Dirt Road Adventure!
In leaving the Chino Valley area and heading for the next crank up in altitude near Williams, Arizona, I decided to take a dirt road route via Perkinsville, rather than the convenience of the 65 MPH run up AZ-89 to I-40. Perkinsville is officially a ghost town having no remnants of a town left, save for a railroad station located on what is now private property. My goal is generally more about finding appropriate campsites, and less about blazing new trails to get to them, but I had the time and thought I’d give it a shot. There were alleged to be things worth seeing.
Perkinsville Road heads east out of Chino Valley and works its way northeast to, well, Perkinsville. It varies between 1.5 and 2 lanes of quite smooth graded road, suitable for any vehicle. It winds around a bit here and there, and presents some nice views. I had initially planned to camp at Perkinsville along a Forest Service road there. Once I scoped it out though, I decided to press on to Williams, since it was just 4 PM and the remaining distance was about 35 miles.
My adventure came as I got several miles out of Perkinsville and noticed that the Mighty Furd might possibly be down lower on the right side. Given the Ford’s rounded hood, it was more of just a feeling I had, as the thing wasn’t misbehaving in any way. So, I stopped and checked. Flat right front tire! And it had warmed nicely from running flat, but had not broken its bead on the rim. This was in a 1.5-lane section, not the best place to address a flat tire. I decided to see if the puncture was slow enough to get me anywhere, and broke out the Viair pump. The tire reinflated well enough, but by the time it hit 60 PSI it had slowed, and it could not get above 65. I shut down the engine and could hear it leaking and, placing my hand over the tread area, I found a prodigious leak that wouldn’t get me more than a few miles before needing a refill. Getting to Williams would take nearly 10 stops while running underinflated the whole way, increasing the odds of destroying a perfectly good tire with a simple puncture.
So, Williams was out, and I made a heroic run back to Perkinsville and a trailhead parking lot there flat enough to stop and see what I could do to address the problem. The debate was whether to air up with a can of tire sealer I suspected I might have packed when leaving my home base in Wellton, or change out for the spare, or call Coach-Net to do it for me. I had that last option thanks to the Defiant, with its history of wheel bearing and tire problems. It runs out in something like September.
The options quickly sorted themselves out for me. First off, like most RV insurance outfits, Coach-Net won’t touch me when I’m on an “unmaintained” road, and most of Perkinsville Road is prominently signed as unmaintained. I could try it anyway, but I had the feeling that it would not miraculously work out – as in, “waste of time”. This is not a VW Beetle, so the thought of changing out the spare was daunting from a physical standpoint. I checked the “chemicals and lubricants” bin in the cargo box. No soap. I’d probably decided against it at the time because that kind of goop compromises making permanent repairs later. So, it came down to changing the tire. Ugh.
The good news was that the factory jack that comes with the Ford is a mechanical bottle jack. It starts out low enough to get under the front axle, and has enough reach to lift it high enough to get the tire clear of the ground. Instead of pumping a handle as with common hydraulic jacks, which usually don’t have enough reach to not foul the bodywork, the handle rotates to lift and lower. This is made easier by three long extension rods that snap together, and the rods are turned by fitting the lug wrench onto the end and rotating it around like a big crank with plenty of leverage. That lug wrench actually works to loosen the wheel nuts too, unlike the old days when standing on the lever to bust loose a too-tight nut would result in the wrench simply coming off the nut – and damaging it. That’s what made star wrenches so popular.
The bad news was my front and rear add-ons. While the extensions generously cleared the front bumper for the jack, and the rear bumper for the spare tire winch, twirling the crank around made it interfere with the bike carrier and the cargo box frame. This was inconvenient and slow-going, but not undo-able. Careful rod alignment took care of the lifting with the jack, while an adjustable wrench nicely substituted for the crank on the spare tire release.
The showstopper quickly surfaced once I managed to lower the spare tire from its lair in front of the rear bumper. It had been secured there with a factory cable lock. No mention of that anywhere in the factory literature. The good news there was that I’d had unidentified keys with me all this time, and the cable lock was thick and entirely vinyl-coated against weather. The bad news was that the lock’s keyhole had no cover over it, and trying to get a key in was futile. Silicone spray didn’t help much, as the thing was simply clogged with dirt – and now mud. Had I called Coach-Net, the guy they would not send would have had that to deal with as well, and I was better equipped. Desperate men do desperate things, so I gutted the rear of the cab to break out a hacksaw, and threw a rag/T-shirt on the dusty ground to have at it. That was extra fun that probably lasted at least an hour, including the breaks I had to take in order to be able to keep at it.
One thing that stood out for me, next to the inherent problems in dealing with a spare tire locking system that had not seen the light of day since May of 2007, was that the days of skinny tires on 5″ wide, 15″ rims are long gone. I have no idea what the Ford’s mounted tires weigh. All I know is that I can’t get one off the ground. Even dragging one out from under the bed is an ordeal.
I had started the whole process just a little after 4, and as the sun disappeared behind the mountain, I had done everything but hit the ignored spare tire with the Viair to bring it up to operating pressure. I had my doubts about its ability to take it, since it was now 11 years old. Anyway, I was so exhausted from scurrying under things, sawing, lifting and accessing that I got the camper’s roof up (with difficulty) and said “to hell with it, I can’t move.” A trailhead is not a camping spot, but I no longer cared. After a light repast of “Super Seed & Fruit Granola” that I’d picked up during errands earlier that day, plus two tall glasses of iced tea, I watched a couple of Laurel and Hardy shorts and crawled into bed about 9:15 to ache more comfortably.
Early the next morning, I crawled out of bed and turned on the furnace to pump temps up just a bit. Big mistake, as it turned out. I’d whacked myself pretty good, apparently, and there was nothing to bounce back with. I had to lie down again, or else. Some further rest helped, and then priority one was to get the roof back down ASAP, to erase the stain of sin from camping at a trailhead. Then it would just look like a repair. That’s significant because I’m one of those people who never gets away with anything. After that, the Viair took the spare up to 65 PSI without any visible bulges, and I took off towards Williams. This section starts out slightly bumpier than before, but it turns to pavement before too long. With Eddie’s Tire Shop instead of camp coordinates now in the GPS, the scenery changed from bush-infested desert to comforting pine forest.
Eddie’s is a tiny tire shop, an old-school hole in the wall that takes care of the problem quickly and charges twenty bucks. The weird spare tire access was best done by me, grabbing and turning the winch with a borrowed Vise-Grip. But he dragged it out and shoved it back in to hook it back up to its winch cable. Part of the old-school is that he prefers to place a patch on the inner wall of the tire, which he feels has proven more reliable than plugs. Those are best inserted from the inside too. Congratulations to me for failing to pack the Seal-A-Flat can, as that would have made applying a patch a challenge. I was out of there in probably thirty minutes, and the third part of the old-school picture is that you’re free to talk with the guy doing the work (there’s only one) as long as you don’t pipe up when the dangerous tire mounting machinery is rolling. He’ll tell you where he’s from and why he chose this arduous line of work (“I’d go nuts riding a desk all day, I have to be active,”) if you’ll say/admit where you’re from and where the flat happened. He was impressed that the last flat I’d had occurred in about 1973, on Firestones, and yes, on a Pinto Hatchback. This Cooper had punctured at the thick part of the tread, and whatever had caused it decided not to stay put.
Once out of the tire shop, I headed for a Love’s truck plaza which offers showers for $11. Yep, that’s more than the coin-op showers in most camps, but oh my, what a difference. 100% tile, spotless, toilet and sink with counter, they hand you two generously-sized bath towels and a face rag, and you can take your sweet time washing off the stink in complete privacy. There’s liquid soap there, but your own soap and shampoo are in order. I had a change of clothing with me, and exited considerably prettier and less aromatic than when I went in, I like to think.
Thus refreshed, I found a parking lot in town with long spaces just on the other side of the street from a 3-squares restaurant. That was another joy. Their Country Breakfast would choke a horse, as it consists of three eggs to order, three pieces of bacon, two flat sausage patties nearly as large as CDs, potato cubes, and two large biscuits swamped in gravy. I did my best on it, but even if I weren’t still too tired to stick with it, there was no way I could polish it off. Their coffee is served in what amounts to a lightweight soup mug, and I couldn’t even finish that.
I hiked around a little bit afterward, but the blowout of the previous day greatly limited that tour as well. Williams is one of the few small towns on Historic Route 66 that was bypassed by I-40 and yet still thrives. No doubt transforming itself into a kind of gateway to the Grand Canyon helped. Route 66 forms two one-way corridors, each having two lanes and a heap of street parking in front of the shops. The Grand Canyon Railway hauls passengers to and from – you guessed it. The boutiques and gift shops outnumber the conventional businesses, and they cater to tourists. It’s kind of like a more intimate Prescott, with a hint of Colorado in who it draws. There were young backpackers with cameras, and tons of younger visitors having lunch and slurping beer in the many outdoor Pub & Grills where someone would be playing music. As ever, the few Japanese tourists I saw were using cameras to snap away at anything that walked, crawled or stayed put. I mean, those folks burn electrons, and why not? From a camping standpoint, the only thing that puts a serious crimp in Williams is the lack of a laundromat in town. The other notable thing about Williams (for me) was the unusual presence of old pickup trucks still in decent working shape, particularly early 60s Dodges. Here, the siren call of new and improved materialism is dented here and there with the pragmatism of “Why would I get rid of it? It still works, pretty much. Gets me to town.”
I had to give up too soon, and considerable touring would be needed approaching Dogtown Lake in order to find a camping spot. There were many. One thing that confused me is that Kaibab National Forest can have a rather nazi-esk approach to camping, requiring in print that all campers must be parked within 30 feet of a designated approved road or trail. I sure wasn’t seeing that, which is good. Apparently, they run it looser up here. Going by the book and sticking to MVUM trails can be problematic. They wind their way through the trees and can get narrow. I had to turn back on one because of an elongated mud pit, and in all cases the technically legal spots are plentiful on some branches and nearly nonexistent on others. Fire rings are all well away from the trails, showing that the new 30-foot rule is new layer of bureaucracy. Active logging operations took out one major trail. In the end, I settled for a place that offers enough sun for solar and is near the main dirt road. I don’t have a problem with the limited traffic, but do when they stop to break out the dogs and generators. So this works for me, and I do have a prayer of getting out should rain hit before I leave next week.