Anybody got a truck tire they’d like me to change?
I’m still smiling after single-handedly changing a tire on my husband’s Ford F150 pickup truck after flatting out on a remote stretch of two-lane road while chasing kayakers paddling up the Texas coast.
I was zipping down State Highway 87 past Sea Rim State Park when the highway dead ended at a barricade with a “road closed” sign. I sighed, ditched the idea of one final photo opportunity with the team before they finished, then executed a three-point turn to retrace my steps. I figured I’d just stop at the state park (I’d never been) and do a little bird watching to fill the time.
Then, 2 minutes later, the tire pressure sensor on the dashboard of the truck lit up. The rear right tire was losing pressure. I limped into a pullout on the side of the road.
Seriously? Today? In just three hours the paddlers would likely finish their trip, and I’d need at least 45 minutes to drive to where they’d land.
I phoned Erich Schlegel, a photographer who had come down to shoot pictures of the mini-expedition. He promised to rescue me as soon as he checked out from his hotel in Winnie, an hour and 15 minutes from where I stood.
I pulled out my cameras. I might as well take some bird photos while I waited. I wandered up into the grass, where a bee stung the crap out of my neck.
Then I reconsidered. What kind of adventure writer sends up a flare and waits for someone to bail her out? I’d at least try to fix that flat. How hard could it be?
I pulled out the vehicle’s owner manual. Called a few friends for moral support. Dug out the jack and tool kit.
Then I set up my tripod and clicked on the self-timer feature. If I was going to do this, I wanted photographic evidence.
I placed rocks in front of the truck’s front tires and assembled the lug wrench. It took a while, but I figured out how to feed the tool into a tiny hole in the back of the truck to access a knob I needed to turn to lower the spare from where it hung beneath the belly of the truck. I “broke” the lug nuts, stepping on the wrench to get enough leverage. I placed the jack beneath the axle, and texted a picture to my husband to make sure I had it correctly positioned.
Then I cranked up the jack.
So far, so good. Sweat was starting to seep out of my body in uncomfortable places, but I was making steady, if slow, progress. I chugged from a bottle of cold Gatorade.
Then, pausing to check the manual laid out on the asphalt before me, I loosened the lug nuts the rest of the way, and dragged the filthy spare closer to the wheel well. I wrestled the huge, ruined tire from the hubs, took a few minutes to inspect two pieces of sharp metal imbedded in its tread, then rolled the tire aside.
About this time, Schlegel showed up.
I flexed my arm muscle at him, jumped up and down a few times (I can’t contain my enthusiasm sometimes), and warned him to not even think about lending a hand. He smiled, stepped back, and watched from afar.
With a few tips from Schlegel, I sat on the ground in front of the tire and used my knees to lift the spare onto the wheel studs and make sure it was properly seated. Then I attached the lug nuts. I tightened them, lowered the truck to the ground, and tightened them one more time.
The final move? Hoisting the enormous flat tire into the bed of the pickup truck. (I sliced open my shin in the process.)
The task complete, I spun around and ran at Schlegel, leaped up for a mighty high five, and whooped with happiness. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best. I’ve rarely felt so empowered.
And then, the icing on the cake: Schlegel told me he had something for me. He reached into his truck, then handed over a paper sack with a warm cheeseburger inside. A victory meal!
Turns out that flat tire was the best thing that happened all day.