Wheels: Mud season

By Eric Meltzer

Come along with me for a drive, windows down, seasonal fragrances of spring in the air. Sprigs of color peeking through last year's fallen leaves and buds on the trees make, as my wife Michelle says, the world look like a partially done painting.

Springtime offers a respite from the cabin fever of winter and for us locals, it also offers limited traffic and quiet roads. Mud season keeps the visitors away and as much as we love to share our surrounding beauty, the down time is a welcome relief before the summer rush.

This drive was on the return from an errand with a friend in the passenger seat of a very capable commercial vehicle, in excess of a typical 1-ton rating, although only rear-wheel drive, equipped with aggressive tires. We bumped along an unknown back road adventurously, seeking to discover whether this road would exit to a familiar location or if we were going to pop out in Peaceful Valley with the radio broadcasting the crackling voice of Rod Serling welcoming us to the Twilight Zone — and I'm not sure it would have mattered on such a day.

Rounding a sweeping bend in the road revealed a truck and empty equipment trailer parked on the dry high side of the camber, allowing only a pass through what appeared to be the remains of tranquil snowbanks lazily shedding their unfrozen bounty across the road to be reclaimed by Mother Earth on the other side.

Pausing momentarily and with the fleeting but familiar confidence of youth that I should have long ago outgrown, I slowly waded into the unknown. It didn't take long to realize that beneath the surface of the flow the unstable and soaked ground had already resolved to block our passage as our vehicle lurched at a sickening angle to the right. An attempt at reversing our route of travel and our situation proved fruitless as the truck sank deeper into the mire. Ahead, at some distance, dry ground beckoned and as reverse was not an option, I pulled the transmission selector into drive and matted the throttle as the now-submerged exhaust pipe burbled in protest and the truck surged forward, clawing at the sodden road bed and leaning impossibly further right. When all forward and backward motion ceased, we knew we had reached the end of our journey.

Testing the effectiveness of the passenger door seal against the head pressure of the meandering stream wasn't on my list of chores, but we accomplished it with aplomb. Climbing down from the driver's door, now suspended high enough to jump clear of the water, my friend in tow, we examined our limited options.

Our luck began to turn as that empty truck and trailer we attempted to circumnavigate earlier was actually waiting to receive its cargo, consisting of an excavator, and that machine was now ambling down the adjacent logging road to our rescue. A couple lengths of chain hooked to an appropriate perch on the frame of the truck, and a skilled and extremely helpful and understanding operator soon had us free and back on high ground, minimal damage to the vehicle.

Once back home, a garden hose wiped away the rest of the embarrassing evidence.

Mud season brings its share of risks, though they're seldom more than inconveniencing. These risks can usually be overcome with a strong chain or tow strap and a sturdy vehicle capable of a strong tug. Moving water across the road poses a more imminent danger and should never be forged especially when depth and what lies beneath are unknown.

Rushing water from flash floods and quickly melting snow can sweep a vehicle away, endangering its occupants in alarmingly short order. Always heed "road closed" signs and markings, and never second guess their legitimacy. I can assure you, a short detour or backtracking is infinitely quicker than trying to find an excavator and chain in the middle of nowhere if you're lucky enough just to get buried and stuck. The dangers of continuing are far worse, and the damage to a flooded vehicle with modern electronics is nearly always irreversible.

Enjoy the spring weather, time with friends and family, our beautiful valley — and, as always, drive carefully.

Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.