"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Saturday, May 15, 2010

TWL Classics - Highway Hypnosis

Originally posted October 2008

As I sit here writing this, waiting on camo to finish drying for my trip to Georgia this weekend, I keep looking out the window at my Dodge Mega Cab. I can hear it bellowing like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

“Feed me!”

Yeah, it’s got a Hemi and an unfortunate thirst for petrol. But as I told the salesperson, who couldn’t wait to move this thing off the lot, I’d drive a Prius or hybrid of some kind, but can’t imagine its utility in the Georgia clay. Or hauling gear and deer out of the woods. My guess is he’d not run across much of that reasoning before.

Anyhow, this is the new truck’s maiden voyage to the lease. My last truck, a ’98 Dodge Ram Quad Cab, was a 10-year, 180,000 mile veteran of countless hunting adventures. Unfortunately, my mechanic told me three years ago that I had two years left with that truck before the wheels would come off. Literally. No point arguing with the actuaries; I’d reached that point where it was no longer safe to make these long hauls. I told people that if my truck broke down on one of those old country roads, I’d grab my rifle and backpack, shift the ol’ gal into neutral, and roll that sucker in a ditch for whoever wanted it and hike to the nearest town.

So as the only fool who’d buy a gas-guzzler in this day and age, I set about looking for a new conveyance and conned myself into believing that buying one of these remarkably reduced priced giant trucks - as opposed to an even more moderately priced truck like my first one - was the way to roll. That’s the sort of astute, send-me-to-the-poor-house financial mind I possess. But I did buy used. While I’d liked to strip those first few virgin miles off on my own, the pleasure of doing so does not trump the pain of paying an extra twenty large for that honor.

The new Ram is three times the vehicle the old one was. 4WD, four normal doors, huge back seat, leather interior, a near essential button to move the gas and brake pedals forward and back, a sunroof, and all kinds of other bells and whistles, including a LCD display where you can toggle between a compass, outside temperature, and miles per gallon. I avoid this last one as much as possible.

Really, it’s not the fuel economy that bothers me; it’s the price of fuel. The old truck got near identical mileage, but hunting trips were much cheaper. I remember the last place I saw gas for under a dollar. Barnwell, South Carolina in 2001. Everyone pitched in $5 and called it even.

Wow, I’m sounding old! Whatever the price of gas, I’m about to pay it. It’s the opening of rifle season in the Peach State, and I intend to crack down a doe or two that have been feeding in the soy bean fields before the echoing of shots across the state riles them up too bad. The weather is supposed to be nice. And I look forward to hopping on I-75, hitting the cruise control and singing some country to the state line. I’ll reach Valdosta and try to recount the drive from Panasofkee. Highway hypnosis strikes me hard on the Interstate, and my mind just wanders, which should absolutely scare the bejeesus out of other motorists. If you see a towering silver Ram in your rearview with the driver sporting a blank stare and crooning Shania…I mean, George Strait, please clear the left lane, I probably don’t see you.

In Thomasville I’ll snap out of it for a quick bite. Do I get a Frisbee-sized cheeseburger from What-a-Burger or maybe run to the Border? Not sure I care too much for either choice, but it’s my last opportunity at food I don’t cook for myself for a couple days.

After Thomasville is a scattering of small towns, or map dots, that differ little from one border to the next. I remember being younger in Lakeland complaining of nothing to do. Come check these places out. It seems here you work and sleep. And it’s hard work. And it’s poor work. It’s why I have a difficult time during election years listening to politicians lie at warp speed about their knowledge and sympathy of the lower class. Of all the lower class, it’s here that is most often ignored, and at times, I can’t tell if they prefer it that way or not. Rural is much different than urban living. The urbanites tend to believe there are easier ways to be poor and count on the government to provide that.

Of course, I’m generalizing, romanticizing, and I’ll descend from the soapbox. There is some real beauty out here, especially in the winter when all the toil of the harvest is complete, and at night the stars shine through the bare branches of the pecan orchards. You drive these unlit back roads, avoiding kamikaze deer, round a bend and all of a sudden a tiny township is lit up with the greens and reds of Christmas lights. A few bundled-up citizens stand in front of the gas station, their breath rolling out into the night.

Everyone here moves at a different pace. In the grocery stores, gas stations, and on the roads, life is much slower, difficult for an impatient guy like me. Getting behind some jalopy cruising ten under the speed limits is torture. Or some piece of agricultural machinery that’s taking up most of two lanes. You can get as red-faced, spittle-emitting angry as you’d like, but as you pass the offender, he’ll almost invariably give you a quick wave and smile, as will most local passersby.

Why the hurry I’ve never been able to explain to myself. I never get to camp in time for an evening hunt. And besides, I’ll barely step out of the truck before being implored about dinner plans, where I’m gonna hunt, where I’m gonna sleep, and so forth – all of this before I have time to unpack, pour a quick drink, and enjoy being back in camp.

Well, the dryer is done doing its thing. For the first time this season I get to pack a rifle and warm clothes. Don’t think it’s going to be quite cold enough for the thermals or for stocking up on clam chowder and chili to bring the body temperature back to normal. All my gear will stash away comfortably in the new truck, I’ll get some new tunes on the iPod, and then go gas her up.

Tomorrow, rubber will hit the concrete, and I’ll put her in the wind. The drive will fly right on by, which is unfortunate.

It’s often the most relaxing aspect of the adventure.

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