Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ninety Mile Beach, Two Mischievous Boys, A Girl and Her Car and a Marlin

Shar tells us that three feet of water is a shallow affair. One can stand up and walk in it. Paddle your arms while erect, in it. And for some of us, keep Willy out of the water while traversing in it...

That's a good thing.

But sometimes, three feet of water is too much water. Too deep, too forceful, too destructive. Too damn wet. Shar's tale reminded me of this little episode, back in about 83... when I was but a wee lad learning to drive on the wrong side of the ...err... beach for the first time.

There was once a provincial New Zealand girl named A. A had a pops that sailed around the world a couple of times, who was always dragging sailors and adventurers back to his home from the little Yacht club he frequented just near the Auckland Harbor Bridge in Auckland, New Zealand. On one particular day, he dragged myself and my traveling buddy G home as a gift for his wanderlusting daughter, who was just coming of traveling age and had an old volkswagon bug bought with two years of savings.

Let's just say a kind of chemistry evolved between G, myself, and A. One that blew up in beakers and cracked windowpanes and caused small fires in unusual places. A was all for anything, at that age, and G and I were two 'miscreantic' traveling youngsters on a mission to test out a few theories of our own.

Like a cluster bomb , every thought that relates to the three of us (G,A,ME) explodes upon contact and produces far too many smaller brain pops and bangs to relate to in an afternoon. So I'll stick to the tale behind this photo--

A road trip, for all practical purposes, is the highway that leads to the center of a tale. Think about how many unusual events and days you have experienced that started out by simply throwing a bunch of clothes and perhaps sleeping gear and some cash into a car and going somewhere you've never been? This tale is tethered to a road trip, and starts right after the road ends...

Ninety Mile Beach is sixty miles (give or take) long. It was named Ninety Mile Beach, I recall, because it took a man moving cattle three days to go from one end to the other. Now a man in a hurry could march his cattle thirty miles in a long day, and this was how the math was figured. The descrepancy comes because the sand slowed the cattle and the man (unknowingly) down by a factor of a third, therefore, the misnomer by thirty miles...

At any rate, located at the far tip of the North Island of New Zealand, Ninety Mile Beach was a natural destination and a turning around point for traveling Yankie boys with their Kiwi girl sidekick...

Who had a car...

And Ninety Mile Beach had access points on the southern end where you could get your vehicle on the beach and scoot around like giant Tonka's in a giant sandbox. Somebody had outfitted a large bus with balloon tires and took people on tours of this beach, and we passed this bus and mooned it. (Well they mooned us, first!) We found that by staying where the sand was hard and wet, we could do about sixty five or seventy without much funny steering and the resistance of soft sand, and we also found that every now and then the ocean would lick its waves up in front of us and cause a wall of water to spray over the bug, and sometimes the flat bottom would 'skip" like a flat rock and we'd be surfing momentarily and slowing abruptly.

We also found that A, our honest and trustworthy sidekick, had a bit of a crush on her volkswagon, and would talk to it as we flew over sand berms, donuted around on sand flats, and surfed it through incoming wavelets by repeating quite dramatically and quite often, "My car! My baby! What are you doing to my baby?"

"Huh? Oh, nuthin"

"Incoming wave!'

"Hold tight!"

"My car! My baby! What are you doing to my baby?"

Since A wasn't driving, we gave her a box of wine to sip from to lesson the stress of her relationship with her car. We also traveled the entire length of the beach and arrived at its northern most point and stopped, got out, looked around, and tried to take in the enormity of the significance of our distinctive geography.

"Wow. The top of New Zealand."

"Yeh, wow... Bologna or roast beef?"

"Didja bring the frisbee?"

"Easy on that wine, A. You'll have to navigate later..."

The tourist bus came and unleashed a bunch of cameras on us with their snappers in tow. Then it left. We hung out for a few hours doing beachy stuff and checking out oceanic stuff. There was a Marlin washed up into the shallows that hadn't been there very long. It looked ridable. We rode it. There were strange creatures that made bubbles in the sand after every wave wash which we dug for, always coming up empty.

Getting late, we decided to head back. The tide was coming in, and we weren't sure what sort of tide it was going to be, but suddenly (these things usually get realized suddenly) we weren't sure if we were going to have enough beach left over to drive on.

Ever look into the eyes of your friends and realize suddenly that you have spent entirely too much time riding a dead Marlin?

Did you ever have the distinct, sinking feeling you just might be about to be talked about by people you've never met, around their water cooler and around dinner tables while chasing peas around their plates with a dull fork?

"Hey, didja hear about those two Yanks up on Ninety Mile Beach?"

"Didn't know a thing about tides, I reckon."

"They say the girl they were with was drunk. Why else would she let them drive her bug on the beach? That salt water gets into everything."

"Did they find the car?"

"Buried up to the steering wheel in sand."

"What were they thinking?"

That's the problem. We weren't.

One brief thought about tides and returning the sixty miles back the way we came and we would have taken notice of the high tide mark and noticed that it was right up against the very soft sand and dunes that were impassable to our little mover of folks like a cow pasture full of bull dung is hard to ride on with a skateboard.

Yes, this was deep doo doo territory and it required only one thought and action as the waves lapped in in higher and higher licks like evil, undesired tongues in fourth grade kisses, squeezing the three of us into a thinner and thinner lane of drivable beach.

Drive like hell.

And like hell we drove indeed. G was actually at the wheel. I told him if we crashed or stalled, it was my turn, and he agreed. Driving for your life can be an exhilarating experience and it was only fair that we shared this moment of near sinking like we shared the experience of riding a dead Marlin. We told A to just keep drinking and keep her eyes shut if it made her feel any better.

"My car! My baby! What are you doing to my baby?"

Driving like hell, baby. Driving her like hell.

Ninety Mile Beach was not straight and flat. It was a monstrous crescent, with contours and elevation changes and creeks that fed into and over its sandy shores at higher tides, and as the tide rose, these creeks backed up and swelled and began cutting new curbs in the sand as they cut quickly to the ocean, seemingly coming from nowhere and filling the hard, drivable portion of the beach with six inch deep water traps, which we hit, at sixty, at seventy, G doing his best rally driving imitation, zigging in and out of lapping waves, skidding over these rivulets with our flat bottom bug and hitting the far side with a violent thud and A was bouncing up and hitting her head and splilling her wine "My car! My baby! What are you doing to my baby?" and I was hoping and praying for a crash or a stall so that I could drive and after twenty minutes of insane weaving along a waning and waxing shoreline, G hit a creek he couldn't quite skip and a wave of water whooshed up and over the bug as we puttered, barely, up the other side of the nearly twelve inch deep high tide creek and the volkswagon coughed, wheezed, and ran no more...

It started to rain. Not hard, but the timing of it was ominus. We were dead on the beach, almost dead in the water, and it was starting to rain. I grabbed a shirt from my things, popped the trunk (the bonnet or the boot?), wiped down around the distributor cap and then removed it. There was sea water inside--not a good sign. I wiped it out, replaced the cap, and shoved G out of the driver's seat.

"My turn!"

The car started right up.

Some things in life are not to be missed. You don't necessarily want to do them more than once, but you want to do them once. This was one of those things. It was like a well designed video game only real. You had to avoid the lapping waves or they slowed you down. You had to avoid the soft sand above the high tide mark or it slowed you down and made you stuck. You had to figure out how fast and hard to hit the creeks as you crossed them. Too fast, and you could wet your distributor and stall (and have to give up your turn driving). Too slow and you could sink your wheels in a hurry, giving up everybody's turn to drive. One minute, I was driving seventy. The next, I was slamming on my brakes and trying to find a shallow area of the creek to scoot across without too much splashing. Then I was skirting the lapping waves and trying to avoid getting broadsided by the ever rising tides...

Ya wanna talk about YAHOO! That was YAHOO! Getting out meant not having to sleep three to a volkswagon, all covered in sand and Marlin mites (my imagination working overtime, here.) Getting stuck meant eating a box of cheap red wine and hoping we weren't washed away or buried in the night by the expansive, unforgiving ocean... I did my best rally driver imitation-- we traveled at fifty miles an hour on average-- and just as we were thinking we just might get out of this, we realized that there was at least one more creek between us and the exit, and this creek must have been forty feet across and perhaps two feet deep. This we realized in a split second, which is about how long it took me to make the decision to accelerate instead of brake, A back to her usual self "My car! My baby! What are you doing to my baby?" and G sitting up and taking notice, the bug hitting the initial side of the creek at about seventy, the flat bottom skimming across the swiftly cascading water like a fat boy on a waterslide, water whooshing over the car like a car wash out of control, friction and back pressure setting in, the bug slowing dramatically fast yet gently and just nosing itself up the opposite bank--which was twenty degrees steep, cut in by the flowing water through shifting sands-- and stopping...

Stalled. Stuck. Half in and half out. G got out to do the distributor cap trick. He opened the engine compartment lid. Took off the cap. Just then, a wave (a rogue one, I thought, and a rude one) crashed into the engine compartment and wet everything in it to a degree of wetness not even allowed by boats.

I didn't even crank. I opened my door and got out. The creek was running swiftly beneath the wheels, undermining them, and the bug was sinking. A was too tossed around and wedged into the back seat to get out and see this, which was good. The next rogue wave that came flowing through the open driver's door (right side, British driving rules) and out the open passenger door did, however, get noticed and a healthy concern became a mournful lament.

"My car!"

G ran. He just took off running. He didn't turn back, and he didn't stop to answer my simple question-- "Where the hell are you going?"

He was just gone. Over the dunes and away.

I did what any self respecting dude would do in a situation like this, in trouble with a girl in trouble and a father to explain things to and incoming rogue waves coming in like bar patrons at happy hour.

I tried to lift the car and push it out of the creek.

I'm convinced that I could have done it if it weren't for the fact that A was stuck in the backseat with half a box of wine and all our clothes and camping gear. I had the adrenaline rush you read about. I even got the car in the air for a duration, but I couldn't get the front wheels to travel up twenty degrees in collapsing sand, but I tried. I really did try.

"We gotta get our stuff outta the car!" was my next thought. A started handing me stuff, and I began moving it up the beach to higher ground--indeed in the soft sand-- and after four or five trips of this A was able to get herself out of her volkswagon bug that she had saved two years for, and the sadness in her face was palpable but unaddressed as I was still trying to salvage what I could...

And then...

It came. It wasn't exactly a monster truck, but it was a 4 wheel drive truck with huge balloon tires, and it flew a rebel flag--don't ask-- and had a horn that actually played Dixie, and there was G standing in the back of it like a Mel Gibson Warrior sidekick, holding fast to the roll bar, his smiley teeth visible for miles in the fading light, letting go with one hand to pump a fist and then almost flying up and so grabbing at the bar again.

Salvation. Hallelujah! Amen Mr. Big Winch!

And out we were pulled. We were about a hundred yards from the first egress and we were not the first to find ourselves in this situation. We dutifully and gladly paid our ten dollar towing fee and shared our box of wine with a young Maori guy with a name I can't remember but it seems like Tommy. We cleaned the distributor and headed on our way, pulling into the first cheap looking motel we could find, running in and showering, then out to a cafe for a meal.

Pushing peas around our plates...

"Did you hear about the two yanks and that Kiwi girl who almost got their car stuck?"



Kyria said...

Hi Scott. Sure, I'd be flattered to have you link to my story! :)

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