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Poor Man’s Four Wheel Drive and Tent

poor1Many years ago, on a sunny fall Sunday morning, when both of my two sons were still very young, I decided to take my wife and sons fishing for the day. I was living in north central British Columbia at the time and a friend had told me about a serene, but remote, lake with lots of hungry, one pound trout, about 100 miles south west of Prince George. My friend also had told me that this lake was fairly inaccessible and that the only possible way to drive in there was with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, good tires and a good winch. I thought about this for no longer than two minutes. The very thought of catching fresh trout and cooking them over an open fire made me think it was worth the challenge of trying to drive in there. He said the road was good for about 60 miles and then we had to turn on to dirt 4x4 roads for the last 40 miles and that is where the problem would be.

He told me the road had deep, wet ruts and there would be 10 to 12 very swampy areas, some over 500 feet in width. There would also be three creeks to cross.

I could not afford a 4-wheel drive vehicle in those days, let alone a winch on the front, so I had to use my common sense and improvise. At that time in my life I owned an old two-door, blue Dodge Dart. I had considered my problem as to how I could get in there and try to catch some of these trout, and this fine Sunday I thought I had the answer. I wouldn't give my tires a chance to get into the mud…. and get stuck. I would take with me a simple portable road and I would put this road over the problem areas. My kids were only six and four and already they loved camping and knew how to fish. It was my wife who had to be talked into another one of my outdoor adventures, which she thought would be an afternoon fishing trip. She did have some concerns about leaving so late for a lake we had never been to before, but with a shrug she agreed to go.

So from behind the house I took four 10-foot lengths of 2" by 6" wooden planks. I then got my small roof rack for the car out of the basement and fastened it to the roof and tied on the wooden planks. I also threw my bumper jack into the trunk just in case we really got stuck. We then took off late morning, equipped with fishing rods, some sandwiches and a lot of enthusiasm for some great fishing.

We drove west for about an hour on the main highway, which was a gravel road, then turned off onto the dirt road and continued south. We were about 14 miles down the road before we saw the first bad sections, which were very deep, wet, muddy ruts. Now the worst thing about the ruts was not the fact that my summer tires would spin around in the mud, but if they dropped into a rut the car would settle on an axle or the undercarriage and the wheels would be suspended in air, leaving no traction. And without any traction and being hung up would really be trouble!

I stopped before the ruts, got out and sized up the situation. I soon realized I couldn't go any further unless I got out the boards. So I pulled them off the roof rack and put two ahead of the car and slowly drove the car on top of them. I then got the other two planks down and put them in front of the car, butted against the other two, and again slowly drove onto the next two planks and pulled the two from behind me and placed them in front again. I continued this procedure for about a half an hour before we were on a good dirt road again. We continued on, then hit another bad spot and again had to use our planks. The going was slow. When I saw a third bad spot, which was across a swampy meadow, I was debating whether to return back to town or continue to find the lake.

After coming this far, and being a determined fisherman, I decided to continue on, even though I was already wondering to myself how I was going to get back out in the dark. We had one very bad occurrence when the planks became very wet and slippery and the car slipped off them into the ruts. The car was suspended on the axles and the wheels were hanging above the ground. I took my bumper jack out and jacked the back of the car up as far as I could. The wheels were about a foot above the ground. I slowly walked to the side of the car, all the while steadying this unstable car with my body. I slowly went to the side, then with all my might gave the car a mighty big push. This is called "throwing the car off the jack". Very dangerous and not recommended. The car shot off sideways and the jack flew out from underneath the car, but the car landed one foot over, on the road, out of the rut. I did the same to the front end. I repeated this again to both the back and the front.

Now the car had moved over 2 feet away from the deep ruts. I then jacked up the front, put part of the plank in, lifted up the back, slid the plank under and let the car back on the planks. I then continued with this plank routine for most of the afternoon until we reached the lake. But it was worth it.

We came to one of the most beautiful spots I had been to in a long time. The lake was calm with a beautiful creek running into it just 100 feet in front of us. Without any hesitation I opened the trunk and pulled out my fly rod, quickly joining the rod together, putting on the reel and pulling through the line. I tied on a 5 foot one pound leader and to this attached my most favorite fly - a Royal Coachman. Both my sons had been watching me intensively and when I set a fast pace for the mouth of the creek they both were right behind me.

With a slow motion I started letting line out and when I had about 30 feet of line in the air I let my fly drop onto the water, in some ripples right behind a rock. Almost immediately a trout came from nowhere and took my fly. The fight was on. After about five minutes I landed one of the nicest trout that I had seen for some time… firm with great color. It didn't take long to land three more. After landing the fourth trout, my mind was already starting to calculate how I could possibly convince my wife to stay here, and make her comfortable in this spot, where I was catching these magnificent trout. We had no camping gear and only part of a sandwich left from lunch… so we were not prepared at all.

It was now just about an hour before dark and I knew that there was no way I could safely retrace my steps in the dark. If we slid off the planks at night it would be difficult and very dangerous working with planks and a jack and no light trying to get the car back on track.

My wife was standing by the car waiting for us to pack up and ready for the return trip when I approached her. I told her that it would be very foolish to go all the way back now because it would be dark soon and we could slip off the boards and get really get stuck. I said we should camp out and spend the night here. I didn't tell her that I also had another motive… I wanted to cast my line into the water early next morning! I told her not to worry, that I would build a really good camp with what we had, and it would be fresh smoked trout for supper and for breakfast.

The first thing to do was find a protected spot out of the wind, fairly flat and with no rocks. I found a place about 300 feet from my car in a clump of aspen trees. I had only an hour before dark so I had to use very wisely what little daylight was left so I could build a lean-to and bed for my wife and sons so that they would be as warm and comfortable as possible.

As I always carry an axe, I cut down a number of small aspen. I took my shoelaces out of my shoes and cut the laces in half. I put two halves back in the top parts of my shoes (a little loose but it did the trick) then cut the other shoelace into two pieces, and tied a horizontal aspen to two other standing trees using a half lace at each end. I then cut a number of aspen about two or three inches in diameter and about 10 feet long, and leaned them on the horizontal pole, spaced approximately 6 inches apart. Next, I wove a number of aspen branches through these poles. On top of this I laid down a number of spruce boughs and also stuck some into the sides. I now had a lean-to with a roof and one open side.

Next we needed a bed.

Knowing that the cold comes from the ground up it is best to protect yourselves by getting your body off the ground as much as possible. I built a bed by cutting a number of spruce boughs and then cutting off the top 12 inches and sticking these into the ground in a reverse direction from the way they hang on a tree, so it kind of makes a springy bed. The more you put in, the better the bed. I like them about 5 inches apart, and of course the closer together the warmer the bed, but it is a lot more work. I started the bed and my wife and sons finished it. When finished, I laid my old fishing coat down on the spruce and that was our bed for the night.

A fire was our next necessity. I built the fire opposite the lean-to, in front of the open side, about six feet away. I cut some large wet logs and piled these up about 4 high, held in place by a number of stakes I pounded in on each side. My father, who had been a trapper, taught me how to do this trick many years earlier. This way the smoke is pushed away by the breeze from the lake and the heat is pushed into the lean-to by the backlogs. With the fire going, I went into the bush and found as many dry logs and snags as I could, hauling them whole, right into the camp and lying them beside the fire. I next put a number of large rocks around the fire. This stops the fire from spreading and also absorbs and radiates a lot of heat. If we had had a frying pan, we could have used this heat for cooking. By this time I had run out of daylight and was working by the light from the fire. My wife and sons were now nice and warm in the lean-to and I kept the fire stoked.

As soon as I had the fire blazing, I took the trout down to the lake and cleaned them. Then, with my knife, I opened the trout along the backbone so they would lie flat for cooking.

After that I went back to camp, put some willow sticks through the trout and stuck them in the ground, facing the fire. Throwing some leaves from the willows into the blazing fire gave us smoked barbequed trout. It took about a hour to cook the fish, turning them a couple of times. Everyone watched in eager anticipation because we were all hungry by now. We had a trout each - fresh, smoked barbequed trout… they sure were good. One thing about this type of supper - there are no dishes to wash afterwards. After eating, I settled my family into the lean-to for the night, with my coat underneath them and their own coats on top of them, like a cover, all cuddled close together for extra warmth. I settled down and sat Indian style beside the fire and continued to put logs on it to keep it going. After I had replenished the fire each time, I dozed off. In the middle of the night one of my two sons joined me and spent the rest of the night with me, by the fire, Indian style. Indian style is relaxed with legs crossed, body hunched over and arms in your lap.

The next morning at daybreak, while my wife and youngest son were still sleeping, my other son and I caught four trout for breakfast in a very short time. After our delicious meal we all got back into the car and headed for home, using our boards all the way back out as we had done coming in! It was a fishing trip to remember.