Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To Montana and Back, With a Stop or Two in Hell

We pulled out of Stanford, Montana and pointed our rigs east onto Highway 87, after having consumed some axis venison chili and sandwiches in the sun-washed parking lot of the Sundown Motel.  My buddy Jon was behind the wheel, and I took the back seat behind him, allowing an outdoor writer buddy of mine who came up from Helena to ride shotgun.  We were pulling a trailer of seven dogs, a rogue's gallery of pointers, setters, shorthairs, and a vizsla.  Behind us were JD and his dad, in a Toyota Tacoma with a topper holding two crates that contained Ruby, a loveable yellow lab, and Folsom, an enthusiastic six-month-old setter.

Our caravan was heading to the first field of the afternoon, and our planned turnoff was less than a mile or so out of town, so I don't think we ever even reached the 70-mile-an-hour posted speed limit.  As we were looking for our turn, we probably slowed down to somewhere around 40 mph.

Out of the blue, we saw JD's silver truck streak by us on the right hand shoulder -- although at the time, it didn't register to me that it was their vehicle, because it was completely demolished on the back end.  And the crates weren't holding any dogs.

We quickly slowed to a stop just ahead of them, and got out of our vehicle to render aid.  JD and his dad were out of the truck (thank God) and appeared dazed, but otherwise fine.  Further back, an 18-wheeler was coming to a rest, and two very disoriented but alive dogs (again, thank God) were stammering along the highway.

Knowing that JD and his dad would be busy with the accident scene, Jon ran to Ruby, who was rapidly becoming woozy and bloodied.  I took off after Folsom, who by this time was making a beeline towards a farmstead a half mile away -- scared and confused, but with no outward signs of injury.

I made it to the farm within a minute of losing Folsom behind a corral fence, and Jon quickly joined the search in his vehicle.  Beyond the farmstead, there was nothing but open land, and we were both reasonably sure that we made it to the farm before he had a chance to move beyond it.

But that might have worked against us.  Animals often run for a short distance and hole up in the nearest safe spot -- and like any farmstead, this one was packed with outbuildings, farm implements, vehicles, and a hundred round haybales that each contained a cubbyhole just large enough for a frightened setter pup to hide between.

No one was home at the farm, but I decided trespassing in this case was acceptable, or at least explainable.  We searched the property thouroughly, to no avail.  We expanded our search to the surrounding ranch roads -- still nothing.  We stopped into gas stations, motels, and any other place nearby, and while the locals were exceedingly pleasant and helpful, no one found Folsom.  We spent the next day and a half in vain looking for Folsom.

Folsom is still missing, and I can only presume that he did indeed hunker down somewhere, and internal injuries got the best of him.

Ruby, after trips to two different country vets, is now at home recovering after surgery to repair her pelvis -- broken in two places -- along with assorted scrapes and puncture wounds.

The truck driver was issued a ticket.  There were no skid marks, and as you can see from the photo, there were no hills or other obstructions to block his view -- he simply wasn't paying attention to what was on the road ahead of him.  (The accident took place at approximately the same place where the tanker truck is.)

As terrible as this all was, I'm realizing how lucky we all were.  JD and his father were sore, but safe.  JD had the forethought to swerve onto the right shoulder and missed our vehicle.  Had he not, I have no doubt he would have sheared off the top of our dog trailer, rolled his own vehicle, and probably ours as well.  The semi hit with such force that it was rendered inoperable, and the front seats in JD's truck were torqued out of alignment.

It's taking some time to make sense of all of this, and thankfully, it didn't ruin our trip -- but it sure put a damper on it.  Right now, I'm shelving my guns and gear until I get everything straight in my head -- hopefully that'll come before the Kansas pheasant opener.

More on this very eventful trip later.

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