Gap Year Week 12: Deflategate (When Things Go Wrong)

We recently started the second camping stint of our Gap Year Adventure and ran into a few problems right off the bat.  Considering we’ve had very little go wrong almost 3 months into full time travel on the road, I’d consider us to be pretty lucky so far!

After laying down to sleep in our tent at the Grand Canyon, it wasn’t long before we noticed that some air was escaping our mattress very slowly.  Then, we spent most of the next day hiking in the canyon before returning to find a flat tire on our car!

Two different things completely deflated just 2 days into 8 straight planned days of camping and we’re over an hour away from the closest town with a tire shop.  Despite the setbacks, we gathered ourselves, found some wi-fi, and put together a plan to get back on track.

Not our actual tire. I forgot to take a picture before swapping on the spare!

Two Problems, All The Time To Fix Them

One of the great things about taking a large amount of time off to travel is that we’re not in a rush all the time.  Compared to previous trips that were constrained by vacation days, we’re able to slow down considerably.

This slower form of travel means almost every destination has at least a day or two that are completely unplanned ahead of time.  Having this buffer is amazing for being able to relax during the trip and becomes especially useful when things go wrong, as they did during our stop at the Grand Canyon.

Something that could have derailed a typical vacation and had us shifting around plans becomes more of a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things during slow travel.

A greeting card we found that sums up our Gap Year pretty well!

Problem #1: An Air Mattress that Can’t Hold Air

We arrived and set up camp on Sunday with our main goal of this stop being a big day hike down to the Colorado River and back which was planned for the next day, Monday.  Between setting up our tent, blowing up our air mattress, and actually laying down to sleep, we noticed the bed was missing a little air we thought we put in it.  We didn’t think much of it, topped the bed back off and went to sleep.

Surprisingly, we couldn’t even tell the bed was leaking right away!  It was only ~5 hours later that we woke up essentially on the floor of the tent with a flat bed beneath us.  Oh well, the blankets and sleeping bags make the ground comfortable enough and we continued sleeping until morning.

We woke up early the next day as planned and a little deflated air mattress wasn’t going to stop us from going on our epic hike into the Grand Canyon.  We completed the ~20 mile round-trip hike to the Colorado River and back around 8 hours later and it was absolutely amazing, but we were exhausted.

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Far too tired to fix the air mattress problem that night, we decided to just shower and go to sleep.  We did fill the mattress back up again to get several good hours out of it, but then discovered problem number 2 not too far away from our tent:

Problem #2: A Flat Tire that Can’t Be Repaired

Our car, that was parked about 10 feet away from the tent, had a completely flat tire that we didn’t notice until late in the day.  It was probably flat that morning as well, but we didn’t use it all day because we were only a short walk from the edge of the canyon.

Once again, we decided we were too tired to take care of it that night and didn’t need the car immediately anyway, so we’d defer again to fixing everything the next day.

The Day to Re-inflate Our Stuff

We awoke once again on the ground of the tent with a flat air bed underneath us and were still quite sore from the previous day, but we got to work anyway.

One thing that further complicates the above problems is that we didn’t have a reliable internet connection while camping at the Grand Canyon!  There was a spotty 3G connection that counted as “Data Roaming” on our T-Mobile plan and we hadn’t yet found the particular lodge on the South Rim with free wi-fi (that ended up being very slow anyway).

It’s interesting how reliant we’ve become on our cell phones and internet connections to function efficiently.  We’re in a brand new place to us and don’t know anything about the area, so something that is usually trivial (such as finding the closest auto shop) becomes a much more involved task without an internet connection.

It’s funny to think that we’re inconvenienced by a lack of internet in our pockets 24/7 when it just became commonplace in the past decade.  Obviously, people functioned just fine without this technology for a long time and dealt with the same sort of flat tire problems we find ourselves entangled in.

Anyway, instead of embracing our ancestors’ methods of finding out information such as maps, phone books, and simply talking to people, we cheated by throwing on the spare tire and heading to a Starbucks just outside the park!

The Time We Almost Gave Up On Camping

Once we found our reliable internet connection, we started to go over our different options.

We located the closest auto repair shop (which happened to be inside the park!) and were going to make that our next stop, but first we had to decide what to do about the deflating air mattress.

I should start out by saying that we’re brand new to this whole camping thing.  We put together a minimal set of supplies that we would need for camping before starting this trip with the intention of trying it out on the road when it made sense.  “When it made sense” basically being reserved for when camping can get us closer to where we want to be and/or save us some money in particularly expensive areas.

Our first time ever sleeping outside in a tent was in March in Carlsbad, New Mexico and we didn’t luck out with the best weather.  It wasn’t extremely cold with the nightly temperatures in the low 40s, but there were high winds beating on the tent for most of the day and night.  Not ideal conditions for first time campers, but we made it through the 2 nights without too much trouble.

Our second time ever camping was the 2 nights at the Grand Canyon you’re reading about now and we once again didn’t luck out with very good weather, plus the forecast for the coming night had low temperatures in the 20s!

You might be able to imagine why we were second guessing the decision to camp.  Our main goal of hiking the Grand Canyon was accomplished, but we still had 3 more nights scheduled here to continue exploring various parts of the South Rim.  We also had another 3 nights of camping on Lake Powell a few hours north planned for the days immediately following!

Six more planned nights of camping, a flat air mattress, and cold temperatures ahead.  We crunched the numbers on abandoning the camping completely and swapping in 6 hotel nights instead.  The total cost (including lost deposits on the existing campsite reservations) for switching from camping to hotels came out just north of $500 which actually seemed pretty reasonable.

We discussed it for a while, but ultimately decided not to give up so easily on the camping.  Like most of the choices on this trip (and in life), it will either be awesome or make for an entertaining story!

And They Continued Happily Ever After

After tossing out the plan to switch from camping to hotels for the 6 nights ahead of us, we began taking care of the tire situation.  A visit to the local Grand Canyon auto shop revealed that the flat tire couldn’t be patched because the puncture was almost all the way to the edge.

Luckily, we had recently talked about when it would make sense to get new tires and were paying close attention to our remaining tread during our trip.  The existing tires were ~5 years old and could have lasted a bit longer based on the remaining tread, but we probably weren’t making it through this year long road trip without a new set anyway.

Unfortunately, the closest tire shop was about an hour away from the Grand Canyon.  An “hour long drive” can seem like a long time when people are zooming past you on the highway as you adhere to the advice to not go above 50 mph on the spare tire.

We arrived in Williams, Arizona, located the tire shop, and dropped the car off to get a brand new set.  While we waited, we walked down to the closest sporting goods store and purchased their last air mattress for $30, then continued onward to the local brewery to sample some of their beers.

By the end of the afternoon, we had a brand new set of tires on the car, owned a comfy new air mattress, and consumed some delicious local drinks.  On the way back to camp, we even stopped in Bedrock which we probably would have missed if not for this little detour of ours!

All was well again and this particular camping adventure finished without any other complications.  It was a little chilly towards the end of the Grand Canyon portion, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous for camping at Lake Powell.  I think we’re both happy we didn’t give up on it so easily and we’re even a little excited for the next time we get to set up camp.  (Fingers crossed for good weather!)

14 thoughts to “Gap Year Week 12: Deflategate (When Things Go Wrong)”

  1. My wife and I got a 2 person hammock to lounge during the day while camping. We found it to be so comfortable that if the weather is nice we don’t even set up the tent. Found ours on Amazon for around $20. Best of luck on further travels.

    1. That’s an interesting idea! I’ve kind of wanted a hammock after seeing them several places, do you have a link to the one you got for $20?

      Thanks Shane

      1. We bought some ratchet straps from Walmart also. We tied up to trees better than 30 feet apart when we car camped Olympia National Park.

  2. I didn’t realize you two were THAT new to camping! I’m pretty sure having an air mattress deflate on you in the night is a right of passage though, so now you’ve been initiated into the club 😉 Glad you didn’t give it up though! Camping is amazing, and even more so when you can end up sleeping far away from anywhere you’d find a hotel.

    1. It turns out we actually have no idea what we’re doing on this trip, but that’s part of the fun! Good to know that deflating air mattresses is a common problem.

      Camping has been good for the most part, especially when it lets us stay within walking distance of a great park like the Grand Canyon did. I’m sure there will be more of it in our futures!

    1. Yeah, “That Time We Were Mildly Inconvenienced” didn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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