Our intention was to depart Tucson immediately after the exam on Friday. Perhaps this all could have been avoided had we stayed true to the plan. But drinks with Megan and lunch with Kira before a month and a half of being apart seemed like a reasonable reason for readjustment. We were out of Tucson by five thirty.
The heat was stronger, the traffic heavier, and the day later. My eyes were droopy and I was ready to sack out by the time we gassed up in Yuma, our traditional halfway driver exchange point. Jon took over, adjusted himself to driving stick, gassed up the tank and put us back onto the 8. Before I could count to 1,300 I was asleep, in and out with various lane changes, truck passes, and rattles and bumps of the vehicle.
This noise was unique. I was awake, which is unique. We’re in a 1980 Volvo wagon, windows were open because there is no AC and everything from the bolts in the rear hatch to the clutch beneath the shifting knob has it’s particular rattle. Noise isn’t new, in fact, quited is often indicative of a problem. This time, however, the noise was unique, independent, and sounded through the headliner. My hear skipped a beat. “What was that noise?” I asked as I brought myself back into reality as to location and velocity, about 70 mph heading west on the 8, starting the climb just outside of Ocatillo. Jon shrugged and made the lane change to pass a competing driver. I suggested we stop and have a look. It seemed the car wasn’t making as much racket as it normally does and that made me curious.
Jon pulled over and I squeezed the door latch, the wind did the rest as the door swung open with enough force to knock any man off his feet, my hat began to lift off my head and I quickly stowed it for safety. Situated I ventured out to have a look. The car seemed okay, nothing flapping or clearly broken on the side or hood or on the roof, the whole car was as it normally is, clean and sleek. It wasn’t too long that I recognized that as the problem and notified Jon of the missing gear. “The boards are gone,” I mentioned as I poked my head down into the car at Jon, still at the wheel with the engine on. I looked back at the roof to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. “Yep, they’re gone. We lost the boards.” Jon’s eyes split and his expression couldn’t pick a pose. Thirty percent amused at my silly joke, thirty percent tired and uninterested, and ninety nine percent freaked out. I started toward the back hatch as Jon killed the engine and moved with me. In a minute and a half we were outfitted with our lights fifty meters down the road looking for two surfboards along interstate eight, one might say it was a one of a kind experience. While at the time I didn’t really think so, looking back… I change my mind.
At one hundred meters down the highway a pair of red and blue lights lit the side of the road and high beams put our meager LED’s to shame. The truck bounded off the highway and onto the dirt path in front of us and the window whined down as fast as it’s motor could drop it. I tried to come up with a clever salutation but was a step behind the more frantic Jon who with a quick shuffle planted his right hand and cocked his left elbow into the most casual matter of fact position one could imagine as he immediately informed the Homeland Security Officer as to our reasons for the evening.
The officer smiled and stepped out of his truck. He was tall, taller than Jon, I’d guess six foot two, but skinny… the goofy tall kid. His smile never left, he got out his light and after a brief discussion as to the probability of the boards being within a mile of where we were he agreed to turn his lights around and light up the desert for us. Remembering that his gear’s primary function is finding ‘things’ out in the desert, we figured we had a pretty good chance of recovering our boards, though the officer reminded us that he hadn’t seen any boards and he was only a minute or two behind us. Determined, Jon and I started our search.
The wind blew on. We walked downwind. It was easy. Scanning back and forth I searched as if I had lost my keys. I looked behind every bush, rock, and cholla. The only reason I kept moving was because the wind kicked my legs out from under me. It wasn’t until I reached the barbed fence that I realized I didn’t want to move so abruptly in the direction of downwind. It took a great deal of strength to prevent a disastrous collision and I kept that in mind as I continued my methodical walk. The officer soon reached an end with his truck and joined us on foot. With three of us walking a line I moved to the highway and Jon deeper into the desert with the patrol man covering desert in between.
It was about a quarter mile later that I found the blue webbing from the straps still whole, lying along the highway. One strap, two straps, a third strap still attached to the mount. I think I found the problem. I whistled and shouted but between highway noise and wind the other two heard nothing and seconds later they too happened upon evidence, the other half. My nine foot board was nested half way down a small ravine, pinned against a small rock. Jon’s seven foot bag was just two meters beyond that. Both seemed perched and ready for the next heavy wind to push them along. Any more time and the boards could have made it a mile off the highway.
After a quick ‘yippie!’ we grabbed the bags and started our walk back to the car and then it became perfectly apparent how strong the wind actually was. I lifted my ten foot bag up and out of the small ravine and was spun about once and knocked over. Embarrassed in front of the patrol man I attempted to buck up and lug the sail on my own but a second bit of wind caught me and I almost floored both Jon and the officer. With his grin of contentment the officer suggested a bit of team work and a walk together back to the car. I agreed and after a couple of adjustments we were slowly moving the corpse to it’s hearse. Twenty minutes of a walk later we were back where we started shoving the ten foot bag into the remarkable space of my wagon’s interior, the hatch closed with inches to spare.
We sincerely thanked the patrol man and got into the car, thanked the gods for allowing us to keep the remains and continued on home. Spirits broken by the incident we made a stop at the casino in an attempt to rectify our mood but only soured it more. We pulled into Orange County three hours later and I was asleep at home by two. The morning gave me an opportunity to review the damage and check forensics on the incident. The failure occurred at the mounts themselves. The straps were whole and intact, but the mounts had disintegrated. Three of the four mounts had points of failure, each unique and equally devastating to the integrity of the system. I took pictures of the failures, the damage to my board, dropped the board off at a repair shop, said a little prayer for the things that didn’t go wrong, and began to formulate the strongly worded letter I’d be sending to THULE.
I didn’t get to surf that weekend.