Some lessons you learn the hard way. I’ve always wanted a vehicle that can take me all the way to the end of any road. Since getting my 1996 Land Rover Disco last summer, I’ve gotten a little cocky about where I take the Teardrop. After some modifications, including a heavier axle and bigger springs and a lift, the Rattler is pretty rugged. The Rover barely knows the trailer’s back there and since it can go just about anywhere, I sometimes think the trailer can too. On a dirt track in northern New Mexico, I got a very painful, very humbling reminder that I should always scout out new roads on foot before I blindly drag my much beloved trailer down them.
The directions to the base of the Questa Dome said the road was rutted, but passable to most vehicles when dry. The last half mile could be dicey, but there was room to park (or turn around) before it really went to hell. I don’t know how old those directions are, but at least one major flood has run down that road since they were written; the track went from bad to boulders. Fortunately, there was indeed a place to turn the trailer around. Learning to reverse a 10-foot trailer is a steep learning curve – the smaller they are, the more quickly they jackknife – but after two years of towing, I can just about thread any needle with my rig. I made the 90 degree turn in one try, and got the Rover turned around but the Rattler got stuck between the deep ruts and the steep bank.
I had to unhitch. Since the trailer weighs only 600 pounds, I can usually muscle it around by myself. But somehow I didn’t notice the slight slope to the road. As soon as I lifted the trailer off the hitch, it started rolling forward. I tried to stop it, but 600 pounds is still 600 pounds and it crunched me against the back of the Land Rover, pinning my hips between the bumper and the front of the trailer. I don’t think I screamed, but I gasped and gasped and gasped, and summoned just enough adrenaline to push the trailer off me in a Herculean move. I slumped to the ground under the back of the Land Rover, sure I had broken my pelvis. Forcing myself to keep breathing through waves of pain, I flashed back to the scene of my horseback riding accident at 18 and found myself saying “easy, easy, easy” out loud, just as I would to a runaway horse.
As soon as I could move, I began checking myself for serious damage. My left knee was injured; it wouldn’t bend, and the strap on my Chacos on that same foot had snapped. I was glad the sandal had given out and not my knee. Feeling carefully around my hips, I decided my pelvis wasn’t broken, just terribly bruised. So I made myself stand up. I walked slowly back and forth, making sure all my bones were still weight-bearing. Everything hurt, but nothing was broken. The trailer was stuck sideways across the rutted road, jammed up against the bank. Moving it would be an easy job for two people, but much harder for one injured woman with a bad back. Well, shit.
The odds of somebody coming along the road to help me were slim; it wasn’t a well-used track. I could drive the Rover out to the main road and flag somebody down to help with the trailer, but I wasn’t keen on dragging somebody else into my predicament. I’m a stubborn solo traveler; if I get myself into a mess, I’d really rather get myself out of it. I set about chocking the trailer’s wheels and building a line of big rocks across the road, so it couldn’t roll into the back of the Rover again. Then I unloaded everything out of the trailer, which probably lightened the load by less than a hundred pounds (I don’t have a lot of stuff) and set about heaving it back into position. Each heave gave me a fraction of an inch and I had to spin that thing 90 degrees. On a break between efforts, I phoned a friend for a pep talk.
It took me an hour of painful maneuvering, with an assist from my carjack, but I got the trailer re-hitched and reloaded and headed back down the road to a sweet free campsite on BLM land near the Rio Grande Gorge where I stayed last spring. I spent the next few days convalescing, taking long slow walks down the dusty roads that crisscross the plateau east of the gorge; I’m a big believer in healing by moving. I was gentle with myself, my bruises constantly reminding me to take it easy. Despite the pain, in that beautiful place that reeked of sage, a good medicine, I found it hard to complain about anything. Mistakes made, lessons learned, nothing broken. Onwards and upwards!
Stay tuned for more dispatches from the road!