We pulled into the gas station to find Ted and Katherine standing beside their little Bigfoot trailer, looking stunned. Just moments earlier, Ted had glanced in the side mirror to see black smoke billowing out of their left trailer wheel.
This was just the beginning of one of the longest nights of our lives. Here is how it all unraveled:
Sunday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.
We are in the very small town of Borrego Springs. Ted and Katherine’s trailer is undrivable, the wheel bearings and other innards have disintegrated into black, greasy metal shavings. Desperate, we try the solution of a well-meaning but somewhat unbalanced local, who stops on his bicycle to offer advice. His idea involves a Styrofoam cup, rags, and grease—essentially creating a hub for the wheel that would enable us to travel the mile to the campground. It sounds like a somewhat reasonable idea. It doesn’t work.
6:00 p.m. We encourage Ted and Katherine to stay with us in our trailer, but they don’t want to leave their trailer and decide to spend the night in the parking lot of the gas station.
Eric and I go on to the campground, one mile away. It’s growing dark. Our campsite is awkwardly angled and despite several attempts, we can’t maneuver into our site.
6:30 p.m.Eric decides to try from the opposite direction and heads for the trailhead parking lot one-quarter mile away, where he can turn around. Waiting in our site for him to return, I hear an ominous grating noise, followed by the sound of an engine racing. It sounds suspiciously like our truck.
I take off running to the day-use area, where our trailer sprawls sideways across the road, awkwardly listing to one side. In the process of navigating a hairpin turn, the underbelly snagged an enormous partially buried boulder, unearthed it, and dragged it 10 feet into the roadway. Shocked, we look at each other, look at our poor shipwrecked trailer, look at each other again, and say, “Oh my god…we are so screwed.”
It is now officially dark. We call emergency services and AAA. Eric tells AAA that we are high-centered on a boulder and to send a wrecker. He is emphatic—there is no way a tow truck can extricate us from the boulder. Katherine texts me to say that they’re having dinner in town and that all is well. I text her to say that we are high-centered on a boulder—and that I think we’ve outdone them.
7:00 p.m.A park ranger shows up and says, “Wow, you guys are really stuck.” She thanks us for not causing expensive damage to the park (apparently a hapless motorhome driver the week before had sheared off part of the entrance booth) and leaves us with a couple of additional emergency flashers. It starts to rain.
7:30 p.m.Ted and Katherine arrive to provide support. While the guys stand outside in the misting rain trying to figure out a way to free our trailer from the boulder (Shovels? Pry bar? Dynamite?), Katherine and I climb into the listing trailer and open a bottle of wine. The guys assess the damage: twisted front stabilizing jack, bent and unusable front steps, dented black tank, holding tank covers ripped off, cross beams bent, and who knows what else. It’s bad. I say to Katherine, “At this point, I’m just hoping we can drag our trailer into our site, you guys can get your trailer repaired, and we can all enjoy our week in Anza Borrego.”
8:30 p.m.The tow truck finally shows up. The operator has driven in the rain from the town of Julian, 35 miles of slow going on a steep, winding mountain road. We are dismayed to see that he has arrived in a regular tow truck. His first words, “I’m going to have to go back for the wrecker. I’ll see you in two hours.”
10:30 p.m.He returns exactly as promised. It takes an hour of delicate maneuvering to free our trailer. He raises the front end of our trailer several feet into the air, and inch-by-inch, finesses it off of the boulder. In the process, the cable slices through our propane line. We turn off the propane. The boulder then has to be winched off the roadway. It takes a long time.
12:00 a.m.We hitch up our trailer and pull it a few feet into the trailhead parking lot, where we fall into bed. We cannot use our propane, which means we have no heat, no hot water, no refrigeration, and no means of cooking. We’ll deal with it in the morning. Right now, we’re just incredibly grateful to be off of that boulder.
A Happy Ending To A Long Night
Dear readers, there is a happy ending to this tale of woe. The next morning, we limped into our site. Eric found the parts he needed at the local hardware store to repair our propane tanks. The rest of the repairs could wait until San Diego and an Arctic Fox dealer. (It has turned out to be much more of an ordeal to get our trailer repaired than we ever imagined, but we’ll save that tale for another post.) Ted and Katherine’s little Bigfoot ended up with serious damage, but they found a terrific mechanic in Borrego Springs who fixed them up with a new axle and all that they needed to get their trailer back on the road (although it took two days, a lot of effort on their part, and two nights sleeping in the bed of their truck in their campsite).
If there truly is such a thing as a bad luck day for travel, I think the four of us experienced it. Mostly, we were grateful that although both of our trailers suffered significant damage, no one was hurt. And despite our challenges, we were able to spend a glorious week in Anza Borrego.
Wildflowers, bighorn sheep, and meeting up with friends!