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Bus Trip Horror Stories

by Mark Stein

In the course of 35 years of Sierra Club bus trips to outdoor adventures, a body of bus trip folklore has developed. Many of these stories address adverse events. With time and perspective, they've become battle scars for those present and cultural treasures for others to hear and retell. Perhaps these stories are popular because they remind us, "We survived to hike another day."

Question: Which of the following bus nightmares are true?

A. The arrested bus driver. Outside Lamesa, Texas, around 1 AM on the way to the White Mountains, a bus driver was stopped by a sheriff's deputy for speeding. Upon checking the driver's license, the deputy found two arrest warrants for domestic violence. The driver was taken to jail, but first he was allowed to drive the bus to a 24-hour convenience store in Lamesa, where Sierra Club backpackers could spend the night sleeping as they waited for a replacement driver from Dallas in the morning. By dawn, all patrons of the coffee shop down the road knew the story of the arrested bus from Dallas.

B. The prodigious fuel tank. On a highway near Fort Stockton, Texas, on the way to Big Bend National Park, a bus driver either ignored a fuel gauge or decided it wasn't working. In either event, the tank was truly empty and the bus was stranded where you wouldn't want to spend Thanksgiving. Diesel fuel was procured, but the engine wouldn't start. Another bus was dispatched from Midland and the Sierra Club trip leaders proved their mettle by adapting four-day hiking routes to three and a half days.

C. The yard sale at Grandfalls. Between Fort Stockton and Marathon, Texas, on a Big Bend trip, a pickup truck sideswiped our charter bus, ripping off two of the left-side cargo hatch doors. The local emergency response team arrived, horrified to see nearly forty Sierra Club trippers resting sprawled on the desert near the road in the dark. Fearing the worst, all were relieved to account for the full roster without injuries. The emergency team delivered plywood to seal the bus hatches for the remainder of the trip back to Dallas.

D. The levitated bus. Not far from a trailhead by the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in Colorado, a bus attempted a turn with too tight a radius. Enough rear wheels (the ones with the drive shaft) lost contact with the road that the bus suddenly couldn't complete the turn. Coasting forward downhill would put the bus into a thicket. Despite efforts by the Sierra crew and Ranger Maud to regain traction with planks and fill beneath tires, one man with an industrial-strength tow truck painted with a super-hero named "Mr. Incredible" arrived from Pueblo, affixed a cable to the bus and winched it sideways onto the road as onlookers cheered. The bus arrived an hour late in Dallas. The penitent responsible for suggesting the route writes occasional articles for Outings Corner.

Bus CrashE. The parking lot crash. Back in the old days, instead of using chartered busses with professional drivers, our bus trip leaders just rented a school bus, loaded everyone on board and drove the bus themselves. On one of these trips to Big Bend, the bus only traveled a couple of hundred feet before the sun-blinded driver crashed into a parking lot light pole. Always resourceful, the leaders just ordered up a new bus and the rest of the trip went off without a hitch.

Answer: All the above and more really happened.

Don't let these little incidents stop you from enjoying one of our upcoming bus trips. We've been doing bus trips for over 35 years and we've taken close to 5,000 Sierrans into the wilderness. On the vast majority of the trips the worst thing that happens is a blister or two and a little sun burn.

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