Death Valley Adventures

Saturday, May 15, 2010

November 1998 after COMDEX

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 I was driving home from COMDEX, and decided to go through Death Valley to test the Delorme GPS receiver and software. Images below are thumbnails: click on the picture to get an expanded view.

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The Compaq Armada on the passenger seat, recording where we are using the Delorme GPS system. There are pictures of the Armada back home after the adventure.

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Coming up on Death Valley. I left the paved road at the bottom of the grade you see ahead. Pictures of the crash scene and Bronco's Last Ride at the end of this report.

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Saturday, November 21, 1998

I'm alive.

That may not sound like a lot but when you see the pictures of the Bronco you'll see why I find it a minor miracle. I lost a tire at 35 or so on a desert road in Death Valley. There's a berm--a steep embankment made of the material thrown up when they graded the road-- on the side of the road, and I went up that sideways enough to roll, and we rolled at least twice. I came to rest with the truck lying on the driver's side, on the opposite side of the road and facing 180 degrees from the direction I'd been driving. Doors wouldn't open. The big glass rear window on the passenger side (now the up side) was broken, and I climbed up out of that. Fast, because the way to find out about a fire is from 40 feet away. I got some wicked cuts on the palms of my hands on the residual of broken glass on that window, but I was out fast.

No fire. No nothing, but I was 23 miles from a paved road in Death Valley National Monument, the lowest place in the United States, and not a popular area in November. It was late afternoon. Clear skies. Wind coming up. It would be very cold. I had plenty of liquids.

I was bleeding like crazy, great drops of blood running down my face. I didn't feel hurt, and head wounds bleed a lot. I poked around with my fingers and found I didn't have any great lumps or soft spots on my head, so I tied an old tee shirt around my head to catch the blood and let things clot. It took care of the job, but now I looked like the character in Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Like I'd been in a war. I inspected for other injuries. Cuts on my hands from glass in getting out. Nothing else. Amazing.

Found all my stuff, got it out of the truck and made a pile secure against wind. Located all the liquids. Found my glasses on the driver's window, which was on the ground. Actually they were on the ground, since that window had been open. Found the map.

The Compaq Armada had been on the passenger seat with the Delorme GPS tracking receiver on the dash. I found the Armada in the dirt about 30 feet from the Bronco. It had apparently been thrown clear although how I am not sure. The GPS receiver was torn loose at the port connector -- if it had not been screwed into place it might have still been working-- and next to the car.

The Armada was working enough that I could see on the screen the exact position on the road where the Delorme GPS tracker had been displaying a vector and became a stationary round ball. I was about 23 miles from the paved road to the south. Over 40 to anything at all in the north. The cell phone was working, in that lights came on, but it wasn't connected to anything. I had a brief thought about fastening a cellular phone relay to one of the circling vultures. Of course I had no cell phone relay, although I might have caught a buzzard by lying still enough. It would be a neat trick to play on the buzzard. That wasn't likely to work.

Nothing for it but to hike out, so I did, and it was cold at night, no moon. Of course I was on a road, so I couldn't get lost. Only I did. Because the truck was on the right side of the road, but 180 degrees from the way I had been headed, I started walking north. I had been headed south and it never came to me that we'd done a 180. I walked almost an hour when I realized I was going north INTO Death Valley. That's why the sunset was on my left. And stars were rising on my right. Walking into Death Valley.

Not smart. Nothing for it but to turn back, so I didn't really leave Bronc until 6:30 PM, having wasted two hours of walk. Bah.  I left a note at the car in case anyone came along, although no one had in 3 hours and it was clear no one would, and off I went with water and Seven-up bottles and a Microsoft WinHec backpack which I thought had a jacket and sweater in it.

I guess I was more confused than I thought because I discovered that I'd left the jacket and sweater ready to be packed in, but they weren't in the pack. Instead I had a second polo shirt, a light cotton sleeved shirt, and a pair of pants. And a Boy Scout bandana. For a while I used the spare pants as gloves. I had a plastic bag of the grocery store variety with bottles of 7 up, which I had to carry along.

Eventually I was down to one Seven-up bottle and it was cold and the bag ripped so the bag went on under my shirt for insulation. By then I had on three shirts, to wit: a polo shirt, a light cotton long sleeved shirt, and another polo shirt, in that order. It got colder so the AAA map got wound around my body inside the outer polo shirt, and the trousers went on as a hood with the legs around my neck as a muffler. Not bad. And as John Muir said about staying out on the desert without a fire one night, keep moving. It will keep you warm despite that -450 F radiation environment that sucks heat right out... Of course I did have a hat, and over the hat the trousers as a hood, so I wasn't naked to the sky.

You get a lot to think about walking in the desert at night. There were no lights at all. There was a loom of light over the mountain to the south, which had to be the town of Baker about 40 miles away. Nothing to do but keep walking. It was cold enough that I didn't really dare sit down to rest, so for rest I would walk slow ten minutes and hour, then pick up the pace. So about 2:30 AM after 8 hours of walking in the right direction (and 2 in the wrong!)  I got to a paved road.

There weren't any cars. Finally one came. Then half an hour later another. And about twenty minutes after that, another. Nobody would stop, but about 4:30 a big 18 wheeler driven by two Mexicans who spoke very little English stopped, and they took me to Baker, where I shivered my way to the Bun Boy motel. I checked in and called home to tell them I was all right, then called AAA from the room, then got a quick shower so I didn't look like the walking dead, and about an hour nap. Then the AAA tow truck came. AAA took me back out to get the dead truck and all my luggage and computers. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, and Alex came to Baker to take me home, and here I am.

Needless to say I did not make the Hackers conference where I was supposed to tell about the death of BYTE.

USAA insurance is taking care of everything from here. Kaiser looked at me last night and gave me a big course of anti-biotics and a tetanus shot, but that's mostly preventive rather than needed. I've got multiple bruises and contusions and scrapes, and a good story, and I'll have some pictures of my poor dead Bronco later on.

Wear your seat belts. They sure saved my life. No air bags so my glasses were not broken either.

Three days later I found I had an infection in my leg, and they put in an IV shunt in my arm, and I have been getting IV infusions of antibiotics. As of December 7 I am still on them, but I feel all right now, and the swelling is about gone; I'll recover.

I'm fine. Now I have to look for another 4 wheel drive vehicle. Given that I walked away from this one, I'd buy another Bronco II but they don't make them any more. Probably an Explorer. Something with rear seat windows that open: the one problem with Bronc was that Sasha the Husky insists on sitting with his head out the window, and since the rear windows can't open in a Bronco II, he ends up in the lap of the passenger. Seventy five pounds of Husky is a bit much. He can be ordered into the back, but then he complains. A lot. So my next truck will have openable rear windows. Explorer is probably going to be it. There's a great Ford agency here that likes 4-wheel vehicles. But we'll see. Anyway I am alive.

What I want is a Toyota Land Cruiser, but they are very expensive, costing more than the Mercedes M Class 4 wheel. I'm still dithering. But I'll find one. Now I have deadlines. Thanks to all who have written to wish me well.


Those pictures are painful. I loved that old Bronco. Here is Bronc's last ride.




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