Trailer Tires And Dog Logic

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By Louis Cahill

What could be better than a beach vacation with my wife and my dog?

I can barely remember the last time Kathy and I took a beach vacation. We are both far more comfortable with the idea of work than relaxing on the beach. It was certainly long before we had Josie, our little potcake dog I brought home from the Bahamas. This would be Josie’s first trip to the beach since I scooped her out of the sand of South Andros. It’s hard for me to picture this trip getting any better, then my buddy Scott offers his flats skiff.

“You should take the Silver King.”

Generosity is Scott’s defining character trait, and although I am reluctant, it’s an offer I can’t refuse. I know he needs hours on the boat to keep it in shape and the idea of spending a couple of half days casting to redfish is just too good to pass up. I don’t protest too much before accepting his offer.

As usual, the day of our departure sneaks up on us. We respond to being unprepared by over preparing. A last minute Costco run yields more food, wine, and liquor than a Mardi Gras Krewe could use. We pack my Sequoia to the gills. I lube the bearings on the trailer, do a little last minute work on the trailer lights and we are on the road by lunch time. Everything is smooth sailing until we get nearly to the Alabama state line and I feel a vibration coming from the trailer.

Ten seconds of vibration, then nothing for another ten and the tire explodes. Not a flat, a total explosion. I’ve never seen a tire go off like that. Josie nearly comes out of her skin. I ease over to the shoulder and start digging through the food, liquor, snorkel gear and fishing tackle for a jack. I always carry a handful of tools on the road, so I’m pretty set for the job. A bottle jack under the axle and a quick tire change. Thank God Scott has a spare. We’re back on the road pretty quickly. I stop at the first gas station to check the air in the spare and top it off. A minor hiccup and everything seems fine until a few minutes later the trailer starts to shimmy side to side. I call Scott on the phone.

“Have you had any issues with the trailer? We blew a tire and now I have a weird shimmy going on.”

“Yeah, those tires are only good for about a year and they are four years old.”

The shimmy mysteriously disappears but I have a bad feeling about those trailer tires. Kathy jumps on the phone, finds the nearest Walmart and plots a course on the GPS. We are an hour away and, if the GPS is right, we should arrive ten minutes before the tire center closes. The side track to the Walmart takes us down increasingly forgotten country roads and deeper into the middle of Opioid Alabama. After fifteen minutes the shimmy returns, followed by a violent lurch. The second tire is now nothing but confetti in the rear view. Two tires gone and no more spare.

My heart sinks, and for a moment I picture the three of us sleeping in the truck on the side of that miserable highway. I look at the arrival time on the GPS. Six-forty-six, I have nine minutes to spare. 

I can do this, I think.

I pull over into the ditch, the bare rim digging into the soft ground. I jump out and grab the jack and tire iron. It’s a sketchy spot to change a flat but I manage to get the trailer high enough to remove the rim. I throw it in the back seat and return for the other rim. With both tires in the truck, I almost forget to unhook the boat. I’m in such a hurry I don’t think. When I detach the trailer it rocks back, kicking out the jack and dropping the axel in the dirt. The jack is buried under the frame. That’s going to be a bitch but it’s a problem for later.

I jump in the truck and speed off. I make it a half mile before I realize I have no idea where I have left Scott’s boat. I slam on the brakes and mark the spot on my phone. That was close. I picture the boat, there on the side of the road, stripped of anything useful or of value, the empty hull inhabited by possums. I look at the GPS. Arrival time at Walmart, six-fifty-nine. One minute before closing.

I am wound up like cat gut on a violin. Kathy is no better. Four attempts to confirm that Walmart has the tires we need have ended in dropped calls and she now has no cell service. Josie, sensing our stress, is losing her shit and has to be on Kathy’s head, or as close as the truck roof will allow. I barely look at the road. My eyes jump back and forth between the speedometer and the arrival time on the GPS. I’m desperately trying to eek out another minute, but the last thing I need is any attention from local law enforcement. I push the speed limit as much as I feel I can get away with. It’s going to be uncomfortably close.

We arrive at the Walmart tire center as they are pulling down the garage doors. I know a lot of folks who talk smack about Walmart, but these folks are angels straight from heaven. They pull a shiny new set of tires off the rack and stay late to get us taken care of. Josie and I spend a little time cooling down in the grass out back of the Walmart while Kathy gets some snacks. Before long we have two new tires, a scissor jack, a tank of gas and are on our way back to the boat. It’s just starting to get dark.

There is no way I can tell you how happy I am to see Scott’s boat, unmolested and possum free on the side of the road. I grab my new tires and jack and get to work. I find a spot where I can slide the scissor jack under the frame of the trailer and start to lift it. I’ve only made a couple of turns when I feel the first angry sting. I shine my phone light on the ground. I have dropped the boat in the middle of a fire ant mound.

I’m sure many of us sat in an uncomfortable church pew as children, trying to picture a lake of fire. Imagining the tortures of the damned. I remember someone saying, “You create your own Hell, here on earth.”  Yep, that sounds about right.

There’s nothing to do but keep turning the jack and swatting ants.

About half way up, the jack handle breaks. I run back to the truck and take a minute to kill ants and scream the foulest words I know. I rummage through my tools and come up with a large pipe wrench that I use for changing trailer hitches. It’s not great but I can use it to turn the little flange on the jack.

Each turn has to be a full 180 degrees in order to get the flange in a position where I can get the wrench on it for the next turn. The only way I can accomplish that is by forcing my hand down hard into the ant mound every turn. This whips the little bastards into a froth. Every inch of my hand is bitten. I think of my grandfather’s great description of doing a miserable job, without the proper tools. “Like eating shit with a splinter.”

Eventually I’m able to dig out the bottle jack and regroup away from the ants. That’s an incredible improvement but no matter where I put a jack, I can’t get the hub high enough to fit the tire. I clean the mud off of the hub and, with the pipe wrench, I dig a hole under the hub so the tire will fit. Once it’s on, I throw everything in the boat and get the hell out of there. I still have another tire to change, but I’m doing it on level ground, somewhere far from those ants. I find an abandoned gas station with a street light near by and get the last tire changed and tools stowed. We eat protean bars for dinner in the parking lot and spend the next four hours on crappy back roads until we arrive at our rented house near 2:00 am.

The door opens with a ten digit code. That seems a little excessive, but Kathy has it on her phone so it’s no big deal. We start unpacking the food that needs to be refrigerated and out clothes. Everything else can wait for sleep. When we get back to the door with our cooler and bags, we discover that the door locks automatically.

Kathy’s phone? You guessed it. Inside.

My wife is not a cryer. She is a strong and capable woman. The kind who rises to the occasion, isn’t afraid of hard work, does what has to be done. She has been an incredibly good sport about this whole cluster. She now is about to wale like a two-year-old getting a tetanus shot. I can see her starting to shake like an addict going cold turkey. Kathy loves me more than I deserve, but I think I can honestly say she never loved me more than this moment, as I slip my Costco card into the door jam and open that door. I make strong drinks and we go to bed.

A new day is a fresh start. 

Aside from the festering ant bites, the trauma of the night before is all forgotten. We drop the boat in and head out to explore the bay. We find a little cut that leads into a complex of flats and creeks. Perfect redfish habitat but conditions are tough. The rainy weather has the water turned to mud. 

I manage to find two tailing fish but they can’t see my fly in this mess. It’s just nice to get on the water and pole the skiff. We have a nice morning and head back to the launch. I feel pretty confident that we can find clean water to the west the next morning. I back the trailer down the ramp while Kathy walks Josie and Jump in the boat to load her up. I turn the key and…nothing.

The batteries should be freshly charged so I spend a few minutes checking the kill switch and connections and try again. Nothing. I deploy the fancy automatic trolling motor to get me around to the ramp. It drops in fine and dies. The entire electrical system is down. Nothing from any of the three batteries on board. I can’t even raise the trolling motor, and the boat will not go on the trailer with it down.

As fait would have it, there is a crusty, old, local bait guy there at the ramp, waiting to pull his Cadillac down the ramp to take out his boat. This is the moment he lives for. The city boy with the fancy boat and the fly rod up to his ears in it at the boat ramp. I have to listen to his relentless commentary while I detach the trolling motor and swim the boat around to the ramp. I miss the fire ants.

Back at the house I spend some time working on the boat, making another call to Scott, and using some more foul language. I make zero progress. I make strong drinks and we go to bed. 

After a nap I start going over my options and try to figure how I might find a way to fish and salvage the trip. I am angry with myself. Angry that I didn’t make a better plan. That I took off with a boat I wasn’t familiar with, to a place where I don’t know the water. Angry that I am ruining my wife’s time off with all of this drama. Just angry.

“Let’s take Josie to the beach!” Kathy breaks into my inner monologue. 

“Great idea.”

We leash up our little potcake and head down the board walk to the beach.

The beach is lovely and deserted. It’s old Florida. No hotels or condos, just modest homes peeking over the dunes. Tire tracks in the sand and no one in sight. Like the beaches I remember from family trips to Florida when I was a kid. I didn’t know that places like this still exist.

Josie is beside herself. Her expression is one of disbelief. This is the first time she has seen the beach since she was a puppy on South Andros. She must have thought we were on a different planet when we got off that plane in Atlanta. She loves the mountains. She loves running in the woods and swimming in the river, but this is entirely different. She digs and rolls in the sand. I slip her leash off and she runs like the wind. I have never seen her this happy.

My heart can not help but swell as I watch her very nearly run down a gull in flight, steadily gaining on the bird as it beats its wings for it’s life. The last thing I truly want to see is my dog killing a beautiful sea bird, but I Love the idea that she could. The beach brings back the wild dog in her, I can see her instincts turning on like the lights of some far off town as dusk settles on the coast. Josie is a true Bahamian, with an intensity that burns like gasoline, and the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide. I can see the smile on her face as she trots back down the beach. I can not count the lessons this little dog has yet to teach me.

When my buddy Andrew Bennett owned Deneki Outdoors, he came up with the slogan, “Fish Hard, Rest Easy.” I’ve always been good at the first half of that. Never very good at the second. Never very good at resting at all. For the next few days, we take long walks on the beach. We swim in the ocean. We sit and watch the tide come and go. We drink gin cocktails and snack. The boat sits, unattended.

Josie digs a hole in the sand and curls up in it as we watch the light fade over the ocean. I rest my hand on her hip and Kathy rests her hand on mine. I dig my toes into the sand. I have everything I need, right here. When the light is gone, we walk the boardwalk back to the house. Josie curls up for the night. I make strong drinks and we go to bed.

What could be better than a beach vacation with my wife and my dog?

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “Trailer Tires And Dog Logic

  1. I too have a Silver King and in less than a year went through 3 trailer tires in a pretty similar fashion, once on the way home from the beach vacation with the whole family and two by myself to/from tarpon fishing.

    Trailer tires are the worst.

  2. Great writing! I almost felt like I was there. I too have a dog I love. Seeing Blue smile on fishing outings makes me feel like I’m accomplishing the task of being a good Human. Kind of like that bumper sticker, “I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am…” Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for a great story Louis, I can relate to it having three tyres shredded on the Sandover Highway (It’s dirt and bulldust and would only be called a Highway here in Australia) and only having two spares. Looooong wait but the next traveller took a message to the nearest Station and we were on our way again. Like your’s, our holiday on the beach (our home was 1,000 km from the beach in any direction) was worth it in the end. Our German Shorthaired Pointer was nonplussed by the drama. Gotta love your dog

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