Sunday, December 20, 2015

Survival of the squiddest

The other day I found myself (placed myself, actually) in a bit of a dicey situation.

I'd gone out to feed cows just before 3 p.m. When I say feed cows, I mean that I took a couple of big round bales of grass hay aboard the hydra bed pickup, drove out into the pasture, and rolled out the hay for the cows to eat. Which they appreciated.

As an aside, we make our cows work for a living, which is of course, racist. We don't have cows for fun. Well, not only for fun. They have to pay their way and generate enough income to make it worth owning them. All told, that means making more than their maintenance cost, which is about $900 per year per cow. This includes the cow herd enterprise share of feed, water, electricity, vet bills, land taxes, and so forth. They do this by making and raising babies, which we trade for cash. When calves bring $900 per head, we break even; That is, we pay all the bills associated with the cow herd and have exactly zero jingle left in the pocket to show for a year's effort. Even in good years profit margins are tight, so we have to keep expenses down. This means raising cows that can feed themselves on winter grazing, without a lot of supplemental feed. The weather gets to vote, though, and when the cured-on-the-stem winter grass is covered with snow, we have to feed supplemental hay. It's a bit more complicated than that, but in a nutshell it's important to keep expenses down.

At any rate, when I'd finished feeding, I took and went and tried to drive back out of the pasture. The 4WD failed on the truck though, and there was just enough snow of just the right consistency to make it extremely difficult to drive out. To cut to the chase, I got stuck.

So there I was, stuck, four miles from home, with the sun quickly marching out of the sky. What to do? There were options, of course. What I decided to do was to hike out and return on the morrow for to extract the truck.

Why that decision? The weather was fine, with temps in the low 30's and no wind. As the sun set it would get cold, but I was dressed correctly, in layers, and wearing superb winter hiking boots.

I am fit. I'm no cut and sculpted model of peak physical fitness, but I get by. I don't enjoy trudging through deep snow or walking home when it would be more convenient to drive, but a mile of deep snow and three miles of county road isn't much more taxing for me than a dash to the refrigerator.

I like to hike. I prefer to hike in the season of easy living, but that's mostly because I'm lazy. Winter hiking takes a bit more preparation and thought. I do it at least once a month, but it helps to have something or someone light a fire under my @$$. A stuck pickup is a good fire lighter, I was dressed for the occasion (I never set out to do winter chores unless I'm dressed and prepared to exercise non-optimal procedures), the evening was absolutely gorgeous, and I was up for the adventure.

I could have called for help but I wasn't too keen on asking friends and neighbors to bail me out of this bit of self-inflicted buffoonery. I could have called the old man to meet me part way, but he wasn't feeling so great, so no, I really couldn't have.

I had my cell phone to call for help in an emergency, but the plan was to not let the situation deteriorate into an emergency. Emergency services being what they are in my little slice of paradise, a call to 911 would almost certainly put under-trained and overconfident folks at unnecessary risk.

So I hiked out, and it was a smashingly lovely experience. It was cold but I was warm enough and more, and hiking through nature's winter -- particularly when there's not much wind -- is just magical. The taste and feel of the air, vibrant sunset palette all around, the sound of boots crunching and the feel of muscles working, heart beating, air rushing in and out...

The first part of the hike was the hardest and least fun. The pickup was stuck about 450 yards from the road, but the direct path to the road was through fairly deep snow, including a dozen or so deep drifts. The more sensible way was to follow my tracks, taking advantage of the already compacted snow to make the going easier.

Easier is not the same as easy though, it's still a lot of work to hike a mile of snowy pickup tracks. Cold, dry snow is rather like dry sand (remember that ice is technically a mineral). The passage of the pickup tires had compressed the snow a good bit, but not completely. With each step my smaller-than-a-tire footprint would sink in, compressing the snow first down, then down and aft. This takes quite a bit more energy than walking on dry, clear ground. Enhances the workout for sure.

Once I made it out of the pasture it was clear sailing and only a matter of a three-mile walk along a mostly clear county road. 
Yield, hell!
The moon was also a hiking companion.
The cows were not concerned enough about my plight to pause from their repast.
Heading north, looking northeast.
Looking northwest.
Blurry, telephoto view of the mired truck.
Christmassy cheer of KIBM's runway lights.

Back in the olden days when I was doing sailor type aviation stuff I attended SERE school up in Maine, during the winter. Twice. Part of the winter survival lecture included case studies of real survival situations. They all kind of run together in my mind now, but the successful survivalists had some things in common, including pre-thinking and/or training, preparation and basic supplies, and most importantly, perseverance. Suck it up and drive on. The unsuccessful survivalists -- the ones we heard about anyway -- failed that last station. The failure I remember best was the light plane guy who had a forced landing on a frozen lake up in Canadia somewhere. He never even got out of the plane after making a successful landing. He just gave up before he started, pulled out a pistol and shot himself. His body was still warm and leaking when the residents of a lake-shore cabin less than a mile away arrived to offer assistance.

Well. Just imagine St. Peter's greeting. "You idiot!"

I can't imagine panicking over being stuck in the snow and having to deal with an unplanned winter hike. But I know a lot of people who could or would panic.

Morals of the story?

Plan and prepare for, but stay the hell out out of emergency situations.

If you land up in an emergency situation, suck it up and drive on. Which, to paraphrase Yogi, is 90 percent mental and the other half physical.

Enjoy the ride.


  1. Walkin' in a winter wonderland.

    Looks pretty out there. Looks cold. The crunch of the snow underfoot sure brings back memories, not all of 'em good. But near enough.

    Another great post Shaun, entertaining and amusing. You have this blogging thing nailed!

    1. Is it go after it with the Deere stuck? Snow crunching under Sorrels is a wonderful sound. One of my favorite parts of this time of year is the soft gray light of twilight. We are truly blessed to be living here in this country, with 4 complete seasons.
      The little half Holstien you wrote about last Christmastime must be about a year old, now.

    2. @Sarge, winter wonderland aye! Pretty and cold, almost like it's Decembler!

      Thanks for the kind words.

    3. @Scott, No Deere needed. I dug it out, let the sun settle the snow a bit, then drove it out. I agree that we're blessed to have four seasons. Last year's Christmas story was pure fiction, though based on a number of real people, events and experiences. The little girl is a big girl now with little girls of her own.

    4. So it wasn't actually Farmer Stuck.

    5. Not even close. Somehow I restrained myself from rocking it until it disappeared. ;)

  2. HAPPY NEW YEAR! A time for plotting fresh plots of revenge! Badgers are sweet, cuddly, affable, and vindictive.

    1. Thanks Scott. Same to you, even though my reply is very late!