Hitching up. Those two words can convey the anticipation of an adventure on the road, a day on the lake or on horseback, or maybe a long-awaited camping getaway. Of course, “hitching up” also refers to the actual process of combining vehicle and trailer into a single rig. Dropping the coupler onto the ball, plugging in the lights and securing the safety chains – these are fairly pleasant activities, especially when done while whistling a cheery tune and thinking of the fun soon to be had.
Unfortunately, the whistling often stops long before the rig is pronounced a happy couple. This is largely due to the one formidable, but inevitable, task that precedes the actual coupling: getting the ball located directly beneath the coupler.
Getting the ball directly beneath the coupler would be no problem whatsoever if not for a few complications, the first and foremost of which is that the ball is attached to a vehicle, the driver of which is about eight feet away and facing the other direction.
Of course, the driver cannot see the coupler, much less the ball. And everything the person in the mirror is doing to try to help is backwards.
The ensuing dilemma, and the various courses (and curses) of action taken to resolve it can turn all but the happiest of happy campers into grouches and cause the most longsuffering of grouch’s spouses to wonder, is it really worth all this?
Not that this is always the case. As we shall see shortly, there are persons who enjoy (or at least claim they enjoy) the challenge, and subsequent bragging rights, of achieving the seemingly impossible.
Suffice it to say, the words, “hitching up” evoke mixed emotions: The thrill of victory – the agony, embarrassment, stress, humiliation, spoiled fun, and mental health hazards, of defeat.
Hitching is, after all, the art of lining up two invisible objects while driving backwards.
There are those who speak with great pride of their ability to accomplish dead-on trailer hitch alignment. By, “dead-on”, they’re implying a casual glance in the rear-view mirror, a few deft turns of the steering wheel, and the vehicle gliding to a stop, hitch ball directly beneath coupler.
Talk to their significant other however, and you’ll get a different picture entirely – one involving several deft trips forward and back, several deft excursions out of the cab to check location, a whole lot of not-so-deft jerks on the steering wheel, and more likely than not, one big jerk behind it.
The only thing “dead-on” about their hitching skills is their late license plate, now hopelessly mangled, dangling lifelessly from the bumper.
The exploits of some self-proclaimed trailering experts are so entertaining that campers deliberately pick spots where they can best enjoy the spectacle. Nevertheless, like underdog athletes, they’ve got game – at least in their heads.
For some, athleticism is what it’s all about. To achieve a well executed hitch, mind and body must work together like a fine-tuned machine. A sequence of challenges calls for diverse skills – a sort of trailering triathlon.
The driving component requires razor-sharp reflexes and split-second timing. Then there’s the sprint to the back of the truck to check location. To do this 8 or 9 times requires endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
The final segment is a test of brute strength: the Lateral Trailer Tongue Lift and Press. Many an amateur towist survives the first two events only to crumple in agony with only 25 inches left between ball and coupler.
If he’s got what it takes, competitive hitching may be a good aspiration for a young athlete, especially if he can make the pros. But he better think ahead. His competitive career won’t last forever. How many good years of trailer-hefting does he still have in him?
Will he even be remembered, much less nominated for the Hitching Hall of Fame?
Someday, he’ll be on the sidelines, watching a new generation of trailer-busters as they strive for hitching immortality, and wishing only for a carton of Ben-Gay and a set of Align-Quik Hitching Guides.
Others don’t see hitching as competitive at all. They are perfectly happy (maybe a little too happy) to let another person take part of the credit for a successful hitch. For them, it’s not about athletic prowess. It’s about relationship.
These, “social hitchers” find that the hitching process provides an ideal setting in which to bond with their mates, their offspring, their fishing buddies, even complete strangers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In what could be called, “team hitching” we witness human cooperation at its finest (or not – you decide).
Here, it’s not speed, physical strength or athletic form that matter. Rather, it is inner attributes such as patience, forbearance, love, patience, the ability to overlook another person’s character flaws, the ability to accept criticism, patience, the ability to endure insults, perseverance, and of course, patience.
A social hitcher’s marriage thrives on the intimate, oft-times emotional, interaction between driver and spouse as quality time is spent deepening and strengthening their communication skills. The spouse appointed as “direction-giver” waves and gestures wildly, all the while playfully wandering in and out of the driver’s view.
The spouse who is driving shouts and shifts, guns the engine, shifts and shouts, all the while resisting with every fiber of his or her body the urge to run over the “direction-giver”.
But at the end of the day, after the dust has settled, the insults forgiven, the threats forgotten, there is a sense of camaraderie. They know they are in this together, facing life tow to tow.
The Solitary Hitcher
Sadly, there are hitchers for whom hitching carries neither a chance to build relationship or develop athletic skill. These poor souls just want to get hitched and get on down the road. But they have no one to help them.
Maybe they’ve been hitched before, got burned and vowed to never get hitched again. Then they got a trailer. They have no aspirations of making hitching a sporting event. They have no one to give directions.
As one lonely soul lamented, “with my ex gone, there’s no one to tell me where to go! There’s no one to tell me ‘where I can put that truck’”.
Alone, dejected, contemplating the irony of “coupling” a trailer all by themselves, they pull their vehicle in front of the trailer. They shift to “reverse”. Then they back until they smack.
The scars on their license plates bear silent witness to the scars on their own tormented souls.
Smart, Fast, Happy and Highly Popular Hitchers
Smart, Fast, Happy and Highly Popular Hitchers remember what their cranky old shop [and/or home ec] teacher, Mr. [Ms.] Greasewad, used to say several times every class period, “Use your head! It certainly isn’t there for decoration!”
No, the other thing old Greasewad used to say: “Always use The Right Tool for the job!”
Imagine! Trying to back a vehicle to a trailer without The Right Tool to indicate where the vehicle and the trailer are in relation to each other! Pretty ridiculous when you think about it!
You wouldn’t pound nails without a hammer (even if Greasewad did say to use your head). You wouldn’t mix a recipe in the dark or operate a band-saw blindfolded.
So why back several thousand pounds of rubber, steel and glass toward whatever it is you care enough about to put in a trailer – without even seeing what the heck you’re aiming at?
Think what’s back there! Your boat, your horse, your camper, your life savings spent on rock and roll gear that is going to make you famous if you don’t back too far and send it rolling down the hill into the lake...
Anyway, the Smart Hitcher, upon reading to this point, immediately commences a search for The Right Tool. It’s got to be out there! It doesn’t need to be complicated, or expensive, or even approved by the National Collegiate Hitching Association.
It just needs to show where the hitch ball is and where the trailer coupler is, be highly visible from the driver’s seat, and attach, remove and store easily.
All of which pretty well describes Align-Quiktm Hitching Guides. They can be found, not surprisingly, at www.TrailerTools.com or www.HitchingGuides.com.
Yes, The Right Tool for hitching is out there. And upon finding it, the solitary hitcher will be able to get hitched without the least bit of commitment anxiety, the social hitcher will win back former friends and the competitive hitcher will have the ultimate edge.
© 2005, Loren A. Harder
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