How Deep the Water Is: Travels with Josh

Young Adult Friends

Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. The first entry is below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!

Day  1-2

So I know part of the challenge of this trip will be the idea of “Good” decision making, a concept I have struggled with in the past. I didn’t necessarily hope to have to face this challenge on day 1.

So I’ll start by telling you about my setup. I am traveling and living for the foreseeable future in a 16ft 2002 self contained camper. It has a bathroom, shower, stove, hot-water heater, furnace, air conditioner, etc – all powered by either propane or a massive solar panel I installed on the roof. I’ve been living in it for about 3 weeks now in a Friend’s driveway while I ironed out most of the kinks involved in that kind of living arrangement. I should mention at this point I have spent the last 5ish years living in a sailboat so really the lifestyle change isn’t all that dramatic as it might otherwise be.

I am pulling the camper with my 2003 6 cyl 4.0L Jeep Wrangler. I love this car. I’ve had her for almost a decade and added 104,000 miles to the 86,000 I bought her with. To this I added an additional solar panel, 16,000lb winch, roof rack, 3 extra lights (2 for driving and 1 flood light), a heavy duty trailer hitch with weight distribution and sway control bars, rear view camera so I can see behind the camper, and a small stuffed llama because they seem so wise.

So for my first stop I decided to book two nights at a camp site in a state park. When I arrived there was a fleet of dirt bikes tooling all over the place.

“Boy that looks fun!” Everyone who knows me knows I’m a danger to myself and everyone within a 20ft radius on a pedal bicycle so obviously trying that was out of the question, “But there must be some cool trails around. I could take my jeep!”

So I ventured off on some nice smooth flat gravel roads that snaked all through this park. Off in the distance I could hear the motors of the bikes buzzing away as they hit the dirt and revved up every jump and twist in the road. I was completely deserted my section of the park, however, so I felt free to open up the throttle, kick it into 4wd, and roar down the gritty dusty road. Almost exactly 4.3 miles away from the campsite (I would figure that out as I was walking back the first time) I passed a turnoff that seemed far more interesting than the road I was on. I did a 360, bumped up onto my new path, and splashed through the first two puddles. As muddy water splashed everywhere I was intoxicated by that feeling of freedom. I knew there was nowhere I couldn’t go! Except maybe the next puddle. This was less a splash and more of a… well you know that sound when you accidently drop your cell phone into a toilet you have just used… think that but bigger.

Personally I would describe it more as an internalsound. All the noise going on outside my head was drowned out by one very loud and very long expletive as the engine died and the icy muddy water started seeping onto the floor. Awhile back, after a hurricane and an unfortunate oversight involving the passenger side window,I discovered there were drain plugs in the floor. I never bothered to replace them so when the water stopped coming in I figured that was as deep as it was going to get (about an inch and 1/2 or so). Wrong. I opened the door and water cascaded up to the seat of the car. I had time to save my mini banjo, a bible, and of course the stuffed llama from the onslaught of murk. I took off my shoes and socks and climbed out into the freezing cold waist deep water. I was able to winch my baby out of the puddle.

Without the engine running the winch really drained the battery. The fact that most of the engine had also been underwater probably didn’t help matters. Either way, the prospect of willing the car to start was a futile endeavor and at this point the sun was sinking fast. So I started walking, all along the way alternating between kicking myself for potentially ending this journey before it even started and plotting my escape.

I decided to return to the car in the morning with my highly valued, yet 50lb, booster pack. If that didn’t work there were a lot of trucks around for the dirt bike rally. I would have to swallow my pride and ask for help. I went to bed thinking/hoping there must be a lesson I am supposed to learn from this. Something like: “Knowing when it’s time to ask for help?” When I woke-up the rally was over – all the big trucks that were there the night before were gone. The park was completely deserted. Seriously, not a single bird, not even a squirrel to ask for help.

As I put the booster pack in a backpack with a pair of dry shoes and a change of clothes,I wondered if AAA would cover towing from the middle of a forest. I had the foresight to wear shorts under my jeans this time and trudged back to the jeep. Rather than reflect on my dire circumstances I tried to keep that acorn roundin my head. It turns out it’s pretty hard to sing all the parts on your own, but it kept me busy for the cold long walk.

I took a different way this time to see if the road ahead was any less treacherous than the one behind. There was a puddle I had to wade through on my way, still about waist deep in the center, but off to the sidewas shallower (mid thigh). There the ground seemed firmer but it was a narrow ledge. An inch to the left and I would be right back where I started.

After about a half hour of cajoling and more than a few desperate pleasto anyone who would listen I was able to get her started. My heart leapt as a great plume of smoke came billowing out of the exhaust and then quickly sank as I realized I had a decision to make, either the 3 puddles behind me or the massive one in front.

I opted for the later figuring… well, I don’t know the logic there… something like insanity being defined as making the same mistakes twice or that the puddle must be there for a reason?… Not the most sound logic obviously but I was sleep deprived so give me a break… After checking the car out to make sure there was nothing structurally wrong and letting the engine run for awhile (I dare not turn it off) I set forth hesitantly onto the muddy ledge on the far right side of the puddle. Immediately I started sliding into the center. I threw it back into reverse. With the peddle halfway to the floor and the radiator fan spraying up mud as it dipped into the water which was now 10 degrees colder than it had been the day before, I made it back out. I knew turning around would be a disaster. I knew too that sometimes the only way out is through. So I tried again. This time I kept the peddle down and when the car started to drift I turned the wheel as hard as I could to the side. As tires began to spin and the water came flowing back in from the door it occurred to me there was nothing to reattach the winch to on the other side of this one and with a jolt the car lurched out.

So as for lessons:
1) Know how deep the water is that you’re going to drive through.
2) Just because something looks fun doesn’t mean you should do it.
3) Journeys end when and where they are supposed to.
Mine continues, at least for today.

Your Friend and Companion,
-Josh

“I am an acorn, the packet, the seed
God is within me, and God is the tree
I am unfolding the way I should be
Carved in the palm of God’s Hand
Carved in the palm of God’s Hand”