Winch Envy

4x4 sticky wicket polar star hut
Yet another sticky wicket for James.Bring me my winch!

Nothing says “choose your adventure” like trying to navigate Colorado’s backcountry 4×4 roads. How can you not love maps that label roads as “county roads” when the actual roads are marked with forest service numbers? And oh, those forest service numbers. 2481A, 2481B, 2481A2, R2D2³ etc. It’s like off-road bingo. And what about all those mysterious tracks heading up unmarked paths into the wilderness? It’s a confusing riddle, wrapped in an enigma, sauteed with flat tires and blown radiator hoses. I assume this is the famous “Jeep thing” that I wouldn’t understand.

jeep thing
In my case, this is true.

One thing I do understand is the law of gravity, which was tossing my dogs around the interior of my Toyota 4Runner like jiffy pop as I slammed my way up a rather violent 4×4 road near Leavenworth Creek in Georgetown. I was trying to reach the Waldorf Mine, supposedly accessible by a mild 4×4 road “passable by tough passenger cars”. The road I was currently on wouldn’t be accessible by Sherman tank. My mantra as I squeezed my very fingerprints into the steering wheel was “This is why I paid $250 per tire, this is why I paid $250 per tire.” After crossing multiple rocky creek beds, fighting up burly boulders and repeatedly hearing the frightening thud of skid plate on granite, I reached a calm, flat section.

Thankfully, I happen to have a very battle worthy vehicle. My 1998 4Runner was the last generation of Toyota trucks to be designed more with the intention of high-centering over banyan roots and less bringing Ashton and Jenna to soccer practice. While it’s not a dedicated off-road vehicle, it gets the job done. And so far, all was well. No gashes in the tires, no fatal plume of smoke rising from beneath the engine. Yes, I had two scrambled dogs but we had a puncher’s chance at getting home.

I got out on foot to explore the remainder of the road, which by now I had figured out was a spur to the actual road I meant to be on. It was a short drive to the intersection of the two, less than a quarter mile but in that distance I had to muscle up a steep, rock strewn section. Just to keep things interesting, there was the occasional unavoidable boulder that had to be hit with momentum. This was it, the final round. Make it to the main road and Bob’s your uncle, I’m free. Blow it and you’re a 4×4 loser, stuck in the woods until the marmots gnaw the flesh from your bones.

This is when I began to long for a winch.

Ah, the winch, the most manly of truck appendages. Less pretentious than a snow plow. More subtle than a gratuitous exhaust snorkel. Mounted on the front of a truck, it conveys all the masculine majesty of a Tom Selleck mustache. It serves to rescue other less-endowed vehicles. The winch, my friends, is the tall, dark and handsome doctor of the truck accessory world.

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit I’ve been on the receiving end of the winch twice, mostly recently by a truck that had replaced all four tires with mini tank treads. While grateful, there is something kind of emasculating about having another man winch your truck. But at the same time, having been winched twice, my justification for buying a winch of my own grows stronger. Imagine the confidence of looking down at some poor winch-bereft vehicle, letting out the slightest smirk and calmly saving an inferior 4×4 participant. Just the thought makes me want to smash an empty beer can against my forehead.

Leavenworth Creek Road
Hang onto your teeth, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Back to the story. I loaded the dogs back into the truck and we made our run up the bash-worthy hill. One by one, we made it past the stubborn rocks until the very last pitch. Steep and strewn with the biggest boulders, I basically shut my eyes and pinned the gas. And in one dusty, bumpy thrust it was over.

You know that feeling after a big ski crash where you go through a systems check for broken fingers, dislodged eyes, etc? That’s how it felt. Let’s see. Two dogs, a little annoyed but fine. Four tires, none flat. Brakes functional. Side mirrors attached.

We did it! And in a few more minutes we reached out goal, the Waldorf Mine.

Of course, by now I’d wasted so much time battling the 4×4 road, storms began to roll in. After all that work, we had about 20 minutes of hiking before we had to retreat from lightning storms and drive home, via the correct, mild road of course.

When my wheels finally touched the familiar security of pavement on Guenella Pass, I let out a deep sigh of relief. Not only had I escaped intact, I added another argument for investing in a winch of my own. But one must earn his winch-guy status. While I feel I have advanced in my winch-worthiness, I’m not quite there yet. I assume there will come a moment of winch-enlightenment, when all will make sense and it would seem pure folly to not have a winch. There will be life before the winch, when all was dark and scary and life after the winch, where all is sunshine, flowers and taut steel cables.

Until then, I’m thinking of investing in crash helmets for my dogs.

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