Not many people feel an affinity with turtles, but during my professional career that’s exactly how I’ve felt.
As a journalist I have lived in the most rural areas of Australia, high in the hills of Northern New South Wales, under the bright lights of the Gold Coast, along the river in Brisbane and now within the dense urban jungle of Sydney.
During this time, my car was always my one constant, and yet I never showed it the respect it deserved or learned how to take care of it. But it was this particular mindset that led me into a little story I like to casually call “The Worst Night Of My Life”.
As part of my exciting, straight-out-of-uni-job as a rural reporter for a smalltown newspaper I had spent the day at a horse expo that was just a hop, skip and a five-hour drive away from home.
Darkness had fallen by the time I’d finished work and, being a slightly out-of-touch city girl I decided it would be better to brace the long drive home than to stay in town overnight.
Especially since the only form of accommodation offered to me by the newspaper was at the home of a retired horse dealer called Greg, who was the proud owner of a deranged donkey that roamed free across his property and had taken to charging my car with blind rage.
It wasn’t until two hours into my trip home that I became aware of a strange sound emitting from the back of my car. Suddenly it seemed like my vehicle was towing a really angry marching band, so loud were the clangs and bangs coming from the rear.
This is probably the point where I should have pulled over and assessed the situation before more damage could be done, but instead I decided to just keep on driving and hope it would be OK.
Which turned out to be a very, very bad idea, because a few minutes later my back tyre blew out and the car began to skid across the loose gravel on the road.
I managed to manoeuvre the car to the side of the road and with shaking hands I reached for my phone, with the intent of simultaneously calling Roadside Assistance, the police and my mum for help, only to find it in perfect working order, with a full battery and absolutely no signal.
Immediately, the tears began building in the corner of my eyes as I climbed out of the car. With only the light of my phone to guide me, I bent down to inspect the offending tyre, which now bore a closer resemblance to a bag of shredded cheese. Suddenly, a night with a homicidal donkey wasn't looking so bad.
In a panicked blur, I popped the boot and began feverishly digging through the nest of junk that had taken up residency in my little turtle-home car. At that point, the rational part of me woke up to some home truths, which went something like this...
- Laura, you have never once checked the condition of the spare tyre you supposedly think is miraculously going to appear in the back of your car.
- If this mythical tyre does indeed exist (and that’s a big if) you have no actual knowledge or skills that will in any way help you attach it to the car.
- And while we’re at it, you also have no idea how to get the old shredded tyre off the car. You think you will need a ‘car jack’ but we both know you have no idea what that is.
- Also, you know what would be really helpful right now? Your owner’s manual that you are supposed to keep in your car at all times. But you don’t know where it is. You have an empty limited edition Pringles can in your car, but not the one document that will definitely help you get out of this mess.
- You are all alone, in the dark, on the side of the road and your body will probably never be found.
It took more than five hours for a car to finally pass by, and for me to wave it down and get help on the way.
During this time, my mind whipped between frenzied fantasies where I would imagine rescue lights appearing on the horizon, to nightmarish scenes where I was being watched through the dense darkness of the trees.
I also had a lot of time to contemplate what steps I could have taken to save myself this heartbreak. Of all the ways I could have avoided getting into this predicament in the first place.
I should have known that tyres need to be checked regularly, at least once every two weeks, including the spare tyre. And always before a long trip.
I would have known to replace my tyres if the tread was worn, the sidewall was damaged, if there were any holes in the tread greater than 6 mm in diameter or if the bead ( the edge of the tyre that sits on the wheel) was damaged or deformed.
I would have taught myself how to change a tyre and ensured I had the proper tools on hand to do so at all times.
I also would have educated myself on what to do in the case of a breakdown or tyre blow-out. Things like not slamming on the brakes and instead allowing my car to slow down gradually and then pulling off to the side of the road once I had slowed to a safe speed.
I would have thought to activate the car’s emergency flashers before I even stepped out of the car or picked up my phone.
Look, if that dark night taught me anything, it’s that being prepared to drive a car is about so much more than obtaining a licence. It’s also about having the basic skills to keep yourself afloat should roadside assistance not be readily available.
The moral of this story is always be prepared. And don’t forget to check your spare tyre.
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