Around Thanksgiving 2012, the droughts in central Texas had been so bad that Lake Buchanan was at an all-time low, and some old structures that had been underwater a few years ago were now accessible again. In particular, we wanted to visit an old cemetery that had just resurfaced after something like 100 years (or whenever the dam was built).

Plus, opportunities to drive off-road in Texas are slim; there is very little public property, and any off-road parks require a year-long permit before you can enter. I came from the California deserts, where we could basically drive anywhere that wasn’t private land, military property, or protected parks.

So, we (me, wife, and two kids) piled into my FWD Jeep Patriot and took ourselves a daytrip onto the lakebed!

Now, I’ve never assumed that because my car was wearing a “Jeep” badge on the hood, that it was magically imbued with gobs of off-roading prowess and the ability to climb mountains; I’m realistic in my understanding of what my fail-wheel-drive, 5-door, tall wagon is capable of. Also, I know that I’m a good driver in most circumstances, and that I know what I’m capable of.

On the way in, I stayed on the trails, which were largely along the ridges of the lakebed. We hadn’t been the first ones out that day, and we had a very clear path we could follow, and though the sand was soft, it was firmly packed enough that wheel-slip wasn’t an issue. We saw our tombstones, marvelled at being “underwater”, and decided to roll out.

For some reason (probably bravado, probably stupidity), I detoured into some of the open areas of the lakebed. The water level had been down long enough that weeds had started to pop up, and I reasoned that as long as I saw weeds, we were on dry land.

Not true. There were areas that, to the naked eye, looked perfectly dry, but maybe 2-3 inches under the surface, were still completely saturated with water. I drove into one such area, and noticed my progress slowing. I kept on ahead, figuring I was in some powder sand maybe, and as I had always been taught, you always want to maintain your momentum with as little wheelspin as possible.

Boy, this ain’t the desert...

I made it about 150 ft before the treads of my street tires completely filled with mud from under the surface, offering zero grip, and my tires began to sink in, and we were stopped. I was breaking many of the cardinal rules of off-roading -wrong tires, didn’t go with a buddy, wasn’t prepared to be stranded- and I spent about two hours digging mud out from under the front subframe, only to notice that the longer we sat there, the further down my Jeep was sinking. No amount of digging (with my hands, mind you) or sticking rotten tree branches under the tires was going to get us out. The kids were getting thirsty. My wife was questioning my judgement, and surely, my manhood.

About a half-hour into this ordeal, my wife had the suggestion of getting some gravel from a nearby pile that had collected on the bottom of the lake. Of course, being “the desert kid” who “knew what he was doing”, I poo-pooed this idea in favor of brute force.

Now, I was open to options.

So I gathered up some gravel, and began putting it under the front tires, making two gravel ramps about three feet long. I figured, if I got moving and got stuck again, I could just throw down more gravel. My wife offered to push from behind, to give it a little extra oomph

Sure as shit, my wife was right (shoulda known, shoulda known...) and the tires bit into the gravel and we crawled right out, and luckily, about 30 feet onto dry lakebed.

I looked back, a huge grin on my face, a grin of victory... only to see my wife face down in the muddy mess that I had churned up by digging under the car. As she was pushing, the Jeep took off, and she lost her footing and fell.

When we talk about it now, I always remember to point out that she’s my hero for getting us unstuck from a situation that I, obviously, couldn’t handle as well as her.

EPILOGUE:

A few months later, I realized that I had a box of snow chains under the driver’s seat the whole time...