Anybody got a truck tire they’d like me to change?
I’m feeling pretty empowered since single-handedly changing a tire on my husband’s Ford F-150 pickup truck a few weeks ago.
RELATED: A wave and a smile: Austin man sparks joy on MoPac
I flatted out on a remote stretch of two-lane road in Southeast Texas while chasing a team of kayakers paddling up the Texas coast. I’m not going to lie: A string of cuss words leaked from my mouth when it first happened. But in the end, I learned a valuable skill that makes me feel more confident at a time when many of us are road tripping rather than taking airplanes, thanks to the global pandemic.
I was zipping down Texas 87 past Sea Rim State Park south of Beaumont when the highway dead-ended at a barricade and a “road closed” sign. I sighed, ditched the idea of one final photo opportunity with the team before they finished, then executed a three-point turn to retrace my steps. I figured I’d just stop at the state park (I’d never been) and do a little bird watching to fill the time.
Then, two minutes later, the tire pressure sensor on the dashboard of the truck lit up. The rear right tire was losing pressure. I limped into a pullout on the side of the road.
Seriously? Today? In just three hours the paddlers would likely finish their trip, and I’d need at least 45 minutes to drive to where they’d land. I’d changed a flat before, but it had been years, and I’d never done it on a heavy-duty truck.
I phoned Erich Schlegel, a photographer and who was in Winnie, about an hour and 15 minutes from where I stood. He promised to rescue me as soon as he checked out of his hotel.
I pulled out my cameras, thinking I might as well take some bird photos while I waited. I wandered up into the grass, where a bee stung the heck out of my neck.
Then I reconsidered. What kind of adventure writer sends up a flare and waits for someone to bail her out? I’d at least try to fix that flat. How hard could it be?
I pulled out the vehicle’s owner manual. Called a few friends for moral support. Dug out the jack and tool kit.
Then I set up my tripod and clicked on the self-timer feature. If I was going to do this, I wanted photographic evidence.
I placed rocks in front of the truck’s front tires and assembled the lug wrench. It took a while, but I figured out how to feed the tool into a tiny hole in the back bumper of the truck to access a knob I needed to turn to lower the spare from where it hung beneath the belly of the truck. I “broke” the lug nuts, stepping on the wrench to get enough leverage. I placed the jack beneath the axle and texted a picture to my husband to make sure I had it correctly positioned.
Then I cranked up the jack.
So far, so good. Sweat was starting to seep out of my body in uncomfortable places, but I was making steady, if slow, progress. I chugged from a bottle of cold Gatorade.
Then, pausing to check the manual laid out on the asphalt before me, I loosened the lug nuts the rest of the way and dragged the filthy spare closer to the wheel well. I wrestled the huge, ruined tire from the hubs, took a few minutes to inspect two pieces of sharp metal embedded in its tread, then rolled the tire aside.
At about this time, Schlegel showed up.
I flexed my arm muscle at him, jumped up and down a few times (I can’t contain my enthusiasm sometimes) and warned him to not even think about lending a hand. He smiled, stepped back, and watched from afar.
With a few tips from Schlegel, I sat on the ground in front of the tire and used my knees to lift the spare onto the wheel studs and make sure it was properly seated. Then I attached the lug nuts. I tightened them, lowered the truck to the ground and tightened them one more time.
The final move? Hoisting the enormous flat tire into the bed of the pickup truck. I sliced open my shin in the process, but I didn’t care.
The task complete, I spun around and ran at Schlegel, leaped up for a mighty high-five, and whooped with happiness. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best. I’ve rarely felt so self-reliant.
And then, the icing on the cake: Schlegel told me he had something. He reached into his truck and then handed over a paper sack with a warm cheeseburger inside. A victory meal!
It turns out that getting a flat was the best thing that happened all day — and it’s something just about anybody can learn to do, even on a full-size truck.