Above the Brim

I knew there was no real danger: I had two large packs of cheese crackers, four bottles of water, my low-top hiking boots, two powerful flashlights, a Buck knife, and my tried and strong walking stick—I could walk out, even if it took all night.

After major events, I have to get away. The spiritual momentum of major services and concerts well up and chase me out of my commonplace. On a Friday afternoon, I headed to Jeep OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) trails just northeast of Chatsworth. Though I have had my Wrangler for a couple of years now, I have done little off roading. Apart from my profession, I am loath to take lessons on anything. Thus, I have no training in the subtleties of four-wheel driving or negotiating rough terrain. I have observed over the years, that when friends have bought four-wheelers, very soon thereafter, they have to call a tow truck to get them out of some field, ditch, or swamp where their false sense of invincibility has entrapped them. Rather than take a class, my strategy on rough roads has been to drive so far as I felt I could without getting stuck, or worse, and then turn back.

Having left Atlanta at 2:30, I arrived at the trail head at 4:30. After 11 years of camping, backpacking, and now Jeeping, I have learned that written directions are not an exact science. They are written from the perspective of the writer, and often subject to misunderstanding, perhaps especially by this left-handed, right brained, mentally peripatetic musician. They should be written so as to be impossible to misunderstand, but seldom are. Thus, I try to have the latest of navigational tools with me: electronic GPS and maps and printed maps and trail guides as well—all of which I check and recheck before each possible turn, and even when there are no turns, to confirm I am on the correct trail. This trip, like many others, nevertheless required making decisions seemingly unsupported by any of these. My Microsoft Band 2 was tracking my path with my phone via Bluetooth, so I knew I could retrace my course should I get lost.

The first leg was an ordinary forest service road, manageable with most street cars. Soon, I turned into a true OHV trail. This was the roughest road I had ever driven. It was narrow, room for only one vehicle, with frequent ridges, stones, and gullies that an ordinary vehicle would have bottomed out and gotten stuck on. I was a bit surprised at how easily the Wrangler drove over these and negotiated the many rocks on the trail. As I drove, my confidence and pleasure in the power and dexterity of the vehicle grew. There is a rhythm, even a sentience among the vehicle, driver and the obstacles—how they relate to and move with each other. These matters I am striving to learn through gradual, considered experience.

There are other dangers. A small partially fallen tree, with a jagged end was sticking into the trail at the height of my Jeep cab. I could have driven past, but it would likely have cut into my soft top, ruining it. Fortunately, as I had brought no cutting tools, I was able to manually pull and break it back, out of the way. Riding with the windows down, one must watch for brush and particularly sharp limbs protruding into the trail at driver height, for one catching the windshield and snapping into the cab as I passed could spear me. I raised the window for one such.

While driving, I wondered in the wilderness, surrounded by trees, with the bright sun still streaming through their limbs and leaves, illumining the prophetic, soul-healing propinquity of limb, leaf and light. Rarely, the wind blew, and the trees responded in their ancient-tuned intimacy.

I came to a small stream and crossed it. Then I came to a larger stream that would require some negotiation. I stopped to consider tactics. Across the stream was a young man with bleached hair and an unusually large dirt bike. He seemed to be relaxing by the beautiful stream, which broke into several branches below the road crossing. I waved at him. Of course, whenever I meet someone in the wilderness, I consider the possibility of ill intent. I have learned, however, that a friendly gesture and smile virtually always inspires an in-kind response, and so it was here; he waved back. I returned to the Jeep, and approached the stream. As I entered it, rocks stopped me. This, of course, was embarrassing in front my new friend. I put it into four-wheel drive and pulled through securely. As he saw me coming, he moved his bike further out of the way. When I pulled up beside him, I asked him where he was from. “California, but I’ve been here for three years.” I said, “I’m from Atlanta, welcome to Georgia.” After a pause, he said, “You might run up on a couple of fallen trees down the trail. I only brought my machete, but I’ve cleared some brush along the way.” Realizing that I too should be clearing trails as I went, and feeling guilty, I said, “we appreciate it,” and drove on, worrying about the fallen trees I might encounter. Next time, I’ll bring a chainsaw.

Further on, I encountered a couple of bikers coming toward me. I stopped, pulled over as best I could and let them pass. I was ready to speak to them, but they didn’t seem interested and moved on past. They seemed like kids renting bikes who weren’t real off-roaders. (As if I were one.) Then, further on, one of them, or possibly a different solo biker, came up behind me. I pulled over and let him pass.

I came to a high place where I had cell coverage, and wrote two friends of my whereabouts in case I got stranded; but I had no fears of that, I was feeling intrepid and having a wonderful time.

About five minutes later, I came to a convergence of trails. This did not correspond to my maps, internet or paper. There was a trail to the left that ascended precipitously, appearing to be virtually solid rock, and no longer in use. The others looked more promising, but didn’t appear to be heading in my chosen direction. I drove a short distance down a couple of them to see how their course tracked on my GPS map, and both were taking me in wrong directions. So, I headed up the steep rocky trail and was surprised at my dexterity in climbing the hill—I didn’t even think about the challenge, I just drove. It seemed the correct direction, but after some 50 yards I came to a fallen tree. I stopped, got out and walked up to the tree. It was fairly high off the ground but too low to squeeze under. Without the means to cut it down, I had no choice but to turn around and retreat. Easy enough, I thought.

There was a clearing off the left side of the road. Confident of the clearance of the Jeep, I backed to the left into the clearing, turned hard to my right and moved forward to make the turn around. As my front wheels hit the tire gulley on the opposite side of the trail, I hit a rock underneath the Jeep. I paused, but pressed on again, spinning. I put it into four-wheel drive and spun again. I put it in reverse and spun some more. I knew better than to spin until I had dug an inescapable hole, so I turned the engine off and got out. I was now frightened, for getting stuck in this remote area was serious. As I said at the outset, I was not worried for my life, but it would nevertheless be terrible to be stranded up there. My heart began to race.

I surveyed the situation. Just inside, and forward of my right rear wheel, the frame had run on a large rock, pulled it up and stopping the Jeep. It had the wheels lifted up so that they had little traction. There was another smaller looking rock a little further back that the frame had dug into as well. I didn’t see an easy, quick way out of this, or actually any way at all. However, I had learned as a youth, that if I studied a situation long enough, even if I had no knowledge or skills requisite to the problem, I often could see a solution. A skilled four-wheel driver would likely have known how to drive out with little effort, but not me.

I could pry the rock out if I had a crow bar. With no crow bar, I thought, perhaps, I could push it out from the back with my walking stick. Tried. Impossible. Handle from the jack? I found the jack under the passenger seat but it was so tightly engineered into its brackets it took be some ten minutes to get it out. I tried the little tire tool on the rock, but it was like David and Goliath, without David’s skill. Sigh. Then I thought of jacking the jeep above the rock. I set the jack under the left rear bumper. The jack is so short, and the Jeep so high, it would not be effective, so I found and moved a couple of large rocks, chosen to fit the ground so as to provide a flat surface for the jack. Fortunately, I keep work gloves in the Jeep.

I placed the jack on the rocks and hand turned the crank gear until the jack was secure under the bumper frame. Then I put the handle to the jack, but it was not engineered to fit the hole in the gear crank. I had the wrong part. I walked around cursing the dealer for not giving me the right equipment, and myself for not testing it after two years. After a while, I realized it was improbable they had sold me a Jeep without the requisite tools and went back to look below the passenger seat. I was baffled, for I saw nothing else. I widened my search and felt under the carpet to the right of the passenger seat and found a long tool for use in tandem with the jack handle. I jacked it up. This did indeed lift the jeep off the rocks. But the jack was leaning forward and I feared it would collapse, so I lowered it, repositioned the rocks and raised it again. This was more secure and allowed me to survey the underside of the Jeep free of the rocks. It occurred to me to close the passenger side door, in case the Jeep fell on me, and also to put the emergency brake on. Getting into the jeep to do so was delicate for it was rather high off the ground and I didn’t want to knock it off the jack.

I made an attempt to move the big rock from under the jeep. It moved a little, but I surmised this wouldn’t be successful without my getting under the jeep and doing a lot of digging. Was there an easier way? I thought, perhaps I could drive it over the rocks, with the jack keeping it high enough to clear. So, I got in, started the engine, made sure the four-wheel was engaged, turned the wheels all the way to the right and drove forward. It immediately ran on the rocks again. Despair. However, when I surveyed the underside, I saw that it had moved forward some, and that I could now put the jack under the frame in front of the right rear wheel. I did so, and raised it again above the rocks. Now I had better access to the big rock and was able to maneuver it a little. I decided to go for it. I began to wrestle it, and the more I wrestled, the more my body began to learn how to relate to it, and it began to come out more easily, until, finally, I got it clear. This was a lot of strenuous activity for this ageing road warrior and I was breathing heavily.

Now I studied the other rock. I cleared some dirt away and I saw that it was actually much larger and longer that the other, mostly out of sight underground. With much long effort I could possibly dig it out, but I would have to work right under the jeep, which was unsafe. Then it occurred to me, that as this rock was much lower than the other, my driving with the jack up gambit might work this time. Then I also remembered that I had failed to take the hand break off on my previous attempt. (Brilliant Darsey.)

I got in the jeep, powered up and drove clear right down the trail. Hallelujah. This was two hours later. I walked back to the site, gave thanks to God for leading me clear, collected my equipment, went back to the jeep and began the drive out. As night fell, I heard the first animal sounds of the day: three Bard Owls calling from the wilderness, thanking me for coming, saluting me on overcoming the challenge, and inviting me to continue searching for God in the wilderness.

While I would never have wished for this challenge, it is this crisis that made this adventure most memorable, and worth writing up.

Prophecy in worship involves a similar adventure, a quest to reach previously unknown theological ground, overcoming the pitfalls and the challenges along the way, and when stymied with no path forward, looking to God. This requires a degree of risk, filling the cup above the brim as we press toward the awe-striking, transfiguring presence and knowledge of God.

Steve Darsey