Seeing the expression on Eric’s face as he turned towards me after having peered out the window made me realize that something was seriously wrong. The car was getting harder to control and I asked him to see if we may have a flat tire, appearing as if he had just witnessed an incredible accident he simply replied, “it’s shreaded.”
We were about an hour drive from the nearest town and travelling a gravel road into the mountains, there was barely enough room to pull over and get out, let alone change a tire. I found a spot where I could get out of the way, although since we had not passed a single car since we left town that was the least of my worries.
I got out of the ’72 Toyota Landcruiser to inspect the damage and sure enough the tire was completely flat, in fact most of the tire was left about a half mile back on the road. I grabbed the jack off the front of the vehicle and moved around to the back to jack it up. The car was loaded with our gear including three five gallon jugs of water so we had to unload some to make it easier to lift the wheels off the ground.
The day was getting later so we had to hurry to unload the gear, change the tire, reload the gear and drive up into the campsite that we had scoped out on a 7.5′ USGS Quad map earlier that day. The first car approached as we were unloading the gear. A skier, trying to find snow in August, he asked if we needed help. Since at this point everything was going ok, we told him that we were fine and so he continued back down the other side of the ridge into Mackey.
Once the vehicle was finally unloaded I grabbed the tools and began to take the spare tire off the back of the cruiser.
As I started doing so, I realized that the spare was also flat. Leaving town a few hours earlier we had low pressure in one of the tires, so we filled it up. The problem was not a slow leak but rather lack of use. This particular vehicle was only used for about one month out of the entire year and for some reason I failed to remember the check the spare.
Seeing that we were several hours from town the only thing we could do was set up camp and spend the night on the side of the road and hope the next morning someone would come along and we could hitch a ride into town. Shortly after making this decision we saw another pair of lights coming up from the valley. This time it was a beatup old pickup truck with a gun rack and rifles on the rear window and two guys straight from the movie ‘Deliverence’ driving.
‘Looks like you got a bit of a problem,’ the driver said, never actually looking either of us in the eye. The second guy did not even say a word, just stared straight ahead. I told him the problems and he actually got out of the vehicle to give us a hand. The driver told us he was marking mountain lion territory to come back when the hunt began a few weeks from now.
He grabbed the jack and quickly got the car off the ground, the bad tire off and went to put the other flat tire on, when he noticed as I had earlier that it was also flat. He said normally he brings a compressor when he goes hunting for this type of thing, but they were not actually hunting so they did not have everything. The driver offered a ride into town, but I did not want to leave the cruiser with all of our gear, so we drew straws to see which of us would go and which would stay. Neither was a good decision, since I was a little nervous about these guys, and what they said about mountain lions in the area.
Eric finally agreed to go with them and I stayed behind with the vehicle. As they drove off I wondered if I was going to see him again.
After they left I grabbed my tent and set it up, brought out my chair and tried to light a fire. The area we were in was a low spot between two ridges, therefore the wind was howling through the canyon and I could not get the fire started. Adding to that my fear of mountain lions and the completely darkness that was ultimately coming over the valley my heart was racing.
I grabbed the small axe that we brought to break up fire wood and my D cell MagLite and sat back down in my chair waiting for something to happen. At points I was screaming into the wind, thinking that the jackrabbit that moved was a mountain lion or a bear, other times I was jumping around ready to strike at anything that moved.
Ultimately I decided to get in the tent, keeping the axe and flashlight right by my side. Time passed slowly as I stared at the ceiling of my tent watching the shadows dance around the latern. A few hours later, after the wind had died down, I could hear the sound of an approaching vehicle. I opened the tent and stuck my head out to see if Eric was returning that evening. It was around midnight and I did not expect him back, but the truck stopped by the cruiser and Eric jumped out. The driver, the mechanic from the gas station in Mackey got out the other side and grabbed the tires in the back of the truck.
I went up to help them out, but before I could offer the mechanic had the new tire on and was lowering the jack. He also put the spare back on, what a great town. We thanked up and he turned the truck around and left to go back home. Eric and I decided to sleep in the tent and get back on the road first thing in the morning. What a crazy day this had been, there was no reason to continue the madness until tomorrow.