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On the rocks near Mexico

“Border towns have the best tacos,” was what my friend texted me. Sold. I was ready for some real food and a border-town taco sounded like it was going to hit the spot! I parked my car and walked up to the diner that sat just up against the international border between Mexico and the United State.

However, I was sorely disappointed when I read the menu on the window at the door. Burgers, chicken strips, and meatloaf??? The only thing similar to Mexican food was a breakfast burrito. My budget was super tight and I had to limit my eating out, so I walked back to my car.

When I turned on the car, it made a god-awful noise. I straighten the steering wheel and it quit, but when I attempted to turn out of the parking space the “brump, brump, brump, brump,” grinding noise was there again.

“It must be mud stuck in my wheel,” I thought. But if I couldn’t afford a border-town burger because I was saving money for a taco, an expensive car repair in the middle of nowhere was something I did not want to think about.

I drove the car a little bit around the parking lot, and yup, that noise did not sound good. I pulled into a park space right in front of the diner door. The port of entry between Mexico and the United States was only fifty yards from my back bumper.

I was in Lukeville, Arizona. A small town of about 50 and about a two and half hour drive from Tucson. I knew a woman traveling alone with car trouble made me seem vulnerable, but I’ve kind of always been a rebel and completely ignored the chatter and warnings of a woman traveling alone.

My campsite at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I got out of the car and walked all around it. When I parked, I had turned the wheels sharply so I could see well into the wheel well. I didn’t see any packed mud on my first look. I looked again and then at the passenger-side wheel. Nothing.

I got on my hands and knees to get a better look, when I realized a whole table of border patrol agents were eating lunch in the diner through the picture window. Did I look like I had smuggled my drugs across the border and was now retrieving them? Oh dear.

A man came up and asked me if everything was alright. I told him about the god-awful noise and he said, “Are you traveling alone?” I got out a half “yeah” when he cut me off. “I’m sorry, don’t answer. I shouldn’t have asked you that.”

His question didn’t bother me, I go with my gut and he did not give off the creep vibe. I told him I thought maybe there was mud stuck under there as he looked. But he didn’t see anything either.

A glancing back to the table full of border patrol agents through the diner window, showed me they hadn’t noticed me. I was kind of sad because I was hoping they would come to ask me if I needed help and miraculously fix my car. I didn’t even want to think about having it towed to Tucson.

The port of entry between Mexico and the United States, and the parking lot where the parking lot where my car starting making the noise.

OK. Next thought. In the past, I have scooped up rocks on dirt roads that I shouldn’t have been driving on before. When I reached a high speed, they slung out. And I was on a dirt road where I hit a rough patch – OK, a really rough patch – before I went to the diner. So I’ll drive up the highway and hope that fixes it.

Again looking like a drug smuggler, I drove up and down the highway making sharp U-turns to help remedy the problem. But the noise, it was still there.

I noticed the noise was only present when the wheels where cut sharply toward one side. I must have scooped up rocks or have mud caked in there somewhere, I thought.

One thing that worried me though was, even when the car was idling if the wheels where turned that way, it would make the noise. Please tell me, I didn’t mess up my all-wheel-drive! My car was fairly new. Not even a year old yet.

I may take great pride in my independence and the ability to travel solo often, but I also know how to ask for help. We’ll sort of.

Since drive up and down the highway at 65 mph and making sharp U-turns didn’t seem to sling any rocks out, I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I pulled into a wide-open area up to the front so that I could be highly visible by a park ranger.

My plan was to pull the wheel off and have a good look under the car. If a park ranger saw me and offered help, I’d take it! I was more than 1,000 miles from home and my car had to get me back.

I drive a Honda HRV (and love it by the way), but I literally live out of it when on the road. So in order to get to the jack, I had to move my “bedroom” and “kitchen” out of the way first. Once I cleared my living quarters out of the way, I fumbled to figure out how to get the jack out. Again, this is a new car and although my last car was the same make and model (I told you I love it), I don’t think I ever had to jack it up.

Although, I know how to change a tire, I don’t do it all the time and it took me a while to figure out how exactly to do. I could hear the haters now. “This is why you need a man to go with you.” Ugh, no thank you. I got this.

I got the car jacked up to what I thought was all the way, but couldn’t seem to pull the wheel off. A quick look around in there, I still saw nothing that would indicate a god-awful noise. The tire was stuck to the ground. I took a deep breath and tried to pull it off again. Clearly I did not jack it up all the way. So I did some more.

I was able to scoot the tire and wheel off and get a good look under the car. There were some rocks stuck in the drive shaft smack dab in the middle of the vehicle. I was not keen on crawling under my possibly poorly jacked up car to remove them.

My “home” on the road

A trekking pole! I’ll use my trekking poles to reach up under there and sling them out. As I was getting my trekking poles from my “closet” a park ranger finally pulled up behind me.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” I went into the diatribe about how my car was making this god-awful noise and told him my theory of rocks or mud. But I saw no lightbulbs go off in his head.

He asked me a few questions like, “Do you have four-wheel drive?” And continued with sometimes his four-wheel drive makes noises like that after driving on muddy backroads.

When he saw the desperation in my eyes, he said, “I’m no mechanic.” I told him my brother-in-law was, but I didn’t want to call him because he would give me grief for going on a road trip to the Mexican border alone.

He told me the closest mechanic was in another town of about 50 miles away. Then he said, “But, it probably won’t be cheap.” This I knew, this was my fear, a hefty mechanic expense.

The ranger asked me if he could help me put my tire back on and I declined. He asked if I needed any other help, and I said no. So he went on his way.

I proceeded to attempt to use my trekking pole to knock the rocks out, but it was a little too thick to get in there.

Again, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of climbing under my poorly-jacked up car to reach under there and knock them. I went back to my “closet” to see what else I had and found my tripod.

I extended one tripod leg out all the way and was able to knock what seemed like a million little rocks and one fairly large one.

When I made sure they were all out, I put the tire back on, let the car down, and reorganized my living quarters.

I got back into the driver’s seat and said prayer. I slowly drove around the parking lot making tight U-turns. So far no noise!

I pulled out onto the highway and drove down the road a little way. Still no noise! I was so thrilled, so high, that I was able to diagnose and fix the horrible noise problem all by myself.

It’s a great feeling when people tell you that you can’t do something and then you prove them wrong. That’s how I felt after fixing my vehicle.

But being independent means allowing others to help you. One thing I’ve been overwhelmed with on my travels is the kindness of strangers. I also relied on my father’s teaching which gave me the knowhow to figure out what was going on.

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