29-Apr-2009 -- This is one confluence visit that I will be sure to remember for the rest of my life. The fact that - during the visit - I successfully reached the confluence point seems almost irrelevant.
Many of my confluence visits have been rather risky, venturing alone to remote locations, often out of cell phone range, with any help - if needed - being many miles away. Up until today, I had gotten away with this; all of my confluence visits had gone almost without a hitch. Today, however, my luck ran out.
But first, let me set the stage. US highway 50 - running east-west through central Nevada - has been nicknamed "The loneliest road in America". Well, Nevada highway 278 - which runs northwards from highway 50, near the small town of Eureka - is even lonelier. And Saddler Brown Road - a long gravel road that branches off highway 278 - is even lonelier still. This road runs beside a dry lake bed, passing just a couple of small ranches on the way. But because the dry lake bed contains a degree confluence, I had to visit it.
From Saddler Brown Road, there are two easy ways to reach the lake bed near the confluence point. The closest access road is at Siri Ranch at [39.98704,-116.05312], but there is a "No Trespassing" sign there. A few miles further north there is another access road at [40.05150,-116.01172]. This is the access road that Shawn Fleming and Sam Gallucci took during the previous visit to this point (almost 5 years ago); I took it also.
Once on the lake bed, I drove slowly towards the confluence point. I was a little nervous about driving on a dry lake bed - especially relatively early in the year - but I had done so a couple of times in the past (including during my visit to [41,-114] three years earlier), so I felt OK. Everything was going well, until about 1 mile from the confluence point, when my SUV suddenly hit a soft patch, and got stuck in axle-deep mud! Although my SUV has 4-wheel-drive, there was no way out of the mud.
What to do? Fortunately, I had my mountain bike with me, so I took it out and started riding towards Siri Ranch 3 miles away - the nearest sign of civilization. But first, of course, I had to visit the confluence point, as it was only 1 mile away. Avoiding the soft spot on the 'dry' lake bed (that had just trapped my SUV), I rode to the confluence point. Success!
I then continued to Siri Ranch to seek help, but the ranch was completely deserted! I then rode back to my SUV to try once again to free it. It was clear, though, that there was no way I could possibly free my vehicle by myself, so I needed help. With no other option, I started riding my mountain bike south down Saddler Brown road in search of civilization. The nearest town - Eureka - was 30 miles away!
Shortly after beginning my ride, I got a flat tire. I replaced the tube and continued riding, but after about half an hour got another flat tire! With no more tubes or patches left, I had to resort to a mountain biker's emergency trick: I stuffed my bike tire with grass (or, in this case, sagebrush), and continued riding. With my sagebrush-filled tire, I could ride only slowly (about 6 miles-per-hour). It was now nearing sunset, and the nearest town was still almost 30 miles away. I was resolved to having to ride through the chilly desert night until the early hours of the morning.
However, my luck changed: There was another ranch - Lundahl Ranch - a few miles down the road, and, unlike Siri Ranch, there were people there: The ranch's manager, Eric, and his son. When I explained to Eric why I was driving across the lake bed ("to find a point where the latitude and longitude lines meet"), he didn't bat an eyelid. Either he didn't know what I was referring to, or (more likely) didnt care. Eric (who hereafter I'll refer to as St. Eric) was remarkably mellow, and extremely helpful. (If he was frustrated or annoyed with me, he never showed it.) St. Eric and his son immediately offered to help out by trying to pull my SUV out of the mud with their farm's tractor. Although it was now sunset, we went back out onto the lake bed with the farm's truck and tractor. The tractor was able to pull my SUV a few feet, almost extracting it - but then the tractor got stuck! It was now completely dark, so we returned to the ranch, where St. Eric kindly put me up for the night in a cottage on their ranch.
Early the next morning (in hope that some of the mud underneath the stuck tractor and SUV might have frozen) we returned to the site, to try to free the tractor. Despite placing several large logs underneath the tractor's wheels to provide traction, it wouldn't move from the mud. St. Eric then returned to the ranch and tried bringing out another piece of heavy equipment (some sort of digger, I think), but it too got stuck - in the sand on the edge of the lake!
At this point we were almost out of options. I was afraid that I might have to leave my SUV stuck in the mud, get a ride (from St. Eric) into Eureka, somehow get to a nearby town with a commercial airport, fly home, and then come back a few weeks later when the ground had dried enough to free my car. However, there was one last option: At the ranch there was another tractor. However, unlike the tractor that had already gotten stuck in the mud, this tractor was only 2-wheel-drive. However, St. Eric decided to give it a try. Carefully venturing onto the lake bed, avoiding the soft section, and using a long piece of cable (scavenged from the ranch's junkyard), we were able to pull my SUV completely out of the mud! We then tried pulling the first tractor out of the mud using the second, but couldn't do it.
At this point, having freed my car, St. Eric told me that I was free to go, even though his first tractor was still stuck in the mud, and his other piece of farm equipment was stuck in the sand. He told me that he'd try to free them some other time. In appreciation of his help and hospitality, I tried giving him a big wad of cash from my wallet, but he would only accept $100.
So, an event-filled confluence visit finally ended successfully. In conclusion, a warning to future visitors: Be very wary of trying to drive to this confluence point! For fun, though, future visitors might enjoy visiting (on foot or by bike) the point where my SUV got stuck: [40.01446,-116.00196]. The deep tire marks (from my SUV, the two tractors, and the farm truck) may well stay visible for decades!