It was a last minute deal. I booked the car rental deal while sitting in the airport at noon before our Friday flight. The car was waiting for us when we landed and the daily rate was fantastic. The rental would hit our wallet for less than $100 over the long weekend. A bargain! But sometimes even careful planning can be scuttled by fate or the fact that certain new cars do not come with spare tires.
While Enterprise Rental did their best to up-sell us at every turn (I get it – they are a business), we simply claimed our own car insurance, waived theirs and walked out to the lot for a final inspection. One minor scratch on the bumper, check. All else seemed in order, however, we’d rented a Hyandai Elantra which, as it turns out, only has a repair kit in the wheel well – no jack, no spare tire. We weren’t informed of the fact and and, blissfully ignorant, were soon on our way.
The drive north from Oakland to Fort Bragg is long but beautiful most any time of the year. We were blessed with sunshine, punctuated with enough sprinkles to keep it interesting and the road was blissfully light on traffic. Crossing the Richmond Bridge is always special. I was born on the western side in the Marin hamlet of San Rafael and have lived in the area off and on over the decades. Mt. Tam loomed above the bay, seagulls swerved past the bridge pylons and before long we were on Highway 101 north.
Winter in the wine country is a subtle palette of tawny greys, tans and dark greens. Alongside the road, spotted cows stood out in cartoon relief as the road looped on. We choose the Hwy. 20 route to the coast as it’s a somewhat more direct route than Hwy. 128. After stopping in Ukiah for a brief lunch, we continued on as the skies turned from sprinkles to sunshine and back again. Around one bend a small, dark object sat in the road too close to avoid. Sadly it wasn’t a pine cone but a rock that bit our front, right tire and sent us limping to a pullout around the next bend.
That was our state for the next four hours. It wasn’t until then that we discovered the empty wheel well held only a tangled set of accessories for a compression pump and no jack. With no jack to lift the flat tire, the compressor proved useless.
Onto plan 2:
On that section of mountain road, cell phone service was nonexistent. Traffic was light but one good Samaritan soon pulled over to take my partner, Dave, to call the car company and the Automobile Club (Best to do it in that order). I sat and waited. Sitting alone in a broken down car with no cell phone service on a remote mountain pass sounds like the scenario for a TV crime show but no, the time passed pleasantly enough – it wasn’t cold or dark, I had time to read and nap before Dave returned, and no one bothered me. He soon enough opened the car door, reporting that a tow truck was on its way, and we sat another two hours. No one came to rescue us. With less than an hour to sunset, Dave decided to walk uphill to find the Call Box he’d passed earlier.
Nearly another hour passed until I looked up to see a police cars lights flashing in the rear view mirror. My heart leaped with relief as Dave stepped out. The young Sheriff, Matt Croskey, works in Willits and patrols this stretch of highway. He’d rescued Dave near the Call Box, which was not working, and waited with us until the Tow Truck finally emerged from the forest road.
Victor, from TnT Towing, has been patrolling this road for over two years and it was just part of the day’s ‘comedy of errors’ that he’d missed us earlier. His company is busiest when there’s a rain and it rains here often. Over the years he’s pulled cars from ravines, nearly fallen over an overgrown cliff, waited for emergency vehicles to liberate trapped passengers and is never at a loss for work. It can be grisly, but our encounter wasn’t.
As the car lifted and we rolled onto the highway, a pale SUV suddenly swerved around us and sped into the night. About 15 minutes along the way, a flare illuminated the road. Another flashed red as we completed the turn and saw ‘our’ Sheriff standing on the road surveying the white SUV (same as had passed us earlier) that had leaped into the forest and was suspended in the trees. Victor knew he had a long night ahead of him.
Finally, about nine hours after leaving San Rafael on a trip that normally takes about 3, we arrived in Fort Bragg. We left the car at the closed, Enterprise office and were dropped off at party we’d been looking forward to. The pork, steak and lingue tacos were most welcome after the day’s slim pickings. The night had promise and we were thankful to forget the day’s adventures.
Since the Enterprise office in Fort Bragg is closed on Sunday we were without a car until late morning on Monday. Luckily, friends in town were able to shuttle us about. The return trip was uneventful, thankfully, and I have to hand it to Enterprise – they took care of the bill. Don’t count on that (see the articles below,) just make sure that whatever new car you rent has a spare or you’re going to be outside of cell phone range should you get a flat.
Perhaps it was the fact that I was taking pictures like crazy and told the desk clerk that I was a travel writer, but our expenses were refunded, they gave us a private ride to our gate and offered several free upgrade coupons for next time we rent from Enterprise. We made it home safely with a story to tell and no worse for the wear. I’ll be much more careful about the next car rental deal I come across, but risk is a part of any trip.
Here’s some interesting articles about new car rentals without a spare tire:
Chris Elliot Blog – Towing charges with no spare tire? Read more.
No spare tire for safety and not as necessary with new tech. Read more.
Can you get a rental car with a spare tire? Read more.