Idaho loomed into a more desolate Nevada. Dirt. Heat. Sage. The highway betwixt the two cluttered by cars stopped for road construction. “Hours,” the woman at the mini mart told us, “those cars, been sittin’ here fer hours.” And then she kindly pointed us towards a back way—a scenic route—a dirt road quietly weaving around a slowly dying river. She had us at dirt road.
Thanking her graciously, Derek and I looped our little 4runner around and waved goodbye to all those other assholes stuck inside of their cars waiting for the sign to flip from ‘stop’ to ‘slow’. Haha! We knew something that they didn’t know. Even Zelda (my overly furry, overly fat cat) had a smug look within her eyes lying luxuriously in the back seat.
The pavement ended just as we crossed a crumbling bridge—a dam really, with green growth pushing thru the old cement hungrily. Though I was in a desperate hurry to cross the bridge before it was washed away, my heart skipped at the beauty. Earth was taking back what man had made. Here was green again. I loved it and I sent a silent thank you to the woman with the bony knuckles.
Dust swirled around us as we motored down the road; close to the water and then, very very far from the water—from any sign of life, really. With each bend in the road, we were sure to be popped out once again near the river. And then we started hoping for the highway to reemerge. It was desolate. It was hot. And we were alone.
I’m not sure if it was hours or if it merely felt like hours. Our fuel tank had dipped dramatically and so had our spirits. The angel who sent us off onto a dirt road adventure became a sadistic bitch who sent us to our death.
And still we bumped down the road with no sign of an end.
That’s how our day got even better. A flat tire. A flat tire in this God forsaken land. We were doomed. Zelda began panting in the back seat; I doused her in the last of our drinking water, forcing what little I could down her sweet furry face.
The 4runner was overly stuffed as we were returning from a two-month road trip to Alaska. Everything that we needed was buried. The contents of the car were spilled out across the deserted roadway, the rack on the back was unloaded; the dirt bike lay on its side. With the sun burning down upon us, an hour later we located the tire iron and for a moment we felt hopeful. We wouldn’t fry to death like little potatoes on the grill.
But long ago, when my tires were changed from 29s to 31s, my lug nuts were upgraded as well. So the tire iron didn’t work.
But we had Derek’s Craftsman set! Which broke.
But we had Derek’s hammer! Which in anger and frustration slammed his toes before finally loosening the lug nuts.
The tire was finally removed.
Tools spilled in the dirt; fears and frustrations stifled the hot air; Zelda panted a little heavier.
The spare was dropped from the under belly of the car (a spare that I had never considered in all my 8 years of owning the 4runner). It fell to the ground and we closed our eyes and crossed our fingers. We needed this tire to work. The sun was beginning to shrink. The spare was essentially flat—over the years the air had quietly oozed out—but 15lbs of air would have to be enough. So it was put into place and we repacked the car.
Each rock in the road, I was sure that crappy old spare would fly off and send us back into a frantic frenzy but somehow it carried us down that dirt road and finally, back to pavement.
I have never been so relieved to see a road sign claiming ‘NEXT SERVICES 20 MILES’. Grasping each other’s hands tightly, we smiled exhausted smiles and puttered down the highway. We were going to make it.
By the time we pulled into Wells, Nevada the sun had set and the town was asleep. I suggested a stay at Bella’s Hacienda –my poor, tired, naive eyes didn’t notice the build up of trucks out front. Derek steered us clear of the brothel and found us a room at a motel 6 –which was equally grimy—but we snuck Zelda in and rolled out our sleeping bag and slept deeply.
In the morning, as Les Schwab was gifting my car with four new tires, the man inside told us that earlier that year, a man and wife were stranded out on the same very dirt road. A snowstorm had swept thru, she died inside of the car and they found him later, frozen, down the road in a desperate attempt to reach pavement and wave down help.
It could have been us, cooked by the sun. Everything that could go wrong did. But we made it out alive and feel a little closer and a little bit more badass. And we check the spare tire prior to any dirt roads.