Our escape was successful, I assume because our puniness was made obvious to the bison and thus not worth his, or the herd’s, time. After dodging horse shit again and speaking loudly, out of nervousness instead of bear encounter prevention this time, we made it back to our orange chariot having survived our first truly sketchy encounter with Yellowstone mega-fauna.
We continued down the road to the eastern end of Lamar Valley and pulled off at an area called Pebble Creek. Keira and I tag-teamed cleaning out trash that had built up in the car, re-organized things and relieved our patient bladders. Ready to get back to Mammoth, go on another hike and setup camp for our last night in Yellowstone, we fired up the car and started driving. We got ten feet.
It sounded as though the drive shaft sheared and was grinding against other important metal objects necessary for the operation of my car. My heart sank. All of our plans, the sights we would see, the experiences we would make, the hope of ever seeing those places and experiencing those things vanished with one wretched noise.
A man named Bill – the only other living soul around – pulled up in his ‘Merican made, diesel-power-plant-on-wheels and asked if we needed any help, adding at the end of his inquiry, “sounds like ‘ya ‘gotta pebble in ‘yer brake.” Taking note of that bizarre bit of op-info I asked where the nearest ranger station was. With simple directions received, Keira and I made our way three miles back towards Mammoth to a satellite ranger station in silence, aside from the ear-piercing screech of my car slowly dying – we presumed.
Ten minutes, and countless terrified creatures and their respective pissed-off human observers later, we arrived at the ranger station only to find out it is no longer a ranger station, but rather the springtime home of one very pregnant woman.
SCREEEEECH-WANGTANGTANG-SCREEEETCH, “Sounds like a pebble in your brake, I had that same problem once,” she says after bearing witness to the noise my car continued to make.
“So how do I fix it?” I ask.
“Well, you could risk driving on it and hope the pebble dislodges itself. Of course if it doesn’t fall out soon enough the friction caused by the pebble could heat up your brake and split it,” She continues, “Your other option is to take the tire off and see what’s back there.”
“I can’t do that,” I explain, “my tire lock was stolen.”
I stared at her, and she at I, silence fell over the three of us. “I’ll call a tow truck,” she said, conclusively.
Keira and I sat in the car, heat on high, audiobook blaring through the crippled car’s speaker system. Two hours later, the tow truck arrived from Cooke City, fifty miles away.
“Sounds lika pebble in yer brake,” he said with half-confidence. “You try takin’ the tire off?”
“Don’t have the tire lock,” I say.
“Hmmm… well let’s lift up the front on the back-uh-my-truck here,” he suggests, lowering the hydraulic lift gate of his weathered truck.
Being the last resort before having to get towed fifty miles away in the snow, I agreed, drove my front tires onto the gate, helped him secure the car and lift the front end up. Crawling underneath I finally got a view of the problem area. Behind every brake pad there is a piece of low-gauge metal that protects the brake pads from dirt and grime. What I saw when I crawled underneath my car was that piece of metal warped and misshapen. I explained what I saw to the tow truck operator in a half question.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, reaching into his toolbox and pulling out a standard screwdriver. He kneeled, eye-level with the outside of my tire, and began poking on the small flange of metal barely visible from his vantage point, and worked the warped piece of metal back into its original shape. After only a few seconds of doing this, a pebble half the size of a pinky nail falls out, landing with a clink on the inside of my wheel.
“Fixed!” he proclaims.
He lowered the car back to the ground, I got in, put it in reverse, and sure enough, silence. $327 and a face-in-palm moment later, Cooke City Towing’s finest rumbled off in his battered tow truck, leaving Keira and I to stare at the innocuous looking pebble I held in my hand.