A Varmint Marmot

It was a frantic emergency stop at the auto parts store that Saturday mid-morning. I was at decent elevation in Montrose, Colorado, so  my options were limited. I found a well-stocked NAPA and the mission included only one thing. I had to get some wire! And NOW!

Hmm… just today I was digging around in the toolbox that lives in the back of my trusty Toyota 4Runner, and I saw those two spools of black and white wire. They are still marked with their almost insanely high ‘mountain-region’ pricing tags.  Ironically, I’ve never used an inch of that wire.

What was my calamity? Why was I so worked up and hell-bent on getting that wire bought, while on my roadtrip last summer?

Earlier that morning, I awoke next to sky high pines, perched above a mountain lake, on the west side of the Continental Divide. My screen-ceilinged tent was pitched just behind my parked car. I had set it up in the dark, slept a little, froze a lot, but enjoyed the proximity to the stars that night before.

The area was Telluride, but I wasn’t heading there. Nope, I was returning to the Land of Oz, and heading east. Ophir Pass sounded like a fine way to get there from here.

It was very early when I quietly crunched the gravel on the road through Ophir. This tiny town sits the in the crook of a mountain valley. There are no businesses or services and the residents don’t like visitors. In fact, there isn’t a sign at the highway that even indicates their presence. I missed the turnoff previously and had to ask a local for directions.

Once I passed through town, the trail was only headed one way. UP that mountain.  It is a single lane road that begins in the trees, but goes well above their line. I hadn’t been driving for maybe 5 minutes up the pass, when I came to a small clearing. Off to my left was a newer, modified and slick-looking 4-Runner, with the drivers legs sticking out from behind the rear tires.

I stopped and yelled over to him, ‘Everything Ok?’

He indicated that he was stuck. His car wouldn’t start. Basically he was stranded.

I pulled my truck up near his and out of the way of the trail. I told him that I had a bunch of tools and was willing to try to help, but I’m no mechanic.

His problem was caused by a varmint he said. Overnight, he had camped at this spot. After dark he heard some rustling around. He said that while he was sleeping on the folded-down rear seats, when heard something climbing around the undercarriage.

It was a marmot, he was sure. He showed me an electric solenoid type unit on his rear axle. The wires had been chewed through. That little bugger had nibbled the pretty green wire in two and didn’t leave enough to reconnect them with.

Hmmm… Now’s the time you’re probably thinking that I ran to the store to get this guy some wire, right? Well, remember that I haven’t ever used any of it. So that’s not exactly the case.

I searched my toolkit. I grabbed wire strippers, electrical tape and side cutting pliers. I had small pinch-together connectors too.  Wire though, was one thing I was missing.  I needed just a couple inches of some type of automotive wire and I had none. He didn’t have any either.

After searching around some more, I came across my camping headlamp. It had a lens on the front and battery pack on the back, connected by a small wiggly wire. I told him I was willing to cut it up, if it might help him get his car started. It was really the only option we had.

A tiny almost threadlike wisp of copper did exist inside the black plastic insulation on this cheap imported headlamp unit.  I cut a length and carefully stripped both ends. The gauge of the ‘wire’ was comedically small, but he went to work on wrapping it around as best he could. We then taped it all up tight and held our breath at the moment of truth.  He headed to the cab and turned his key in the ignition.

It cranked just once and fired to life! It was great to see our MacGuyver fix actually do the job!  He used some more tape to secure everything together and then we parted ways. He headed down the mountain and I headed up it.

On roadtrips I enjoy carrying along the tools I could need to handle things just like this. I topped over the mountain that morning and was enjoying the views, but kicking myself for not being more prepared. I thought I had everything. Of course, it was the one little piece of the puzzle that I lacked.

I was determined to stock up and be ready for the next instance with plenty of heavy duty wire in my toolbox! That’s why I was on a mission later that morning, when I arrived in the town of Montrose.

Funny though, I spent that morning worrying that I should’ve been better prepared. I was kicking myself. I could have had this guy’s car fixed in 10 minutes instead of 30. I was self-conscious even. Silly, huh?

In truth, I did have the means to fix things. I did offer my help. I had to make a small sacrifice, but it all worked out okay. Sometimes I forget to enjoy the outcome, when the process has had its challenges along the way.

In the end, I was helpful, and that feels good.  It was really nothing more than a memorable moment caused by a Marmot on the side of a mountain…

So I guess the point of this blog today, is that if you need some wire, call me. I’ve got it now.  It’s imported from Colorado, high quality stuff.  I’d be glad to lend you a hand.


Aaron Nichols

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