On our final morning at Great Basin National Park, we were hoping to have everything packed up and to be on the move by 10am. We had a long drive ahead of us to Moab, Utah, for some time at Arches National Park, and wanted to enjoy the scenery along the way.
We woke up to the breathtaking mountain scenery at the Wheeler Peak Campground, had breakfast, and starting packing our things when I noticed something I had been dreading – my right front tire was low.
If you don’t know Great Basin, it’s in the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, we were camping 12 miles up a mountain, and there was no cell signal. The nearest settlement is sleepy Baker (population 68), 17 miles from our campsite.
What to do?
Martin inspected the tire and thought it had enough air in it to last a while, so I decided to try to get to Baker. We saw a service station the day before and I was hoping I would be able to get a patch or a new tire if necessary. There HAD to be SOMETHING. The nearest city was over 60 miles away!
We completely unloaded the car and I told Martin and Gönül to just pack up and wait. I’d be back as soon as possible and we’d be on the road in no time. Or would we?
Rolling Down to Baker
I slowly made my way down the mountain and got to the main road. When I arrived in Baker, I drove to the service station I spotted the day before but it was closed. I drove back through town and popped into the Great Basin Visitor Center to ask the ranger if there was anywhere I could have the tire repaired. She said the only place would be at the Border Inn, a service station, motel, and casino at the Utah state line. That was over seven miles away.
I took a quick look at the tire and it seemed good enough to drive seven miles on, so I hopped back in the car, put on my flashers, and started crawling down the road.
About halfway there, I heard a pop and knew the worst had happened – the tire burst wide open. I got out of the car in the sweltering desert heat, pulled the spare and jack out of the trunk, and went to work. 15 minutes later, I was back on the road and making my way to the state line.
When I arrived, I went inside and asked the manager if I could get a new tire.
“Well, we don’t do tires here. You have two choices. You can head east into Utah and go 89 miles to Delta, or you can head west into Nevada about 65 miles to Ely. It’s a Saturday so you might be able to find someone working in both places.”
Wonderful. On a donut it would take me well over an hour to get to either town. If I had everyone and everything with me and didn’t have to go back to Great Basin, I’d go east because we were headed to Arches.
At that point, I was worried about Martin and Gönül. I wanted to contact them to discuss our options. I could drive back up the mountain, pick them up, and head east to Delta, or I could go on my own to Ely while they worried about me being lost or kidnapped in the desert. Hoping the signal would miraculously work, I tried to call them. Nothing.
I had to make an executive decision: it was off to Ely. I put on some driving music, turned up the volume, and tried to enjoy the scenery. It was a long and lonely drive, and the four or so cars and trucks I encountered all flew past me at around 80 or 90mph.
Thank You, Gale Oil & Tire!
When I finally rolled into Ely at around 11:30am, it seemed as if nothing was open. I made a right turn and luckily found Gale Oil & Tire, which was able to take care of the tire in just 45 minutes.
The person who helped me was a friendly man who saw my Illinois plates, listened to my story about the tire popping in Baker, and immediately cut me a deal.
“Tell you what. My mom lives in Chicago and I was there last week. I love it there. I’ll give you a 10% discount on the tire and I won’t charge you for the mounting and balancing, and I’ll recycle the old one for free, too.”
It was an unexpected moment of kindness, but it made a frustrating morning much better. I had nowhere else to go and he easily could’ve charged me a lot more. I ended up paying just US$130 for the new tire (six weeks later in Albuquerque, I paid US$185 for the exact same brand after a different tire popped).
Back to Great Basin
I thanked the crew, jumped back in the car, and raced back to Great Basin. When I finally arrived it was after 2pm. Martin and Gönül had been patiently waiting for me for over five hours, and, as expected, they had plenty of ideas about what they thought had happened to me.
We quickly packed up the car and hit the road. Because we were way behind schedule, and my travel partners had already eaten lunch, I decided to grab some snacks down at the Border Inn.
Moral of the Story
Moral of the story: make sure your car and all four tires are in good working condition before heading to Great Basin.