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Go Big or Go Home!

That’s one way to look at it. In our case, the error wasn’t intentional, just a momentary lack of judgement that turned out really, really badly.

It rained for two solid days this past week, and when the sun came out on Friday, we wanted to go somewhere interesting. We settled on the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge, a place we’d been to before. This time, we packed a picnic and planned to walk a few hundred yards out to the beach, rather than walk the trail among the trees.

We made a few detours on the way to look at storm effects on a different beach, so we got a late start. By noon, we turned off Rte. 1 and headed west along the short road to the park. Less than 1/4 mile along, we could see some big puddles, and some tracks going through them. I didn’t remember whether the road was paved under the water and mud. It didn’t look great, so we sat and debated for a minute. Then we went ahead.

That was a mistake. We should have gotten out and gone for a look, which would have convinced us of the futility of driving through this spot in a Prius. We plunged on, and within less than a minute realized our mistake. It was impossible for Jonathan to turn the car around in the mud, and though he successfully backed up about half way back to the paved road, we stuck fast about 100 yards from safety. And yes, the few vehicles that subsequently passed us as we waited for assistance all had four wheel drive.

We tried to get ourselves out of the mud, but we had no tools and the mud was very thick and sticky. In no time, our boots weighed about five pounds per foot, with huge clods of mud stuck everywhere. After a half hour of effort, we realized that we were slowly slipping toward the field of newly-planted cauliflower that lay beside us, and not getting any further out. I got on the phone with road service through our car insurance, State Farm, and started the process of getting help.

When the tow truck arrived, we ran into our first problem. The driver had a big truck but not four wheel drive. He believed he would get stuck. After trying to help us with boards and a shovel for a half hour or so, Francisco went on to his next job promising to alert the State Farm roadside service. After about 20 minutes, I called State Farm again, and when I explained where we were stuck and what was needed, I was told that once a car is more than 100 feet from pavement, it is considered off-roading. She didn’t say that outright, but told me I wasn’t eligible for towing. When I protested, instead of explaining the options, she cut me off, connecting me to a woman who handled roadside assistance for non-State Farm calls. This woman was helpful until the end when she explained that she had to reconnect with State Farm in order to process my request. She connected me to another person who said they would send someone. We got to the end of the call when my phone rang. I put the first person on hold, went to the second, also from State Farm, who said we needed to start the process again. I explained that I was on the line with a State Farm person who was going to dispatch someone and was told that would take care of it. I returned to the person helping me who said she would text me the details.

Just us, the Prius, and nature

That’s where we lost State Farm. Apparently, I should have hung up on the person helping me and gone with the new voice. After both people were off the phone, we never heard from State Farm again. No text with the name of a tow company, no text asking whether we were still waiting for help, not another peep.

In the meantime, Jonathan googled “tow service near me” and ended up getting a person who was willing to get the job done. He didn’t like the mud, he was afraid his truck would become mired, but after backing in toward us and extending his tow cable to the max, his first pull broke his tow cable. Fortunately, he had a spare, and after changing cables, he spent about 90 minutes winching us toward his truck, then moving the truck forward, and winching again, a slow process of getting jolted toward the road. We sat in the car so that he knew where we were and that we were out of the way if the cable snapped again.

Out of the mud at last, only five hours later

It was approaching sunset when we emerged, covered in thick gooey mud, boots, wheels, spatter everywhere. We paid a fortune to the nice man with the tow truck, thanked him for his persistence, and headed home, speculating what we would have done if the sun set and we were still stuck. Abandoning our car over night sounded like a terrible idea, but so did sitting in the car and starting all over again with State Farm.

As we drove home, we noticed that the car was shuddering a bit at higher speed. We attributed it to the mud chunks gradually coming off the wheels. The next day, we picked off the largest lumps of mud, then scrubbed the car with a broom while hosing it off to get it clean enough to take to the car wash. There was less mud on the interior because we’d put plastic shopping bags under our boots. On his return from the car wash, Jonathan gave me the bad news, the car still shook at speeds over 40 mph. Monday it goes to the shop for alignment and we hope that’s all it needs.

This is a tale of our desire to get to one destination overtaking our common sense. In all my writing about travel, I harp on the fact that it isn’t necessary to go to any particular place in order to have a good visit. I should have paid attention to my own advice!