A generous trail of transmission fluid followed us for a quarter mile up the rough road to Two Pan Trailhead. Running out of transmission fluid brought an inopportune end to hauling our four horses and gear up to the trailhead where seven of us planned to meet on Aug. 12 for a five-day wilderness horse-packing trip.
“Okay, Lord, now what?”
Two Pan is 18 miles south of the tiny town of Lostine in the remote northeast Oregon Wallowa Mountains. At 5 p.m. Sunday evening with no cell service, no obvious help was to be had. Then God sent two most unlikely angels. Our jaw dropped when Maria Belknap pulled up in her truck. Looking like a cross between a Wallowa cowgirl and the Beverly Hills businesswoman that she is in the winter season, she quickly assessed the situation and headed down to the closest ranches to try to find us 5 gallons of transmission fluid.
Why would she go out of her way to help complete strangers? “Because that’s what we do for each other here in Wallowa County,” she explained.
Fourteen or fifteen phone calls later, Maria contacted a second unlikely angel, John Nesemann. John, who is a retired school superintendent, had just come in from a long day of building and had settled down for the evening in his comfy pajama pants. Without hesitation, John jammed his bare feet into his boots. Laces flapping, he shoved on his cowboy hat, jumped into his Dodge flatbed truck, and rattled over miles of washboard to come to our rescue.
Upon arrival, he pulled our broken-down Ford F-350 off the road and promised to call a reputable mechanic in the morning to tow the truck and repair the transmission. Then, insisting that we should not have our vacation ruined, he hooked up to our horse trailer and roared up the rugged road, all the while regaling us with colorful stories. Backing into an open site in the horse camp at the crowded trailhead, he unhooked the trailer.
Waving off any offers of gas money and thanks, he told us to pay it forward and sped off into the gathering darkness.
Five days later, when we rode and hiked out of the wilderness, we stared in disbelief at our truck sitting next to the horse trailer looking like it had been there all along. Bemused, we eased our way down the bumpy road to Lostine, then wound our way out a country road looking for SPS Repair (their sign is hand-lettered on an old tire propped up beside the road). We needed to pay our bill and wanted to give our thanks in person. Leonard, the mechanic, is an entertaining character, but he lost his angel status when I asked why he would trust us to come pay him. “I didn’t,” he declared waving an $850 check John had written to cover the towing and repair bill — just in case we weren’t the people John judged us to be.
When we called John to thank him, he filled in another piece of the story.
When John was a young teacher new to the area, his truck broke down on the road to Two Pan. Another kind soul not only helped him out but when he finished a challenging day of teaching, his repaired truck was waiting for him. Again, waving off our thanks he reminded us to pay it forward.
We did not have long to wait for an opportunity.
Three days later, on Kyle’s way home from visiting his mother who had been hospitalized a hundred miles north of our home, Kyle noticed a broken-down truck with a loaded horse trailer along I-5 just south of Curtain. Kyle immediately turned around and hooked up to the stranded California woman’s horse trailer. After reassuring her that no, he wasn’t planning to steal her five ponies, he hauled her horses 85 miles north to their destination near Lacomb.
No need for thanks, just pay it forward.