For some reason, the Navy wanted bore samples taken at the far end of the beach at Fortuna. The boys drove up from Oakland in the drill rig; a continuous-flight auger mounted on a four-wheel-drive truck. One with blond hair, and Dennis; long dark hair, missing front teeth, a bag of weed, a Navy contract, ready for action.
After deep consultations with local burl scavengers at the tavern, they were told “it’s OK to drive out on the beach if you time it with the tides. Keep the truck down on the hard damp sand. If you get up in the soft sand, you’ll get stuck…”
The boys set out from the Driftwood Motel the next morning, met the civil engineer, and drove about three miles down the beach. No problem with the first several borings. The tide turned at 1:00, and they were back in the tavern at 2:00.
Next morning, the engineer added some holes. It was a rocky start, they almost dropped the tool in the hole, and Dennis pinched his finger. The boys had been working together for about a year, but their coordination was off this morning. The hammer blows to drive the brass sample sleeve seemed to be timed to the human pulse. Literally a pounding hangover. Blowing sand, Rainier Ale, the exhaust, the concussion of the hammer seemed to shake the fog.
They decided to try and finish everything that day, rather than come back the next morning. They picked up the pace after lunch. They finished and started stowing the tools at two thirty. The tide had turned at about a quarter to two, and the surf was a little higher, so the waves had already obscured their tracks coming in. They weren’t worried, but the blond kid drove faster on the way out. He went over a hump in the sand that he had driven below on the way in.
The front wheels went up and over the hump, but as they dropped down on the other side, the transfer case and muffler dug in. The rig came to a complete stop, launching the boys into the windshield. The impact shook the sand off and revealed the hump for what it was… a dead whale.
It may have been the bump on the head, it may have been the Green Death from the night before, but anyone who has tried to breathe near a four-week-old dead marine mammal will understand the cause of the boys’ immediate, visceral reaction. Since the truck had plowed a groove into the whale, the doors wouldn’t open. Their last meal wound up pretty much inside the cab.
The blond kid climbed out his window and ran back up onto the soft sand and Dennis followed. Stomach content analysis. The waves were reaching just to the whale’s tail.
The true desperation of the situation began to dawn on them, so the blond kid got back in the truck, got it started and put it in gear. The back wheels spun and sank in the sand, the front wheels clawed at solid air, the hood pointed higher and higher in the sky, and the exhaust pipe began to burn the rancid blubber.
Dennis started to unload the hand-held drill rig. The truck was so high off the ground that this required actually standing on the whale. By the time they got the pieces assembled, about fifty feet in front of the truck, the waves were just filling in the depressions in the sand at the back wheels. They got the hand-held rig started, drilled in a section of auger, pulled out the front winch cable and got everything hooked up. The blond kid got wet up to his ankles getting back in the truck.
The winch pulled, the hood tilted down to earth, the frame slid along, but the spinning u-joints coated the underside of the truck with whale. The exhaust cooked as the front end tipped down. The front wheels were in a foot of water, and the sand was shifting under them.
Timing it with the waves, the blond kid gunned the engine, bounced down off the whale, paused for his partner to unhook the winch cable, and finally came to a stop high and dry in the soft sand.
They got stuck a couple of more times, so it took until well after dark to get back to town. The manager of the Driftwood made them park down the street after several complaints. The next morning police, responding to an uproar of complaints, escorted them to the car wash. The boys spent ten dollars washing the rig, but it never really got clean. For years afterwards, on warm summer days, the drilling company yard out in east Oakland would get little hints of that authentic North Coast bouquet.