Today has been the strangest day in a long time. I am glad we are all home safe and sound now. Read on for the full story.
It all started with my plan today to visit three possible camp sites for our church camping trip next June. I figured it would be good to see which one was the nicest before booking one of them. Another lady from our church was going to come with me. All three camp sites were located in a national forest about 2 hours drive from home, and all were at least 10 miles from the nearest civilization. I entered the locations on a computer map program and trusted the directions the program fed me. Then I packed up a cup of water for each of the kids, a big cup for myself, and an apple and two granola bars for everyone. I also packed one sweater for each of us. As soon as my friend arrived, we left.
Our first stop was the gas station, where I realized that my wallet was not in my purse. Thinking I had accidentally left it at home, we turned around, but a search of the house did not turn up my wallet. We drove over to church next, hoping that maybe I had left it there last night, but again, nothing. I finally remembered that I had gone to Sam's Club on Sunday afternoon and had yet another tire replaced (the third in 2 months), so maybe I had left it there. When I called the store they told me that no walled was in the "lost and found" box. Since the kids were so excited about the trip I decided to go without my wallet because I had another debit card in my purse that I could use, the one from "my" account that I keep my "fun money" in. We did not stop for gas again because we were running very late by now and I had enough gas to get us to our destination.
About an hour and a half later, we exited the major freeway and switched onto a rural road that led into the national forest. As soon as we were out of the tiny village that was there, the road became a dirt path, and we had yet another 11 miles to go on it. I though: "It's a good thing I had the bad tire replaced yesterday, this will be safe now" and drove on merrily. The scenery was awesome, and we didn't really notice that almost an hour had passed during which we had not seen anyone else or found the camp site, and were now well into the forest on a curvy mountain road that was covered in big rocks and even some boulders. I was starting to wonder if I should just give up and turn around, but the prospect of having to go back on that bumpy road was not very appealing - we were going to take a different route out of the camp, one that I hoped was better maintained. Finally, 10 miles down the dirt road, we came to a fork in the road I had been waiting for. Our camp site was to the right, one mile further along, but that road was barricaded and closed off. To the left, the dirt path continued uphill into the forest and a sign pointing that way promised to take us to another village down the road. Or I could turn around and drive all the way back from where we came. I have no idea why, but I decided to turn left and continue down the path into the forest. The road became increasingly rougher, and then my friend said that the sign had said that the village was 20 miles away. Around this time we came to a clearing on the top of a mountain, from where I could see about 15 miles in each direction. There were rolling hills covered in pine trees in all four directions, our dirt path winding through them, and nothing else. Not a sign of civilization ANYWHERE. We had lost cell phone reception a long time ago, and I finally came to my senses and realized we needed to turn around. So back down the dirt road we went. I looked at my trip counter, and we had gone 5 miles beyond the fork in the road. From there to the village where we had left the asphalt was another 10 miles. I was counting down each mile as we were driving back. When we were within two miles of the village, my low tire light came on, but I kept driving because there was nothing else I could do about it. Right on the very edge of town, yards before the asphalt started, my back tire blew out, but we were now in a safe location. After a few minutes a lady drove by, and I asked her if she knew a mechanic who could help us. She called her brother-in-law who came by a few minutes later and changed the tire for us. He then escorted us to the only gas station in this tiny village, and showed us how to get back to the freeway we had left hours earlier.
I wanted to take a picture of my blown-out tire but couldn't find my camera at the time. I found this picture online and it looks almost exactly as my tire did:
Before heading down to Phoenix, we stopped at the only restaurant in town, McDonald's, where my kids had the first happy meal of their life. It was here that I noticed that the spare tire showed some serious cracks. Even though the van is only a little over one year old, this wear and tear is normal because of our extreme heat in the summer. I was now worried that we were going to break down with another flat on the way back home, and I didn't even have my wallet on me. No driver's license, no debit card, no credit cards, no AAA card, nothing. Just my "fun" debit card with next to no money in that account, especially after I had just used it to fill the gas tank.
We started on the long road home, driving down the freeway with the hazard lights on because I didn't dare to go faster than 45 or 50 mph. The baby had really had it at this point, and was crying inconsolably. Finally she had just barely fallen asleep from all of us singing to her when John, who sat next to her, started screaming at the top of his lungs because he had to throw up and was scared. He continued to scream and throw up his entire meal while I tried to pull over on the side of the freeway. By the time I got back there to help him he was crying and saying how it was all because I had fed him McDonald's for lunch. The mess was unimaginable. I have cleaned up many throw-up messes since having kids, but this was the worst bar none. On a side note: it was not really McDonald's that made him sick. I had the same thing all last week. Then the baby was throwing up all day Saturday and yesterday. Then John came down with it today.
I managed to get back on the freeway from the non-existent shoulder without getting killed, and we eventually made it home while listening to Miriam again screaming her head off. It wasn't until we were home safe that I really started allowing myself to think about what COULD have happened. If the tire had gone out any sooner, of if I had turned around any later (or worse, not at all), we would have been stuck in the middle of a deserted national forest at 6000 feet elevation on a cold, dark night with no gas, a blown-out tire, no cell phone reception, no water, no food, no warm clothes, not a single diaper (I forgot them all at home), and four little children - two of which had the flu with diarrhea and throwing up. And nobody would have known that we were missing or where we were, since my husband was out of town on business tonight. Even if I could have changed the tire myself, the spare would never have made it back down that road. Even worse, what if I had gone on this whole trip by myself without my friend, as I almost did? If we really had got stuck in the mountains one of us could have hiked the 15 miles back to town and got help, but there is no way I could have done that by myself with 4 little children.
While we were sitting on the sofa mulling the day's events over my friend suggested that I call Sam's Club again about my wallet and ask the tire center instead of the people at the customer service desk. I did, and the mechanic said he hadn't found anything, but went to check the safe in the manager's office. He called back and told me that my wallet was in fact there. I was SOOOOO happy! I had lost my last wallet when my purse was stolen in May, and it was the biggest nightmare. So I packed all the kids up again and headed down to Sam's. The tire center guys all know me very well by now, and even though they had already closed for the night they had pity on me and replaced my tire, and even gave it to me for half off because I have been there so many times in the last couple of months. It only took them about 20 minutes while we all had dinner there. They checked the spare and said that it was fine, and had about another year left in it in spite of those cracks. My wallet was not missing a thing, not even the cash that was in it.
So, all's well that end's well. This has been the worst day in a long, long time, but it could have been so much worse. I am so grateful for God's protection and providence today, and how even on my worst days I am still so incredibly blessed compared to what other people have to go through. If only I can sleep all night without one of the little ones throwing up on me.