Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Journey to Nowhere Day 5, 17 November 2004 - Pulling off Bumpers and Petrifying Wood

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When morning came, we once again began the familiar routine, though with the prospects of porcelain in our future, the amblings off into the desert with shovels were non-existent. I popped up on the hill to get a quick look around and a few pictures of the sunrise, while Ron stood around the fire in his big bedouin coat. All the remaining eggs and potatoes and contraband bacon came out and we ate nearly everything that was left to eat. As we loaded up the trucks and got ready to go, we burned our trash and the leftover wood in the fire rather than spread it around the landscape (though that would have been the truly Saudi thing to do...absolutely amazing how much trash is out here. I think the plastic bag is the national bird, you can see so many of them flying around on the wind.) as is so often seen. At this point some Bedouin guy walked up, who looked remarkably like me. Could have been my brother...George caught a picture of him trying to buy a camera from Ron. Steve began to exhibit some disturbing signs of homesickness by shuffling around in a bathrobe (housecoat, as he called it...though there was no sign of a house.)


Finally, we mounted up and began driving back to the main road. This being Saudi Arabia, we had to take extra care dodging the traffic as we merged back onto the highway. We drove about an hour north before heading off into the desert to go to the petrified wood forest. Initially, we drove across a rocky plain, periodically crossed by vehicle tracks. Then, we transitioned into some low dunes, and we soon encountered a familiar situation...Don getting stuck. Like a well oiled machine, Gary and Larry moved in to try to pull him out while the rest of us stood by on semi-solid ground. After one try, Gary was also stuck. I drove around via a shallow wadi to get in position to recover Gary�s truck, and backed up to about 5 truck lengths from the front of it. We connected about 6 towstraps together, and attached them to the vehicles. This towing episode went smoothly, with Gary�s truck easily pulled free in only one try. After that, we hooked up Steve�s truck to Don, and attempted the pull. Though the trucks were offset slightly, the try was successful, but resulted in Steve getting bogged down. John positioned himself in front of Steve�s truck, hooked up, and revved the engine. As he moved forward rapidly, there was a jerk, a bang, and his truck drove rapidly off, with the bumper bent out at a severe angle from the truck. Steve was freed, but now we had the added detail of a bumper that wouldn�t bump anything.

We all congregated on a rocky knoll and surveyed the damage. The bumper was completely ripped off the left part of the frame. On the right, it was bent out at about a 45 degree angle. Since John couldn�t very well go driving around like that, we decided that it needed to come off. So, out came the toolboxes, and the more mechanical of the group started wrenching out the remaining bolts holding the bumper on to the truck. The rest of us aired up our tires, and took turns holding on to the bumper up so it wouldn�t fall off and crunch on the guys lying underneath.
Finally, we got the bumper off the truck, abandoned it in the sand, and finished getting everyone aired up and ready to go on.

We continued on to find the petrified wood field, backtracking a bit to ensure we got past the field of low dunes. These weren�t like the larger ones we�d been in a few days before, and would have been a pain in the butt to try to get through, even though they were only about a mile deep. It was easier to just go around them. Strangely, we passed some agricultural areas, including a couple of guys on a tractor plowing up plumes of dust. We drove for almost 45 minutes across varying soft and hardpacked sand before arriving at the petrified forest. It was hard to tell that it was actually a forest, as it was just a few piles of petrified wood spread over several hundred square meters. A few of the guys went to work on a log that was about 4 feet long, digging it up for one of the few wives remaining in country. It would look great in her garden later on... Having gathered a couple of small pieces, Ron and I wandered on about 2-3 km farther out, to scout around and see what else was there. Most of the small groves of trees (non-petrified) had signs of Bedouin visits, trash, cartridges from AK-47s, and the occasional petrified camel poops.


[FLASHBACK...I remember riding a camel in the Moroccan Sahara, following along behind a long line of camels...As they walk up and down the dunes, occasionally, camels have to well, go, shall we say...and when they do, it comes out, and just rolls down the dunes...fascinating...le merde qui roule became quite amusing to us...Sorry about that. All done flashing back, and we will now return to our program.]

Finally, the excavation of the tree was complete, the vehicles were re-loaded, and we headed on for the next gas stop, becoming more important, since we all were approaching a quarter full tank. Don started following a bearing that would lead us to the next gas stop, and we started driving. At one place, the earth got billiard table flat, and extended for as far as you could see, which was good, since Don and the 2 trucks in front of us soon left us behind. I figured, as long as we could see them, or at least see their dust, we were ok. Plus, I had the same bearing in my GPS, and figured eventually, we�d hit the main road. Also, once we got to the road, we would be back into an area covered by the mobile phone service.

Eventually, in spite of driving about 90 kmph across the desert, we lost sight of them and their dust. At this point, we just followed tracks, and tried to make up time. At one point, though, we lost sight of Steve and George behind us, and had to slow down and let them catch up. You never want to travel alone in the�s just bad policy. Finally, we ended up right at the next gas stop, where we discovered that they had no gas. Hmmm. OK. Well, onwards then to the next place. When we got there we filled up, and witnessed one of the youngest drivers I've ever seen. You see, here, because they don't let women drive (or vote, or go out by themselves) it's not uncommon to see boys of 12 or so driving their moms around. I've been passed on the roads often by kids. This kid hopped in the truck, and started to back up, nearly running over his brother. Just when we thought he was going to drive away, his dad came out, and got in the driver's side. Sitll, the kid couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 by the looks of it.

Finally, we began the long trek back to Riyadh. Other than a few close calls due to idiot drivers, we all got back safely. We also got to see more camels, and the incredible sight of lush, green agricultural land in a truly desert country.
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By the time we got back, it was nearing sundown. We came through the gate, drawing considerable attention due to the condition of the hood held down by bungee cords, a bashed in grill, and a bumperless Yukon as well. Three of the five vehicles sustained fairly significant damage, but we all returned. There was a bit of celebrity status, though, as we were the guys who went to the Empty Quarter and got detained. Between that and the trucks limping home with cool looking battle scars, it had been an awesome experience.

Since I�m an Army guy, it�s customary to evaluate any sort of exercise and have an �after action review.� This is no different. Here are some of the lessons learned from the trip...

1. Take no fewer than 4 trucks for a desert trip, but no more than 6 (it gets pretty crowded).
2. Get a better cooler...My cooler wasn�t bad, but the ice was pretty much melted by the time we got back. It was not acceptable for storage of anything really perishable (i.e., meat), which meant that all through the trip, the other guys were grilling steaks, while our steak night was the first night, and after that, it was MREs and cup-a-soups supplemented by fruit, cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches.
3. Pre-combat inspections of equipment: The strap that broke and smashed back into my truck was about 3 years old, and should have been retired.
4. Bring additional ziplock bags and/or resealable containers to put your rocks and arrow heads in when you find them.

Overall, it was a great trip. Certainly, it was the most fun I�ve had on a short international trip since the infamous, �Dave�s Hardship Holy-Land Tour,� Thanksgiving �94, perhaps a subject for another entry at another time...

The next trip is our anniversary cruise to Tahiti, and then it will be back to KSA. We�ll probably think up a trip to do over the Hajj Eid break in January. I may be a trip leader for a Cairo trip, but if there aren�t enough people, then we may drive to UAE or Oman. We�ll see, and it�ll be blogged about here...

***Thanks to Ron and George (the bartering) for the use of a few of their pictures, especially those taken by Ron while I was driving (the kid, the hills, the green, the camels)...To them goes the credit.

Posted by djf on November 17, 2004 11:52 AM
Category: The Magical Kingdom

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