The Man with the dry pants

January 02, 2011 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

Interstate 15

To say I was a little bit scared would be an understatement. I was scared of both the ice we were driving on and I was scared that I might wee my pants just a little tiny bit.

Driving north through Idaho on Interstate 15 the road was starting to ice up. Snow was piled high on each side of the lanes, but now it was creeping into the lanes.

My only consolation was that other drivers were continuing, and they were travelling faster than us. By the time we had gone 10 miles from the first hints of ice on the road surface, the entire northern lanes were under an inch of ice. There was nowhere to go but onwards.

Driving a four berth, 25 foot long motor-home which has neither snow tyres nor snow chains along an icy highway was something I just hadn’t counted on. Doing so in brilliant sunshine was even more unexpected.

If the weather and road conditions turned against us we had planned to stop and wait it out. But the interstates have few places to stop, and the rest areas that were along the road were under an even greater load of ice and snow than the highway.

I haven’t been that scared since I was a little boy, and I haven’t wet my pants since I was a little boy. [ except for that time in my 20’s which I would rather not discuss]

Also on my mind was that we were still 50 miles and a couple of thousand feet below the mountain pass we had to get through. That pass was 6500 feet above sea level and the road climbed slowly and steadily in front of us. As we blundered on at 35 miles an hour, other cars sped by on their snow tyres, still able to maintain a steady 50.

That drive seemed like an eternity. I was concentrating on the road and the grooves in the ice as hard as I have ever concentrated on anything. Plus I was concentrating very hard on keeping my bladder firmly shut at the same time. Eventually we reached the very top of the pass, 6500 feet above sea level, and the border between Idaho and Montana.

And then, as they say it the classics, it happened. 200 metres into Montana and the road was dry and clear. The snow was still piled high on the roadsides and was still blanketing the countryside around us. Montana sends out snow ploughs that actually clean the road surface. Suddenly we were cruising through the mountain range at 65 miles an hour with the wind at our backs and the sun on our faces. The difference between the way states maintain their roads was staggering.

That night we made it painlessly to Missoula, which itself was blanketed by foot deep snow. The next day we easily made it to our Spokane destination for a late lunch with the in-laws. The forecast snowfalls held off until half an hour after our arrival.

I arrived with my pride in place and most importantly with dry pants. I felt just a little like an Ice Road Trucker.

After just a couple of days in Spokane, Jo’s brother, Heath, had organised for us to go to a local shooting range. I’d told Heath that while in America I wanted to fire some guns to see what they were like. I haven’t fired a gun for over 20 years and even then it was only my cousins 22. I have never held a handgun.

Most readers will know the gun laws between Australia and the USA are quite different. In the USA gun ownership is seen as a constitutional right which seems to be extended to a right to own any sort of gun.

At the gun range we took along Heath’s handgun and decided to hire a second pistol. Some months before I had whimsically suggested that I wanted to discharge the biggest gun I could lay my hands on. Heath, to his credit, had taken me entirely seriously and promptly said to the man behind the counter “We’ll take the 44 Magnum.... and a box of ammo”.

If you are a child of the 70’s or 80’s you will know that a 44 magnum “is the most powerful handgun in the world”. That this gun will “blow your head clean off”. And you may just find yourself asking if “you feel lucky”. With the Magnum in my hand I felt more scared than lucky. Once again I was I was spending an equal amount of time concentrating on both the gun and my bladder.

When I fired the 44, the explosion, because that’s what it is, was enormous. The Walther makes a serious bang when you fire it, but the Magnum is more like a hand cannon.

My arm was thrown upwards from the recoil. My ears were left ringing despite earplugs. My pants remained dry, thankfully. I think I may have smiled a bit before I fired the remaining 5 rounds. I can proudly say I hit the target every time, although it was hardly an accomplished display and it was quite a big target. Nevertheless, I felt just a little like Dirty Harry.

Our next high calibre excursion involved a farm paddock, a clay pigeon thrower, a 12 gauge shotgun, a nine millimetre pistol and a sniper rifle. Once again as we got ourselves set up in the paddock my thoughts turned to my over anxious bladder.

I hit nothing with the pistol, although I got close a couple of times. After a slow start I managed to hit quite a few of the clay’s with the shotgun, and with the sniper rifle I did not miss a shot. I shot 8 targets for 8 shots over an estimated 100 yards. By the time I had the rifle in my hands I had become so desensitised to the sound of the weapons that I found I had no need to think about what was going on with my water works.

I can say that I have had a great time going out shooting. I enjoyed almost every minute of it, and I’m pleased that I can now say I have done it. I would do it again tomorrow if the chance came up. Making guns go “bang” is fun, plain and simple But, I still have no desire to own a gun. And I still have no desire to go hunting. Cardboard targets, clay pigeons or tin cans is quite enough for me..

Welcome to America I tell myself. I am an Ice road trucker. I am Dirty Harry. Most importantly, I am “The Man with Dry Pants”.