Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Nothing describes my trip from Washington State to Texas last December better… My wife had just retired from the US Navy at Yokosuka, Japan in December and had flown back to the naval base at Silverdale, Washington to begin out processing from the Navy. The rest of us remained in Japan so the kids could finish up with school, we later caught up with her in Silverdale, east of Seattle. We were hoping to be at our nieces birthday party on December 19th in El Paso. However, the airlines informed before leaving Japan that the kennel for our dog was too small according to new airline guidelines, so we were forced to buy a new and much bigger kennel. A few days after, the same airlines told us that while this behemoth of a kennel would fit on the airplane, it wouldn’t fit through the aircraft’s door. Hmmm…. to me that sounds like it won’t fit on the airplane but that’s just my opinion. Once in Washington we decided that we’d rent a vehicle and I’d drive with our dog, Lupe to El Paso from Silverdale, about 1,800 miles. However, my wife and kids would fly so they could definitely make the party. I’d make it if I could but wasn’t going to do anything stupid, just travel safely taking it easy, no worries. The weather wasn’t looking good and my wife and I decided I needed to get out in the morning if there were any hopes of making the party. By heading south in the morning from the Seattle area it looked like I could avoid most of the winter storms in the area.
Leaving Silverdale early on December 15th and heading south meant there was an extremely limited choice of routes needed to avoid storms. I had to drive I-5 South through the one open route called Snoqualmie Pass. I was up against the clock to get though the pass before the storms came, then chains and four wheel drive would be required to enter the pass and I’d be stuck. As I drove, the weather got worse heading south. By the time I was passing Ashland, Oregon and after driving almost a full day, a sign lit up a few hundred feet up the road saying, “Chains required in 20 miles.” Yes, this was Snoqualmie Pass. I immediately pulled over, called to get a hotel room in Ashland, then drove to the new hotel cancelling my previously booked stay in Bakersfield, CA along the way, I kind of knew it anyway because of the time lost during the storms. Making it to the hotel parking lot, which was empty except for a few cars, but that changed by the time I got to my room and looked out the window. The evening was spent watching the news and weather channel, this storm wasn’t going anywhere but it seemed that the weather improved considerably west toward the ocean. I decided to drive west in the morning and hug the coast south till I was safe from the storms, then hopefully get back on the original route.
On December 16th I woke early and got on the road driving west to Crescent City, California and south down the coast. At this point I didn’t realize I was actually on US 101, also known as The Redwood Highway. Suddenly, I was driving on one of the most beautiful coastal roads that America has to offer, literally breathtaking! I arrived in Klamath Falls and simply couldn’t believe my eyes at the natural beauty of the Northern California coast! I stopped to take a quick couple of photos, and before I knew it I was in the Redwood Forest, again unbelievable! One more time, a few quick photos and back on the road. Looking back, if there was one part of this trip I want to do again, and soon, it’s the Redwood Highway. Frankly, at this point in time, the detour was amazing. However, by the time I got to Fortuna, CA the GPS asked if I wanted save some time with a new route. Why not? I felt I was far enough south to avoid snow and was in the middle of some of the best scenery. I decided to go with new route, curving through the more Redwoods and then mountains, AGAIN absolutely gorgeous. Things looked so incredibly promising… until it started snowing again. Then another sign appeared, literally in the middle of nowhere, or snowhere, California, “Chains required beyond this point.” CRAP! I made a u-turn and headed back, in the opposite direction, down the winding road I had just traveled. I came around a curve previously passed only minutes before and suddenly, in front of me, stones slid across the road and I swerved trying to miss them. I didn’t and felt a large bump, then quickly lost traction going downhill so I immediately pulled over. DOUBLE CRAP!! Now the back right tire had a large hole and I was on a curve, I got back in the car and drove on the rim for about half a mile till I was in a safe place, near a farm house. No problem, just change the tire and get back on the road right? I began looking for the spare tire, I’ve owned a couple of minivans over the years so I checked the obvious places, nada. I got the manual and it stated the spare was located externally, outside and on the bottom, between the driver and passenger seats. Great, it stated a special tool was located in the rear to access and lower the tire. I found the location of the tool in the van, but no tool, TRIPLE CRAP!!! Now I needed to call my insurance company, no signal, QUADRUPLE CR… you get the point. I couldn’t get a signal, was sitting in a snow storm in a rented minivan, just wondering about my next move.
Just then, a man who I’ll just call Mr. Oblivious or Johnny Helpful, came out of the farm house. “You picked a hell of a place to break down” he said. I replied, “I didn’t exactly pick it.” This guy literally stood at his driveway gate saying things like, “wow, you’re screwed,” “you should change that tire,” and “man, you’re really broke down huh?” but never once offered any help whatsoever. While he was yappin’, my BS filter began to flow over, so I got in the minivan and drove another half mile on the rim, not recommended but worth getting away from my new friend. I parked next to the Dinsmore Airport which is to aviation like my driveway is to the Daytona 500; nada, nothing, just a simple airstrip but I also created distance from myself and California’s most obnoxious Good Samaritan. It was now about 1PM, I had no cell signal and was next to a field full of goats and sheep but also had a three quarter plus tank of gas. Lupe and I would be warm till I got help, well I was about 85% sure. Still no signal and it was still snowing. After about an hour, the sun came out and I finally had a signal, two bars. However, I still couldn’t make calls but once I opened the USAA app was able to send a message to them and they were able to ping my location; they said help was on the way within 60-90 minutes. As quick as the sun broke through the clouds, it went and more snow came.
By 4PM the tow truck hadn’t arrived and the sun was going down. Now I received a call from the towing company telling me there had been an issue but the driver was on the way, coming from Fortuna, the city I passed through hours before. If he just left, it would be a while before he arrived, but at least help was definitely on the way. By 6:30 the tow truck arrived and we were headed back to Fortuna, oh and the tire place closed at 6PM, now I needed a hotel. I struck up a conversation with the driver, he was helpful but informed me that company policy allowed him to take me only as far as the tire shop. I’d be on my own from there, and I still had no signal. Once in Fortuna at the tire shop, the car was dropped off and I had a cell signal so I began calling hotels. Finding a hotel was a very good thing, it meant not sleeping in my car for the night; but have you ever tried finding a cab at 8:15PM willing to take a passenger and an 80 pound labradoodle? That didn’t go well. So I packed exactly one t-shirt, a clean pair of underwear and socks in a plastic bag, putting it in my camera bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and deodorant; I had everything I needed and began the two mile walk in the dark with Lupe, hoping nobody would rob me with thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. I safely arrived, got some sleep, then walked back to the tire place in the morning only to find out that not only was the rental missing the spare tire tool, there was NO spare tire. The Budge Car dealer in Silverdale, WA sent me on my way with no spare tire. I made my way back to El Paso only to fight with Budget numerous times on the phone trying to get them to pay for the hotel room and the tire. Don’t even get me started on call centers in India. It took a few weeks but they finally agreed to cover the costs. The rest of the trip, fortunately, was uneventful.
Lesson learned? Well… too numerous to mention. Honestly, had I checked for a spare tire upon accepting the rental, this trip would have turned out much differently. If it hadn’t been for USAA I don’t know what would have happened. Did I make it back in time for my nieces birthday party, no. But nobody was hurt, Lupe and I safely made it home to El Paso and below are photos from the adventure in chronological order. Then after that, my daughter and I got Covid, so there’s that… So in a game of “Would You Rather..” I would chose Covid-19 over California’s most obnoxious Good Samaritan, seriously I would, well maybe not but he did make an impact. Thanks for humoring me with the writing therapy.