During the spring of 1978 I purchased a well-used 1973 Toyota Landcruiser so I could join my friends when they went off-roading. Although it was not much to look at, the old green and white cruiser was a lot of fun drive, especially in the summer when you could take the top off. Later that summer that old cruiser would be the key component in one of our most memorable dates ever.
Libby and I went to a lot of movies early in our relationship, mainly because it was the expected thing to do on a date, but even though I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in this dating game it seemed like it would be much more fun to do active things when we went out rather than sit next to one another for a couple of hours and eat popcorn. I couldn’t help but believe that an afternoon of four wheeling would surely make for a memorable date, which brings me to our mud-slinging, rock crawling, red neck afternoon.
It was a Sunday and I had driven my old Landcruiser to church in preparation for our adventure. Several days before, I had talked to Libby’s dad about taking her on this date because I had planned several things that would require his permission. The first potential issue that required permission was that I would be taking Libby away on a Sunday afternoon, breaking a long standing tradition, if not a rule; second, I was taking her away from Sunday dinner (both a rule and a long standing tradition). After some discussion and a stern warning to have Libby home by 6:00 PM for Training Union, the Rev. Jimmie Willis gave me his permission to take his daughter on this unusual date.
On the way to church the morning of our outing, I remember thinking that I had come up with the ultimate date, one that Libby would never forget (and, as it turned out, I was right). I wanted to surprise Libby so I didn’t tell her about my plans until church was over when I asked her to change into her jeans, telling her only that we were going on a different kind of date. Libby was a lot of things, but adventurous was not among them, in addition she had trouble understanding why someone in their right mind would buy a vehicle specifically to take it in the mud, so this would be a first for her.
We left Libby’s house on that Sunday just past noon and and headed south toward Lafayette to begin our date. Leaving the paved road, we turned onto a dirt road and entered the Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Preserve, then we took a treacherous switchback jeep trail to the top of Pigeon mountain where I surprised Libby with a “gourmet” lunch on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley. I arranged a blanket on top of the rock and unpacked the picnic basket which had ham, Velveeta cheese, bread, Golden Flake potato chips and Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice (obviously, I had pulled out all of the stops). As we finished our grape juice I told Libby that we should leave, explaining to her the conditions that her dad had put on our Sunday afternoon date.
The road over the top of Pigeon Mountain during the 70’s was very rough, often times requiring a jack to lift the vehicle over some of the larger boulders covering the road, along the way we would straddle large ravines and plow through lots of mud, all adding to the fun and the challenge. As we continued our journey across the top of the mountain I was busy explaining to Libby Willis how, when driving on some of these rough trails, the driver needs to stay alert to keep from hitting the oil pan on boulders, pick the best line through mud, and all while keeping your momentum so you don’t get stuck.
With the worst of the hazards behind us, Libby decided she was ready to try her hand at driving, so I decided to swap sides with her and let her in on some of the fun. I said to her, “There may be some mud and a few small boulders the rest of the way, so go slow over the rocks, avoid the mud when you can, but whatever you do, don’t stop, just keep going and you should be fine” Libby drove like a champ even though it was straight shift transmission, had no power steering and she had never been off-road.
We topped a rocky hill and headed down onto the flatter portion of the trail where Libby would see the first muddy section. Since we were getting close to civilization, I began trying to find some music on the AM radio to accompany our adventure. Suddenly the Landcruiser veered off of the trail and came to a halt, when I looked up from the radio we were buried in a swamp. I asked Libby what happened and with a sheepish grim, she pointed to a mud hole in the road and she told me that she didn’t want to hit that mud hole, so she dodged it.
I couldn’t afford one of those large $2000 bumper mounted electrical winches that would have gotten us out in 15 minutes, instead I had a ratcheting come-along (mail ordered from J.C. Whitney for $19) which, with a lot of cranking,could move the 3600 lb Landcruiser about 3 feet every hour. Using a long cable that I kept wrapped around my front bumper, I strapped to the closest tree, hooked the other end of the cable to the bumper and began pulling. And pulling. And pulling.
In hindsight, it is unclear if we left from our picnic spot in time to complete the trail ride and make it back before church, but now, at the exact same time that church was starting at Flintstone Baptist, we were sitting axle deep in a swamp needing to cross 15 feet of mud, 4 miles of mountain trail and 25 miles of paved road just to get home.
Libby was very upset about her decision to avoid a 6 inch deep mud hole in favor of a 3 feet deep swamp but I told her that there was no damage done and eventually we would get out. We did get out after several more exhausting hours of pulling on that come-along and resetting the cable. We stopped at the first house we came to after getting out of the woods and asked to borrow their phone to let everyone know what had happened and then we finally made it home just after midnight.
I don’t remember all of the details of the encounter with Libby’s dad that night, only that he was gracious in his response and my fear of what might happen was far worse than the reality of what actually did happen. It was the first and last time we ever broke curfew, but of course it was a whooper.
On my way home that night after an exhausting day I decided it would be prudent to wait a few months before asking Libby’s dad the next big question for which I would need his permission.