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The Big Rock

Big rock

February 13, 2011—Today didn't turn out the way I expected. I started off for Elephant Butte Lake around 1:30 p.m., but before I'd gone more than a few hundred feet from my campsite, the rear of the coach started going "blunk blunk blunk." I pulled over in the parking lot by the visitor center and crawled under the coach to see what was the matter.

It turned out that a rock the size of my fist had lodged between my dual right rear tires. And it was really stuck in there! I tried banging on it and prying it with a claw hammer, but it wouldn't budge. It was wedged so tightly that the tires were visibly deformed. I had visions of buying a pair of new Michelins for $300 to $400 apiece. Ugh!

Did I mention that we're in the middle of a record-breaking cold spell? It was windy this afternoon, with a high temperature of 27° F. And after a week of lows in the teens, the ground was a lot colder. Which was where I was lying, bundled up as best I could, while I struggled to dislodge the rock.

I tried letting most of the air out of the outside tire, but that just seemed to make it get fatter and wedge the rock more firmly. The park was closed, but a couple of rangers were around, and I borrowed a length of pipe from their maintenance shop. Lying on my side, I tried to push the rock out with the pipe, slamming one end with a three-pound sledgehammer I carry. No dice. It's hard to swing a hammer when you're lying down! Especially when you're blocked by the rig's entry steps on one side and its exhaust pipe on the other, so you can't really get a good angle on it.

Big rock in tires

I spent more than two hours trying to dislodge the damn thing, taking short breaks to warm up. I called a couple of friends and asked for suggestions. I borrowed a three-foot prybar from the rangers, but couldn't get it into a position where I could pry the rock with it. The sun was sinking, it was rapidly getting colder, and I was getting desperate.

The trick that worked

Finally I rolled the rig backward just enough to put the rock close to the ground, where I could aim downward at it instead of trying to hit it horizontally. Then I placed the chisel end of the prybar against the rock, and swinging the sledgehammer as hard as my stiff muscles would let me, slammed the other end again and again until the rock fractured. A few more blows and I was able to knock out the fragments. Whew!

Of course, now I was sitting in the parking lot with a flat tire (the one I'd deflated), so I couldn't go anywhere. I had to fire up the generator, haul out my 2 hp Craftsman air compressor, and reinflate that tire. Then I carried the prybar and pipe back over to the maintenance shed and thanked the rangers. And finally I started up the engine and pulled back into the campground, stopping at the first empty campsite I came to. I plugged in and turned on all my heaters.

I was half numb (especially my toes), stiff, aching, and slightly nauseated from overwork. It took me the rest of the evening to get mostly warmed up and for the queasiness to wear off. I went to bed without supper. The overnight low was 12°, but I had my 12 V electric mattress warmer to keep me cozy.

The next day was... well, if not warm, at least less cold. I drove up to Elephant Butte Lake State Park (stopping several times to check my tires) and found a nice campsite with a great view of the lake. My friend Jan Forseth, parked a few sites over, treated me to a dinner that featured homemade potato soup that was incredibly rich and creamy, topped with chives, cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon—the best I've ever tasted. Life was good.

Afterthoughts

Reader Andrew points out that there's an easier way to deal with this situation: use the power of your rig's engine, instead of your own muscle power. "Wrap a tow strap around the rock and then around a solid fixed object behind the truck, and drive forward. The rock pops right out." He adds that if there's no fixed object to tie off to, you can tie the strap off to the truck frame near the rear bumper." I do carry a tow strap, so I could have used that. Next time, I'll know.

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