After visiting the Wright brothers’ old stomping grounds in Ohio, we headed for Iowa. Yes, I know there are two states between Ohio and Iowa. Indiana and Illinois both have plenty to offer, but we’re learning that we can’t do everything. At least not all at once. So with a series of long driving days and short stops, we found ourselves in Iowa – a new state for all five of us.
We were headed for Stratford, a little town north of Des Moines. Our hosts for the long weekend were a family that we had never met, but who were relatives of a friend in Sweden. They were so graciously going to receive us, show us their farm, and teach us about modern farming. We were really looking forward to it!
And we were almost there. We’d covered 600 miles in just a few days and there was less than an hour left when it happened. One of my biggest fears when the people I love most and all our belongings are riding around on 8 tires is that one of them would blow while driving. There’s a lot of mass in our combined vehicles and that’s a lot of momentum if something goes wrong. And on an unseasonably warm day in late September, that’s exactly what happened.
Signs of Trouble
We’d put a lot of miles behind us the day before, slept in a Walmart parking lot for the night, then got back on the road in the morning. Right away we noticed a strange vibration. The road surface wasn’t exactly ideal, but just to be sure we pulled off at a gas station and checked everything out. It all seemed fine. We were traveling with a full water tank so we decided the bad road was probably just sloshing the water and adding to the bumpiness. The road improved for a stretch and so did the vibration, but it wasn’t gone completely, so we stopped again and checked everything again. Still no signs of trouble.
We went on and things seemed better, until suddenly they were not. The vibration came back more strongly. We saw a sign for a rest area in one mile and decided we would pull over again and not drive on until we found the source of the problem. Before we reached the rest area, however, the rear passenger-side tire blew. Thankfully we had slowed down considerably before it happened. Staffan managed to get the car under control and get us off to the side of the road – mostly. He wasn’t able to get the trailer completely out of the right lane before the car stopped. Once it stopped, it wasn’t going anywhere without a new tire.
Help in Many Forms
A trucker stopped to check on us, radioed for help and within minutes a state police car was on the scene, flashing lights warning other drivers of the problem. A roadside sign about 5 miles before warned motorists on I-35 of a disabled vehicle in the right lane. Traffic started to back up from the merge point where the right lane was partially blocked. I have seen signs like this dozens of times and been stuck in countless traffic jams caused by someone else’s bad day. I have never before been the cause.
We had a full-sized spare and all our tools with us, since we were towing our home. Together (but let’s face it, 95% Staffan) we had the spare down and the lug nuts removed in a matter of minutes. There was some minor damage but purely cosmetic. It seemed we’d be on our way soon. Except the darn thing wouldn’t budge. We just couldn’t get the damaged tire off. After trying everything we could think of, it was time to call roadside assistance.
We had several options for roadside assistance, so naturally we chose the wrong one first. Obviously this was not intentional. I spent nearly 20 minutes on the phone trying to help the man on the other end understand where we were. I was looking at a GPS dot on the map on my phone and described every single detail Google maps had to offer about where we were, but he still couldn’t find us. He explained that we were covered for up to $75 for roadside services, then he put me on hold while he arranged for someone to come. The total charge would be over $300. The week before, we’d unexpectedly replaced all 4 tires on the trailer and visited the emergency room, so this charge was difficult. Besides, who carries that kind of cash on them anymore? We had to say no. Staffan dug in to the tire with renewed vigor, but it was truly stuck and after working so long in the sun on a 95º day I was worried we’d soon need another ER visit.
The helpful, kind state trooper was growing impatient and considerably less kind. The traffic situation was worsening and there was an accident a mile away that required his attention but he couldn’t leave while we were still blocking the road. Tension level = high.
In desperation I called State Farm, where we have our car (but not trailer) insured. Within minutes, she’d found our location, contacted a service technician, and the whole cost (which ended up being $64) was covered so we owed nothing. We still had to wait 45 minutes for the truck to arrive, but it was a relief knowing help was on the way. When he arrived, with the right tools and years of experience, he knew just how to get that tire off and before long we were back on the road. Traffic patterns returned to normal as we drove the remaining half-mile to the rest stop to recover.
Altogether, the whole ordeal lasted over 2 hours. We are thankful for electronic devices to entertain children in a hot car going nowhere, and for a sand bucket for children to poop in since we couldn’t access our bathroom without extending our slide room into the middle of I-35. (Life on the road isn’t always so glamorous!) But above all we are overwhelmed with gratitude that everyone is safe and it all turned out well. We look back on it as a difficult day, but it wasn’t a life-altering tragedy and it could have been.
They say bad things happen in threes. Since this was our third thing, we were ready for a break from all the drama. And so, our spare tire took us to Stratford for a quiet weekend on a farm.
Posted in Explore and tagged disabled vehicle, flat tire, road trip drama, RV life by Christine with 6 comments.