A lot can happen in a day. We awoke at our campground in Buffalo, Wyoming, a town that seems split between its adorable (and pricey) main street and a strip of gas stations and fast food places (we opted for the local Dash-In).
Leaving town, we headed into Bighorn National Forest, where the road ascends to nearly 10,000 feet. Downshifting gears helped, but we could still smell the brake pads burning as we made our way down and around these mountains.
The views were amazing but we were glad to reach the base of the mountains, passing through the small town of Tensleep, right on a rocky river. We had planned to make it to Cody by early afternoon, to walk around, get dinner and maybe go to the nightly rodeo before camping at Buffalo Bill State Park. But it took longer than we expected.
The road was flat and easy by now. The kids were playing on their kindles, buckled in next to each other on the couch, and we were listening to the radio, when we heard what sounded like an explosion. Some combination of us (mostly me) screamed and we pulled over onto the shoulder, immediately relieved that we were all okay (and not up on the mountain). We got out to see that a back inside tire had blown, which ruptured the wheel well.
We stood on the side of the road, stunned and unsure what to do. Was it just the tire that made that noise? What about the propane tank? How far were we from a town? As we wondered what to do next, a white pickup truck pulled off the road in front of us. A young man in a baseball hat and camouflage pants got out and approached us. What looked to be his girlfriend got out behind him and stood close to us in the shade of the Woodebago, smiling shyly. Follow us just past town, there’s a tire place there, he offered. We thanked him, stuffed some essentials in a backpack, locked up the wounded Woodebago, and followed them in the toad.
As we were driving, our city skepticism kicked in and we wondered why they would go out of their way like this. We didn’t even know their names, he had no license plate on his truck, and isn’t this the perfect setting for one of those crime stories, where a family goes missing, their RV found stripped to its bones along some desert highway?
But our Good Samaritans were just that, a couple of nice kids who wanted and knew how to help us. Their town of Worland, Wy was only five miles away and they took us to a tire center we never would have found, helped locate the local business owner (at home on a Sunday) to open up for us, and gave us a ride back to get the Woodebago. They could have left at any point, and certainly once it was being repaired, but they stayed and sat with us for hours, chatting about whatever and entertaining the kids. They had been up on the mountain this morning scouting for deer (hunting season starts soon). There’s nothing much else to do here, they said. Besides Yellowstone tourists like us, they explained, people are here for two reasons–oil and sugar beets. We had seen the oil rigs along the highway but knew nothing of sugar beets. All those green fields, she said, are big white sugar beets growing underneath. And that big refinery over there, she said, pointing to a factory just outside of town, turns those beets into sugar. The kids, now enjoying a vending machine lunch, found this both curious and wonderful. That means sugar is a vegetable!?
Elian, fascinated since birth by guns but a pacifist at heart, was even more curious about the hunting trip. Why do you hunt? What kind of gun do you use? Are you going for the biggest set of horns, so you can hang it on a wall? What do you do with the rest? I bow hunt, he said. And, yes, I want the trophy head. I kill two or three deer a year, process the meat myself into steaks, jerky, sausage. He and the shop owner continued talking about this season’s prospects with Elian soaking up every word, trying to understand it all.
The owners of Big Horn Basin tire had better things to do on their day off, so we owe them a big thank you. We still need to get two more tires (we decided to replace them all, which we had originally planned to do in Washington state, and Big Horn didn’t have enough), but we are in good shape to make it the 90 flat miles to Cody.
Our biggest thanks goes to Callie and Delancey. We hope our kids grow up to have the generosity and resourcefulness that you showed us today. We hope you become the vet and wildlife biologist you respectfully hope to be and that someday, if you’re ever stuck on the side of a road, someone takes the time to stop and help you.
By nightfall, we’ve safely passed through Cody and arrived at our site with a beautiful backdrop of the Buffalo State Park Reservoir. We are gratefully yours, Wyoming. Good night!