Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mind Over Matter

I watched Larry in my rear view mirror, making a counterclockwise motion with his hand. 

Since I was looking at him in a mirror, I turned the wheel clockwise.

He immediately began shaking his head, then started making clockwise circles.  Did he want me to turn the wheel clockwise, or swing the back of the truck clockwise, which would move the trailer counterclockwise…?  Wait a minute… 

It seemed that no matter which way I turned the wheel, as soon as I started to back up, he shook his head more vigorously than the last time.  Finally I stuck my head out the window and yelled, “Which way do you want me to turn?” 

“You want to move the end of the trailer that way,” he said, pointing to the left, “So move the end of the truck this way.”  “But I did that,” I said, “and it went way over in the wrong direction!”  “That’s because you were too far over this way,” he said.  I did not see how that was possible, considering I was backing up a path about eight feet wide with pine trees lining one side and rocks the size of Volkswagons on the other. 

There are few things that test a relationship more than one party directing the other in backing up a trailer.  (For the record, they include:  renovating a kitchen or bathroom, teenage stepchildren and towing a vehicle with a chain.  The latter should be illegal for married couples to do together; it would probably lower the divorce rate.)   My friend Judy simply stated, “Remember, just point the back of the vehicle in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go.”  That advice went out the window, though, as I tried to follow Larry’s directions and this time came within a hair’s width of kissing a tree with the front of the truck. 

I don’t blame Larry and, in fact, I don’t even blame myself.  I blame the whole dynamic of “backing up.”  In a perfect world, if it’s pointed in a direction, that’s the direction it should go, whether you’re going backwards or forwards.  The fact that it doesn’t work that way shows a major fault with physics. 

I was beginning to feel like a bit of a loser.  Here I had this awesome truck, and Larry had just refurbished a 16’ foot utility trailer.  I took it for a few spins around Charley Hill Road and practiced backing it up -  a little.  But when it came to getting hay or really maneuvering it around, I always hopped out and let Larry do it.  The path from the road to the barn is not straight.  It’s lined with rocks and trees, has some slope, has a funky curve right before the barn that requires pivoting around a tree, and is generally a poorly designed arcade game.  We are often in a “get-r-done” mode, so instead of my taking hours trying to back it up, it is vastly easier to jump out and let Larry do it.  He hauled his J24 sailboat on a trailer with his Blazer for years, and apparently it’s like riding a bicycle.  The first time I saw him back the trailer down that path my jaw hit the ground.  He made it look like the simplest thing in the world.  Each occasion made me feel a little more inferior.

The F-700 in its "hay day"
The worst backing up was not with the trailer, however.  The F-700, when loaded with hay, was a great grassy behemoth.  It looked, and felt, like it could easily tip over.  Even with the side mirrors, it was nearly impossible to see around with a load of hay.  To his great credit, Larry backed that beast all the way from the road to the barn, with no power steering.  Larry counted on me, on the ground, to tell him how he had to turn to navigate the driveway.  I did my best, and eventually we worked out a series of hand signals the equivalent of landing a fighter on an aircraft carrier.   It was not pretty, however, and very stressful, and I would have paid anyone anything to do it for me.   

This year, when getting hay with the trailer, it worked out that we could just drive straight up to the barn as far as we could go, unload onto the hay elevator, and then Larry would back the whole caravan back out to the road.   One Saturday, we got our second load in late, and it was totally dark by the time we were done, plus the elevator chain broke with five bales to go.  We called it a day and left everything where it sat. 

Larry had weekend duty, so in the morning he left for work until noon.  I was homebound until he came home and backed the truck and trailer out.  This was not acceptable.  This was just stupid, really.  This was my opportunity to figure it out on my own and Just Do It, or crash and burn trying.  I took a deep breath and thought only of Judy saying “point the back of the vehicle the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to go.” 

Twenty minutes later, I had successfully backed the whole shebang out onto the road, turned it around, and then backed the trailer into its storage spot (conveniently wedged between a pile of rocks and a cherry tree that is getting cut down at my next opportunity).  I took my time, had to get out and look around a few times, had broken a sweat and needed a spinal adjustment at the end of it all, but I Just Did It.  Amen.

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