a rope. Why, for the same reason I didn't outfit my truck with any other off-roading extras, I didn't have the money. Or at least that is the excuse I made. In hindsight, it was a stupid choice. A decent chain and come-along would have cost me $200 or less. I may not have been able to afford other bells and whistles. But some method of extraction is crucial to off-roading. I had planned on my friends coming along. They could have easily pulled me out. But they were not there now.

Worse than that, no-one knew where we were, and it was dark. There was still Someone looking out for us. My wife and I prayed over the situation. Then I began trying to back out of the hole. I tried and tried to reverse out of the hole. The back right wheel was in the air and unable to help. The others just spun and slung sopping mud everywhere. My fancy tires were not much good now. Next, I grabbed my shovel and tried to dig the edge of the hole into a ramp in the hopes the front left tire could get out if it was less steep. Thankfully, I had the sense to pack a shovel. But after about 45 minutes of slinging mud in the dark with both a shovel and tires I was just as stuck as before.

Praying to God I considered my options. Looking at my GPS I realized we were only about two miles from a paved road. I decided to send a call for help over my CB radio. It was unlikely anyone would hear, but it was worth a shot. After 30 or so unsuccessful minutes calling for help over emergency channel 9, I knew no one could hear us. Having realized how close we were to the road, it dawned on me we might be able to walk to the road and try and flag down a car. But it was late at night and it didn't seem like there was much of a chance of a car passing by. Besides, if they did stop what could they do? It seemed like we were stuck there till morning. Then I glanced at my phone to check the time.

Only, the time was not the first thing that caught my attention. The two bars of cell reception did instead! Cellphone service, out here in the boonies? "Praise God" I said allowed! I was able to call the local sheriff's office and tell them about my predicament. They were able to mobilize the local County rescue squad. When they arrived, they had a long chain and come-along. They rigged to a nearby tree and me unstuck in about five minutes! We were so thankful we were near tears. My wife and I were able to safely make it back to the road and we were praising God the entire way.

God used this experience to teach me some valuable lessons. Principle among them is the value of friends. I learned that day how dangerous it is to attempt the unknown, alone. Some people think they are better off alone in this life. They think they do not need others, they don't need the church or fellowship with other Christians. But this could not be more wrong. God gave us friends to pull us out when we get stuck. They are there to support us and keep us on the correct path. Sometimes God brings previously unknown 'friends' into our life to help us just when we need them like the rescuers who saved me that day. Even if all of our human friends abandon us, we know that we have a Friend in heaven who is always with us!

Written by David F. Garner
Photo Credit: kaboompics via