Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Diary of a Bad Tire... Adventures in Montreal

Having had a wonderful time in Mont Tremblant, we savored every last moment of the fresh, mountain air, leaving our campsite just 5 minutes before the required 1pm check out.

"No worries," April said, "It's only 80 miles to Montreal." 

Foreshadowing suggests that saying such a thing was probably a mistake. 

“I’m pretty sure they told me at the front desk to take a special road to exit?” Mark said. “I think it’s that one?”

He pointed to an unknown gravel road uphill from our site, which was currently occupied by a family checking out of their site. The husband and wife were in a bit of a dispute, their two kids milling about their campsite.  As we rolled up behind them, the man walked over to Mark’s window.

“Are we supposed to go out this way?” He asked first in French, and then English.

“That’s what the lady up front told me too,” Mark replied.

“Ok,” said the man, “I’ll go first and you’ll have to let them know if I don’t make it.”

Mark gave him a firm thumbs up and then muttered, under his breath “Just go, pal. What the heck does he mean by that?”

What the heck the man meant… and what we would soon learn… was that the road ahead was not an ideal exit... unless you are looking to exit the Earth.  It was, instead, a wooded back road with a more-than-90-degree-turn off the edge of a very wet and very muddy gully.  A gully full of jagged rocks.  In other words… not the place for us.

As we rounded said turn, we jackknifed and three fourths of our lovely Jayco and one fourth of F350 slid down into the gully. The driver’s side front of Jayco sank into the wall of the bed of the F350.  Metal crunched. The tires that remained on the road, the passenger side of the Jayco and the rear passenger side of F350, hung on for dear life.

Panic ensued. 

This was obviously no time for pictures, so April later drew the event on a paper towel with a gray Crayola marker.  #makingdo 

Mark got such a kick out of this drawing that he later commissioned several more pieces from her... this time on real paper. 

There was a moment of silence for F350’s now-bent truck bed. The kids, completely clueless with their headphones and tablets in the backseat (securely restrained in their car seats, of course), remained unaware of the drama.

 As rain began to fall and swarms of bugs descended upon us, we got out to assess the damage. And when we say we... we mean Mark. Remember, there were swarms of bugs.  But soon Mark yanked open the driver's side door and told April that she needed to get out and help PDQ (Pretty Damn Quick).

Spotting not only bugs, but also poison ivy on her side of the truck, April came scrambling over the center console like Bo Duke across the hood of General Lee. Mark swelled with pride as his amazing bride confronted one of her biggest fears... the outdoors. Not only was she super brave, she was super helpful. Weird.

The dynamic duo quickly confronted the very real possibility that Jayco was about to slide further into the gully and land on her side… taking the truck and us with her. We also confronted the probability that if we did try to drive out of the gully and up the hill and its crazy sharp turn, we may only save Jayco and F350 in pieces, as it would surely break almost everything (axles, pin box, our spirits, etc...) in the process.

Up a creek without a paddle, we considered just getting the kids out and bailing on the whole thing… but the thought of dealing with a French-speaking tow truck driver inspired us to keep going.  

So, literal inch by literal inch, we went back, then forward/back/forward/back for almost an hour until we’d righted our trailer and truck, destroyed the better part of campsite 31A, and thrown a trash can that was in our way (we needed those few extra inches).

It was now almost 2pm.  We pulled out of the campground and into the parking lot of a St-Hubert to catch our breath. No one spoke. Kids still clueless but now starving, and Mark still in shock, we parked and ventured inside to count our blessings over several orders of Quarter Rotisserie.

Aside from the damage to the truck bed, everything else appeared to be intact. We know this because Mark spent the better part of the St-Hubert stop inspecting stress points for damage: axles, wheels, tires, pin box, hitch. He even got up on the roof to see if the trees branches that we "nudged" had caused any damage to the roof, or if the roof seal had been damaged when the front cap of the fifth wheel collided with the upper part of the truck bed. Thankfully, all was well.

After lunch, Mark was ready to change his pants (we joke…) and get back on the road toward Montreal.  79 miles to go! 

It was then that the phone rang. Problems at Decibels Audiology. A recent lightning strike had fried… well… let’s just say everything computer related to avoid describing it all. Mark’s IT buddies and our very own Michael Ellis were working tirelessly to put Humpty Dumpty back together again… to no avail. Things were bad. Really bad. We discussed Mark flying home from Montreal for a few days to fix this clucking mess.  Ugh.  This did not feel like vacation.

Approximately 75 miles later, as Mark navigated Montreal traffic and continued to talk tech via speakerphone, a set of frantically waiving arms caught Mark’s attention. For once, it wasn't April flailing around in the passenger seat, demanding that he turn on a dime toward whatever road side attraction she had just spotted. This time, it was a concerned Canadian waving his arms as he cruised down the highway. As Mark rolled his window down, the French-speaking man in a burgundy SUV shouted “There is a balloon in your tire!”

Mark: “A balloon?”

Man: “A big balloon stuck in your tire.”

Then, as quickly and as frantically as he came, he was gone.

"Oh great... our tire is going to blow out," Mark muttered with an uncharacteristic lack of surprise.

"I'm sure it's fine.  What does he even mean... a balloon?" April tried to diffuse as they reached a bridge with absolutely no bailout points.

"Maybe he means an actual balloon? He is Canadian. Do you see a balloon back there?” Mark asked April as she stuck her head out the window.

She didn’t see anything, but it wouldn’t have mattered if she had. They were now stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, in a construction zone, on a bridge, in one of the largest cities in Canada. In the rain. Nobody was getting out to check anything. The Gambler came on the radio. 

We continued on. Mark soiled another pair of pants as his mind raced for the next 45 minutes. Once off the bridge and out of the construction zone, we pulled into our campground and got down on all fours. To check the tires… of course. 

Sure as a baked potato needs sour cream, Mark saw immediately that our front passenger side tire on the fifth wheel had a “balloon” sticking out of it like a giant zit.  A crowd formed of super-helpful French Canadians. They kindly spoke to us in English and then chuckled among themselves in French.  They all agreed, especially the ex-trucker tire expert dude, that our tired was “Done. Useless. Throw it away. If you drive on that, it will blow up.” It sounded even more serious in his thick French accent. 

Mark was running out of pants.

Riding on borrowed air (That was pretty good, right?), we checked in and noted that the sun was finally setting on this day.  The posse of Canadians agreed that this "tire issue" would need to be fixed in the morning... after they all helped us navigate into our campsite.

Head Canadian: “It is very tricky to park in this site you have tonight, no? You will need our eyes, no? We all watch. You drive, no? Can you do it?”

Ummmmmmmm…… Yes?

Again… no time for photos… but here is a drawing of the tricky site we were asked to maneuver into… with a bad tire... as night fell.  Dozens of retirees and families on the way back from the pool or playground stopped to watch the show.  Four Canadians and four unsuspecting Americans… all trying to fit a 40 foot trailer into a 40 foot campsite. Again, inch by inch, Super Mark made it happen.

An hour later, we were finally parked.  And while you would think this would be the time that Mark could finally relax... and wash all of those soiled cargo pants... you have probably forgotten that our business had been in the midst of a technology meltdown this entire time. Mark quickly shook the hands of the Canadian Posse, hooked up the camper, and got on a three hour conference call with Michael.  Together, they plugged and unplugged and booted and rebooted and installed and uninstalled many things.  Kids wailed in the background, April was admonished by Michael for stirring dinner too loudly and interrupting his speakerphone focus.  Tensions were high... but Super Mark once again got it done. Somewhere around 11pm, Decibels Audiology was up and running again.

You would assume that now Mark could finally kick back and relax. Au Contraire.

It was time to replace bubble tire with the spare.  Kids in bed, we brought in all the slide outs and readied the camper for the tire change.  No matter what we did, however, we couldn't get bad tire off the ground.  Enter yet another friendly and knowledgeable Canadian... this one with an extra jack. Bingo.

The man, in his late seventies, spoke mostly French, and had been watching us from an open window in his camper. At an hour when anyone with any sense should have been in bed, this cool cat strolled out of camper, rustled through his perfectly organized tool box, and produced a specialized jack for this very occasion. Then, he came over to tell us what was up.

The best part about needing someone's help who doesn't speak your language? No time for a lot of extra words.  As April went inside to leave the men to their tire changing, she giggled at the basic communication and the quick progress the two were making.

"Like this?"
"No, no, not ok."
"Like this?"
"It's ok."

As they worked, the man repeatedly retreated to his trailer. Obviously watching Mark's every move, he would then repeatedly come back over to offer more advice. Each time he'd say "Ok! You've got this!" A few minutes later, he'd be back.  Sometime after midnight, April heard the two calculating tire pressure.  She took this as a sign that all was well and went to bed. Somewhere in the night, Mark joined her.  

Morning brought sunshine and a much more obvious view of what we'd be dealing with. That's one big bubble! Yikes!

Yes, that's right. It's the size of a baseball.

We were the talk of the trailer park. Everyone who happened to pass by stopped to stare. Some brought their friends.  People poked and prodded at our tire pimple. Our tire was very popular. We intentionally left it out in front of our campsite for the next few days, just to stop traffic.

Aware of all the attention, Mark retreated to the trailer to make a few hours worth phone calls in an attempt to replace bubble tire... as well as the rest of the "piece of craptastic Chinese nonsense these folks at Jayco try to pass off as tires." 

Let us all be thankful for Mark's basic French skills. Mr. BadAss Royan not only researched and selected the best tires, got them ordered in French, got them shipped overnight to Montreal, scheduled the tire pick up, and then found and scheduled a separate shop to mount the tires... but he also was able to score a sweet discount.  That's my man.  He can change a tire. He can buy a tire. In French. That's hot. 

Once our replacement tires were ordered, there was nothing to do but wait... and finally explore Montreal.  Full of European-like charm, amazing people, amazing food, and amazing sites, we fell in love with this city.  

After a delightful lunch on the square at Jardin Nelson (another great recommendation by our Mont Tremblant buddy, Silvia), we walked the 375 year old streets of Montreal to  the Notre-Dame Basilica. 

Our boys were blown away by the beauty of the Basilica.  They spent almost an hour walking the walls of the church, checking out the amazing architecture and intricate designs. It occurred to us that they'd never really seen anything like this, having never been to Europe, and it was so neat to watch them marvel at the beauty of the church.  Book the tickets to Italy! They're totally ready! 

Once we were done walking the Basilica, April begged to take a horse and carriage ride back to the pier, where we had parked.  Mark obliged.. because he is awesome... but mostly because he saw it as a potentially great nap opportunity. He even let her choose the pink carriage... because pink is also awesome, and so relaxing.

At the pier, we checked in for our final tourist stop in Montreal, the Saute-Moutons Jet Boats.  Buckle up, these things are crazy fun! 

In case you've never considered Jet Boating the Lachine Rapids with your young family in tow, allow us to be the first to tell you that you should. Life jacket, poncho, and booties provided, we boarded this crazy flat-bottomed boat and road 15 minutes from shore to the Lachine Rapids. Then, we got soaked. April, Mark, and Andrew screamed and laughed hysterically. Max just screamed... unsure of why we were intentionally soaking ourselves with frigid water that filled the boat up to our knees and soaked us to our core.  Super fun.  

Unfortunately, the pictures above are not of us. We ripped those off of Facebook because, obviously, no camera of ours is going to survive that amount of water.  Same boat, different crew. You get the idea.  

Back at home, we changed out of our soggy clothes as Andrew announced that the Jet Boat had been the best hour of his life. He thanked us endlessly for taking him, despite Max's objections, and chose this moment to make a confession. 

"Mom," he said, "I have to tell you something. A few days ago on your birthday, when you got mad at me and made me go to bed, I stayed up in my bunk and drew this picture of you. Now I feel badly about it because we had such a nice day. I especially feel bad that I drew a bowling ball klonking you on the head. Can you forgive me?" 

Tears in his eyes, he revealed the picture... 

April immediately burst into laughter. Mark congratulated Andrew on the likeness, as he too giggled uncontrollably.  Waves of relief washed over Andrew. 

"I can't believe I'm not in trouble for this!" he exclaimed, and toddled off to bed.  

Max spent our last night at the Camping Amerique Montreal making his own "dinner" and riding his bike. It turns out that a meal of cantaloupe, cranberries, Nutella, and honey ... all mixed together... can provide hours of boundless energy for a first-grader. #upallnight

Quick thinking by Mark allowed Max to burn off some of his energy by pushing our garbage to the dumpster on a campground-provided engine-less lawnmower. Canada, man... Canada.

At 6am the next morning, we left the friendliest campground ever behind us and headed to a local tire shop to pick up our shiny new set of Goodyear Endurance trailer tires.  We were temporarily delayed as a tractor trailer full of horse trailers delivered a few dozen new trailers to the trailer shop (imagine the trailer for that movie!), but they soon got us into the service bay and on our way! 

Goodbye, Montreal! You have been most excellent to us!! On to Quebec City! 

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