An elk has brought down a helicopter in Utah.
This might sound like a “man bites dog” story.
Unless you have more than a passing acquaintance with the abilities of elk, in which case the news was likely something less than startling.
Hunters, in particular, will immediately understand that an elk could, should the idea occur to it, interfere with a low-flying aircraft.
For an animal that can go at full gallop into a thicket with scarcely enough space between trees for a weasel to slip through, and plunge into canyons that would give a BASE jumper the willies, grounding a helicopter is a minor trick.
Also, elk can disappear.
Fortunately the two people on the helicopter, who were trying to capture the elk so they could put a tracking collar on it, were not hurt, as the aircraft was only about 10 feet off the ground when the elk leaped and hit the chopper’s tail rotor.
The elk, according to an account from The Associated Press, did not survive the incident.
This might suggest, to those unfamiliar with elk, that the animal miscalculated its jump.
The humans didn’t get that collar on, did they?
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I have for some time harbored an unhealthy obsession with the ground clearance of my Toyota FJ Cruiser and the diameter of the tires I plan to put on the rig.
That I recognize this obsession as unhealthy has in no way curbed my curiosity, unfortunately.
This all started with the internet, as so many obsessions do in this peculiar age when we see far more of glass screens than we do of the naked sky.
I knew as far back as a year that I would need to replace the Cruiser’s tires in the spring of 2018.
(We run studded tires during the winter; it’s the summer tires that have eroded much of their tread.)
As people prone to obsessive behavior are wont to do, I started thinking about — and moreover worrying about — this tire purchase even though I had no pressing need to make decisions so many months in advance.
This ought to have been a simple matter anyway. The old summer tires had performed admirably — indeed almost miraculously, as we didn’t have a single flat, or even so much as a slow leak, over nine years despite covering quite a lot of terrain that contained a high proportion of sharp stone.
The logical choice, then, was to buy four more of these same tires, much as a person who has had excellent luck with a particular brand of, say, refrigerator is apt to reward that brand when it’s time to procure a new icebox.
But as I mentioned, I was influenced by the internet. And there’s nothing logical about the internet, as anybody knows who has navigated its digital labyrinth.
What happened is I blundered about one afternoon last spring in an online forum set up by, and for, FJ Cruiser owners. I’ve tinkered around on the site many times but I didn’t join officially, having never felt compelled to post photographs of my vehicle for all the world’s perusal, as you might brag about something your child has accomplished. It’s not as though I contributed any genetic material to make the Cruiser what it is, after all.
Anyway I clicked on a subforum I’d not visited before, one labeled, quite logically, “Wheels and Tires.”
It was to be my downfall.
Within a few minutes I learned that my sensible plan to replace the worn tires with identically sized new ones was not merely lacking in creativity, but frankly insulting to my FJ, and possibly to the entire Japanese auto industry.
The obvious choice, according to many of my fellow Cruiser owners, is to buy taller tires that will lift the lowest-hanging parts of my rig by about three-quarters of an inch.
That is a trifling distance, of course, when you’re talking about, say, highways or mountain peaks.
But applied to a four-wheel drive’s ground clearance, an inch, or even a major fraction thereof, is a significant interval.
When driving on difficult terrain the difference of even half an inch often decides whether you get home unscathed or you end up on your back beneath your vehicle with a chunk of granite gouging one of your kidneys and warm engine oil dripping from your checks like brown, glutinous tears.
The notion that I could gain a meaningful cushion between the Toyota’s important undercarriage bits and the unforgiving ground below struck me with the force of an epiphany.
Typically when you want to elevate your vehicle you bolt on what’s known, appropriately enough, as a “lift kit.”
But besides the expense — there are plenty of old trucks with lift kits that cost more than the rigs are worth — I would prefer not to have to pole vault to get behind the wheel.
(And so would my wife.)
Yet here were fellow FJ owners bragging that they had gained height simply by swapping tires. No modifications required, they insisted.
Except this being the internet there were, as inevitable as the tides, dissenters.
My curiosity piqued, I skimmed through several other responses and was distressed to read that other Cruiser drivers contend the bigger tires will fit only if you grab an angle grinder and start lopping off parts of your rig with about as much finesse as a Civil War battlefield surgeon.
This had me instantly worried.
Not the prospect of excising pieces of metal — I can accomplish that without even meaning to.
But I don’t own an angle grinder.
And I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I did.
The gist of these comments is that people who think they can simply slap on some 33-inch mudders — me, for instance — are hopelessly naíve, and potentially dangerous to the traveling public besides.
Ultimately this experience confirmed something I suspect most of us long ago recognized about online forums — which is that an argument is certain to erupt before you’ve scrolled to the bottom of the first page (unless you’re using a smartphone with a tiny screen; in that case you might need to get to the second page).
And this wasn’t a discussion about a polarizing political topic, where you would expect a certain amount of nastiness.
This is a forum for people who have at least one thing in common — they’re enthusiastic owners of the same model of four-by-four — yet even their shared hobby can’t prevent their online exchanges from devolving into diatribes and the sorts of insults common to family holiday dinners where much alcohol is consumed.
Notwithstanding my trepidation, I bought the taller tires. I was gratified to find they cost 20 bucks less per tire than the substandard rubber to which I have subjected the Cruiser for the decade I’ve owned it.
But over the intervening months I’ve remained plagued by uncertainty about what, if any, tinkering I’ll need to do when spring arrives and I drop off the FJ to have its new shoes fitted.
And now I can’t even ease my anxiety by going online and reading the soothing words of a Cruiser driver who has been through the same ordeal and emerged with his knuckles, and his rig, unscathed.
Because for every one of those guys there’ll surely be another girding for a duel, possibly with words only, but possibly not.
I’m pretty sure some of them would like to decide things with angle grinders or lug wrenches at 10 yards.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.