Friday, July 17, 2009


The machine known as an "ATV" in the Lower-48 is called a four-wheeler in Alaska (or a three-wheeler if it's very, very old) and darned near everyone owns one. They are considered necessary equipment for going darned near anywhere not accessible by road, which is the vast majority of our State. Dog mushers frequently use four-wheelers to train our teams when there is no snow on the ground. I keep my four-wheeler at my training partner's place, since she has better access to the trails than I during this time of year.

Lynn has house guests, a mom and her 15 year old son. The lad (who shall remain nameless to protect the embarrassed) lives most of the year in Florida. Yesterday he asked if he could borrow my four-wheeler to explore some of the local trails. That's a very reasonable request up here, where kids use four-wheelers in much the same way that kids in the Lower-48 use bicycles. It would be very rare to find a boy or girl in Two Rivers who hasn't been riding four-wheelers since about the age of 9 or 10, so Lynn agreed to the request.

Our nameless lad headed off to the hinterlands and little thought was given until he'd been gone a long time. A very long time that stretched into a VERY long time before the phone rang. It was the nameless lad, reporting that he gotten the four-wheeler stuck in deep mud on the baseline trail.

I got the following Email from my training partner about 10:30 last night:

"So I told [nameless lad] yes when he asked if he could go out riding on the 4-wheeler. (He took Rich's helmet...) He was gone a long time, and then he called. (He has a cell phone.) But he wanted to talk to his mom, who was out playing with her dogs in my dog yard. And then she says to me: "[Nameless Lad] got the 4-wheeler stuck." It's down on the baseline. between PVR and the River Road. Rich, Tammi, [Namelss Lad] and I walked down there. It's sunk in pretty deep. We tried, but we couldn't get it out. It will require more rope/chain/tow-straps and probably a come-along or a winch. I've got to get two dogs to Raven Vet by noon. Rich will be at work by 8 a.m. I might could get Randy to help (with his borrowed machine) over the weekend. I was supposed to help Heather pack Friday afternoon. I've got the kids play thing at ADMA on Saturday followed by the Red Lantern Party at Edie's!"

So, this morning I grabbed my RopeAlong, went over and fetched the nameless lad and his mother, and we headed out to the trail to extract the machine. Oh - a RopeAlong is a hand winch similar to a come along, but which pulls rope rather than cable. It's one of the handiest tools you can imagine for extracting stuck fourwheelers, snowmachines, pickup trucks and other Alaskan type toys.

So, we got to the scene, and here's what I saw.

Yep, the machine was stuck, but not nearly so bad as I'd been led to believe. Not so bad for me, anyway. There are rules to extracting stuck machines, and one of those rules is "The guy to sticks the machine is the guy who gets to wade in the muck to attach the rope." With me cranking the winch while the nameless lad operated the machine in reverse, we were able to extract it without too much further difficulty.

I sent the nameless lad back to my training partner's place on the machine, where he gets to deal with another one of those rules - "The guy who sticks the machine is the guy who gets to wash it." I think the kid was surprised that I asked him to drive the machine back, and he certainly seemed surprised that I'm not angry, but why the heck would I be angry? He didn't do anything that I haven't done, more frequently than I like to admit. He didn't get hurt, he didn't damage anything. When he realized he couldn't get unstuck himself he 'fessed up' and called for help. He didn't complain about the "rules", just 'soldiered up' to help solve the problem and accepted responsibility for cleaning up the mess. As far as I'm concerned he did everything I would expect of a responsible young man who got into a bit of a bind, so there is nothing to be angry about.

The only way I know of to learn the capabilities of a machine is to operate the machine, and sometimes you have to learn what it can't do before you figure out what it can. Nameless lad now knows the machine can't cross a sloppy muskeg bog, and I doubt it will ever be an issue again.

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