Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: The Slip
October 12, 2017
I learned how to drive a stick in a single cab Chevy pickup in the middle of a remote pasture, at around eight or nine years old. I recall my two-and-a-half years young brother Kyle sitting right next to me, complaining to my dad that if I didn't get it down soon, they were going to have to put a new clutch in the pickup.
Kyle has always been able to drive anything, and make anything drivable. The two of us have had many an adventure behind the wheel. One of our most memorable occurred in early October of 2009, when he decided to take me from Kaycee to Buffalo via two track roads down the top of the Bighorn Mountains.
Kyle had been working for an area rancher off and on that year, and was telling me about how locals organized trailing thousands of head of cattle to and from summer grazing allotments as we approached "the Slip." It had snowed early that fall, and cattle were pouring off the mountain in a mixed up mess of ownership. We navigated through them in his Dodge Dakota, outfitted with a custom four-cylinder Cummins engine and transmission that had taken it from a four speed to a five.
Up the snow packed road we went, easing around the switch backs and enjoying the stunning scenery between breaks in the trees. As we gained altitude, Kyle started into another story about how people would tie large logs behind their wagons to prevent them from running over their teams when they came off the Slip way back when.
I just finished replying that I could see why, when, while still in gear, the pickup slowly came to a halt, then began sliding backward. There was a shear wall of dirt several feet high on my side with a pretty nasty water-created ditch on the side of the road. On Kyle's side, it was straight down – I would have had two logs tied on my wagon before approaching it. Or prayed to hit a tree early into the descent.
I nearly hyperventilated. There may still be marks in the door handle where I was holding on. Meanwhile, Kyle watched his rearview mirror as we slid backward, then calmly turned the wheel so his back bumper gently hit the bank on my side in about the only place possible without dropping a wheel in the cut-out ditch, and swung us around to point back downhill. He then hung a gear, and brought us to a halt. At that point, we both started breathing again as we gazed at the valley below.
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After a minute of recovering, I suggested we chain up, at which point he mentioned he didn't have chains. He always had chains. He packed them year-round. I was in shock, and upon catching my air, gave him an earful all the way to the base of the mountain. He responded by randomly and purposely fishtailing on the ice-covered interstate, all the way back to Buffalo. It must have been closed at Casper by that time considering how little traffic there was.
The next morning, we arrived again with our chains, shovel (also missing on day one) and Kyle's friend Mark. We chained up halfway up the Slip while cows going the opposite direction observed, and successfully made it to the top. From there we enjoyed a deserted winter wonderland and some of the most beautiful country in the world for hours on end. We went by old wooden corrals, streams still running despite over a foot of snow resting at their banks, a single, red bull with a gimp. The entire mountain sparkled in the way it does with sunshine and fresh snow. It was a great day, with Kyle behind the wheel.
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