The Syncro skidded to a stop on the golf ball sized rocks as I stomped on the clutch and break pedal. "Did you hear that?" I asked my cousin, Nikko.
“No, what was it?”
I turned down Secret Garden, by the Boss, to a whisper. “I thought I heard a hiss, it could have been a varmint though.”
“Nope, didn’t hear anything,” Niko said poking his head out the rolled-down window and looking around.
Momentarily relieved, I let off the break and the Syncro lurched forward down the one lane road, the kind of road that donkeys died making a hundred years ago and where yahoos get their jollies in jeeps today.
This time, the hiss left little to my wishful imagination. “There! Shit. Could you take a look?”
Without saying anything, Nikko opened the door and took off his seat belt.
Over the rumble of the liberally muffled engine, the hiss continued.
“There is a hole the size of my fucking thumb in the front tire,” Nikko said looking down in disbelief at the front passenger tire.
Confirming my fears, I pulled the emergency break, popped my seat belt, and scurried around the front of the van towards the hiss sound. Just as Nikko had described, a hole the size of my thumb exposed the cavernous interior of the BF Goodrich Mud Terrains.
In shock, we stood side by side and stared down at the hole. The escaping air kicked up a cloud of dust.
“So that’s what the inside of the tire smells like.”
“Yup. Well, this is what a full sized spare is for. Plus, its not an adventure until something goes wrong.”
“I guess so. How familiar are you with that jack?” Nikko asked motioning to the red Hi-lift Jack attached to the tire swing on the back of the van.
Neither of us moved.
“Well to tell you truth, I used it once to try to get the van out of lake full of mud in Nevada. I ended up having to get towed. Haven’t changed a tire with it but I’m no stranger to a changing, just not on a hill like this.”
“Gotcha.” Nikko kicked the tire. “This thing's losing air fast.”
Breaking inertia, I headed towards the drivers seat. “Yah, I’m going to pull it up towards that straight away. This wont be too bad, maybe take 20 minutes,” I asserted.
Creeping down the hill towards a relatively flat section, I put it into second gear, turned off the ignition and cranked the emergency break.
“I’m going to grab the jack. Could you pull off the spare? Here’s the tire iron,” I said reaching under the bench seat and grabbing the tire iron and Vanagon jack adapter.
Five minutes later, we had the necessary ingredients laid out a few feet from the van: Full sized spare, tire iron, jack adapter and Hi-lift. “Okay, let's dance.”
With a few cranks of the jack, the suspension started to ease.
“Just a little bit more,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, fully articulating the arm of the jack.
As soon as the front tire left the ground, the Syncro lurched forward an inch, spitting gravel as if in disapproval of the entire scenario.
“Fuck. FUck. Fuuuuhhhhhhkk.” I jumped back.
The van skidded another inch, forcing the Hi-Lift jack into an even more precarious angle.
“Shiit, that is not good. This is not good.”
The creeks and groans continued.
“We gotta get rocks under the tires! Now! Now!” I screamed running around to the driver's side and shoving any rocks I could crab within arm's length under the tires. The wedges worked and after a few seconds, the creaks stopped.
“What the fuck do we now?”
“If that jack knocks out and hits one of us, well, this goes from being a shitty situation to a desperate one. Totally screwed. We are a good five-hour hike back to Racetracks, and that’s assuming that someone is there for the night.”
“Yah that would not be good. Who knows how long that thing will hold. I mean, that looks pretty fuckin’ precarious,” I said pointing to the jack, some 20 degrees off a comfortable axis.
“I’m not putting my head anywhere near that shit.”
“Me neither. Let’s be calm. Man, I wish we had another jack. We could jack up the back and we would be fine. Should we wait for another jeep to come around?”
“Its the middle of December, in Death Valley. We have seen two jeeps today. Who knows how long it would be?”
“If the jack gives out the whole weight of the car will drop onto the that suspension arm. Bye bye disk break. Bye bye CV joint. We are 40 miles from the nearest paved road and there is no way we are towing this shit out of here.”
“Damn, we are in a tight spot.”
“No shit, George Clooney.”
“What if we put the cooler and ammo box under frame and try to knock the jack out with a rock? If it knocks out, maybe they will catch it, and if doesn’t we’ll at least know it will hold some stress.”
“We don’t have too many other options. But I’m not throwing the rock though. Oh no, this is your rodeo. Wait a second, take that food out of there.” Ni;ko said, rifling through the cooler and removing some necessities.
Avoiding touching any parts of the van, I pulled the Coleman cooler and pelican box out of the van with a shovel handle and wedged them under the frame.
“Alright. I guess this is all we can do.”
Picking up a rock the size of a seat cushion from the side of the road, I took a deep breath, bid farewell to my van and threw it at the jack.
Instead of triggering the anticipated catastrophe, the rock bounced off with a a metallic ding, wedging itself at an opposing angle against the jack.
Catching my breath I took a step back. “What the do we do now? Should I throw another?”
“Ughhh. If it can hold that, then it will probably hold a few more cranks from the jack.”
“Shit,” I said, adrenaline still pumping strong. “Alright, lets jack it up. Grab the spare and get ready to throw it on.”
Walking forward, I cautiously pumped the handle of the jack, forcing the van up one click. The precarious angle held.
Like a pit crew, Niko and I positioned the wheel on the lugs and spun the nuts with purpose. Scrambling for the tire iron, I tightened the nuts, shacking with energy.
Breathing deeply, we stood back. High fives were in order.
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