The October weather couldn't have been lovelier as we headed out to look for a picnic spot along the Mountain Loop Highway. But the parks we passed were closed for the season. As we passed the road leading up Mt. Pilchuck, I suggested to Hank we turn there. We could always eat our sandwiches in the car, and we'd have a grand view.
As the potholed road wound up the mountain, I remembered all the times in the past I'd been up that road, and the times in my youth before the road existed, when we started at the river in the valley below and hiked five miles or more to the lookout at the top of Mt. Pilchuck. We shared the trail with very few people then, but things have changed. The hike is shorter now. It's one of the most popular trails in Snohomish County.
As we neared the end of the road, we passed a spate of cars coming down. Good! That should mean plenty of parking would be available. But no, the graded area at the end of the road was filled with vehicles. There must have been hundreds of people up on the mountain. (We found out later that there'd been a wedding in the woods along the trail. The cars that passed us were probably guests leaving. Someone told us they'd seen the bride and groom, in jeans and hiking boots, put their balloons and leftover wedding cake in their car. Then the bride tied her hair up in a pony tail and away they went, up the trail!)
Hank spied a place large enough for our car and one other, if he nosed it up on a rocky berm.
So he did that, and suddenly we felt a front corner drop a few inches. A Ukrainian boy passing with a group of other young people called out, "You popped your tire."
So we had, the first flat tire in the twelve years we'd had our Honda Odyssey. One of the young people offered to change the tire for us, but it was two o'clock and Hank declined the offer, needing some food in his stomach before doing anything else.
We hauled our folding chairs to the brink of the overlook and enjoyed a picnic with a view. The valley where I grew up spread below us. Beyond Green Mountain to the north, we could see the Cascade peaks on into Canada. To the west was Puget Sound with its islands, to the south, the Olympic Mountains. Somewhere out there in the haze lay Everett and other communities. And behind us loomed the rocky crest of Mount Pilchuck with all those hikers.
We finished our coffee and turned to the task at hand. There must be a spare tire and a jack somewhere in the car, although we'd never used it. I pulled the manual from the glove compartment and discovered they were stored in a compartment between the front two rows of seats. After a struggle, we dislodged and hauled them out. The spare with its wheel was about half the size of the other tires. The jack looked like a toy. And the wheel with the flat looked huge and heavy.
About then, a young man came down the trail to the car parked next to us. He saw our problem and offered to help. He sat on the ground and turned the wimpy little crank on the jack around and around, lifting the big van until there was room to loosen the lugs on the tire and remove it. He put the spare in its place and lowered the car to the ground. The tire had seemed firm, but under the car's weight, it too went flat. We asked people arriving and leaving if anyone had a tire pump, but no one did.
"No problem," Hank said. "We have Triple A." He thanked the helpful young man, who left. Hank went to the brink of the overlook, the only place our phone got reception. But he couldn't get through. A truck pulled into the empty spot beside us with a couple just out for a drive, not a hike. The man offered his more powerful cell phone. Then we waited and waited for the AAA receptionist to call back with news that a tow truck was on its way. The couple waited with us. Finally she called back, apologetic. Five or six companies had refused the job. They would not take their trucks out on a graveled mountain road and risk damaging them.
So the helpful Samaritan, Brock, put our tire in his truck and drove it and Hank down the mountain and back to Granite Falls, a round trip of about 35 miles. They got there just as the mechanic was closing up shop. He discovered a rock puncture in the tire, repaired and aired it up, and Hank and Brock returned to the parking area where Brock's friend Linda had been keeping me company. By the time they got there, the temperature had dropped. Linda and I were sitting in the car, watching hikers pour off the mountain, hoping the men would get back before dark so we wouldn't be alone.
Brock soon had the tire back on the car. Though he didn't want to take it, we gave him the little money we had with us to help pay for his gas. He and Linda waved and headed down the mountain. By the time we reached the main road, darkness had descended and they were long gone.
We are so grateful for the good and generous people that still walk the earth. Thank you, Brock and Linda and all the other good Samaritans for "paying it forward." When our turn comes, I hope we won't need to change a heavy, dirty tire like you did for us.