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Rubber Soul

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Road trips tickle my psyche. The prospect of packing the rig, formulating a loose plan, then contemplating the adventures that await me as I gobble up the blacktop, macadam and occasional dirt energizes me in a way few other endeavors do. If the road trip is more than a weekend getaway – a multi-state excursion infused with a unifying theme, for example – I will most likely wake in a start (if I am even able to find sleep), then revise my packing list three or four times. Occasionally, when I lose the ability to concentrate on anything stationary, the lure of the road’s rhythms becomes too strong, and I have no choice but to settle into the driver’s seat, then hit the road earlier than planned. I am willing to bet that I am not the first RVer to disregard an itinerary and jump the gun when a worthy road trip looms ahead.

A 12-day trip beginning in early September induced hope and excitement in me the way summer vacation does in schoolchildren. The plan was to drive from Los Angeles to Sun Valley, Idaho – where I would start my Idaho Golf Trail adventure – then head home, finding adrenaline-pumping activities where I could. I had made no reservations for
campgrounds, wasn’t sure which roads I’d take and felt right about my casual approach, since a trip of 2,400 miles was bound to create its own dynamic, fall into a vibrant road rhythm and unearth the kind of unique experiences that cause us to travel. So what if I headed out two days early?

I pushed the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” into the CD player, pulled the Class B away from the curb, then headed north. The morning light hinted at a perfect day ahead, the traffic was surprisingly light, the Diet Cokes were within reach and I felt
like the universe had reconfigured itself to accommodate my happiness.

Thud, screech, thwap, thwap, thwap. Forty-five minutes from home, and suddenly I was in a universe I couldn’t comprehend. A sound horrified my eardrums, a sudden back-left adjustment to my posture imposed itself unbidden, and when I glanced in the side-view mirror, I finally registered what was happening: a blowout.

I was on Interstate 14, heading uphill on a desolate stretch that, luckily, was not burdened with traffic. The driver’s-side rear tire was bouncing in shreds onto the roadway as I attempted to find a section of shoulder wide enough to accommodate my rig. I limped my wounded vehicle to a place that might grant me room to change the tire, parked, let my pulse settle, dodged cars to retrieve hunks of rubber from the right lane, then set to work.

Of course, the jack was in the storage bin smothered with gear, so it looked as though I was holding an impromptu yard sale by the time I rolled up my sleeves and began to loosen the wheel’s lug nuts.

Or, I should say, attempted to loosen. Four of the nuts came off easily with the cheap, folding lug wrench I possessed. Another only took three grunts and two curses, and the last wouldn’t budge. Although I was nervous about standing on the dubitably stout lug wrench – since it could shatter beneath my weight, and then I’d also have a broken ankle to deal with in the middle of the California desert in 100° heat – I took a chance, and came up empty. I wandered the side of the road, hesitant to call AAA, since a guy who can’t change a tire is, by law, required to take up scrap-booking. To my amazement, in the bushes, among the detritus of fast food-restaurant trash, I found a full-fledged, heavy-duty lug wrench. It didn’t budge the nut, either.

For forty-five minutes I wandered the shoulder of the road, cataloguing the remnants of rampant consumerism discarded from speeding vehicles, then the tow-truck driver showed up, and I was hopeful that I could soon reverse my heat-induced wilting process and continue my trip. No such luck. The tow truck driver, equipped with powerful air tools but, shockingly, not the right fitting to budge the stubborn lug nut, was soon piggybacking me to Mike’s Tire Man in Santa Clarita.

The comedy of errors continued. The tow truck driver – a nice enough guy otherwise – proved something less than competent when he could not get my Class B off his truck. Time after time he lowered the tailend of the flatbed, only to have the van’s trailer hitch dig into the blacktop. I don’t mean scratch the surface; I mean my vehicle was cutting a deep trough in Mike the Tire Man’s parking lot each time the tow truck backed up. If I hadn’t been convinced I was being punished for past sins, the scene would have been laughing-cramp funny. For some reason, Mike wasn’t laughing, either. Two of Mike’s employees finally used jacks to lift the RV’s bumper as the tow-truck driver finally managed to deposit my ride on terra firma (albeit freshly troughed).

Mike glanced at the tattered debacle of my shredded tire, then asked how long I’d been driving on those tires. “Thousands of miles,” I told him. “I’m amazed this hasn’t happened sooner,” he said. Apparently, the previous owner of my RV had purchased tires with sidewalls that were not meant to handle the weight and pressure demands generated by a 3?4-ton vehicle. Influenced by my flustered countenance, or perhaps by my sun-addled pate, Mike gave me a good deal on two replacement tires (he said the front tires were fine), then threw in steel stems on all four.

As I pulled away from Mike’s, I suddenly felt lucky again. The day’s misfortunes could have been far worse: The tire could have blown in rush-hour traffic, or while going downhill, or in a driving rainstorm in Mexico. The journey would cost more than I’d planned, but now I could set out on trips with confidence.

And set out I did – and had a perfect road trip.

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