Just a little way up the deeply rutted trail, I drove my left side up a steep bank and heard noises that could only be bad; metal on metal and lots of it. It seems that when I had adjusted my track bar to center the axle recently, it pushed the driveshaft too close to the long arm with catastrophic results. I looked under my Jeep to confirm my suspicions, and found my front driveshaft was hanging uselessly, the u-joint having been ripped apart. I popped a couple zip-ties on to keep it from causing any more damage and unlocked my hubs, allowing us to press on.
At first I was pissed because I hadn’t thought to bring a spare driveshaft u-joint. I thought of the cool obstacles I wouldn’t be able to play on and how much less fun I was going to have. It then occurred to me that 154 years ago, after something important broke, I wouldn’t be thinking about missed opportunities for fun. I’d be thinking about how to keep my family alive. That’s called perspective, folks.
After my driveshaft debacle, we had another rig that refused to stay running. I can’t speak for the others in our group, but visions of a very long night limping into camp all of a sudden flashed through my head. Luckily, we were able to get it running and press on though it was already much later than we’d hoped. The moon had come out to watch us and the sun was only a faint orange memory in the Western sky.
We finally stopped at a spot now called Government Meadows, just barely east of the trail’s highest point of 4800 ft. In the past, this vast open plain was called Summit Prairie and the Longmire train stayed there for two days letting their oxen rest. Looking at it today, it isn’t hard to imagine why they would have stayed here to “recoup.” In contrast to the dense, thickly wooded forest they had been locked in for days on end, the openness of Summit Prairie must have been very welcome.
Our own trail had just enough light for people to set up their tents, or those of us without them, to get a fire ring set up. Since this is early in the Naches Trail season (the trail is closed from November 15th through July 15th), there was plenty of downed limbs and small trees. We were able to keep a nice fire roaring into the wee hours of the morning.