In the summer of 2003, I took my eleven-year-old daughter camping. We spent the first night camping on the rim of a forested canyon, one of many that comprise this section of the Idaho mountains.
The next morning after breakfast we broke camp and drove to a nearby trailhead for a day hike before heading home. As we pulled into the trailhead I felt a rock hit the underside of our car. I looked but could see no damage, so we proceeded with our walk. When we returned and began our trip home, however, it wasn’t long before our automatic transmission began slipping. Upon inspection, I found that the rock had punctured a small hole in our transmission and the fluid had slowly leaked out. The car was no longer drivable.
As I was sitting there trying to come up with a solution I heard the sound of four-wheelers approaching. There were seven of them, moving quickly up the road toward us and led by a gray-haired man in his mid-50s. They stopped and the gray-haired man asked if we were okay. I told him what had happened and asked if any of them had a cell phone. He answered that they did not. I explained that I would try to fix it, and thanked him for stopping. He said they would watch for us on their way back out later. I thanked him again and they rode off.
We decided to walk to the main road and wait for assistance. Someone with a cell phone was bound to come by sooner or later. As we sat there waiting, we soon heard the roar of the four-wheelers heading our way. They stopped when they got to our position and the gray-haired man laughed at our predicament. He offered to take us to his camp to get some transmission fluid, saying that my daughter could ride with him and I could ride with one of the other guys.
My hackles went up instantly. There was something wrong with this picture. I told him politely that we would wait for someone with a cell phone to come by. I noticed that one of them had taken up an obvious overwatch position and I knew then that we were in trouble. They all had neat hair and clean-shaven faces. All of them had a military look about them, though their hair wasn’t short enough for regular military. Oddly, the only one who spoke during our entire encounter was the gray-haired man. He was obviously their leader. He kept insisting that he could take my daughter to his camp to get some oil for the car. I responded that if he was really concerned about our situation, he could fetch the oil without the help of my daughter.
I was carrying a .40 Beretta in a black leather belly bag. Although there was no outward indication that they were armed, I had to assume that they were. Here at the intersection we were out in the open. There was nowhere to go for quick cover.
I told my daughter to stay behind me and I knew that if they were armed and things got ugly, our chances of survival were severely limited. I estimated that I could take out three or four of them before they could draw their concealed weapons, if they had any. I had been practicing with that belly bag and knew that I was quick on the draw. I had also been practicing frequently at the firing range, and I knew I could engage and neutralize multiple targets in a matter of seconds.
It seemed like an eternity, but was probably only about 15 minutes before a Forest Service truck came up the main road. I flagged it down and walked around to the driver’s side with my daughter close behind. I whispered to the driver that something didn’t feel right with these men and asked if they had a radio or cell phone. They had both. After they called for a tow-truck I asked if they would mind sticking around until it arrived and they kindly agreed. These were young firefighters, four of them, two males and two females, patrolling the forest and watching for any signs of smoke or fire.
Shortly after the firefighters arrived, the men on the four-wheelers departed. I believe that confidence in my abilities and a cool head kept the situation from turning into a disaster.