With as much time as I have spent out on adventures, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve made mistakes outdoors – a lot of them. When Sierra Trading Post asked me to share one of my biggest adventure mistakes for this week’s #STPlive topic, I had a hard time choosing which mishap to share. Like that time I wore heavy snow boots to hike in a rainforest? Or when my cohorts and I didn’t bring an extra pair of socks while backpacking and had to turn around a day early? There were many snafus to consider – but one topic shone more important than the rest: All the mistakes I made with my van during my yearlong trip.
Folks, you can’t go on adventures if you don’t have a way to get there.
When I bought my 2005 Dodge Sprinter, it was in bad shape – and I was a bit too frugal (read: cheap and stubborn) to fix a lot of its issues. Case in point: the van’s bum battery. It should have been replaced before I ever crossed the state lines out of Florida, but it wasn’t. And it wasn’t an issue – until it was a very big one.
Backpacking the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park was a road trip to-do that I couldn’t wait to tick off, and my city-dwelling buddy McGoo had flown out from Colorado to join the adventure. Supplies were purchased, gear was packed, and psyche was high. We mapped out a plan, drove into an area of National Forest where we could boondock for an evening, and woke up early to make the short drive to the trailhead.
We turned the key in the ignition over and over again, hoping that somehow it would jolt the van to life and we wouldn’t miss our early start on the trail – but to no avail. Luckily, I had insisted on spending the night somewhere with cell service – and AAA quickly arrived to rescue us. We arrived at the trailhead a few hours later than we hoped, but the mishap was forgotten the moment our boots hit the trail.
Remember my mention of forgetting extra socks while backpacking? Well, it belongs in this story too – after hiking 10 miles into the rainforest and spending a miserable night with three people packed into a one-man tent, we awoke the next day to realize that I was the only one with dry socks. Folks, hiking in wet socks is a special kind of hell – so we admitted defeat and trudged our blistered feet back to the park entrance.
By the time I stomped, slipped, and sputtered my way back to the van, I was caked in sweat and craving a hot meal back in town. Our trio reconvened after splitting up during the hike, and readily agreed that we needed pizza immediately. We loaded our filthy packs into the van, and once again jammed the key into the ignition.
The battery was dead, again.
It was past the park’s closing hours, and there was no one to be found in the parking lot to give us a jump. And AAA? Not an option when you’re deep in the no-service zone. We wandered around until we found the ranger’s after-hours post, and begged for a jump – which we got, after the ranger heckled us a bit. It was clear that we needed to get a new battery. But we didn’t.
In fact, I didn’t replace the battery in my van until a few days later. It took being stranded five miles up a deserted National Forest road and waiting hours until two lumberjacks pulled over and offered us a jump in exchange for two beers that I finally relented and dropped the cash for a new battery.