As adventures go, it wasn’t much: a flat tire, and replaced before we were stranded. But it could have been much worse, if not for a bit of good luck and a very helpful guy at the Exit 34 truck stop on I-90.
We drive out to the Middle Fork Road this afternoon to take the dogs for a romp in the snow, as we’ve done most New Year’s Days in recent years. There were people at all of our favorite trails, so we just drove out near the end of the road where the snow was too deep for most vehicles and let the dogs run along the road for a while. They loved it.
Then we started the long drive back down to I-90. Only 10 miles, but it seems much longer because of the bone-jarring potholes for which Middle Fork Road is known. There’s been a paving project underway for the last two years, and it’s about half smooth pavement now, but the other areas are even rougher than usual. Here’s a photo out on a paved smooth stretch before we got back to the rough areas.
Somewhere in the miles ahead, we ran over a sharp rock that punctured the back left tire. The rock was pretty big as these things go: the hole was a good half-inch across. But lucky break #1: the rock stayed in the hole, so instead of instantly going flat out in the middle of nowhere we just had a slow leak.
Then lucky break #2: I had the back left window open, so that Jamie could enjoy the view on the way down the road, and I heard the rhythmic clicking of the rock striking the ground with each turn of the wheel. If that window had been closed, we’d have probably wound up changing a tire in the dark along the side of I-90.
Knowing something wasn’t right, we stopped at the first dry and well-lit pavement, down near the truck stop at Exit 34 on I-90. And that’s when we saw what was going on:
So we had a slow leak that might turn into a blowout at any time, and we were 40 miles from home and it was cold and the wind had started blowing really hard. And I have to confess, I’ve never changed a tire on our Tacoma — in 160,000 miles including many extremely rough mountain roads, it had never come up. (For example, I found the jack in about the fifth place I looked.) But we were right there at the truck stop, so I went inside and asked if they could help. Chris, the manager on duty, explained that they had two trucks waiting on repairs and couldn’t get to me for a long time, and in any event they definitely couldn’t patch a hole that big. But then — lucky break #3 — he suggested he could help me change the tire.
It was surprisingly cold in the strong wind and freezing temps, and nothing went smoothly with the jack or the spare, but Chris cheerfully did most of the work while I just handed things to him and tried to keep my fingers from freezing. What a guy.
Chris didn’t want anything for helping, other than some dog snuggling time. (He used to have American Eskimo dogs.) But I forced $40 on him, which he said he’d look for an opportunity to pay forward to somebody who needs it. And now we’re safely back home with the spare tire on, ready to go buy a new tire in the morning. Thanks, Chris!