23-Dec-2000 -- 'Twas the day before the day before Christmas...
My wife, kids and I had been in the car for the better part of the last 24 hours,
traveling from Philadelphia, PA to northern Michigan. Sarah had consented to
join the confluence hunt only as long as we could get it done quickly and easily.
The young ones gave their approval by saying "Ga! Da! Da!", which I
took to mean "Go, daddy!"
This confluence seemed like an easy one. It was just a couple hundred
meters from a road, and, although there were no satellite images available online, I
thought I could get a good sense for what to expect from the stories of people who
had visited the adjacent spots. They all talked about knocking on farmhouse
doors and wandering into cornfields. Piece of cake!
The weather was cold and snowy -- about what one should expect in Michigan
two days after the winter solstice. A foot of snow was on the ground and a flurry was
underway, cutting visibility down to about a kilometer. We turned off I-75 north and
onto 61 east, passed a prison (topic for future study: why are there so many confluence
points near prisons?), and took a left on Deep River Road. This road runs right between
some of those cornfields I had been expecting.
The suspense was building, only one more turn to go -- a left at the "T" onto
Town Line Road. To the right, Town Line is a sizeable, paved thoroughfare, but to the
left it is a narrow dirt path -- too insignificant to even get a mention on the road signs. The
wife claims she said something at this point about getting stuck, but we plowed ahead,
making new tracks into the woods.
I had one eye on the road and one on the GPS. Unwisely, I kept a third eye on the
woods to our right. The spot was going to be a bit north of the road and I wanted to check
out the terrain as we approached. There were dense birch woods fronted by a triple-wire
fence and a nearly continuous parade of freshly painted "KEEP OUT" signs.
About half a kilometer in, a private road went off to the north. It was blocked by an
enormous cattle gate bearing the legend "Shorty's Place." Whoever Shorty is,
he likes his privacy. The only way to ask him about walking on his land was going to be
circumventing this fence on foot. And although deer season was basically over in Michigan,
trespasser season never ends.
We revised our plans and continued on westward, deeper into the woods, all the while
hoping that when we reached 84W longitude on the road, we'd be close enough. The
online map showed the road ending before 84W, but it actually goes quite a bit farther.
This was a surprise, and I passed the meridian by about 50 meters before I noticed.
There was no room to turn around, so I put it in reverse and started back. Before I knew it,
the left wheels had fallen about 12 inches into a snow-filled gully at the edge of the road.
Who could have known the road was so narrow? And furthermore, who would have
guessed that this would be all it took to get us stuck? Finally, who could have possibly
imagined that no amount of rocking and shoving would get us unstuck? My wife had
answers to all these questions.
After a while, a snowmobiler came by. Surely two grown men pushing could remove
the car from its fluffy trap. Ten minutes was all it took to prove me wrong again. I decided to
fall back on Plan D, calling for help. I thanked our Samaritan (after turning down his offer to
get help for us) and began rooting around the car for the roadside assistance phone number
that would bring a tow-truck. We’d have to wait hours, but we had enough gas to keep
the car running and the kids warm. Of course I was sure my wife and I would have plenty to
talk about, too.
The one thing I hadn't counted on was cell phone coverage. Either because of the snow,
or because we were so deep in the woods, the phone would only keep a connection for
10 to 90 seconds. With each call I made, I had to listen to the voice-mail menu, then press
one for something, press two for something else, wait for an agent and then BZZT -- I'd be
disconnected. Reception was best when I held the phone high up over my head (as if in a
gesture of defiance to the falling snow). The forest was so quiet I could carry on a
conversation with the phone at arm's length. But after roughly 30 attempts, I had only
managed to convey who I was and that I was stranded on Town Line Road near Standish.
The phone had stopped working altogether, but I still hadn't mentioned that we were on the
"goddamn dirt path" part of Town Line. We had no guarantee that anyone was
going to be coming. Plan E was going to involve a whole lotta walking.
My wife had been busy, though. With some form of maternal-instinct-boosted adrenaline,
she had been wrenching branches from the trees by hand (without gloves!), snapping them to
one-foot lengths, and jamming them under the wheels of our beached whale. A little bit of
rocking in low gear and we were free. I left the car just long enough to get some digital
video of the closest approach, then we were off. I hadn't bagged the confluence but I could
trump any story at Christmas dinner. Getting back on the highway with a shimmy in the
steering, I swear the kids were chanting "Dada dodo, Dada dodo."
To make a long story just a bit longer, our closest position was at 84 degrees west,
43 degrees 59.828 minutes north. This puts us due south of the confluence by about
310 meters, only good enough for an attempt. The next fearless crusader will have to