A Misadventure With a Happy Ending

In planning my move to Panther’s Hollow, I figured I would need a second vehicle for fording the creek, which is generally at least 16 to 18 inches deep in the middle under normal conditions. When the water’s much higher than that, I would have to use the swinging bridge and then walk the remaining 300 feet along a rutty old dirt road to my house. That could be irksome when I was tired or had to haul a lot of cargo in my plastic cart.

The guy who supervised my move wanted to sell me a 2003 Chevy Trailblazer with 159,000 miles on it. Some of my friends were dubious, but I took him up on it and found that it served me quite well. Once I got used to plowing through that much water, I would occasionally drive through when it was close to 2 feet. I figured that might not be too good for the vehicle if I did it very often, but I always got through alright. The trick, I learned, was to keep my foot on the gas but go slowly so as to avoid splashing water over the hood. I learned to gauge the depth of the creek by the visibility of certain rocks, and how far it intruded into the roadway.

I guess I took some pride in the thought that, unlike my predecessor, I would never get my vehicle stuck in the creek. (The former owner and his family were said to have wrecked at least five vehicles in the creek!) Well, pride goeth before a fall, as they say, so here’s what happened:

One day when the creek was rather high, I was driving my Trailblazer straight through the ford, and my neighbor happened to be watching from the other side. When I got out she looked at me with a concerned expression and said, “The water was awfully high on your truck; you should go down there where it’s shallower – c’mon, I’ll show you.”

I knew that some people preferred to follow the bank a little way down and cross there, then come up the other side. I had tried that a few times but never really felt comfortable with it. For one thing, there were rocks to navigate around, and I wasn’t sure I could remember just where the shallow part was. However, a few weeks later when the creek had gone down quite a bit I studied it for a while from the bridge and thought I had memorized the route to take. So next time I crossed the creek, I decided to go back that way.

Now, mind you, I had just driven straight through the creek on the way out with no problem, as usual. So I followed the route I thought I remembered, started making the turn to go back upstream, and next thing I knew the vehicle ground to a halt in the middle of the creek, leaning over to the driver’s side with water flowing around it at a considerable rate. Fortunately it was a mild day and it wasn’t hard to scoot over to the passenger side, open the door, and get out. I even managed to slog around to the back (in my cork sandals!) and get my perishables out before wading to shore.

I spent the next few hours waiting for a tow truck. By the time they could get the vehicle out of the creek it was no longer driveable, the battery having died, and who knows what else.

“I don’t think you killed it, but you wounded it,” was the tow truck owner’s assessment. Dealing with the insurance company was another matter. When the adjuster came, she explained to me that according to Virginia law, if a vehicle has been submerged that far (the carpeting was soaked in front), it has to be a total loss. So the Trailblazer is no more. The silver lining is that the adjuster handed me a check for more than I paid for the vehicle!

For now I’m managing with my plastic cart – I’ve even learned to haul a 50-pound feed bag over the bridge with it, though it’s not easy! Since my finances were getting low I had considered doing without a creek-driving vehicle altogether, though it does make my life a lot easier. I may just use that money for other needs and not worry about replacing the Trailblazer for now. After all, I have to manage without it when the creek is up anyway, which is most of the time – for about five months of the year!

Published on Jul 1, 2015

Grit Magazine

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