It’s those little surprises that make a trip memorable. Like seeing a beautiful mountain sunrise. Or blowing out a tire 40 miles from nowhere on a desert road with a minivan full of teenagers. Without a spare. And the dust storms coming in. Oh, did I mention the approaching brushfire?
No really, it was a lovely little adventure. Just not the one we’d planned to have today.
The plan (“Wait – do you hear something? It sounds vaguely like the gods laughing”) was relatively unambitious: we’d pile the kids in the Orr’s minivan and make the drive out 80 miles east through the
godforsaken picturesque flatlands of Southeastern Colorado to Bent’s Old Fort. Why Bent stopped 80 miles east of the front range and built the indefensible row of mud huts is something we’ll have to leave to the internets to discover, because remarkably close to the halfway point on our three hour tour, the minivan was interrupted by an unfamiliar swishing sound. There was just enough time for Brian to say “Hey, is that sound coming from one of you…?” before the left rear tire disintegrated at 65 mph.
We pulled into a crossroad turnout near a row of mailboxes on the most desolate bit of Highway 10 East you could envision to examine the damage. Probably about 3/4 of what used to be the tire still remained attached to the rim (nope, this isn’t going to be a simple patch job), and for reasons that are best left alone, we were without a functioning spare. Fortunately, we had cell coverage and – more importantly – AAA coverage. Turns out that being on the road for the newspaper all the time had spurred Brian and Gretchen to sign up for the “extended coverage plan”, which gave them towing benefits extending out to somewhere near the Kansas border, if we happened to be so unfortunate. We made a few calls and were assured that Johnnie from J.M. Tire was on his way to rescue us. Even better (since Johnnie was technically only on his way out to rescue the van), Gretchen’s sister-in-law Debbie had dropped everything and borrowed a sufficiently enormous car to actually retrieve us, the van’s occupants. All we had to do was wait around a little and keep ourselves entertained for the hour or so until they could make it out.
There was plenty with which to entertain ourselves: dirt roads leading off to opposite horizons, tumbleweeds and a surprising arsenal of electronic diversions. To the boys’ credit, Tom and Liam immediately decamped for a stroll down one of the dirt roads where they were soon lost from sight. Conor explored new and inconvenient postures in which to nap, and Jeremy caught up on cat videos. Brian, Gretchen and I tromped around our environs taking artistic photos and making fun of kids.
We’d gotten hazardous weather alerts for “severe dust storms” and watched them form on the horizon and bear down one after another, missing us by comfortable margins. Still, the wind was definitely picking up, and we were getting beaned by tumbleweeds with increasing frequency and ferocity. Gretchen, Jeremy and I headed out to see if we could retrieve Tom and Liam (they’d probably made it two miles down the dirt road before turning back) and we all took some vague shelter in the leeward side of the van.
Oh right: the fire: At some point, the gray-brown cloud half a mile east along the road took on a distinctly “smoky” appearance, followed shortly by visible flames at roadside. We’d reached the point of becoming somewhat concerned, so Brian and I did what any responsible parent would: we sent the boys to investigate. Turned out to just have been someone clearing their ditches (what could possibly go wrong?), but it did provide a little excitement.
Cars passed every five or so minutes, and most slowed and waved, presumably surveying us for signs of distress. One nice truckload of locals pulled over and asked if we needed anything. We assured them that help was on the way and thanked them for their concern.
Two boxes of Girl Scout cookies and half a bag of tortillas later, Johnnie arrived, followed shortly after by Debbie. We watched attentively while Johnnie got the van loaded up (these things go smoother when you’ve got a bunch of guys watching), thanked him for coming on out, then, piled into the back of Debbie’s car, heading west again, another little adventure under our collective belts. Tomorrow? We’ll try something else.