Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 41B, September–October 1971
After flirting with death for 50 miles, at least the road ahead was now visible. I was finally calming down and beginning to enjoy the drive, but before my heart rate had returned to normal, I was faced with yet another shocker.
My truck lost power! “What!” When I pressed on the accelerator pedal, there was no response.
I checked the gas gauge but it showed two-thirds full. Without power my speed decreased until I was barely inching along—which was frightening. I didn’t want to be stranded in the middle of the narrow, winding highway. On a dark night like this one, any vehicle tearing around the bend could plow into me. Fortunately, a spot appeared on the shoulder wide enough to park.
I tried to re-start my truck, but it wouldn't catch. Under the hood with a flashlight, I removed the air filter. I stuck my fingers in the carburetor. Dry! Maybe an air bubble in the line? I thought a moment. “Prime the sucker.”
I retrieved my gas can and splashed a little petrol in the carburetor. Back behind the wheel, the motor turned over a few times and then caught. “Yes!” I revved the engine and it continued to run. “All Right!”
Next, I jumped out, replaced the air filter, and slammed the hood closed. Back in the cab, I shifted into gear. “We’ll make it yet, Charlie. Here we go!” My truck pulled onto the highway and before long, I was cruising down the canyon, picking up speed.
Again, my celebration was premature. The truck cut out and died as before. And for a second time, the stress of finding a place to pull over plagued me. Just before I came to a complete stop, a narrow space appeared on the shoulder and I was able to move off the road.
I sat there for a few minutes with little left in my psychological tank. Get a hold of yourself. You’ll be down the canyon soon. There’s a station in Oroville that might be open this late.
I found the carburetor dry as before. Then, with a wrench, I detached the fuel line to see if gas was getting to the carburetor. It was difficult to see, but the fuel line was wet with gas, so I was puzzled. I reattached the line, replicated the priming procedure, and again was successful in starting the engine. This frustrating scenario repeated itself two more times before I cruised into Oroville.
Around midnight, I pulled into a self-serve gas station. I could barely think straight. I sat silent for a time, trying to get a grip. The ride down the canyon had taken four hours instead of one and a half—and I was only midway to my destination. At least from here on, the terrain was flat and most of the roads were straight.
After fueling up, I opened the hood. Under the lights, I could see that the copper fuel line was crimped just before it connected to the carburetor. That must be the problem. Nothing I can do about it this time of night. I’ll just have to press on.
Stressed, tired, and not thinking clearly, feeling much like the dregs at the bottom of a neglected coffee mug, I fired up my truck and pulled out of the station. Turning left, we continued under the highway overpass in search of the southbound ramp. I drove on for a few minutes, poking along in the moonless night.
The road had no white line, so I could barely see my way, and then it began to tilt down a slope at a significant angle. The smooth asphalt now had ridges, and my truck bumped gently down the incline. A small percentage of my brain was still cognizant because I thought this was odd. Suddenly, my headlights reflected off water—lots of water—and only a few feet from my bumper. I slammed on the breaks with a four-letter shout as my front tires began to submerge. For a moment, I didn’t understand. Then it made sense. I was at the end of a boat ramp. I almost drove into the reservoir.
I sat immobile for a minute, looking at the lapping water that extended as far as my headlights could reach. “What The Hell! Damn! Give Me A break!” This was turning into a nightmare. I stroked Charlie's fur until I regained my composure.
Reversing my truck in the darkness, I found my way back to the highway. I turned off at the next exit, following streets west to Highway 99. Moving slowly, I was encouraged by the fact that my vehicle was now running fine. When I found the arrow-straight highway, I picked up speed, hoping for a smooth trip through the valley flatlands. But again my optimism didn't last.
Within minutes, my truck began to sputter and lose power. Deflated, I said out loud, “Shit. I’m never going to make it.” I tried not to get too upset because I didn’t want to freak out Charlie. Dogs are sensitive that way. But I had reached my limit.
I was on a stretch of highway that had a few farms scattered beside it. I could see lights from one farmhouse on the right, a half-mile ahead, and made the decision to leave my truck there with Vernap, my cat, in the back. Charlie and I would hitch to Davis and return in the morning with a new fuel line. I just had to make it to that farm.
I slowed to a sluggish crawl so I wouldn't miss the darkened entry. We crept along at fifteen miles an hour, looking for a break in the fence line. The truck continued to slow. “Come on! Come on!”
Then I was treated to another surprise. The truck sputtered again and started to pick up speed—just a little. The sputtering stopped, and the vehicle ran on its own power.
“What the? Now it's working?”
Then it hit me. The crimp in the gas line allowed a limited amount of fuel to come through—only enough to move along at low speed. I took a gamble and continued past the farmhouse. With a little experimentation, I found I could continue along if I didn't exceed twenty miles an hour. I was going to make it to Davis.
I was physically spent and tight as a drum but the adrenaline in my system kept me alert. I had seventy miles and more than three hours to travel but I’d get there. And wow, was it a long three-plus hours! When I finally arrived at Rosie’s place, she kneaded my shoulders and listened to my harrowing tale.
We were no longer a couple but good friends we’d always be.
The following day, Rosie and I spent many hours editing the chapters we had each completed. She also showed me some of the finished pages she had typed up, complete with cool illustrations she had drawn. This book, which we were calling Homesteader's Handbook was taking shape. And we were enjoying the process.
I spent my nights with Hal and Russ. Russ gave me a chuckle when he related a conversation he shared with my previous landlord, Farmer Crumb. "Mr. Crumb said, 'I’ve never seen anyone work harder at not working as Rich Israel.'”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Frankly, I considered it a compliment. Being self-sufficient was a full-time gig but it felt fantastic to be independent and resourceful!
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
To receive episodes delivered directly to your email box, sign up HERE.
If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns