“If you don’t follow these directions you’ll likely end up lost on a curvy mountain road.”
Tom Oar gave this last piece of advice on the phone as my wife carefully wrote down his directions.. We were preparing to drive to Montana and visit him and his wife, Nancy, over the weekend.
You might recognize Tom. He’s one of the “Mountain Men” from the History Channel’s popular program. Tom Oar has made his home in Montana’s secluded Yaak River Valley, far removed from the hustle of modern life. With his wife by his side, he survives by trapping, harvesting his own meat and tanning the hides.
He had also warned us that we would have no cell service in the area.
I assumed he had meant only near his house. Nope! I don’t think we had cell service at all after crossing the border into Montana from northern Idaho.
What started out as a scenic family drive to spend some time with a couple of folks who are light-years ahead of me in the realm of self-sufficiency could have very easily turned into a nightmare.
My first mistake? Not listening to my wife.
You see, I arrogantly believed I knew better. By her own admission, she is not the best with directions. I decided it would be better to follow the GPS instead of her instructions written on the back of a napkin – because she probably had misunderstood them, right?
My second mistake? Relying on GPS in the mountains.
Experience should have taught me that GPS maps aren’t always reliable.
About halfway up, I thought we were on the final stretch of the drive. Suddenly I started to get the sinking feeling I had ended up on the “curvy mountain road” Tom had warned us about.
My fears increased when I realized there were no tire tracks on the single lane road I was on, and that we were starting to get into some rough terrain with a combination of snow and mud on the ground. Watching the GPS screen, I decided to keep going, as it indicated that we were almost to our destination.
“Turn right in 200 feet,” the GPS’ robotic voice instructed.
At that moment, I knew we were lost.
The only things 200 feet to the right were a giant boulder and lots of trees. Realizing I had undoubtedly taken the wrong road, I had another realization.
There was nowhere to turn around. And ahead of us was impassable terrain.
I got out of the car and checked the edge of the road, finding it to be deep snow with very soft ground underneath it. Even with a 4WD vehicle, I did not trust trying to turn around – I was sure I would get us stuck if I had.
The only option?
To drive backward for almost a mile.
I don’t think I had ever been so nervous. Here I am, with my wife and one-year-old daughter in the middle of a national forest, an hour drive from cell service and at least a four-mile hike back to the main road. Did I mention that even when we were on the main road we hadn’t seen any cars for at least 30 miles?
I politely asked my wife to save the well deserved “I told you so” until I had gotten us out of this mess, so I could concentrate on my backwards journey.
Sure, we had an emergency kit in the car and my wife and daughter would have been just fine waiting for me to hike out to get help, but walking four miles through mountain lion and bear territory was not my idea of a fun Friday afternoon.
After what seemed like forever, I had finally reversed to a point where I could turn around. Once we reached the main road, I followed the directions given to my wife precisely and within short order, we arrived at Tom and Nancy’s cabin.
They were very gracious hosts, and Tom readily showed us around their property, his workshop, and some of the projects he was working on.
I had come for knowledge, for wisdom. Who better to give it than a seventy-year-old mountain man, one of the last of his kind? I was fortunate enough to have received the introduction as well as the opportunity.
I would like to think we live a self-reliant lifestyle, but here are a couple of folks who take it to the next level.
My daughter, Alexandra, loved the experience too. And of course she was most fascinated by Tom’s beard.
This week’s Survival Scout tip is this: Seek out the old-timers in your area.
Take the time to learn from those who have come before us, and soak up the knowledge they possess. I can tell you there is a lot of knowledge that isn’t written down in books. Our elders serve as a giant resource and provide a wealth of information, if we only take the time to learn from them!
Oh, and listening to your wife from time to time never hurts either!
Owner, My Patriot Supply