Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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I awoke bright and early, feeling pretty cold even though temperatures hadn't been that low throughout the night... as a matter of fact, this was probably the warmest night of the entire trip; but I guess a tent floor and inflatable mat don't provide as much insulation from the ground as the Jeep does.

The gas station at Furnace Creek I figured that I might as well pack up and drive to the Chevron station down the road, even though it probably wouldn't be open yet. When I turned on the car, the dreaded "check tire pressure" light came back on. I only had a mile to go, so I didn't let that inconvenience me too much - and at least to a visual inspection, the tire was still holding some air... obviously, it had managed to keep its air while fitted under the trunk as a spare, but not if mounted on the car and supporting its weight.

When the gas station opened, I asked when the garage part of it would open. It would still take an hour, maybe, so I walked over to Furnace Creek to have breakfast. After an extensive breakfast, I returned back and explained the situation to the mechanic...

The first idea was to remove the flat tire and check if it was possible to plug the hole. Unfortunately, it would turn out that the hole that had been ripped in the tread was too big for that. Next up, he removed the tire with the screwdriver in it and tried to remove that one so that I'd at least have one working tire... but even that proved to be a considerable feat because it was lodged in the tread pretty bad. Unfortunately, they didn't have a replacement tire on stock, and seeing how it was a holiday, they'd only be able to get a new one shipped the next day.

In the end, I decided that I didn't feel safe driving the remaining distance to Los Angeles with just one bad tire and no spare. Attempting to cover the remaining distance with a tire that now had two holes in the tread wouldn't be a good idea; and worst case, it might fail on me at the worst possible moment and cause me to miss my flight home, or worse. So the only option that remained was to call Alamo and let them handle the problem. I called the Alamo helpdesk and talked to a guy who joked around on the phone, and promised he'd send a replacement car from Las Vegas... only it'd take about four hours. While I wasn't all that happy of waiting half a day for a replacement car when I only had two days left on the trip, it was still better than any other alternative.

The trunk of my rental car after I've packed together my things in anticipation of getting a replacement So I started packing my belongings into their relevant bags and throw away any trash that still remained in the car, so that once the replacement car arrived I'd have to move the least possible amount of things. I also hosed down the car at the back of the gas station to eliminate the worst of the dirt.

Still, I had plenty of time left, so I settled in and around the car with a book, not wanting to leave the car out of sight in case Alamo would miraculously turn up earlier than the scheduled four hours. For a while, I sat on a bench next to the gas station and watched the commotion of travellers as they came and went. At least one or two other cars arrived with tire (or worse) problems, and at one point the mechanic drove off because a German tourist had managed to lock himself out of the car at Badwater. At least I hadn't done that.

Then, eventually, it was four hours later, and Alamo still wasn't there. I decided to call the helpdesk again to make sure that the car was indeed on its way. I talked to a different person who then contacted the Las Vegas Alamo office and then had to relay the bad news that the previous joker had neglected to pass the information on. So what this meant was that nobody in Las Vegas knew that they were supposed to send a car. So now they did, and I'd get a replacement car in... four hours.

Not much I could do at this point - complaints wouldn't have gotten the car to me any sooner - so I just resigned into spending four more hours at Furnace Creek. I opted to get lunch, even though I wasn't all that hungry - but it was a good time-killer. After lunch, I walked around Furnace Creek for a while, but once more didn't want to distance myself from the car too much. Besides, it had become pretty warm, and walking around for hours in the hot sun suddenly didn't seem all that appealing.

By chance, I ended up talking to the group of people I had met at Aguereberry Camp the previous day for around an hour. They were grilling their Thanksgiving turkey next to the road, in the shade of a few trees, because apparently it wasn't allowed on the campground. When the turkey was done, they invited me to join them at the campground, but I expected Alamo to arrive fairly soon and thus had to stay close to my car.

After around four hours (or eight hours, depending on how you look at it) a truck finally pulled up at the gas station. It held a white Chevrolet Trailblazer, which indeed turned out to be my replacement car.

I moved my belongings to the Chevy, and set off. Since it was Thanksgiving, the more accessible parts of Death Valley were packed with people, and I'd certainly not get a camping spot at the free Emigrant campground; nor did I want to head off paved roads too much and sleep in the back country - one flat tire was enough for this trip. So I decided to activate my backup plan, which was to get as close to Sequoia National Park as possible, and spend the next day there before flying back home from Los Angeles the following day.

So I drove north, finally leaving Furnace Creek behind. It was dark already, and a few miles before I reached Stovepipe Wells, near the sand dunes, I saw two people at the side of the street, waving their arms at the passing cars. There were cars behind me, and I was doing the speed limit of 65mph, so it didn't immediately occur to me that I should stop (nor would the reaction time have sufficed). But then as I drove on, I realized that nobody else had stopped either. So I pulled off the road, turned around, and drove back. Turns out they were two women who had hiked to the sand dunes, had been surprised by the sun disappearing and now didn't know in what direction their car was parked. I drove them to their car, maybe a mile in the direction I was going anyway; and declined offers to join them for drinks or food at Stovepipe Wells - I still wanted to cover some distance towards Sequoia.

As I drove past Emigrant Canyon campground, I confirmed that it was indeed packed. I'd just drive on, then, and follow my backup plan.

I exited Death Valley, and ultimately spent the night somewhere in Sequoia National Forest - I'm not quite sure how the campground was called; only that it said at the entrance that somebody would come to collect the campground fee, but seeing how I arrived after dark and would depart before people awoke from their Thanksgiving feasts, I didn't see a soul.

Miles driven: 202mi (325km)

Campground Accommodation: Unknown campground (Sequoia National Forest): $0

Written on July 7th 2006 in Luxembourg.