Don’t you love that little hint of fall that we had last weekend? It was just a bit cooler and a little less humid, and that’s all it took to get me thinking about heading to the mountains to really enjoy the outdoors.
And that, in fact, is what I did. I drove up toward Helen, planning to do a little exploring in the national forest. Since I just happened to have the fly rod with me, I thought maybe I’d do a little fishing too. For me, it turned out to be a great day.
But for the fellow a quarter mile in front of me, the day didn’t end quite so well.
I’ll call him Camper.
We spent a long time talking there by the side of the road, Camper and I did, while nearby the blue lights were flashing and the yellow lights were strobing and the aromas of diesel fumes from big wreckers and a Bobcat loader were filling the air.
Camper, pale as a ghost, was still shaking a little bit. His two little dogs seemed upset too and crowded close to him on their leashes.
“I just got distracted,” Camper said.
Here’s how it went down. Camper had a brand-new camper (brand new!) and was on his way to see relatives in the Midwest. He had decided to take a few days on the way to camp in the north Georgia mountains. It was a good plan except for one thing – between the pavement and his campsite there was almost five miles of winding gravel mountain road.
People travel that road with campers all the time, but doing so safely requires care and attention. The turns can be sharp, especially in the switchbacks. You’ve got to pay close attention to what you’re doing to make sure that all wheels stay on the road. If they don’t, if they go over the edge, your day turns to dirt in a hurry. In the mountains, without a road under your wheels, it’s a long way down those steep, steep slopes.
“I was looking at a waterfall,” he said, “and I misjudged the turn.”
The result? I saw it when got there a little while after it happened. The left wheels of his camper had gone off the edge of the road at the inside of the turn. The camper started to roll down the mountain – still attached to the SUV. The only thing that saved it from going all the way over and down-down-down the mountain was that its undercarriage caught on the edge of the road. When the dust settled, the shiny new camper was hanging there at an angle, balanced precariously on the edge of the world with its left wheels and half of it’s body hanging in space.
“I just about had a heart attack,” Camper said.
By the time I got there, Camper and his two dogs were already talking to a White County deputy sheriff on the scene. The guys from the wrecker and the Bobcat operator were working feverishly to secure the camper and prevent that worst-case scenario. Once they had it secured, one of them told me, they’d try very gingerly to lift and tug and haul it back onto the road.
About four hours later they finally got it done.
Amazingly, everything still rolled.
“You be careful driving the rest of the way,” I said to Camper, who remained visibly shaken. The little dogs still looked upset, too. Maybe in their own doggy way they knew how close they had come to total disaster.
“I will,” he said. “And thanks.”
So as the fall season approaches, and as thoughts turn to mountains, and whether you’re towing a camper or are just out for a ride in the family car – remember to be careful on those mountain roads. Those turns can be tricky, and it only takes a second of inattention to really mess up your day.
Up there on those mountain roads, it’s a long, long way to the bottom.