I was driving a small Nissan pickup, halfway down a steep and rocky logging road, somewhere in the Pennsylvania backcountry. The truck crept down a small boulder field of mixed slate and sandstone. And the frame held solid while the suspension complained against larger obstacles.
It was a utility-blue truck that Nissan referred to simply as the “hardbody.” This was before every auto manufacturer created clever names or escalating numbers to slap over the paint of a rear quarter panel. The truck was an ‘89. So it probably started with a clear coat finish, and it surely shined in the showroom long ago. But by the time I bought it, my pickup had an aged, workhorse patina. It looked nice enough washed up, but it seemed kind of silly waxed and shined. And it always looked best with a little mud in the wheel wells.
The truck was basic. No amenities: a standard short cab 4×4 with an underpowered engine and a five speed manual transmission, hand locks, hand-crank windows, no air and a limited AM/FM dial radio without a tape deck. Some kid had replaced that with the cheapest tape unit he could find in a Crutchfield catalog. It didn’t fit the dash, but he wired it in anyway, sending the signal to two sub-woofers that he’d built into a custom plywood cabinet to fit behind the seats. He forgot to pair the speakers with a proper amp, though. So the bass cracked and farted at any volume which might overcome the heavy road noise in the cab. I removed the bass box in my first few days with the truck because I needed to maximize the limited storage area for fishing gear.
I’d paid four grand for the truck. It was a good deal. Someone had fiddled with the odometer on this pre-digital relic, so I argued the price down and purchased a rugged truck that I used for hauling ladders and buckets of paint for a construction business I owned. I liked it.
By the time the summer work-rush faded into fall, I’d learned I could trust the hardbody. Because, after six months of a day-to-day grind around work sites, mixed in with a handful of weekend jaunts on dirt roads and no-destination cruises that usually ended with a small grill on the tailgate at dusk, I knew it was reliable. What I had was the perfect backcountry beater — cheap enough that I didn’t care about scraping through a boxed-in mountain laurel trail, but tough and resilient enough to reasonably block out any worries about getting stranded fifteen miles away from paved roads and halfway down a mountain track.
And that’s exactly where I was in the hills of PA . . .
I followed an unnamed line found on a faded, mint-green topo map — page 48 in the Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer — that I’d marked and highlighted with various colors and pencil indicators through the years: orange for any stream where I’d caught wild brown trout and red for brook trout. Pencil slashes crossed some of the highlighted rivers on the map, indicating that the PA Fish Commission had classified these river miles as Wilderness Trout Streams. These waters were never packed with trout, but they were indeed wild places, with the true silence of nature and a peace found only in the isolated forests.
Fields Run flowed parallel to the unnamed tram road that we descended. And now, about halfway down the path, my dog smelled the water first.
With the windows rolled down, Dylan enjoyed these places more than anything. He knew the truck stopped most often around flowing water, and when the scent of a brook trout stream in the valley hit his twitching nose, he looked back to me, excited. Border Collies are smart — uncanny, really — in their ability to perceive thoughts and communicate with someone whom they trust. I smiled and reached over to pat him on the ribs. Dylan turned back into the cab and stepped across the bench seat, nudging me with enthusiasm and a few guttural, eager whines. He tried to sit for a moment, but the truck rocked hard as the tires grabbed and climbed over the next minor ledge. So Dylan dashed back over to his secure perch against the passenger door, bracing himself against the hardbody door jam, with his head back into the mixed scent of early fall and flowing trout water.
That perfect, hour-long slow climb down into Fields Run was the beginning of a wonderful adventure . . .
Fish hard, friends.
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