The hissing whoosh of the escaping air was unmistakable. We got our first flat. In the middle of empty and, yes, flat as a pancake part of Colorado. At the beginning of what was supposed to be the dullest day of our trip.
We somehow managed to make almost 70 thousand miles up to this point. Mostly backroads. Not a trivial amount on the surface that only a wildest optimist would call a road. Only a day ago our car took us up the Mt. Princeton Road. Couple of weeks ago we drove to the Nellie Creek trailhead on the way to Mount Uncomphagre that involved not one, not two, but three stream crossings. Our car survived sandy dunes, sharp rocks, impossible steeps, and holes big enough to swallow a grown man - all that with no malfunctions greater than a side mirror broken by a raccoon and a battery that expired in the cold of the winter.
And after all that, a standard highway exit taken to check out a roadside attraction, which turned out to be even less attractive that we suspected, resulted in a flat. Oh well. The weather was perfect. We were safely off the I-70, the road was dry, and we knew - at least in theory, if not from experience - what to do. Car repairs not being our hobby, we started by reading the manual.
It quickly became apparent that getting to the spare in our Nissan truck is not an easy operation. You have to construct a special device out of the parts provided, find a mysterious opening above the bumper, feel your way through something rubbery that suspiciously resembles the very tire that you want to access and start turning. After 30 minutes spent genuflecting behind the back of the truck the spare slowly lowered to the ground. I was tired but relieved. Little did we know that getting to the spare was the easiest part of the entire operation.
Since US in general, and its rural parts in particular, are inhabited by amazingly friendly people, our little road side show started to attract attention. The first guy who stopped seemed perfectly normal. He gave us an address of the local auto shop and offered to check on us in about 1 hour on his way back. Another guy came over a moment later, when we were in the process of jacking up the car. He said something that sounded like an offer of help, but we did not really get the meaning. Local accents can be tricky especially if produced with teeth half missing and half ground to stumps.
So instead of one count of anxiety - I am changing a tire and I am not entirely sure I am doing it right - I had the whole set to choose from - someone is talking to me and I have little idea what is being said and from the look of it I might be stuck forever in a place with no mountains, no visible signs of civilization and absolutely no dentists.
Soon I was almost done with the jack. We took the damaged tire off and attempted to fit the spare. No dice. The passenger side of the truck was off the road tilting the car right. The jack allowed us to take off the empty tire, but it was not high enough to put on the fully inflated spare. Unless of course we let all the air out. Which, for obvious reasons, did not seem to be prudent.
We put the punctured tire back on and I moved the car to the middle of the road. It's not like we were sharing it with any other cars. We acquired one more spectator though. And this one we could understand. Despite the fact that as soon as he spoke, probability of they must have murdered all local dentists here theory doubled.
We started jacking up the truck again. This time, helped and entertained by our two spectators. Yup, the topic of Polish jokes made an unavoidable appearance. But, as usual, we were promptly assured that they were aware that Polish stereotypes were just that and we have nothing to worry about. Which was illustrated by and I quote here: When the police were beating them black folks in Selma we thought they have done some law breaking. We didn't know any better. We didn't know they just wanted the same rights as the rest of us. At which point I started doubting I am even in the right century.
Soon we all realized that just moving the car was not going to be enough. The fully extended jack was still too short. That's why when you get a flat you call AAA instead of trying to change it yourself. The standard factory-issue equipment is there just to make you feel you could do it, not to be actually used in an emergency. I started to look for a flat rock (not an easy task on the outskirts of the Great Plains - no rocks here) but one of the guys went back to the farm to bring something we could put the jack on. Once he was back it turned out I cannot really use anything because raising the jack makes it impossible to fit it under the side step. At this point the guys just lifted our truck up. Yup. The place might be in the wrong century but it can take care of the visitors.
So the third time finally did the trick. And by then I was too tired to do the whole thing by myself so I let our new friends do most of the work while Natalia was snapping photos. The operation lasted almost 2 hours and the patient seemed to survive it. We shook hands, honked happily and went on our way. Judging by the retelling of the Selma story and by the slow pace of events that we witnessed we have good chances of being prominently featured in local folklore for another 20 years. So if your car acts up, and you get help from the local populace, you might yet hear the one about 2 Poles changing the tire. Don't be alarmed. It ends well.