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Skeptics in the Jeep’s Curious Adventure

by Brian Dunning, Aug 20 2009

LogoA hallmark of the successful social organization is frequent and fun gatherings. Here at “Skeptics in the OC”, our informal and unofficial group in southern California, we have a monthly pub night, usually well attended, and also Skeptics in the Jeep. The Jeep trips are what you might expect: A bunch of us crowd into a couple of rigs and jaunt out to the desert for a fun day of geology, hiking, Jeeping, mine exploration, and the occasional drama. Such was this month’s trip.

It did not begin with drama. Seven of us set out, four in my Monster Jeep (Roy, Hannah, Sarah, and I), and three in Neil’s FJ Cruiser (Neil, Lauren, and Jamie). We started at Rainbow Basin, outside of Barstow, an area of startlingly colorful geology. We clambered around on painted ridges, took goofy pictures, and had a fine time. From there we headed over to the Bismarck Mine, a vast mining complex. To get home, we headed down the rough Jeep trail toward the ghost town Calico.

JeepWhen I say “rough Jeep trail,” you should understand the full force of the term. The canyon was quite narrow, often not wide enough to turn around in, and barricaded by dry waterfalls often four, five, or more feet high. Going down in the Monster Jeep was not difficult, but it definitely kept your attention. Going up would have been tough. For Neil in his nearly stock FJ, it would have been virtually if not completely impossible.

We had not gone far before we discovered that we had accidentally broken a fundamental rule of backcountry travel: Stay together. Over the radios, we discovered that we had somehow managed to take parallel canyons. We paused, discussed, and concluded (unwisely) that the best thing to do was to continue separately rather than trying to back up and meet. The canyons eventually converge, so we continued.

Roy, Brian, Hannah, Sarah, Jamie, Neil, Lauren

Roy, Brian, Hannah, Sarah, Jamie, Neil, Lauren

Half an hour later, the Monster Jeep emerged at the bottom into a dry sandy wash, but the FJ was nowhere to be found. They were out of both radio and cell range, and remained so for over an hour. When we finally did hear from them, we got a surprise. The three of them had managed to coax the FJ to the bottom of the narrow canyon, but upon reaching the entrance, they found it corked by an RV that had attempted to drive up the canyon, blown a tire, jackknifed the trailer it was towing, killed its engine, and high centered itself on the canyon boulders, partly resting on its propane tank.

What was worse than the situation were the people who had gotten themselves into it. Two men, a woman, and five dogs had been drinking, fighting, and screaming at one another for a reported three hours before we arrived. They had brought tons of stuff with them, everything except anything useful. Unable to solve their dilemma, they had simply fought about it and accomplished nothing. And, just to complete the mise-en-scène, one of the dogs was pregnant.

And with their cavalcade blocking the FJ into the canyon, and no other way out, we were their prisoners.

Not what you want to encounter late at night

Not what you want to encounter late at night

It took us a full hour of trying to talk with them and calm them down into considering a rational path toward a solution. Only when one of the men got fed up and walked off into the desert with his guitar were those who stayed willing to start working the problem. It soon transpired that the RV owner was unwilling to listen to any advice, was only interested in pursuing his own bizarre schemes to get loose, and was drunk and belligerent and scary.

I’ll spare you the details, but it took another four hours of strain on the Monster Jeep’s winch, my Hi-Lift jack, and a crapload of elbow grease (mostly from Neil, as I was better suited for supervisory work) to finally drag first the trailer, and then their big crappy old RV, out of that canyon. When Neil’s FJ finally wove its way through the remnants, we got the hell out of there as quickly as we could. And just in time for the guy with the guitar to make it back. 10:30pm was when we finally hit pavement and headed for home.

Free at last, free at last, free at last

Free at last, free at last, free at last

One of our company had been told by the woman that she had been praying to God to help them get free. If God was indeed responsible for the rescue we provided, sending a group of atheists to do the work was an interesting choice.

You might be wondering why the people did not walk back to the road to call a sheriff or ranger and get a wrecker out there to haul them out, nor would they accept our offer to assist them in this. The explanation is the final stroke of paint on a Rembrandt: The guy had a warrant.

23 Responses to “Skeptics in the Jeep’s Curious Adventure”

  1. John says:

    What was the warrant for?

    • Dax says:

      I hope it’s for “stupidity”… you know, that should be punishable, right?

      • Hettfield says:

        My dad always used to tell me, “you don’t punish ignorance, only forgive it”… but that doesn’t mean you can’t ridicule it! ;)

  2. MadScientist says:

    Screw that – I hate clueless gits that head off into remote territory and leave god to sort things out; I think I must run into them about once every 5 trips. Ran out of fuel (yeah, god’ll fix that), no water and no food, burst a tire and have no spare, broke an axle, flipped the vehicle trying to go up steep embankments without a winch – the list is endless. I often wonder if I should just drive past and let nature sort them out, but that’ll be breaking the tradition of folks out in the middle of nowhere. Well at least it was no more than a waste of a day thanks to idiots.

  3. SeanJJordan says:

    Wow. Just… wow.

  4. LovleAnjel says:

    At first I was jealous of your field trips, but now…not so much.

  5. Darren says:

    Skeptics+Jeep= Awesome. I wish I lived out by the deserts instead of the midwest.

  6. steelsheen11b says:

    Should’ve left them there, let god sort’em out.

  7. tmac57 says:

    Had all the elements of an episode of ‘Breaking Bad’.

  8. Roy Natian says:

    I took 80% of the pictures here and Brian didn’t credit me :P
    It was a very very fun trip. Tiring at the end, but the hilarity of it all made it almost worth the hassle.

    Also, there was a fire Brian forgot to mention. We stopped by the Ranger’s office (they were almost NO help to us) and near the restrooms there was a trash can smoking and on fire. I put it out by soaking paper towels and wringing out water onto the fire. Hehe.

  9. Redhotrebel says:

    You should have followed the laws of natural selection and left them there ensuring humanity that they would be left far from the gene pool.

  10. Sheldon W. Helms says:

    That’s the best story I’ve read in a long time. My partner owns an FJ Cruiser and does the rock climbing stuff several times a month. Here’s hoping he never rims into THOSE freaks!

  11. Patrick says:

    What size tires are running? What type?

  12. Mike says:

    good god, that’s awesome. It make me want to join you all for the next one. Living in Colorado it might be difficult but I must know when you go again. I have a stock nissan xterra but I’d be game to test it’s limits.

  13. Ryan Johnson says:

    That was the Skeptics in the Jeep that you invited ME to go on!! For once missing the adventure, seems like it worked out in my FAVOR, Ha ha.

    I’d love to go on the next one, but I think I’ll leave MY Fj Cruiser at the paved parking lot …until I get to know the “road” a bit better. -Yeah I’m a wuss!

  14. Dave R says:

    Pity you didn’t have access to some dynamite — pack about 20 sticks around the propane tank on the RV, lure everyone a good distance away on some pretext, and — problem solved!

  15. Dave R says:

    PS: I’d think the *real* first rule of offroading should be, don’t go downhill in a narrow cut you can’t reverse back out of if you hit an obstacle, or the canyon gets too narrow, or ??? What if it wasn’t an RV and trailer blocking the way, what if that path just dead-ended into a wall or fallen boulder?