When we visit my wife’s parents in Montana, there’s nothing we like to do more than to load up her dad’s four-wheelers and head to the nearby mountains to do a little off-roading and motorized mountain climbing.
Growing up on a southwest North Dakota farm, I know a little something about isolation. But honestly, it doesn’t compare to being on a remote mountain, 25 miles from the nearest city and six miles from the nearest ranch — with the only way in or out being a rocky, five-foot wide trail — that gives one a true sense of seclusion.
This time, however, that seclusion nearly got the best of us. No, we didn’t have some sort of injury or major mishap. Just comical misfortune that delayed a wonderful day.
As we left Harlowton, Mont., en route to the Little Belt Mountains, we turned off of a highway and onto a country road that serves as an access route for local ranchers as well as grazing areas for their herds. It’s a lot like being in rural, western North Dakota. You never know when you’re going to meet the next vehicle, and there’s a good chance you’ll pop over a hill and a cow will be chewing its cud in the middle of the road right in front of you.
Now, there was nothing wrong with these dirt roads. In fact, they were very well maintained — except for one rock sharp enough to pop an already balding right rear 12-inch tire on my father-in-law’s trailer that I was hauling behind my pickup. I’ve had flat tires before and have been in vehicles when bad flats happen. This was a typical bad flat tire. The trouble was, we didn’t realize it had happened.
We heard a pop, but couldn’t see the tires as they were underneath the flatbed. After the trailer didn’t fishtail — likely because of the two four-wheelers weighing it down — we chalked the pop up to a thrown rock. When we fi nally stopped at a corner to see if the tire was indeed flat, we found it decimated. It was gone. A couple wires and the slightest bit of rubber was all that remained. The wheel itself was shaved down about a half-inch.
Getting the destroyed wheel off the trailer wasn’t any trouble. The problem was we had left town in my new pickup that didn’t have a toolbox yet and I had only had a bare minimum set of tools in there. Even the four-wheeler toolboxes were fairly bare, having been recently cleaned out. We had a grand total of zero wrenches. It turned out, we needed — at the very least — a crescent wrench to get the spare tire off the trailer.
Unhooking the trailer from the pickup and quickly driving to the nearest ranch about a mile away to see if someone would lend a crescent wrench to a guy from North Dakota they’d never seen before was the best and only idea we had. While mulling over what the next part of the plan had to be, a nice woman who told us she was on her way to swath some hay happened upon us and stopped. Though we never caught her name, her pickup just happened to have one helluva crescent wrench she was kind enough to borrow us.
After a 45-minute delay, we had the tire changed and finally arrived at the mountain to enjoy the day as we had planned. We took the four-wheelers about seven miles into unfamiliar terrain — where even Sarah’s dad had never been — and were able to get some spectacular views. My fatherin-law even let me wear his new GoPro video camera atop my helmet so we could go back and show people video of the ride later. (It also made me want to spend $300 on a GoPro because, in case you didn’t know this, they’re awesome.)
On top of it all, I took a beautiful photo of Sarah and her mom overlooking the edge of a cliff. It was one of those days I know we’ll look back on in the future. We’ll realize it was full of lessons, from always remembering to bring all the tools you might possibly need, to finding out that great days aren’t enjoyed without their hiccups and often require a little patience for them to turn out just right.