Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Outdoorsman's Diary: Muddy Mishaps and Muddy Smiles

Getting Dressed Up
I said I didn’t need rubber boots because, in my words, “I’m not going in any mud holes.” I said this as my Dad, brother in-law and I were on our way to the north woods of Minnesota for our annual ruffed grouse hunt. I brought two pairs of outdoor boots because having two allowed me to alternate pairs to keep my feet dry.

I brought ample shotgun shells, food, water, warm clothes and, most importantly, plastic bags wherein to put the grouse meat. I was prepared--and quite confident, too.

I was only nervous about one thing: my phone battery was dangerously low. I shrugged it off, though. I had what I needed, right? I didn’t plan on getting stuck or anything.

We arrived at our destination and assembled our gear and ATVs. We agreed to meet back at our starting point at 4 PM, then dispersed to our chosen locales and trails. I went westward on a four-wheeler, a 2003 Honda Foreman Rubicon. After a short while, I got my first grouse and even lit my pipe in celebration. I continued along, puffing tobacco with eyes peeled for a second bird. 

There was one particular spot I knew about that was an excellent habitat for grouse, but it required navigating through a clearcut logging tract, which, with a four-wheeler, is tumultuous due to the overabundance of logs and large twigs. There was a way around the clearcut tract, on a snowmobile trail, but it involved traveling through a swamp, filled with cedars and black spruce. The swamp would normally be suicide for ATV travel. This year, though, the ground was dry and when I reached the clearcut tract, I surveilled this swampy section of snowmobile trail to see if it was dry enough to navigate. 

I eased into it, testing its stability. The ground was soft, but firm enough for the ATV, so I continued. I soon noticed a low section of the trail that looked like quick sand, but I went through it anyway.... 

Getting Dirty
Think, “mud,” and then think, “water.” This mud was the worst, most Devilish offspring of the two. I nearly got stuck, and had to put the transmission in “Low” to get out. 

Yup, I could get through with the Honda. I was good to go.

It seemed to be the only mud hole on the trail, and after I crossed it, the trail was enjoyable, with the black spruce and cedars lining its sides. The wilderness landscape of the lowland had an impact akin to entering a new world. 

I enjoyed this scenery for a bit, but I kept watching for the emergence of the trail that would take me to my destination--my whole purpose for coming into this swamp in the first place. After a ways, there was clearly no connecting trail in sight, so I turned around. 

Since I couldn’t find a way to my destination along the intended course, I recalled the mud pit and the fact that I needed to go through it again. So I drew up to the dreaded scene with apprehension. The black mud loomed and smirked, waiting for my next move. Instead of going right through it, like before, I attempted to stay on drier ground that was on my left. The dry ground wasn’t wide enough, though, which forced the right side of the ATV into the pit. I pressed the throttle to make it through, but the pit was like a vacuum, and the four-wheeler got eaten. Both of my right wheels were submerged in mud. I rocked the vehicle forward and back to no avail. 

I was stuck in a swamp located three miles away from our rendezvous. I had 1% battery left in my phone, so I called my Dad, but there was no service. My phone battery was soon completely dead. Also, as if to add salt to the wound, the four-wheeler had a winch, but it didn’t work. 

To theoretically get out of the mud, the right side of the four-wheeler needed to lift up so the left two wheels could gain traction on the dry ground. To do this, though, required me to stand in the mud and lift up the 600 pounds of machinery. I knew Newton’s Laws of Motion; if I pushed up, my feet would sink into the mud. Besides, I couldn’t lift a 600 pound four-wheeler (nor will I ever be able to), especially when the mud held its wheels down in suction.

Remember Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing? Yeah, well, Yoda wasn’t there to help me. It was going no where. I stood on the dry ground, looking at the wreck. I wrapped my mind around the problem in an attempt to find a solution. There was none, unless I was The Hulk or Yoda. 

I grabbed some large sticks and put them in the mud so that I could stand on the right side of the ATV. So I lifted up on the vehicle, and all that moved was the slack in the suspension. There was nothing I could do, and after 15 minutes of futility, I abandoned the machine.

I commenced my hike in a mass of sweat and filth. I had to hurry because I only had an hour before our rendezvous. Grouse were at the back of my mind, and, of course, I saw three on my hike. Two took flight and I quickly shot at the third, botching the shot mightily, and it took flight as well. “Royally pissed” would be a mild description of my mental status at this point. 
After the three miles of hiking, I arrived with sore legs and an achy back. Humbled and angry, I joined my Dad and brother in-law to retrieve the ATV. We used my cousins four-wheeler, which had a winch, to get it out. Without a winch, the Honda would have been in China next Spring. 

For the rest of that evening, I saw no more grouse. I had a bad day, a bad experience. I didn’t want to get stuck, but I did. My confident preparedness wasn’t enough to keep me from making a mistake. My ego got hit in the goods with the only little mud hole in all of Koochiching County.

Cleaning Up
When I was stuck in that pit, I prayed to God to help me out, but what I was really asking was to have the ability to get out. He answered my prayer, but in the worst way for the vitality of my ego: to make me walk three miles and get help from someone else. I was forced to cast aside self-assurance; I learned my lesson.

Frankly, I was tempted to only take the lesson and forget everything else, including the beauty of the swamp--the smell of the mud, the air, the trees. 

How much of my life have I missed because I dwelt on the “bad” part of a “bad day” or “bad experience”? How much have I missed by dwelling on my mishaps and thinking they have some sort of imprisoning hold on my identity?

It’s easy to confuse humbling events as self-depreciating messages about our identity. My mud-hole experience could have easily made me selfish, dwelling on my own failure, but God never gives us such messages that bolster selfishness. He points us to beauty, grace and lessons upon which to become a more humble and selfless person.  

Mishaps don’t identify me, nor you. Our identity isn’t found in mistakes, but in what God says. Knowing this allows us to tell stories about our mishaps with smiles rather than self-depreciating frowns. It allows us to remember the little things that are missed when we dwell on what we did wrong. God reminded me to forget my weaknesses--to forget myself--and to (retrospectively) smell the mud and enjoy it too. I now recall the mud, its smell, the scene of the hopeless ATV, the beauty of the landscape, and I smile. 

(Pictures: the beauty of the swamp, taken the day after the mishap)