The finished repair
Outdoor tip of the week: use a hatchet, not a rock.
We’ve taken a few days off after our whirlwind tour of Knoxville while at the national convention of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America (OWAA). The group is the oldest and arguably most prestigious outdoor writer’s group in the county. If you know the names of any of the classic outdoor writers (many of whom were our childhood heroes rather than the baseball players or football stars our friends idolized) they have probably been a member of OWAA.
By some massive oversight, WildIndiana publisher Brent Wheat has been allowed to join the group as only one of three Indiana members.
We greatly enjoyed the conference and our four days in downtown Knoxville. Whether paddling kayaks on the Tennessee River at Volunteer Landing, enjoying a cigar under the World’s Fair Sunsphere on a pleasant Sunday, walking to Neyland Stadium on the University of Tennessee campus or eating barbeque while listening to a hot local bluegrass trio, it was a sublime experience.
In a tip of the hat to the conference hosts, downtown Knoxville receives our coveted “Five Bourbon Bottle” designation as a great location for a few days of urbane enjoyment. Putting even more icing on the cake, the city is less than 40 miles from the true wilderness of our favorite outdoor destination, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Before we left the friendly confines of Knoxville, a quick side-trip into the Smokies was in order. After all, you can’t be so close to the most popular national park in America and not spend at least a few minutes enjoying the fragrance of balsam-scented wind and views that trail off into a zig-zag blue abstract of hazy mountains.
It was here, on an overlook along the Foothills Parkway, when life took one of those turns that are much like biting into a delicious apple only to discover half of a green worm.
As I stood less than an arms-length from my running vehicle in order to take a classic tourist photograph of the view, I instinctively shut the door.
Somehow, some way, it locked.
After defoliating the nearby trees with curse words, I remembered the spare key hidden among the undercarriage after purchasing the vehicle six years ago. “Ok,” I thought, “no big deal.”
I fret over my vehicles like a new father, check their fluid levels religiously, wax their exteriors regularly, wipe down the interiors like it were fine china and generally dote on them in order that they might survive into old age. I even regularly check the air pressure of the spare tire. Now, however, I’ve realized there is a flaw in my maintenance program: I don’t verify the hidden keys are still there.
Somewhere along the years of adventure, the key has gone missing. It is probably lying in tall grass near a fishing spot or got wiped off by deep snow but regardless, I was standing besides my running, locked vehicle in the mountains with no cell phone service and very little passing traffic.
And, I suddenly noticed, the sun was rapidly being overtaken by dark clouds.
After a few seconds of moderate panic, I regained control and decided on a course of action. It was apparent that I would need to break a window to gain entry.
Surprisingly, it was difficult to find the proper-sized rock on the mountain as the surrounding landscape was comprised either of giant boulders or tiny pebbles. Finally, I found a pointed, fist-sized rock of crumbly reddish sandstone.
Returning to the car, I decided to break the small rear cargo compartment window of my SUV as it would be the cheapest to replace. However, analyzing the situation, I realized that even if broken, I couldn’t physically fit through the opening and it would be tough to maneuver a tree branch to unlock one of the front doors. Thus, I decided that the rear passenger window would be our sacrificial victim.
As a retired police officer with decades of experience, I’ve forced entry into hundreds of vehicles, homes and businesses for various legal reasons. What I haven’t done is tried to break into my own vehicle using a rock.
It didn’t work.
As I beat with increasing fury on the window, the previously vacant road now teamed with traffic. I assumed one of those passing vehicles would call park rangers upon seeing the auto-theft-in-progress tableau, but that would be OK because I assumed that once the rangers had finished handcuffing me at gunpoint, I could explain, we would laugh and they would then help me unlock the truck.
No such luck. Not even the ranger who drove by a few minutes later happened to see the roadside maniac shouting, running along the road and waving his hands over his head.
I beat on the window until my knuckles were bloody but it did nothing except laugh at my feeble efforts.
Finally, as the sky grew more ominous, a jeep containing two people pulled into the parking area. However, as the lady in the passenger seat saw me standing, scowling with a large rock in hand, she urged her boyfriend/husband to keep going.
I dropped the rock and adopted a non-threatening puppy-dog look that I hoped would stop their rapid acceleration. It did, barely, as the man kept his foot on the brake and the vehicle in gear as he rolled down his window two inches to hear my story.
Looking somewhat skeptical, he did offer that there was a hatchet in the back of the jeep. He parked, retrieved it and handed it to me with the still-skeptical admonition, “You do it, I’m not gonna break the window.”
After all the rock pounding, I was surprised to find that the back side of the hatchet exploded the window with barely a tap. Glass flew everywhere inside the vehicle and out, but I had gained entry!
Thanking the man, I handed back the hatchet and after brushing off broken glass from the driver’s seat, headed back down the mountain.
Many vehicles have a unique characteristic: when a rear window is down at highway speeds, the air inside the vehicle pulsates with a sub-audible but very real pressure differential. I discovered that driving my SUV with one rear window missing was like sitting on the subwoofer at a Molly Hatchett concert. At one point, I wasn’t sure if my sinuses would explode before my eardrums or vice-versa but in either case, I was determined to beat the rain into Maryville, Tennessee.
I found a Target store and purchased a piece of foam presentation board and a roll of Gorilla-brand duct tape. Once in the parking lot, as rain sprinkled around me, I fashioned a replacement window and secured it with the tape. To avoid further ear-rattling pulsation on the six hour drive to Indiana, I taped a stack of WildIndiana magazines to the inside to dampen vibration. The repair worked well, even weathering three horrific downpours on I-75 without a drop of leakage. That was a noteworthy achievement because at one point the rain was beating directly on the foam board as I slid sideways at 70 miles per hour after traffic stopped suddenly on a blind curve.
Fortunately, I regained my composure and even took a quick nap during the hour-long standstill.
As an aside, our gear recommendation of the week is Gorilla Tape. We’ve used this stuff for several years and it never fails. It is almost twice as expensive as normal duct tape but is stronger, thicker and has a much better glue that could keep Hillary Clinton and Ted Nugent bound up together inside an automobile trunk, not that I’m suggesting such a thing.
So, we’ve returned and unpacked, swept the broken glass from the vehicle and ordered a replacement. In all, it was another grand, if not short, adventure in the wilderness.
Now that things are back to semi-normal, I’m packing for another upcoming, much longer trip. Let’s hope the Knoxville soiree used up my not-inconsiderable storage tank of bad Karma.
Apparently I did leave some of that JuJu behind. This week’s massive train derailment that caused 5000 people to evacuate and sent 15 responders to the hospital occurred only a ½ mile and 24 hours from the spot I repaired my window.
Sorry, Marysville. At least I won’t be back until September!