Being in the fishing/consulting business very often takes me to rigs that I have never seen before. If I can talk to the company man or tool pusher, I can usually get pretty good directions. But, often, I get my directions from a distant front office that vaguely knows what part of which continent the rig is on, and copied the directions from someone who has never been there and doesn’t speak English. This has led to some interesting navigation problems over the years.

A rig on the highline is one that is somewhere in the last row of counties across the U.S., usually North Dakota or Montana. These rigs are usually not too hard to find, depending on weather. Ten-mile visibility really is 10 miles, except in a blizzard. Then visibility might be the end of the hood, or less. Going on a northbound road and using GPS, keep an eye on it. If the screen goes blank, you have crossed into Canada! I’ve done it. Turn around immediately, before the Mounties start asking all kinds of questions, and find that gun in your briefcase … they are kinda funny about that. Once you get to the rig, you will find out that they have no accommodations, and the nearest motel is 45 miles away and it is full. The nearest restaurant (26 miles) closed two years ago, and the dietary choices are down to gas-station sushi and whatever is on the dash of the truck. I recommend a survival kit.

If your job takes you to Oklahoma or west Texas, the directions will always include a cattle guard or three. They are everywhere and at every intersection, so that’s not much help. Sometimes, they are not even counted. If a cattle guard can be crossed at 50 mph in a dust storm, without destroying the suspension, it’s not worth putting in the directions. Also, be aware, when trees are mentioned in the directions, it means any plant taller than you, unless you are over 6 feet, then who knows. The nearest cell tower is in another galaxy, and you won’t get a signal until you turn into the yard you left hours ago. Your GPS screen may read, “Beware, There Be Dragons.” If all else fails, stop at the next rig you see, and ask the pusher. If it’s the same company, he knows where the other rigs are and will proceed to tell you how you missed that cattle guard 30 miles back. If it’s not the same company and the pusher realizes you are a fisherman, he will give you explicit instructions on where to spend eternity.

If your job takes you to south Louisiana, water is going to be involved, since land is a figment of the imagination there. You probably will ride some kind of boat. When you ask the dock, “How far is the rig?”, they will say, “Maybe 15 or 14 miles, but we have very fast boats.” This means several hours of hair-raising travel at high speed, with little progress being made. You will see the derrick of the rig several times, always on a different side than you expected. You will also hear banjo music.

If you go to a rig in East Texas, the directions will include trees, since that’s all there is there. Every tree in creation is there, so that’s not much help. Also, some of the dispatchers from rustic places like Sour Lake might tell you to turn when you see a fella cutting down a tree. What if he already cut it down?, you ask. The dispatcher will look at you like ya ain’t got a lick of sense, and say, “There’ll be a stump.” Most of these rigs will be on board road locations, so when you find the board road, you know you are on the right track. Be careful, though. If the rig has been there a while, chances are the boards are gonna be loose. Too fast, and a board will flip up, come through the bottom of your truck and impale your coffee maker, or worse. Don’t ask me how I know this.

I went to a rig in Cameroon once. The rig was several miles upstream from the town and they had a crew boat. It looked like a WWII PT boat. It had two engines. One ran. We left the dock and proceeded upriver with one smoking engine for several miles of National Geographic-looking jungle until the engine quit. The crew steered it over to the bank and tied up. I asked them if they were going to look at the engine, because they showed little concern for our situation. They said, “No, the evening boat will be along eventually and tow us in.” They broke out fishing poles and a huge cooler of beer, and we fished until rescued. I got to the rig the next day, on a different boat.

I went to an offshore rig in Belize. The main crew boats for the rig were unavailable, so the company hired a local to take me out. He had a 25-foot open wooden boat, powered by a 6-cylinder Ford truck engine. I asked him, “How long to the rig?” An hour and a half. We got underway, and I noticed a small boy, near the stern, bailing. That was his job. The shaft packing leaked so bad that he had to bail continuously to keep up. We stopped twice to change the fuel filter because of water in the fuel. After three hours, I asked the driver (I won’t call him a captain), “How much longer?” An hour and a half. Eventually, we could see the rig. I asked again. An hour and half. Seven hours total.

Over the years, I’ve found that directions to the rig are like reading a sciencefiction novel. To have any fun, you have to suspend belief, and go with the flow. I’ve always been able to find the rig and do my job, but sometimes, not without frustration.