Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all – Helen Keller
I can say that while we had one of our best shows yet, the trip home was an adventure!
It was a positive decision to pack up late afternoon and start our journey home as we saw on social media that Flagstaff got snow Sunday evening. We are avid users of freecampsite.net, but we never really have an end destination in mind when we start traveling. Our drive usually depends on how the day goes and how far we can get before we’re tired. When we travel with Rory’s wife, or the dogs, we tend to stop earlier and more often, which makes it easier to find overnight stops.
This year we were traveling solo, as you know, so we had longer travel days which meant searching out a campsite close to, or after, dark. Sometimes we even had to look up locations while driving…I know, dangerous! Sunday night we headed out and once it started to get around dusk, I pulled up freecampsite.net on my phone, and started to look for a place we could set up camp for the night near Gallup, NM. I found what read to be a nice spot that showed a truck camper on a long trailer with a 5th wheel hitch. It stated that they were in a 30’ Redneck toy hauler trailer (RV) and would stay there again. The review read “been here for 2 nights, Friday and Saturday. The road is gravel and flat for 98% of the way in. There is one spot just before the sharp left turns south were you must cross a dry creek. If it has rained recently, I wouldn’t suggest attempting to cross due to high water and mud. We stayed about 200 yards south of the cattle pen. Very level site with nice view. You can see I-40 but can’t hear it. We were the only campers but there was bit of traffic including a forest ranger.” With a review like that and a 3.5-star rating, we decided to try it out.
This probably would have been better if we had arrived when it was light out. After dark made navigating the very rough dirt road a little tough. We had minimal clear directions, other than what trusty Mr. GPS, was giving. We had taken a wrong left turn at some point because we never found the wonderful spot listed in the review. We decided to stay on the newly graveled portion of the road at every crossroads, hoping we would drive by it. After slowly driving 4-5 miles up the rim of the canyon, it was getting later and darker, and it went from an adventure to almost scary because there wasn’t a place wide enough to turn around our long setups, and the stock trailer was taking a beating due to the low road clearance of the drop axles. When things get tense, we both tend to get a little edgy, and this is never a good combination, but Rory was able to find a spot he hoped was open enough to get us both 2019 Overland Expo West!
turned around. I was the spotter, as usual in these situations, and had to stop him a couple times as the back of the trailer was hanging over the canyon wall! But, after about a thirty-point turn, Rory got his own rig turned around and we finally got my truck to do the same. It was faster for him to turn mine around since I was not as long. We were finally heading back to the direction we came hoping for better roads and a place to crash for the night.
As we started back down the trail, Rory had pulled away, and just as I pressed on the gas to follow him out, I heard a thud and saw a cloud of dust in the glow of the taillights behind me… After the hard trails we took in Moab while driving to the show, then bottoming out on the way in crossing the dry creek, my first thought was “Great, I dropped the trailer”. With just enough bars, and praying Rory had service, I placed the call to let him know the unfortunate news. I got lucky and the call connected. I explained to him what I thought happened, he stopped
and instructed me to get out of the truck to do a walk around to evaluate the situation. Good news… I didn’t drop the trailer 😊 bad news…. A rock had cut the sidewall and exploded the left rear tire on my truck ☹ I walked back to the cab to inform Rory. He put his truck and trailer in reverse and backed up the snaking trail so we could change the tire.
When in an unfamiliar area, in the dark, miles off the road with a blown tire I can say I was a little on edge. My mind raced with all sorts of thoughts; Would an unwanted visitor arrive out of the dark? Would we be blocking the trail? Are we even still in the park? Did we cross into a rancher’s property and have trouble with the owner? All this while we tried to change my tire. Our only light source being the patio lights on the camper, taillights of my truck and a small LED bulb on the 18v drill we carry with us… Rory is the Yin to my Yang in these types of situations.
He manages to keep things calm and carry on as it is something that “just has to be done”. We used the camper jacks to lift the camper to help get the weight off my rear tire, then used my Dodge issued scissor jack to raise the truck. I constructed the nifty tools into the long piece that lowers my spare tire, inserted it and started to turn the tire down. While the wrench lowered the cable, the part that fits into the center of the tire refused to budge. The spare was stuck ☹ It seems that all the road salt from driving in Iowa’s winters had rust welded it in place. Rory
and I tried everything we could to loosen it enough to it drop down. After an hour of hammering and wedging 2×4’s, we deemed our only option was to leave my rig on the canyon trail on the jack, and get a new one back in Gallop, 20 miles west. At this point, it is after 11pm, no tire shop is open. I am not thrilled at leaving my truck and our expensive show trailer unattended overnight in the middle of nowhere, but Rory assured me it was our only option. That it would HAVE to be fine… We loaded the damaged tire into Rory’s back seat and made our way out
of the canyon, back to the interstate. We dropped the big enclosed trailer in a truck stop at the I-40 exit after informing the overnight security guard and headed to a Wal-Mart we had passed hours before. We hoped they had a tire that would work. All I could think about was returning to my truck the next day and find it stripped down or missing.
Just as we had worried, the 20” tires on my truck are not a common size and Wal-Mart does not have any. I Googled the area for tire shops and found a Firestone’ located downtown Gallup on Route 66! I made the call and was pleased to hear that they had a tire and would be able to mount it for me right away. I asked them to hold it, and we made the drive to get it taken care of. Another hour and $280 later, I had a new tire mounted and balanced loaded in the backseat of Rory’s truck. We made our way back to our off-road location to finish the repair,
hurrying to stay ahead of the rain that was now falling in Gallop. That dry creek crossing would not be dry for long! I must apologize, I do not have more photos of the amazing view from Six Mile Canyon or our adventure in changing my tire, my mind was so focused on the problem at hand that I didn’t think to take any…
Thankfully my truck was still there and all in one piece! In the morning daylight the view was so much more amazing than the moonless night earlier, As I rolled the tire to the truck, I noticed a few things right away. #1 – the wind must have picked up overnight and pushed the truck off the jack. #2 – my rotor is now 2” in the gravel, the axle is on the ground, and my scissor jack is bent. #3- we are on a much greater downward slope than I thought. This, my friends, is a teachable moment. What did I learn in this teachable moment? Always set your emergency break when you change a tire. I am not sure if it would have made a difference or not, but it may have prevented it from traveling down the hill after we left. The fall from the jack caused a few other things that immediately were brought to my attention in an “oh-****” kind of fashion. With the camper still on its jacks, the truck rolling forward and dropping off the jack put the entire weight of the truck on the legs and tiedowns. The front jack was nearly ripped off the unit, letting the front of the camper down, denting in the bulkhead of my truck, plus damaging the rear tiedown plate.
With some 2×4’s and rocks stacked in front of all the tires, we finally got the truck braced enough to stop rolling forward. With the use of my bent scissor jack and Rory’s bottle jack, we were able to get the truck high enough to install the new tire. As I tightened the lug nuts, Rory removed the bent front jack off the camper. Just as we finished up an hour and a half later, we noticed the temperature starting to drop and the rain started to fall. I was glad to be headed back out of the canyon. I followed him and found the new tire did not have enough air to be
hauling a camper. I found the air pump and dug out some quarters to start it as Rory headed to hookup to the stock trailer. That’s when I noticed all the deputy sheriffs and state troopers back by the truck stop’s tire station but didn’t think much of it. I aired up my tire, parked my rig and headed in to wash my hands from our tire changing adventure. Rory met me inside and said there was caution tape tied to his trailer jack, blocking access to the shop’s parking lot. He had to untie it and reattach it to a telephone pole to move the trailer. We are guessing a trucker was found unresponsive in his truck ☹. My dad drives semi for a living, and we lost a company driver on the road when we were at Northstar, so this has always hit a little close to home for me.
Not being as dirty as Rory, I was done first and stood by the counter waiting for Rory. As he came out from the men’s room, he noticed a sign for showers and went to the counter to see if any were open. Keep in mind, the last shower either of us had was on Wednesday night when we camped in Coconino National Forest before the Expo, A shower sounded wonderful, and at 33 years old, I paid for my first ever truck stop shower 😊 It was the best $13.00 I have spent, I have heard stories from my dad about truck stop showers, but this was nothing like that, Rory later told me it was one of the better ones he has used. It was a huge tiled clean room. They provided you with towels (I took my own however) and it had great water pressure, which made it far easier than even some hotel showers to wash my long curly hair. Once we were both ready to go, we started to exit towards the trucks and noticed that in the time of our showers, the rain had switched to a heavy snow and the winds had picked up again!
It continued to snow for the next 40 miles east but we soldiered on, I did tell Rory that I was glad it waited until after we were done, I would have been VERY grumpy if we had to have messed with my tire in cold and snowy conditions. Plus, that creek crossing may have been a muddy mess. Once we were on the road, I reflected on the event and have decided the following:
1. We should not arrive at remote camp sites after dark
2. Always use a parking brake when changing a tire
3. I don’t want to be the one choosing a campsite when we travel
4. If we are both pulling trailers, only camp on hard surfaced lots
Finally on the road again, Rory had his sights on a fishing lake in Kansas that we have stayed at in the past, It is where we stayed last year when my dog, C J, went on a walk with Rory & Izzy and stepped in a nest of fire ants. They stung the crap out of one-paw ☹ Poor little guy was so uncomfortable that evening, we made a trip to the town’s Dollar General for first-aid supplies. Now, I carry a full First-Aid kit, just for him, when I camp. If all goes well, we should arrive home on Wednesday and at this point in our trip I am ready to be home in my
own bed and snuggle with my pup. I did check in with Ginny, who said he had been very good, which is nice to hear. It is so nice to have such a friend I can rely on to watch him when I travel for work. Rory decided to turn off I-40 at Tucumcari to travel mainly 2 lane roads. I enjoy driving “like the old days”! Going through small towns rather than travel the interstate. Infortunately, driving through one of those small towns in Texas, I was passed by a semi who threw up a rock and chipped my windshield. It seemed like this trip home was out to get me and the list of things that needed taken care of when I returned home continued to grow.
We didn’t get much sleep the night before with changing my tire in the middle of nowhere, so Rory wanted to stop before 8:00 at the Wal-Mart in Guymon, OK. We were beat and it was dinnertime, so I totally agreed. Rory cooked a potato soup mix that Ginny and KC had packed for us, then added up some chopped ham and onions. Along with some toasted fresh bread that we purchased, we really enjoyed the full dinner. We had hooked up the TV and got a few local channels to watch. Everywhere around us was talking about the bad weather! Storm and tornado warnings from west of Wichita to Hutchinson KS. It seemed every channel we pulled in listed some type of severe weather report. Being unfamiliar with the counties in our area, we googled them to find the majority was just east of us and heading to the north. With full stomachs, we were both so tired, I retired to the Wild. I called home to check in with my Mom and let her know where we were and when we would be home. She still worries when I am on the road. I also texted my friend, Tarah, who was house-sitting for me. I gave her an update as well. With all my check-ins handled I called it a night and slept like a rock after that long day.
Tuesday morning, the silver lining of yesterday’s delay was that it had changed our overnight location, and we had stopped short of the wicked severe weather just to the east. Wichita had reported tornados and that it had rained hard enough in some areas that water was over Interstate 35! That’s just where we had planned to be staying overnight taking the interstate route home. I’m so glad we took Hwy 54 instead! After breakfast, we decided to push hard and get home late that night rather than have another overnight stay. As we crossed into Kansas, we
started to see the results of the storms the night before. All the ditches and fields were flooded with standing water. Just east of Hutchinson, on Hwy 50, there was a pink sign that read “incident ahead.” I have never seen one of these signs before and wondered what was going on. A short distance later, we came across another road sign that had the little flagger guy on it and I thought maybe it was an accident or road construction.
However, when we finally came to the incident, there was a trooper on the side of the road in each direction, stopping traffic because the road was completely under water. Rory was first to go slowly through and the moment he started across, a semi from the other direction did the same! Thankfully, it was an easy crossing. I’m glad it was, since there was no way to turn around and take a different route.
As we continued driving, the wind speeds increased and we were hit with intermittent showers, not good news to the already swollen rivers. That afternoon, the long windy day started to catch up with me and I began to feel tired and beat. Rory must have felt the same as he wanted to stop for lunch and some leg stretching. We pulled into the Newton, KS Wal-Mart and made some sandwiches and grabbed some chips. As I walked around the parking lot in drizzle I checked the weather on my phone. It looked like we could stay ahead of another big storm coming up from the south along the Missouri border. Once we got back on I-35 in Emporia, we found that the wind had switched directions and we would be fighting a head wind once again.
It was rush hour through Kansas City, and we tried to skirt most of it with the eastern loop I-435. Construction zones made it stop and go, but it wasn’t as terrible as it could be. Once through Kansas City, the wind continued getting stronger and we both noticed a significant change in our MPG once we started north. We stopped at a rest area north of KC, and there was a lady unloading her horse from the trailer to give it a walk. That’s something you don’t see every day. She was drawing a small crowd of people snapping pictures. Fueling in Bethany, Missouri for the lower gas prices, Rory thought we could make it all the way home without any more stops. Once we crossed into Iowa, we came upon 2 accidents. The first was a semi that seemed to have swerved before a construction zone to avoid a rear end collision and with the rain softened shoulder, it pulled him off the road and his trailer was down the embankment to its axles. He would need wait for a wrecker to get him back on the road! Rory being the lead of our convoy, would call me when something was coming up, so I was aware. We noticed Rory having cell phone signal issues the entire trip home. His service was very spotty and seemed to be getting worse the closer we got to home. Seems his phone had locked onto a cell tower in Colorado the week before and would not switch to any other! The wind had become so strong that Rory called to instruct me on bracing the rig for the voids in the tree lines. Each time we came across a break in the trees, it would push you over the center line like you were passing a large semi.
Just south of Ames, a second semi was tipped over from the strong gusts. There was a trooper at this scene already helping the driver. I noticed the force of being
blown over had shattered his front window, and you could see where the corner of the trailer gouged out a line in the ditch. After seeing this, I called Rory to see if it would
be smarter to find a place to make camp for the night, but he could “smell” home and just wanted to get there. Rory’s prediction of Bethany, MO being our last fuel stop
turned out to be wrong. With the strong head winds, it had ruined our mpg and as we were approaching Ames, Rory’s truck read less than 70 miles till empty. We had to
stop at the big Casey’s to fuel up again just to make sure we could make it home. That last stretched dropped my 10.6 mpg average to under 7 mpg!
After 3,000 miles and 11 days of being on the road we saw the sign for BundutecUSA! We both had a sigh of comfort that we made it home, It was about 11:00 pm so we parked both rigs in the lot and loaded into Rory’s 2001 Nissan Frontier to take us home, I dropped him off and was greeted by a very anxious set of pups, CJ told me all about his time with Ginny and KC and how glad he was that I was home with barking and howling. Izzy greeted Rory with the same enthusiasm, Rory got down on the floor with her and she loved him up. Both dogs acted like we had been gone for months even though it was only a little over a week. We did a quick rundown with Ginny of how the trip went then I loaded up CJ and got home to relax and catch up with my house sitter, Tarah. She said she would enjoy being back at her home. We had a such GREAT show this year, that we already reserved our spot for Overland Expo East 2019. OXE has been moved, yet again, to a new location! This October, it will be in Arrington, VA at Infinity Downs. With selling the new Wild that I had on my truck at Expo West, we are brainstorming what type of unit we will have at OXE. I am thinking of something new and lightweight that will complement the BunduCamp, which always shows well. Keep tuned to our social media pages and www.bundutecusa.com for what we will be taking to Expo East this year, and we look forward to seeing you all there!