Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jan 23 - Screwed

I'm writing this the evening of January 23 (Wednesday) from a very quiet and secluded campspot in Big Bend National Park. In fact, this may be the most secluded place we've ever been, even including our past experiences in the desert near Quartzsite. Other than a brief update from my Android tablet on Monday, we've been pretty much on the fringe of cell service... or with no service at all. Here's a more complete recap of the past few days.

We left the SKP park near Hondo on Monday morning, heading west on US-90. Since we got a late start and because we're really becoming slower travelers, we decided to throw out the anchor at a recommended NPS campground on Lake Amistad, near Del Rio. Mileage for the day was just over a hundred miles. It was perfect for an overnight... drycamping not far from the highway but quiet and cheap at just $4.

The highlight of the evening was a visit from the Old Fat Man, Barney, from Old Fat Man Adventures. Yes sir, there he was in the flesh (and a lot less of said flesh than the title of his blog would suggest). We found him full of life, with a positive attitude, and very knowledgeable about wandering and "looking for too much fun" in this part of the country. Not sure where the time went but it was nearly dark when we parted company. Thanks Barney for brightening our day and for all the information about Big Bend National Park. As you'll read in a few minutes, we put it to good use.

With an earlier start on Tuesday morning we continued west on US-90. This road is a favorite of ours as it's sooo much more relaxing than I-20 which parallels it just to the north. Seriously, I don't think we were passed by more than 10 cars all day. It's not uncommon to see no other traffic in either direction for a half hour. And the State of Texas built the road with wide shoulders and plenty of passing lanes every few miles.

At Marathon Texas we turn south on US-385... destination Big Bend National Park. 5 years ago, January of 2008 I think, we stayed at the Marathon Motel and RV Park and drove down with the Toad for a few days to explore the Park (unsure of what the camping would be for a big old bus-house) and thoroughly enjoyed what we found. Haven't been back since. But it was time for a renewal visit.

Persimmon Gap is the north entrance to the Park along US-385. After trying to lightly persuade, cajole, plead my case, whine... for them to bend the rules just a little and issue the all coveted Senior Pass (one time price $10, good for life, free admission, half price camping... wow!) just a few days prior to my 62nd birthday... well, I can report that the National Park Service has standards and they don't bend rules, at least for people like me. It was a good natured exchange, but that Ranger missed a good opportunity to make the day of an almost-senior-citizen.

But he was very helpful and, along with Barney's information, we snagged a back-country camping permit for Wednesday through Saturday night. The back-country spot we wanted wasn't open Tuesday night so we had to find a place to camp for one night... last night (if you're having trouble following this chaotic time line). For that we found an acceptable site (one that's big enough and level enough for the big old bus-house) at the Rio Grande Village Campground ($14 which would have been $7 if I had a Senior Pass). For anyone planning to come this way for the first time be aware that RGVCG is all drycamping and a lot of the sites are too small for us. There is a private concessionaire that operates an "RV Park" at Rio Grande Village, but it's nothing more than an asphalt parking lot with full hookups and very tight for over 30 bucks per night.

This morning we moved from Rio Grande Village CG to our semi-secret back-country spot, which I'll write more about in a future post.


Oh... the title to this post... what's up with that? Well, on the way down from Marathon on US-385 our tire pressure monitoring system alarmed, indicating a rapid drop in pressure in our left rear Toad tire. For those that don't know, this is a system that continuously reads the pressure of any tire it's attached to and wirelessly radios that information back to the driver.

I slowed while Dar verified it was an actual alarm (this is NOT a test...). The pressure had dropped from it's normal 35psi to 27psi when the first alarm was triggered. Shortly after, it alarmed again when the pressure had fallen to 24psi. We could watch as it declined. In the rear view camera I didn't see anything crazy going on yet so I continued on, slowly, for a couple miles looking for a good place to pull over. And, as luck would have it, a just large enough roadside park appeared. We pulled over and stopped. When I got back to the tire in question the sound of leaking air was obvious. There was no question, we had a puncture.

It took perhaps a half hour to unload the bikes from the bike rack, unload the trunk, dig and find the jack, the little donut spare tire, and necessary wrenches, etc. (all of which are conveniently located at the bottom of the trunk), jack the car, remove the leaker, mount the spare, and then reverse the process and load everything back aboard... not necessarily where it was or where it should be. On top of it all the little spare was low on pressure and our tiny 12v. Walmart bike tire pump was called on to boost it closer to the recommended 60psi. That took a good chunk of the half hour.

After moving to our new back-country spot earlier today, we drove the car over to the Terlingua/Study Butte area (30 miles away) looking for a tire repair joint. We found a couple helpful and friendly guys that fixed the flat in (ready for this?...) nothing flat. And they did so for a reasonable $15 bucks which earned them a little additional beer money for their generosity.

The $400 bucks we shelled out for the tire pressure monitoring system paid for itself in this one incident as far as I'm concerned. Had we not known about the low tire while driving, it would have gone flat, and who knows when we would have noticed it. It's common for folks to keep right on going, rubber tire disintegrating, destroying body panels as it does, eventually getting to the bare metal wheel running on pavement, sparks, smoke, fire... who knows. I've heard them all.

We, on the other hand, were delayed for 30 minutes, still have a serviceable tire and wheel, and have no damage at all. If I never had a flat tire incident like this, the peace of mind alone that comes from keeping an eye on our tire pressures is invaluable. I consider this incident a bonus.

The culprit? A small Phillips head screw... embedded right into the tread, just as if someone with a screwdriver put it there.