Soooo, I might as well get caught up before I head to bed.
Yesterday morning I headed out of my AirBnB house for the last time, and in the direction of Huntington Beach pier to photograph the surfers. The initial idea was to get them with the lovely sunrise light... however it was quite foggy, so there wasn't much light to speak of. Instead, I concentrated on their movements and action... and went for those shots.
Once finished, I headed out of town. I stopped in Corona at a FedEx to ship the large 400mm lens back to Canon, and then turned in the direction of Death Valley. Back to tackle the Racetrack before heading home. I got back into Stovepipe Wells about 1:30pm, stopped at the general store to pick up supplies as I'd planned to camp at Racetrack overnight. Once that was done, it was northbound with me... up 35+ miles to the Racetrack Road trailhead.
The road didn't seem to daunting - to me, it appeared to be any average gravel, wash-boarded road. I had been on plenty of them in the past, and didn't feel this was anything to concern myself over. I did have 28 miles of it ahead of me, so I kept a consistent pace (not too fast though, as I recalled the reminders of sharp rocks).
I was doing pretty well, but then somewhere about mile 10, it happened... I lost the right rear tire to puncture. So I got the Jeep to as level of an area as I could, and proceeded to put on my full sized spare tire. At that point I decided that with nothing left but the factory donut spare as my last intact tire after the one I'd just put on, it would probably be for the best to turn back and get back on to the pavement. So I got turned around and went a little slower back down the trail. When I got about 3 miles from the paved surfaces, I lost the second tire - also the right rear - and also to puncture. I considered my options. Try to limp back down the hill on the flat and risk destroying the rim, or say a good word or two to the Jeep gods, put the donut on and creep the last 3 miles to pavement. I went with the latter option. Before I'd finished putting the donut on, a couple in a pickup truck stopped behind me. They got out, checked to see if I was okay, and the gentleman put the 2nd flat in the back of the Jeep for me. They chose to follow me down the hill in case I had other problems. Fortunately, I had no more flats. But i did notice a rubbing sound as soon as I hit pavement... so I pulled off to the side to make sure everything was good. My friends in the pickup informed me that there were 2 other vehicles coming off the trail behind them, so if I needed more help... people were coming. I thanked them, and they went on their way.
It was nearing dark, and as I walked around the vehicle, I noticed the donut didn't look like it was on very straight - I thought maybe I didn't get it seated correctly and/or the lugs were loose. So I jacked it up again, removed the donut, and discovered that it wasn't the tire at all - what ended up being the equivalent of the rear control arm was bent, and it was keeping the tire from being vertical and perpendicular to the ground. Not good. I was in an area where there was no signal. The closest ranger station was over 5 miles down the road... so I didn't think walking that was a good idea. Fortunately, I was prepared to camp overnight... so worse case, I'd stay put and flag someone down in the morning.
But, then the next vehicle on the trail came up. I flagged it down and asked if he knew if the ranger station was open (because I considered asking him for a ride that far), but he said he thought it was already closed. A little at a loss for what to do next, the young man said he was going back into Stovepipe Wells, and offered to give me a ride back there. I thought that would probably be the best idea - Stovepipe had cell coverage, food, lodging, and pretty much anything I might need to get help. So I hopped in with Andrew from Portland, and his pup. I learned that Andrew is a Nike-sponsored track & field athlete who was on his way from Portland to Flagstaff and eventually Phoenix. Like me, he'd been on the road for a few weeks and was loving what the country had to offer... and he, to, suffered a flat tire that afternoon on the trail. Go figure.
We got into Stovepipe Wells a little bit later, went our separate ways, and I sat down to call Aaron with my wonderful predicament. I figured I'd be doing the calling, but as my phone battery was dying, Aaron took the reigns and made all the calls and did all the footwork for me (one of the many, many ways in which he's wonderful :) ). After staying up for a few hours to see if a tow truck could get to me that evening, we finally learned that it wouldn't be until the next day. So I got a room in the village, got cleaned up and went to bed.
This morning I got up and ready, and waited around quite awhile before the tow truck driver got there. He was a really nice guy - his name was CJ and he was out of Bishop, CA... and he was pretty jazzed to be in Death Valley as he'd never seen it before. So I hopped in with him, and we made the long journey to pick up the Jeep, and the longer journey to take it to the closest Jeep dealership, back in Pahrump, NV (that's how my roadside assistance operates). Once arriving at the dealership, I was told that their service department was pretty swamped and that it might be a couple of days before they could even look at it. Without an alternative, I left the Patriot with them, grabbed my important bags, and the dealer shuttled me to a hotel of my choosing.
I had a couple of options. I initially had a job coming up this Sunday that I would have initially been home in plenty of time to do. After the fiasco with the Jeep started, I contacted my person at the home office and told her it might be wise for her to see if she could find someone else to cover me just in case the Jeep couldn't be fixed and I couldn't drive back in time for the event. But, once arriving in Pahrump, and once I got a loose timeline on repair, I thought that I may fly home... do the work... and then come back and bring the Jeep home early next week instead. Iif she had found someone else to do the work for me, I'd just hang out here in this town until the repair was finished. After trading a few more e-mails with my contact, they still have the work available to me. I made the decision to fly home. I have a flight booked from Las Vegas to Chicago - I'll be home tomorrow night. I'll work my event this weekend, and then I'll fly back on Tuesday morning next week... and with any luck, I'll make the rest of the drive back in the Jeep.
For now, I rest and try to figure out how to pack my 3 bags into 2 so I can carry everything on the plane. My flight goes out tomorrow afternoon.