–Take it to the limit one more time. __Popular Song
My copilot on the Night of the Deer had hardly commented on the incident, having become accustomed to hairsbreadth adventures in my company. I had–and confess I still have–a need for adventure, a bone deep craving that thrives on asphalt or arena dirt the way others feed on Kentucky Fried Chicken or home cooked roast beef with plenty of potatoes and sliced carrots. It’s a need to escape boredom’s deadly venom, to seek excitement, the sort of risk that stretches one’s inner and outer beings like petite silk hose forced over King Kong’s head to disguise the big ape in a bank robbery.
One example came deep in the night–apparently a great time for adventuring–deep in the northern California mountains in December of 1973. We had begun the road journey from Eugene, Oregon, bound for Reno, Nevada. It was a late start after a day’s work at the office followed by early evening basketball practice, especially considering the five hundred miles ahead of us. There were long gas lines in Oregon; it had taken over an hour that morning to work my way up to the pumps to fill the new Gremlin’s twenty-one gallon tank and two five gallon cans with fuel. Since a Gremlin has no trunk, the extra ten gallons of flammables rode behind our heads in the passenger compartment, yet the risk made sense. Reno was too far away for even BJ the Gremlin’s four hundred and sixty mile range. No guarantee we couild reach the high desert gambling mecca on one tankful, and refueling in the middle of the night at a gas station on roads we didn’t know seemed iffy at best.
South on I-5 we drove, Oregon’s notorious winter rains pouring down to Medford and beyond. It had rained nearly every day since the first of November, omnipresent gray skies depressing to Souls accustomed to the Big Sky Country of Montana or the open prairie reaches of South Dakota. Eventually, with much relief, we climbed out of the Valley of Perpetual Drizzle and, despite the late hour and physical fatigue, felt our spirits lift at once.
We left I-5 around one a.m. to take the two lane road toward Susanville, California. Mount Shasta had rolled up the rug at dusk; not a single Dr. Pepper or Uncola remained available to slake our thirst. Car fuel had been planned carefully and well; people fuel was another matter. Regretfully, we pulled back onto the tree lined mountain highway, dog tired and craving sleep, throats as dry as a Death Valley afternoon in mid-August.
A 1963 Chevrolet, dusty, tan, and carrying two men in their thirties or thereabouts, pulled onto the road behind us. Their vehicle had been noted, parked on the shoulder of this otherwise deserted highway much as an occasional police officer will lurk in wait for the weaving motorist who has had too much to drink. Something about it clicked warning switches in my awareness. I watched its headlights as the car came up fast, then zoomed on by and disappeared around the next curve.
We rounded the bend and found ourselves virtually on the Chevy’s rear bumper. It had slowed to thirty miles per hour or less without warning, blocking the lane deliberately.
“Hang on!” I snapped, and punched it. We shot past on the left and took the lead. Combat senses now on full alert, cataloguing items: Local drunks or worse. Probably V-8 in the Chevy against BJ’s inline six-cylinder engine. No way to outrun them. We would outlast them, then, refusing to break speed either up or down. Light in the rear, BJ nonetheless sported solid wide-track tires and a big-car front end; use that if it came to Demolition Derby tactics.
My partner stayed quiet, frozen in her seat but under control, letting me concentrate without distraction. The Chevy rolled up close, tailgating, using headlight high beams in an effort to blind. No problem. BJ had come equipped with two remote control outside mirrors and a day-night inside mirror. A part of me began to smile, deep inside.
Were our adversaries to possess x-ray vision, I did not think they would like that smile.
I held the speedometer precisely at fifty, ignoring the vehicle on our tail. Perhaps if we all had a good wreck, the extra gasoline sloshing in those two cans could create the gentlemen in the Chevy as well as us. Columns of tall, dark evergreens marched quietly past, watching indifferently the test of wills between metal clad, rubber footed humans on their asphalt roller derby track.
Frustrated, the big Chevrolet shot past again, slowed down in front of us. Our high beams flashed in their mirrors; angrily, their own headlights flicked up and down ordering us to dim our lights. This time I laughed aloud, a savage, exultant bark of sound that cut the air, sharp as the crack of a well handled bullwhip.
“Do they think we’re that afraid of them?”
“I don’t know–”
I called inwardly on my spiritual teacher, not yet knowing I spoke to the Mahanta, the Living Eck Master. Briefly, my thoughts flashed to my sisters in Montana who once had a pickup truck try to run them off the road in remote country. That truck did not succeed, which remained fortunate for its occupants…unless they favored the business end of a .357 Magnum as a midnight snack.
Our car carried no firearms, but we were hardly helpless. “Get the notebook out of the jockey box and write down their license number.”
My copilot rummaged in the glove compartment, found paper and pen. Just then the Chevy tried to break our speed by once again slowing below fifty miles per hour. Once again I stomped the accelerator, this time waiting until impact seemed certain before whipping the Gremlin to the left in such a sudden move only a true suicide would have argued the point. These two, it seemed, lacked suicidal tendencies. Either they were simply playing dangerous games or they were looking for easy prey, not the kind of multi-fanged victim that takes the hunters into an eighty foot pine tree at fifty miles an hour, headfirst.
“I didn’t get the number.”
“That’s okay. I believe it’s WXZ 547, California, but they may go by again.”
The did, after first dropping back behind a curve or two to give the impression of having left the chase. Their headlights came up fast, settled on our tail for only a moment, went on by, slowed again.
“Yup. That’s the number. WXZ 547.”
“Need the interior light any more?”
“I don’t think so–”
“Just a minute!”
The tan car slowed again, suddenly, making it my turn to shoot by and take the lead. The bigger car dropped back for long seconds, then picked up speed, passed us, and kept on going, accelerating all the way.
“Think it’s an ambush? Or did they really give up?”
“I don’t know.”
Two curves later, we emerged onto a long, much straighter stretch of highway. Far ahead, the distinctive taillights of the fleeing Chevy gleamed brightly as it turned off the Susanville road at the exit to the tiny town of McCloud, nine miles from Mount Shasta by BJ’s odometer.
“Guess we scared them off. They must have figured out we were getting their license umber when the saw the interior lights on.”
“Seems likely,” my partner agreed.
“But we’ll watch the mirrors for a while, anyway. The could always come back out the other side of town.”
They didn’t. The battle was over. We talked it out at length, discussing, rehashing, no longer a bit tired. One hundred and fifty miles later, we finally took a stretch break and changed drivers shortly before dawn. The beauty of our experience began to sink in. Not only had we been thoroughly invigorated and refreshed without so much as a sip of soda pop, we had–or at least I had–been able to play a combat game with no harm done. Some gentle elderly person or green youth had perhaps been saved from being victimized by the marauding Chevy. Possibly even the men in the car had learned a bit of caution, knowing their license plate number could be circulating in official circles by the time we reached the nearest phone.
It may be, however, that my brave copilot found the whole experience…well, just a tiny bit stressful. She ha faithfully written down the license plate number as instructed, all right, but what had been “WXZ 547” showed on her notepad as “5XZ47W.” The letters and digits were all there but thoroughly scrambled. I found this immensely amusing, having memorized the number easily and with confidence during the white heat of our nine mile duel.
But then, I hadn’t been sitting in the passenger’s seat at the time.
For our readers who may not recognize terms like Eck, Hu, Living Eck Master, or Mahanta, the definitions can be found in A Glossary of Eck Terms at Eckankar.org.