Cars and I have this thing: When I drive them, they break. It may have something to do with all our cars having salvage titles, that the youngest of them is 161,000 miles old, and that they all live out here—steep hill off most of a mile of dirt road, an hour from town, brutal winters, etc. If that's the price of living out here, I pay it gladly. But one of the car-pieces that gets worn the most, and costs the most, is tires.
I have other tire stories, but today I'll just tell one.
Less than 7 miles from our place—as the crow flies; it's 30+ miles via the highway—there's an old forest-fire lookout tower atop a mountain. The Forest Service rents it out nightly for an exorbitant fee, but every year I pay the fee and take the kids (except this year; I got to the queue too late and the only available dates were when we'd be out of town) because there's just something about being atop a 30-foot tower at the summit of a mountain. A little catwalk runs all the way around, and after lugging all your stuff up all those stairs you can close the trapdoor on the stairs and shut out the world. The tower has a little wood-burning stove, and firewood stored on the ground beneath the tower where it'll stay dry. We unload our stuff, go for a hike, take a slew of pictures, enjoy our supper, unroll our sleeping bags and sleep while the wind rushes around our snug aerie. Sounds wonderful, no?
View from the top (the upper left corner is the roof overhang, not an error with my panorama)
Well, a few years back I had the brilliant notion of taking the kids up there via the back road, the one behind our house. This would save time driving down to the highway and then back up to the tower. It was early summer, and after tooling along a two-rut Jeep trail for some time, I hit a patch of snow across the road that I couldn't cross. Oh, all right, I'll turn around and go back down to the highway—and soon after I did, BOOM! I got a flat tire.
The sky was overcast and evening was coming. I got out, replaced the tire, and got under weigh again. As we were barrelling up hill and down dale, surrounded by woods that looked unchanged since Adam, I remember thinking, "I hope I don't get another flat, because I'm already using my spare. With a car full of kids and dogs, I'm not sure what I'd do." And as I recall, it wasn't but a few minutes later that BOOM! I got another flat tire.
Well, looking back now, we could have camped right there, and I could have gone for help in the morning. We didn't have a tent, but we did have food and matches and whatnot. We could have lit a fire, unrolled our sleeping bags in the car, and had an adventure. But that's not what I was thinking when we got that second flat. I shut off the car and looked around at the kids, whose eyes were wide with fear. I said, "We're okay, but we can't go anywhere. I'm going to run down the mountain for help. You stay here. Lock the doors if you want to, but you'll be fine. I'll come back as soon as I can, but it'll be after dark." We prayed together, I shut the door, and I ran.
I ran for a long time. After a while I began to recognize features on the road: an odd tree, a snow patch beneath a rock. After a longer while, I recognized where we'd cut firewood or picked huckleberries in previous summers. On some slopes I walked a little to catch my breath, but mostly I ran. And eventually I came to the Forks, six miles above our house; and it was all downhill from there.
Jessica saw me as I huffed up the driveway. She said cheerfully, "Oh, you're home," and then: "Where are the kids?!" I panted out the story, drank a whole glass of water and wolfed down an entire Snickers bar, and rushed out the door after her—she was already in the Jeep, heading out to get them.
It was dark already. Jessica's a pretty aggressive driver, but she was on a mission that night. We jounced and spun and pounded our way back up to the Forks, veered around the ridgetop where a powerful sneeze would send us tumbling thousands of feet to the bottom (if we weren't impaled on a tree first), and roared up through the Tunnel where the hemlocks and subalpine firs enclose the narrow roadway in darkness. We bounced down the rutted hill that's always a struggle to claw up with a trailer loaded with firewood, and back up the opposite side while tree branches and ferns reached out to us in the headlights and were whipped aside. And then our lights were reflected in those of a vehicle stranded in the road. It was the kids, and the trip odometer read 14.0 miles.
We brought the kids home and tucked them in safely. I talked to my neighbor in the morning, and the tires on his truck were the same size as the flats on our Suburban. So we went up and swapped 'em out, and drove the inelegantly named Beast (we name all our vehicles, and that's the least clever name of any) back home.
I've wanted my kids never to be scared of a mishap, or of the woods. But in subsequent years, we've always gone up to the lookout via the highway.