Recently a good friend of mine was traveling through Yellowstone National Park on a family road trip through Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Somewhere in the park’s interior, a tire on their minivan went flat. Compounding the problem, it turns out the vehicle’s spare tire was also defunct. And while America’s national parks are renowned for their natural beauty and vast wilderness, my poor friend found out that consistent and reliable cell phone coverage is not really a thing you can and should count on.
Fast forward several hours, my friend left her husband and children with the car and hitched a ride with another family to the nearest ranger station. Using a landline to call her insurance company, she was disheartened to learn the soonest available emergency service was a four-hour wait. The next option? Find a way to the nearest tire store before nightfall. Fortunately, a park service employee was just ending her shift and offered my friend a ride into town. All the while, my friend and her husband were unable to communicate.
Reaching the tire store just before it closed, a new tire was secured, but (now) how would my friend find make her way back to her husband and family still abandoned on the side of the road 40 miles away? As it turns out, by the most expensive cab ride of her life–the bill for the lift cost as much as the repair. In the end, the experience resulted in a day’s delay. Fortunately, the breakdown occurred next to one of the park’s many fishing streams and the kids and their dad made the most of their unstructured day.
Hearing this story compelled me to offer some ideas and supplies for avoiding being stranded “in the middle of nowhere” (and helping find your way out if you find yourself there).
First. Before heading out, inspect your car’s spare tire. Make sure you have a jack and the tools necessary to change the spare—this includes the special lug nut key typically required for locking type lug nuts.
Second. Invest in a tire repair kit that can both fix punctures and plug flats. Of course, you will also need a way to fill your flat tire. An air pump that plugs into to your vehicle’s cigarette lighter is a great option.
Third. In the event you are traveling with another vehicle and get separated, a two-way radio may help keep you connected within a short range. Alternately, paying for a satellite-based messenger service (SPOT is one) may be worth it’s weight in gold.
Fourth. Check your automobile insurance for emergency assistance coverage (and purchase some if you need it). The cost of roadside assistance or a tow into town will likely exceed what you pay for this coverage in a single year. At a minimum, have a general idea which towns might have an automobile shop or tire store.
Fifth. Carry emergency supplies including jumper cables, a battery charger (for remote areas or cold climates), a “call for help” sign, and container for water (fill the container up with fresh water especially if you’re passing through an arid climate).
Sixth. Have some spare cash or gift cards to use as payment for a lift to town (just in case). Also an old-school phone calling card might come in handy if you can find a pay phone or line where you can make a long distance call.
Here’s to hoping you never break down anywhere on a road trip, but if you do, hopefully this advice will help make the experience less of an emergency and more of an inconvenience!