There’s nothing quite like a camping adventure

Austin American-Statesman, April 10, 2016

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I wondered aloud in a curious, yet furious manner why it was that two elderly people were in the middle of nowhere on the deserted road from hell with no cell service. At that moment, we heard the explosion.

“That’s it, no more. I’ve had it with air travel, hotels and restaurants. Let’s go back to Big Bend!” I announced to Ian the spouse, whose eyes widened. I hadn’t gone to the national park since the kids were little, despite Ian’s urging me to go on his dozens of trips throughout the years. Delighted, he decided we would camp in the desert, just the two of us. What could go wrong?

After arriving at the park, Ian turned the rented half-ton pickup onto a one-lane road so primitive that a mule would refuse to traverse it.

Toni: “What the [expletive] is THIS?”

Ian: “It’s the Old Ore Road. It’s unchanged from the early 1900s when they used it to transport ore from Mexican mines by mule or pack train to the railroad station in Marathon.”

Toni: “Then what the [expletive] are WE doing on this road?”

Ian, smiling: “Don’t worry, dear, we’ll be at our beautiful campsite in no time.” That was 2 p.m.

The drop-offs carved into the narrow road were so steep that we stopped several times to gauge if the truck would tip over. After about an hour traveling at 4 mph with white knuckles without seeing another living thing save for the occasional rabbit, I wondered aloud in a curious, yet furious manner why it was that two elderly people were in the middle of nowhere on the deserted road from hell with no cell service. At that moment, we heard the explosion.

Ian Inglis changes a tire on the Old Ore Road.

Ian Inglis changes a tire on the Old Ore Road.

The blowout was so expansive that you could slip a silver dollar through the tire opening. To change it, poor Ian crawled around in the desert dirt, rocks and caliche bits, mainly on his back, in the heat. Despite my verbal hysteria that the jack would fail crushing him with a half ton of truck, he changed it without incident like a pro.

Coated in dust, he said, “We can’t travel in Big Bend without a spare. We have to go to Alpine to buy another tire.” We made it back off the Old Ore Road without another blowout at 5:30 p.m., closing time for Alpine’s Oasis Tire Co. The Marathon Motel was full due to some cowboy poetry thing, but they kindly let us sleep there in our tent. The next morning, we drove to Alpine, fearing they wouldn’t have the right tire.

Looking like Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter” — only less friendly — the store owner looked us up and down, then said, “We’ll have a look.” We were the only people in the waiting room in hiking clothes. The rest were big, burly, friendly men with weathered faces, worn jeans, big hats, big bellies, big boots and big belt buckles.

We knew we were in for public humiliation when after a few minutes, the owner reappeared ordering, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” Looking as if he were explaining a complex mathematical formula to an oyster, he pointed to the tire and said, “You’ve got passenger tires on this truck,” by which he meant: “YOU IDIOTS!”

“I see how that could be a problem,” Ian said, by which he meant: “HOW THE HELL SHOULD I KNOW THAT [CAR RENTAL BUSINESS BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER H] WOULD RENT A TRUCK WITHOUT TRUCK TIRES?!”

We ended up getting a fabulous campsite in the central desert part of the park surrounded by the South Rim, Lower Chisos and Mariscal Mountain. We could see a quaint Mexican village and mountain located on the other side of the Rio Grande.

One thing about camping: you’re guaranteed an adventure.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.