Though it seems ages ago, I left Utah October 17 late afternoon on a high note. I stopped one last time to take pictures of the Monitor and the Merrimac
and a shot of the roadside scenery,scenery that made the long drive almost bearable.
The truth, which I conveniently forget until I actually hit the road, is that it’s a brutal drive home. It’s 1,100 miles home, but since I hadn’t managed to get many bird shots and since I couldn’t drive that far in a single day anyhow, I decided to make a detour and stop at Malheur for a day, so it was only 762 miles.
When you start at noon that makes for a long, late drive. After getting delayed by construction and some nasty traffic jams in Salt Lake City, I decided I would drive until I got tired, stop at a motel and finish the drive to Malheur in the morning. That might have been a good plan if I’d checked out the route more thoroughly and planned ahead where I’d stop. I don’t plan ahead, though. I drive until I’m tired and then start looking for a place to stay.
By the time I was tired, I was in the middle of nowhere, trusting that my Garmin knew where we were going because I sure as hell didn’t. I’m still not sure why it took me the way it did, but there were very few motels I’d stay in at on the way. Coming across Idaho and southern Oregon on US 20 there was little more than a few gas stations. I discovered why so many trucks and even a few cars had pulled off the road and gone to sleep. It was 2:00 AM when I finally reached Burns, almost too tired to sleep.
Still, I managed to get up early and headed out to Malheur before eight. I didn’t see as many birds as I’d expected, and the refuge was drier than I’ve ever seen it. I did see a very nice buck, though,
and this Great Egret just as it took off.
Things took a sudden turn for the worse, though, as I drove down the center of Malheur. They laid a lot of really coarse gravel, i. e. crushed rock, this summer and apparently one of the sharper rocks pierced my tire, even though it was a relatively new tire. It couldn’t have happened in a worse place, a one lane gravel road in the middle of nowhere. I had to drive another quarter mile to find a place where I could even come close to pulling off the road.
Unfortunately since I have my Honda Element set up so I can carry all my gear and still sleep in it, I had to unload an awful lot of stuff to reach the spare tire that is stowed under the floor in the back. Then I discovered that it wasn’t a real spare, but rather an undersized tire that might get me back to a gas station or tire dealer. I wasn’t at all comfortable using that tire on that gravel road.
The news kept getting worse and worse. The closest, and only, tire dealer in Burns didn’t carry the same tire, which he and the blowout convinced me probably wasn’t the right tire to be driving off-road with anyhow since it was a 4-ply tire. When I talked about upgrading to two snow tires in the back he said that he couldn’t do that since it was an all-wheel drive. In fact, he said you need the same tire on all four wheels, something that my friends who have had all-wheel drive cars apparently knew from experience. It was certainly news to me and not good news since the tires should have had another 20 to 30 thousand miles of wear on them.
To make a long story short, I ended up buying four heavy-duty, all-weather tires for $800, way more than I wanted to spend at the end of a long three-week trip with lots of expensive gas. I’d planned on buying 4 snow tires before Christmas, but by then I’d have saved up some cash. Now I’ll probably have to take money out of savings.
It was a bummer of a way to end a wonder-full trip. I didn’t even have the desire to go back to Malheur and photograph the birds on the north end of the refuge after all that. I drove straight home.
Although my last two road trips to Colorado have incurred some remarkably bad luck, a hit-and-run fender bender while parked at Tyson’s house and a blown tire this time, I’m already planning my next trip and looking forward to getting back on the road in early Spring though I’m sure there’s more bad luck waiting out there. Life is too short to let bad luck deter you from doing what you love to do.