My grandfather knew good technology when he tried it-and he tried it all. When he finally got tired of horseback hunting, he bought himself a Willys pickup, the first 4WD in McCall, Idaho. Behind the seat rode his trusty Model 70, a "rifleman's rifle" that emerged from Winchester's New Haven works around the time the first Ural rigs shipped to the Soviet army.
By the time that rifle came down to me, it was field-scarred and scruffy but still shot better than I could on my best day. Even so, I felt woefully unprepared when a drinking buddy invited me to check out Boomershoot '09, a long-range shooterpalooza in north-central Idaho.
My kamerads at Irbit Motor Works had promised a lend-lease 2WD Ural Safari. When I showed up to kick-start my big adventure, factory hackmeister Sergei presented me with a seven-year-old test mule, decked out in rust-bubbled olive drab. Smacked around for 66,000 kilometers, the shop beater was a blueprint match for Grandpa's old rifle.
I asked about maintenance.
I pointed at the dipstick. Sergei just shook his head. The man is a believer. After admonishing me to shut off the gas lest hydraulic lock shear the crankshaft in two, he sent me wobbling out into eastside traffic.
The next morning at oh-gray-thirty, Pretty Wife bustled around packing double-bagged electronics, extra duds and road snacks into the capacious trunk. I wrapped boxes of match-grade ammo into a double-rubber Wehrmacht bag strapped to the outboard nerf bar.
Bundling Pretty Wife into fuzzy blankets, I tossed two cased rifles across her chest and we were off.
"Don't worry," I bellowed, "it won't rain in the mountains!"
It didn't rain. It snowed.
When my marble-white fingers quit working the Ural's manly control levers in the vicinity of Snoqualmie Summit, we stopped for breakfast. It was still 32 degrees when we finished, but at least the snowfall was harder.
Freeway speeds exceeded the car's trim and turned the throttle-balancing joy of slow curvy roads into monotonous rightward pull. My left shoulder was gunny-sacked by the time we pulled off on the dry side for gas and a cleaning kit.
Now wary of the interstate, we nosed along secondary roads halfway to Vantage before rejoining I-90 to knife into the Columbia Gorge. Burbling downhill, we effortlessly dispatched a VW Bus and two sportbike riders interviewing with the State Patrol. Across the river, we ascended back onto the high plains and followed 26 past the legendary speed trap of Washtucna and La Crosse, where once I left my totaled Kawasaki KZ1100 shaftie lying by the roadside.
With the sun setting behind us, there was no chance of catching our shadows. We plugged along, me wishing for a windshield and Pretty Wife huddled behind the car's tonneau. Wind blew bitter over the hilltop as we honored an irregular pilgrimage to Colfax Cemetery, where I'm always cold, even in summer.
At the Texaco station on South Grand in Pullman, the clerk watched Pretty Wife clamber painfully out of our sidecar after hours on the road, chilly and sore, and announced that he ran the only service station in Christendom featuring no public restrooms. Too bleary to think of shooting him on the spot, we silently resolved to dis-recommend the place to friends and decamped for our dinner stop, the Russo-philically labeled Moscow, Idaho.
Dead-set against buying college town pizza, we took a chance on the empty Old Peking joint and were promptly rewarded with spicy beef platters and delicate egg drop soup.
"We'll bivvy here," I announced, happy and warm for the first time since Seattle. We were a day up on our itinerary and I was looking forward to a scenic morning run to Orofino.
Pretty Wife had other ideas. She shook out her long brown hair, which is unfairly distracting, and pegged me with a blue-eyed look. "It's not really that far, is it? Maybe you should call. See if we can get a room tonight and just settle in."