JOSHUA TREE — A man who lives full-time on the road in his recreational vehicle says the off-road club that towed him out of a flooded lake bed this week saved his home and way of life.
“I live on the road,” said Steve Miller, a freelance writer and golf teacher. “I follow 75- to 80-degree weather and Joshua Tree is the place right now.”
Miller set up his RV Friday night on the Coyote Dry Lake Bed, ready to camp with enough food and water for two weeks — a fortunate coincidence, as it turned out.
“I saw the forecast and it was 90 percent chance of rain, but almost always on my phone I’ll get a flash flood warning or I’ll get some kind of notice if it’s going to be bad,” Miller said. “I’m always worried about that because I’m out in the boonies. But I didn’t get any sense that it was going to be bad until it started raining, and then it was too late.”
All night, Miller listened to the rain and hail pounding down and other campers spinning their tires trying to get out as the dry lake bed got wetter and wetter.
The Stumpers Offroad Jeep Club showed up just in time.
“We are a club usually does trail runs together,” member Phil Baker explained.
The members, who are from Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, motored up amid the flooding to help the campers out of the lake.
“When they did the first rescues, I was impressed by these guys. They’re amazing people. They’re just going around pulling everybody out with their Jeeps,” Miller said.
But he didn’t want to be rescued. “They came up to me and I said ‘I’m going to wait it out, I’m hoping the water will go down in a few days.”
He’s grateful now one of the members gave him his phone number just in case. Over the next three days, Miller waited while the water level stayed the same; he figures it went down from 12 inches to 10 inches deep in that time.
“On the fourth day I called and said, ‘The water isn’t going down at all. I think I’m ready to be rescued.’”
The Jeepers drove to the rescue, arriving at 5 p.m. Tuesday to start what turned into a four-hour effort to pull out a 12,000-pound RV that seemed glued into place in the mud.
“Boy, it was a night that I’ll never forget,” Miller said.
“For hours, it’s pitch black out with only the lights from the vehicles and we’re wading around in the muck,” he said.
Finally they coaxed the RV out of the worst of the mire and the Jeepers made a daisy chain, connecting all their vehicles and Miller’s rig at the end. When they got going, they warned him, they wouldn’t stop.
“So we got going and it was the ride of a lifetime. I never, ever again want to be feeling that feeling,” he said.
Piloting his RV in first gear, he saw the line of Jeeps in front zipping up, down and to the side.
“It was like a roller coaster ride and my RV was about to go on that ride.”
They finally got him out, turning down his grateful offers of payment.
“At one point when these guys were helping me, I said, ‘What can I do to pay you guys?’ All he said was ‘Pay it forward.’”
He gave them money for the first round of drinks the next night, but that’s all they would take.
“It’s a pretty amazing group that saved a bunch of people and didn’t ask for anything,” Miller said.
“All day on Saturday they were yanking people out. I think they were having a lot of fun. They enjoy it, it’s a challenge, but at the same time they’re not asking for anything, they’re helping people out of a tough situation, and just really nice people.”
The experience has changed Miller’s outlook.
“With all the negativity and struggles that go on in the world, you can get disheartened about people in general,” he said. “Something like this can make a big difference. It made a big difference to me in an optimistic view of humanity.”
He feels eternally grateful to the club.
“They saved my life. It’s not overstating it to say that because this vehicle so much is my life.”
Miller plans to return to Joshua Tree, where he hopes to one day build a retreat center called Seven Streams Retreat Center.
For now, he’s in Borrego Springs, where he’s teaching golf for the winter. Said Miller, “It was time to get to higher ground.”