There is nothing quite so depressing as that moment when you must accept the reality of a new and spectacular example of your own unique brand of ineptitude.
When such an appalling epiphany happens near your 49th birthday, a time when your mastery over even simple tasks is apt to show blatant signs of slippage, well this coincidence merely heightens your level of despair.
I am incapable of backing up a trailer.
Actually that’s not exactly correct.
I can back up a trailer quite well, since I long ago figured out how to select reverse on many types of automobile transmissions and press on the accelerator, these constituting about all that’s required to go backwards.
What I cannot do is back up a trailer into the space where it is supposed to be, or at least where it fits without causing considerable damage to the trailer or to harmless granite boulders, subalpine fir trees and other innocent bystanders.
This is something of a problem.
Backing the trailer into its designated space, one devoid of hapless squirrels and people’s toes, is, after all, the ultimate object of the endeavor, and frankly the only important one.
This latent gap in my aptitude might well have remained hidden if not for the otherwise happy occasion that is our acquisition of what I know as a tent trailer.
(These portable residences apparently are more commonly referred to these days as “pop up” trailers. I suspect the manufacturers decided on a moniker that implies their products are rather more substantial than tents on wheels.)
It is a wonderful vehicle, and all but ideal for our purposes.
Its tidy dimensions and modest weight are well-suited for our tow vehicle, and the trailer is vastly more accommodating — indeed it’s lavish by comparison — than the actual tent we typically occupy if we don’t stay in a motel.
Our kids, Max and Olivia, seem to prefer the trailer to our house, and I suspect both would gladly live in it, at least until the real cold sets in.
(Although the trailer’s heater, based on our limited experience on a moderately chilly night, puts out a prodigious amount of BTUs, so they would probably try to ride out a blizzard inside if given the chance.)
The whole experience would be pretty much idyllic but for my incompetence behind the wheel.
I had a niggling suspicion that this might be so, given a handful of brief, unpleasant experiences with a trailer.
Yet the comprehensive nature of my failure, and my apparent impotence at doing anything about it, has been distressing.
I don’t mean to imply that backing up a trailer smoothly is a skill that comes naturally to most people.
The challenge is adjusting to what is, in two ways, a reversal of the normal course of things.
Which is to say, if you desire your trailer to move to the right, you turn the steering wheel so that the rear end of your rig goes left.
I understand this in a purely intellectual way.
But the instant I shift into reverse and begin to gingerly let out the clutch, my brain undergoes the organic equivalent of a computer lock up.
The world turns fuzzy and its normal physical realities, so comforting in their reliability, suddenly seem incomprehensible and fraught with danger.
Every bit of advice I have heard and read disappears as rapidly as algebraic equations departed my mind back in ninth grade (although I’m not sure the equations ever made even the smallest cranial penetration so I suppose it would be misleading to suggest they actually left).
Instead of gentle movements (backing a trailer is not wholly dissimilar from driving on ice, both carrying the risk of jackknifing) I yank the steering wheel from side to side as though I were trying to wrench it loose from the hub.
I twist my neck to an alarming degree. My eyes bulge.
I jab at the pedals in a way more reminiscent of Fred Flintstone than Mario Andretti.
(Or Lewis Hamilton, if you’d prefer a more contemporary comparison.)
I’m temporarily unsure of whether the trailer actually needs to move right or left, and at that point I’d as well close my eyes and hope.
I have managed in each case to deposit the trailer within a reasonable distance of its ideal parking place.
But all were ordeals. When I finally finished and had set the emergency brake my forehead was beaded with sweat and I felt a trifle delirious, as though I had just completed a sprint.
I am assured that, as with many skills, my trailer backing will improve with practice.
But I’m not mollified.
For one thing, these claims come from people who already know how to handle a trailer.
Worse yet — much worse — I was told precisely the same thing about algebra.
And even now, more than three decades later, I react to the sight of 2x (3y + 2) much as I do to a large and angry dog that stands in my path and is restrained by nothing but its own predilections.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.