We were 150 miles from home, headed for Colorado. All was well. Dani and the boys were watching a movie in the backseat. I was snoozing shotgun, and Darren was driving. In the CD player was a mix called "Stuff Darren Likes", and Aaron Neville's "Crazy Love" was playing. For the rest of my life, when I hear the strains of "She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love" in that beautiful tenor vibrato, I'll see the image of our tire bouncing down the highway.
I was sleeping pretty hard. All of a sudden, I heard a grinding sound, and the car was slowing down FAST. I opened my eyes, and as Aaron Neville's voice filled my head, my eyes immediately saw a tire - nay, a whole wheel - bouncing down the highway in front of me, 70 mph. It crossed the grassy median, continued down the oncoming lanes, and eventually came to rest several hundred yards away in the ditch on the other side. As it bounced along, I shook my head, trying to loosen the cobwebs that cluttered my sleepy mind.
"Is that OUR tire???" I asked.
I couldn't make sense of it. There had been no blow-out. I hadn't felt it, and besides... the tire rolling down the highway was obviously intact.
"Yes," was all Darren said.
Then we were stopped. He jumped out of the car, crossed the highway and jogged to where the wheel had come to rest. By then, the song had ended, and there was an eerie silence in the car. The boys were oblivious, engrossed in their movie. Dani and I wondered aloud what had happened. We watched Darren roll the wheel back toward us, jogging the whole way in 96 degree heat.
When he arrived at the car, he leaned the wheel against the car, and sat in the driver's seat. He was shaking, and I couldn't immediately tell if it was because he was winded, or because he was upset.
"What on earth?" I asked.
"The whole [front driver's side] wheel came off," he answered. "The lug nuts are gone."
At that point, we all piled out of the car. The boys and Dani sat up on a hill away from the highway. I helped Darren unload the back of the Xterra so he could access the jack.
As we came to a stop after the tire broke away, the grinding sound that woke me was the brake rotor scraping against the pavement. It was destroyed. We were only a couple of miles from a small town, though, and decided to take our chances. Darren borrowed a lug nut from each of the other three wheels, and used them to secure the lost wheel back to the car. We limped into town.
On the way, I called our friend Luke, who Googled and found the number of the only car mechanic in town... a tire and alignment shop. We went there.
"Huh," said the owner. "A 2002 Xterra. It might be hard to find parts for that."
I figured in the small town, it'd be next to impossible. I had visions of having to call friends to come pick us up, and spending our first days of vacation with the car in the shop.
We went to eat lunch at a nearby cafe while the mechanic looked at the car. When we returned, he'd not only located the parts - correct lugnuts AND brake rotor, IN TOWN - but he'd also managed to find and buy a new size of allen wrench with which to remove our 4-wheel drive thingy. (There's a fancy word for that, I'm sure.)
Amazingly, we were back on the road in just over 2 hours.
How'd it happen? Well, it seems that the (darned smart and good-lookin' to boot) guy (who I happen to be married to) who replaced our brake pads before we left failed to tighten the lug nuts all the way when he put the tire back on. He was shaking because he was FURIOUS with himself, and because he realized that we were so lucky to be safe. He didn't lose control of the car at all. He carefully brought it to a graceful stop on three wheels. I didn't know what to say, so I touched his shoulder and said, "You did a great job controlling the car." I don't think he acknowledged me.
Here's the deal. There were a lot of little things that went RIGHT with what could have been very bad.
- First, because we were driving the Xterra, which is made for off-roading and flexibility, Darren was easily able to control it. Any other car wouldn't have faired as well. I hate to think of what COULD have happened when losing an entire wheel while traveling at 72 mph.
- Because the Xterra has such a high clearance, Darren was able to get the jack underneath the car, even with the car was resting on its brake rotor.
- There were no other cars around us when it happened.
- Because the Xterra's wheels use 6 lugnuts and not 4 or 5, we could afford to borrow one from each wheel and limp into town...
- which was only 2 miles away.
- There was a mechanic in town who was fair and gracious and very fast.
- The parts for our car, uncommon, were found immediately.
Some would say (and have said) that God protected us that day... that He orchestrated the events in such a way that everything fell into place. But I don't know. I mean.... if God was involved at all, wouldn't He have made sure the lug nuts were tightened in the first place? Wouldn't He have ensured that the wheel miraculously stay put even when the lugnuts were loose?
I believe that God is alive and working in our lives, but I also believe that life HAPPENS, and that every single thing that transpires isn't necessarily the direct hand of God. I have no way of knowing which is which. Maybe it was dumb luck that we didn't lose control of the car. Maybe it was pure coincidence that it happened within a couple of miles of the only mechanic around who could help us. Maybe it WAS God. I don't know. All I can do it praise Him NOW, and always, and hug my kids a little tighter tonight. And stick around outside next time my brake-pad changing hubby is working on the car, to swat the pesky mosquitos that distracted him in the first place and sent him rushing inside after the job was done.