Field Fiasco: Truck Troubles

Everything comes with trade offs. It’s a fundamental truth that governs how we think as biologists, but it also applies to pretty much everything else in life. In terms of field work, I get the luxury of having Davis serve as my field site. So no, I don’t get to spend my summers in the jungle looking for rare ant species like some other entomologists, but I do have the convenience of coming home to a hot shower and my own bed after a long day in the field. Well, at least I usually do…

Here at Davis, I’m but one of many researchers out at the Harry Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility (a.k.a. Bee Bio). As a research facility serving many labs, we have a general lab technician and a few undergrads on staff to keep things running smoothly throughout the year for everybody. I get called in every so often whenever we need a few extra hands for some big beekeeping tasks. On this particular Friday (indeed a true Friday Field Fiasco), I was asked to help prepare our hives for transport. We move our hives to almond orchards around this time of year and get paid for the pollination services that our bees provide. We then put that money back into our research. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

I went out to Bee Bio pretty early that morning and immediately got to work with one of our undergrads. Our job for the day was quite simple: we just had to drill in some metal connectors between the different parts of the hives so everything would stay together during transit. Within an hour we had finished all of the hives at our main field site. Our hope was to get another full site done before I had to get to campus for class.

One of our undergraduates, Spencer, inspecting a hive

We decided to go to “student farm”, one of our small, close by field sites. We had about an hour before I needed to leave for class and we figured that was plenty of time to get all the hives at this site prepared. With Spencer in the driver’s seat, we headed over to the site. We normally drive our truck right up to the hives so we don’t have to lug around all of our equipment. In the summer, when the field is dry, this is never an issue. On this particular day, however, the soil was quite muddy and loose from all the rain we had been getting.

I assumed Spencer and I were on the same page, and that he would just park the truck on the side of the road and walk our supplies over to the hives. Perhaps muscle memory kicked in though and Spencer drove the truck right up to the hives—or at least about 90% of the way there until we realized our truck wasn’t moving forward anymore. We were stuck!

I have to admit, as a native of rural South Carolina, that I’m a bit ashamed of the fact that I had absolutely no idea of what to do when your truck gets stuck in the mud. I mean, muddin’—the act of driving your truck around in muddy areas—is actually considered a legitimate past time back home. In any case, I found out that my first plan of just flooring the gas pedal only sinks you deeper into the mud. Plan B was to go get some cardboard from the building nearby and try and use it to give the tires more traction to hold on to. This worked slightly better; however, time was quickly getting away from us.

In a desperate last ditch effort, I got on my knees and started digging away at all of the loose mud around the tires with my bare hands. After I got as much out as I could, Spencer tried driving out one more time. Watching the truck continue to struggle, I suggested that Spencer try reversing and then quickly switch to driving forward, hoping that the extra bit of inertia would help. I got a whiff of burning rubber as the tires continued to labor, but it actually ended up working! The truck bounced out of the mud and Spencer got the truck safely back to the main road.

This is what victory over nature looks like

We headed back to Bee Bio, having completed none of the work we were hoping to get done. Spencer offered to drive me home so I could change clothes before class but I didn’t want to be late. So, muddy and wet, I got on my bike and headed to campus. I didn’t mind being dirty, but I did walk around all day in squishy wet socks and shoes.

Sometimes even the benefits of certain situations, such as having a close by field site, don’t always work out the way you hope.

To add insult to injury, I ended up spilling soda all over those pants at lunch later on that day

Author: Adrian Perez is a first year animal behavior graduate student. He studies honey bee division of labor and animal fashion.

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