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My Life Outdoors

Stranded In The Backcountry – Grand Canyon National Park

My family and I were deep in the backcountry on a remote forest service road when my tire light came on. We had been driving on some pretty rugged terrain and I knew my tires were taking a beating. I jumped out to check the tire, sure enough, a flat. No big deal, I thought. I’ll just throw on the spare. I told my wife what had happened, and that it might be a while, so her and the girls got out to stretch their legs. I was all ready to pull off the flat tire when my wife said: “Umm, honey. This tire is flat too.”

Two flat tires, miles from nowhere, no cell service, and no one around to help. We were stranded.

A Flat tire in the backcountry, no big deal if you have a spare.
Two flat tires in the backcountry – Now thats a slight problem.

 Had I been fully prepared I probably could of handled the situation. If I had a tire plug kit and a DC powered air pump there would be no problem. I had in fact been somewhat prepared in the past. I had bought a simple plug kit and thrown it under the passenger seat and I used to keep a bicycle foot pump in the back. I went to look for the plug kit, but half of it was missing, and the I had taken the pump out more than a year ago. As the situation was, I was really stuck.

 We were stuck, but we weren’t in any real danger. We had several days worth of food and water, and where loaded to the brim with camping gear. Someone would be along eventually or I could hike out to get help while my family set up camp. But I wasn’t ready to do that yet.

I once saw this Mythbusters where they tested flat tire myths. One myth was about a guy who had a flat and stuffed his tire full of hay. As I remember the show, they tested it and found that it actually worked pretty well. I thought it was worth a try so I got the girls out of the car and had them start cutting pine needles. I cut a slit in the sidewall of one of the flats and began stuffing it full of pine needles. It was going pretty well and I was beginning to believe it was actually going to work when Kevin pulled up.

I didn’t know if my little knife could cut through the sidewall. It was a lot easier than I had thought.

I had to make a pretty good sized slit to make enough room for the pine needles.
I shoved pine needles into the tire for a good hour or more. 

We had met Kevin the night before out at Point Sublime on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That very morning Kevin and I watched the Sun rise as it painted light on the canyon walls. Both of us had plans to go see Fire Point, another remote point in Grand Canyon National Park. It was leaving Fire Point when I had the flats. I knew there was a possibility that Kevin would come out the same way, but there was no way to be certain. When I saw him pull up, I was very thankful.

Kevin to the Rescue
Fire Point – Grand Canyon National Park

I told him I had been stuffing pine needles into my tire for the past hour or so. He seemed very intrigued by the idea. He, on the other hand, was prepared with an intact plug kit and DC air pump. I was a little disappointed. I really wanted to see if the the pine needles would work. But I knew I needed to use the plug kit instead. With Kevin’s help I had the tire plugged in no time. We poured soapy water over the tire to check for other leaks. Sure enough there was one more. We plugged that one two and were ready to go.

Plugging a tire with Kevin’s help
Plugging the one tire I didn’t cut a slit into.

Kevin followed me out to make sure we didn’t have any problems. The Plugs held all the way to Kanap Utah where I had two new tires put on and had to do a little explaining why one was full of pine needles. On the way home I picked up an air pump and plug kit, which means I’ll probably never get the chance to try pine needles ever again. Oh well. If you ever try it. I would like to hear about it.

My tire at a tire shop in Kanap UT. The guys there were intrigued by the idea and through it would have worked. Sigh

This whole ordeal taught me you can never be too prepared. As I said before, we were never in any real danger, but had the circumstances been a little different, we could have been. It just goes to show you should never venture beyond what your abilities or equipment can handle. I owe Kevin a huge thank you. Resources:
Maps and Books I used while visiting the Grand Canyon. Purchase them through the links below to support MyLifeOutdoors.


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  • 1Happy Hiker

    June 25, 2012

    Thoroughly enjoyed this report. Sure it wasn't funny at the time, but looking back on it, I'm certain you've already discovered some "guy" humor! I mean, what guy wouldn't want to test the "pine needle theory" for inflating a tire! 🙂

    Thanks for posting!


  • Rita

    June 25, 2012

    I loved this story! (And was glad to hear it had a happy ending.) I'm going to the deserts of southern Utah next week. Hmmm…maybe I should pick up one of those plug kits.

    An most intriguing post!

  • Tim

    June 26, 2012

    Yikes, that really could have turned ugly if circumstances had been different. Wow, pine needles. I'll have to keep that in mind if I'm ever in a similar situation. Glad y'all made it out safely and with a good story to tell.

  • Linda Williams

    June 26, 2012

    Glad help came along! Although, like you, I'm curious how the "pine needle" tire repair would have worked…

  • Daniel Beach

    June 26, 2012

    now that's what I call a real adventure story. totally awesome. you're now my hero.

  • Henry Mitchel

    June 28, 2012

    Darn! That would always be a problem!

  • Sonny Davis

    July 1, 2012

    I really enjoyed this article…the pictures too! I thought about MacGyver while reading it.

  • RED

    July 2, 2012

    The pine needle trick is intriguing but I can't believe you so readily destroyed a tire! Driving up to the Arctic Circle last month, we were worried about the same thing and after almost 500 miles, we got a flat. I'm very glad we had made sure to have a full-sized spare and had checked the pressure before heading out.

  • Dionepinindy

    July 10, 2012

    At least 30 years ago we camped at the North Rim in our old Coleman tent and our station wagon and our two small kids. We took off on a day drive on rough roads (probably 4-wheel drive roads but we never let that stop us back then) and finally we "high-centered" on a rock. My MacGyver clone husband got out the camping shovel, some various wood blocks and bricks and the kids and I helped him build ramps and other construction projects around the wheels of the station wagon. I don't remember all the specifics of the project but we all remember how he turned this OMG we are in real trouble moment into a family memory we still talk about. I know your girls will long remember stuffing the tire with pine boughs! Another in a long line of true-life adventures we have had and continue to have all these years later.

  • my20cents

    July 15, 2014

    haha. the difference between an adventure and a disaster is attitude!

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