Old Enough to Know Better by Mark Usyk

I was walking across the dirt parking area, waders making that familiar sound of friction with each step, calling out the cadence of the skunked angler as I marched back to the Jeep. I’d been the only vehicle in the lot when I’d parked over an hour ago, but now there sat a small pick up next to my new ride, and the guy behind the steering wheel smiled and nodded as I walked up to the back door. “That’s a real nice rig you got there, I saw you in town a few days ago and had to pull in here when I saw it parked to check it out.” I smiled and said Thanks, unlocking the door and tossing my net in the back and leaning the fly rod against the spare tire. “I have to ask, since it’s lifted and has the winch and all, why you didn’t go with a more aggressive mud tire?” I smiled and chuckled and did my best at a short but to the point answer. “Well, I just bought this thing a couple weeks ago, and these were on it. But honestly I don’t think I would’ve put anything much more aggressive on it because, well, I had mud trucks when I was younger…And I broke them…A lot. I don’t think I’ll be doing much mudding with this one, I just wanted some ground clearance and a nice Jeep. They were fun when I was younger, but I’d like to think I’m old enough to know better now.” He laughed and agreed, said he understood completely.

As I pulled onto the pavement my own words kept echoing in my head. “Old enough to know better.” Wow, did I really say that? I could only think of one place that I’d need the Jeep’s ground clearance to get to a fishing spot. The family farm meant trekking across old pastures riddled with boulders and stumps hidden in waist high neglected hay fields. Pretty much any of my other fishing spots were at most a drive on a washboard seasonal dirt road that you were liable to pass a two wheel drive family sedan on, never once needing to drop the transfer case lever into 4high let alone run out the winch cable. Are there places I’ll go to and eventually need the lift and the winch? Sure. Probably. Maybe. But I broke a lot of parts on my lifted trucks when I was young… I’d like to that avoid now, this being my only vehicle. It’s got to get me to work. Growing up absolutely takes the fun out of quite a few things you took for granted many years ago.

“Old enough to know better.” What do I really, truly need? I think back to some of the cars and trucks my younger brother has had, and one pops to the front. I met him one day at Delta Lake, the plan was to head out in his canoe and chase Largemouths and Pickerel in the back sets. He was bringing the canoe. Now he’s had quite the eclectic fleet of vehicles over the years, from Bronco II’s with tree trunks for bumpers to 1980’s Firebirds with no doors (no, really, it had no driver’s door…at all) but on this outing he pulls to the shoulder of the road in a white sedan, an older Acura that looked like a mule that had been beaten and whipped within an inch of it’s life. A mule would have been able to defend itself at least, they bite and kick. This poor, once luxury sedan couldn’t do anything except defecate transmission fluid and rust on the shoulder of the road in fear, while it was abused to the tune of an old, and ironically much nicer, green canoe strapped to its once sleek and smooth roof line. The roof crumpled, and the sail panels connecting the roof to the quarters buckled under the stress of the ratchet straps hooked into the rotted wheel openings. I remember wondering whether I’d back way off in traffic behind it or if I’d try to speed up and get around it. It was impressive. In a sort of scary, backwoods, hillbilly kind of way.

A quick glance inside would’ve had most people back peddling. Leaning in to glance at the interior I saw something that could have been best described as what looked like a yard sale full of old fishing and hunting gear…one of those yard sales that never seems to end. You know, the one you pass every year on the way to the lake, half the tables covered in old tarps, a permanent yard sale sign pounded into the ground with weeds growing up all around it and the letters faded because the yard sale has been going on for five years now. You never stop.

I can still picture the cracked and weathered tan leather seats, the back seat and floor boards were a pile of sleeping bags, jackets, fishing rods, tackle boxes, an old wood stocked pellet gun, some Turkey feathers laid on the back dash under the glass fading in the sun. An old minnow trap and short ice fishing rod hid in the pile behind the drivers’ seat. Everything had a damp look to it, like it had all be rained on recently, just not today. On the front floor board was a full squirrel tale with a huge hook at the end and a spinner blade at the front. “That’s gonna get me a big ol’ Pike” he said as he noticed my gazing at the damp animal appendage on the passenger floor board. “I love the leather seats too” he said without missing a beat. “The water and mud wipes right off them.” Right off them and onto the floor he meant. There were boot prints in the mud on the driver’s side. Not “muddy boot prints”, no. Boot prints in the mud. In the car. I was impressed. The car looked like it had been through Hell and back, and looked like it would have probably been in a better place if it had just stayed there.

But he was doing everything that I plan on doing with this Jeep with that, old, mostly used up, 2 wheel drive, once luxury sedan meant for the pavement and nights on the town. Fishing, camping. Hauling canoes and scaring little old ladies. No lift kit. No big tires. No winch. No 4 wheel drive.

As I pulled off my waders at the front door I looked at the Jeep sitting there all tall and tough in the driveway. I admitted to the guy in the dirt lot that I’d probably never do any real serious 4 wheeling with it to get to my fish. I thought about my brother and how he probably took that poor car to places it should have never been able to go. Did I really need this Jeep like I said I did, the ultimate fishing rig to get me there? Of course not. I’m old enough to know better. But I’m still too young to care.