Wolfe Publishing Group

    I Can’t Look Back

    Until I heard that chukar hunting was better across the Snake River from Wawawai Canyon where I had hunted most of my life, I never had to worry about backing a boat trailer down the Wawawai Landing boat ramp.

    My boat was in a slip at Loon Lake, compliments of my son Matt, who had a cabin there, and if I wanted to fish or hunt ducks, it was readily available. I was spoiled; when I wanted to use my boat, I walked down to the dock and hopped in. Fishing and hunting were good at Loon, and I knew all the honey holes – no point going elsewhere. Plus the responsibility of pulling a boat and trailer intimidated me.

    With the encouragement of my friends Mike and Eddie, however, and a vision of hillsides crawling with chukars, a couple of Octobers ago I pulled my 16-foot boat out of the water and up the friendly 60-foot-wide ramp at Loon and trailered it 120 miles to a steep, narrow, nefarious launch on the Snake River.

    When we pulled into the parking lot at the launch, the siren song of our red-legged quarry across the river enticed me to hurry. With considerable trepidation, I eased my truck through the parking lot, made a big loop and straightened up in front of the ramp. Dawn had broken, and I was first in line, but almost immediately, the line grew by six vehicles. The problem was not trailering a boat trailer forward a long distance down the highway; it was maneuvering the trailer and boat backwards down a ramp with barely six inches to spare on either side. With my old truck, which had no backup guidance on the dash, this would require using my side mirrors and twisting my neck until the vertebrae popped.

    I later reasoned that with an automatic transmission and a flatter ramp, I could probably have easily gone straight back, the boat and trailer easing into the water amid thunderous, adoring applause from my hunting companions and appreciative applause from the other hunters and fishermen waiting in line to launch. As it was, I couldn’t see the river over the crest of the incline. My trailer went five feet back, hung a left and tried to jump the dock. I began a silent prayer interrupted by nervous cursing and pulled forward to try again. Some children and dogs scrambled to safety as the trailer jackknifed, pulling loose the wiring. My friend Mike – who was “helping” me by providing hand signals resembling those used by an Air Force ensign on crack trying to direct a carrier landing – quickly deserted me in embarrassment. My other friend Eddie sidled over to the dock and joined the rest of the gawking masses, denying my acquaintance and, in fact, contributing to the head-shaking and general sarcasm.

    I tried a second time, killing the vehicle. There in that world of mirrors where left was right and right was left, nervous sweat slid in sheets from my forehead. My glasses began to fog. Now there were at least four people standing behind me, all grinning viciously and motioning me to try once more. The third time, one trailer tire made the water, but the other mowed down the NO WAKE sign on the dock. Other boat owners were swarming to the launch to observe the spectacle, all waving their arms. Some were taking pictures.

    Another try. The smell of burning rubber and burning clutch. I got out to view the situation from a different angle, trying to appear nonchalant but betrayed by the stains under my arms.

    A leering, homely man yelled from the crowd: “Been drivin’ long, Bud?” Then laughter. I wanted to kill him.

    “Yeah, pal,” another voice called. “Where’d you learn to back? Bumper cars at Fantasyland? Yuk, yuk.” It was Mike.

    I returned to the vehicle, contemplating just putting it in gear and heading for home. Leave them all – Mike and Eddie included – at the dock. Someone knocked impatiently on the window of my truck. “You gonna put that thing in the water or not, fella?”

    There were now a dozen rigs in line. Okay. One more try. Back, back, back. Crank furiously left, then right, then left again. Easy, easy, THERE! A collective cheer was heard as the boat slid from the trailer into the Snake – the slapstick routine had ended. Triumphantly, I drove the trailer up the ramp while Eddie pulled the boat to the back of the dock and approached, smiling. “That was real special,” he said. “I think you were starting to get the hang of it there at the end.”

    I smiled in relief and appreciation until his next words: “Hey, did you put the drain plug back in the boat?”

    Wolfe Publishing Group