A couple of weeks ago, just a day after our interview with CBS Evening News, we ran into our first major snag for the trip. The front right truck tire blew. The spare tire was attached on the underbelly of the truck bed and it was a feat in and of itself just to get it loose. After an hour or two trying to get through the steel coil that was firmly preventing us from getting the spare off, Nick and I decided to drive ahead and find the little town of Pinon, NM in the hopes of finding some more effective tools to do the job.
We had no idea how far it was to Pinon and we were questioning our exact location on our maps. There was no cell service whatsoever so we couldn’t even see where we were on the map. The physical maps that we did have were not detailed enough to show the roads that we were taking. Therefore Nick and I somewhat blindly took off in the hopes of running into the town. We loaded up with extra diesel, water, food, and protection, taking every precaution, leaving nothing to chance.
Being out in the middle of nowhere with no way of contacting someone in the event of an emergency is nothing with which to trifle. We have been blessed to have a John Deere gator vehicle provided by Reynolds Farm Equipment on this trip. It has not only been a godsend for the trip in general, allowing us to make great time on our golfing journey, but in our tire-blow-out situation it potentially saved our lives. The road that we were stranded on was called the Dixie Highway even though we only saw one car on the road for the entire 4 days that we were on it. To make matters worse this dirt road is also called Smuggler’s Lane because it is a common route that the Mexican drug cartels use to transport their dope. Like I said, having the gator with us could have potentially saved our lives.
After having driven roughly 30 miles and not seeing a single sign of any town or city Nick and I decided to stop at someone’s house to ask for directions and to possibly use their landline telephone.
There is not a doubt in my mind that all of the events that had transpired that day had purposefully guided us to the Kniepkemps. We were in need and God led us to the Kniepkemp’s ranch.
The Kniepkemps answered the door and we asked where Pinon was. They immediately redirected our question with a question: what do you need in Pinon? Once we told them of our situation they would not let us go without loaning us tools, feeding us, providing water, and having us call our families to let them know we were okay. Not only did they let us borrow a bunch of tools from their barn but they also packed into their car to drive down to see exactly where we broke down. They wanted to make sure they knew of our location so that they knew we were okay.
It would be wrong of me to not introduce the Kniepkemps: First there’s Paul and Christy. They are the proud parents of Callie (10) and Paydon (8). Paul and Christy live on a ranch between Alamogordo and Artesia, New Mexico. It is a fourth generation ranch and much of the extended family lives on the property as well, including Barbara, Christy’s mother, who can give Paula Dean a run for her money! When I’m at the Kniepkemp’s I feel like I’m at my great aunt’s house. They never let you leave without feeding you!
Paul and Christy’s character is evident in how well behaved, intelligent, and fun their kids are! Callie and Paydon are two of the brightest kids I have ever encountered. When they wake up in the morning they don’t run towards the television like much of the country does. They, on the other hand, run to their books and enthusiastically flip to their bookmarked page. Although we were only there for three days, I never once saw them argue or fight like many siblings do. Finally, they play well like kids should. They climb trees, run around the ranch, and camp in their tent!
Back to our broken down vehicle:
Luckily we had the forethought to borrow the Kniepkemp’s hack saw! Who knew that it would take a hammer, and a hack saw to get a spare tire down from the truck! Unfortunately after replacing the COMPLETELY shredded tire with the spare, the truck was still stranded. The antilock breaking system (ABS) was engaged and we couldn’t disable it. We tried unhooking the batteries, individually taking out each fuse, and putting the truck in reverse. All to no avail. We were still stranded. We drove back with the Kniepkemps and they fed us dinner.
The owner of Crystalaire Country Club (one of the golf courses at which we camped earlier on in this trip) told us that it is harder to receive than it is to give. There has never been a truer statement. Over the next couple of days we were given tremendous hospitality by the Kniepkemps and at times it was very difficult to accept it. In those situations, all one can do is be as gracious as possible, offer to repay them back in any way, and then do your best to repay them somehow in the future.
After supper it was rather late and pitch black outside. They told us to take their car for the night to drive back down to the camper. They also offered to house us for the night but we didn’t want to burden them further.
As it just so happens, my parents and little sister were scheduled to arrive the next day. There could not have been a better time to run into a major obstacle. We had multiple support vehicles and a genius with cars (my dad) as our back up. Unfortunately after an all-day attempt to repair the truck we were still stranded in our tracks. Because it takes a good 1.5 hours to make the trip from the Kniepkemp’s ranch down to the truck and camper it was already 5 in the evening before we gave up after multiple trips (trying different things to the truck) and decided to call AAA. A full size flatbed tow made the 2 hour drive from Alamogordo to pick up the truck. Because it was so late we did not allow Paul Kniepkemp to come with us down to the truck to meet the AAA service. Paul rises each morning around 4:30 for work and we knew that it was going to be a late night. So despite his protesting, we did not let him accompany us that night. We told him that he was not allowed to go or we would not accept his truck loan!
It wasn’t until 11 o’clock at night that the flatbed showed up. After he loaded up the truck we hooked up the camper to Paul’s truck. As an aside, for the second time in my life, I fell in love. I fell in love with Paul’s truck! It’s a 1972 Ford pick-up with a manual transmission. It’s not a smooth ride but it is a sturdy workhorse that has been kept in amazing shape. Because Kevin and Tyler had stayed with the camper (it was our goal for the entire time that the truck was stranded that someone or multiple people stay and guard the camper. Kevin and Tyler had stayed behind on the last trip to hold down the fort.), we had also left them the gator in case there was emergency and they had to get out of dodge. As such, Kevin and Tyler drove the gator back in the dead of night to the Kniepkemps while my dad and I drove the Paul’s truck hauling the camper. We did not get back to the ranch until 1 in the morning. Hauling a camper on the bumpy road took almost two hours.
The next day we were still in limbo with the truck. It was sent to get repaired at the Ford dealership in Artesia (about 70 miles northeast of the Kniepkemps). After lunch my dad and I decided to go and get 20 miles of golfing in. We were beginning to run very behind on our schedule so we felt very pressed to get miles in. We made it 24 miles before turning around and driving the gator back. My mom and my sister who had gone into Artesia to check on the truck and stay the night, came back to the Kniepkemps with pizza and groceries. That night was our turn to feed them!
The next day we received word that the truck would be ready that afternoon. We decided to drive the gator ahead to where we had previously left off and golf the rest of the way to Artesia. Paul, Christy, and the kids would bring Tyler, Kevin, Nick, and our camper with them and meet us in Artesia.
We had about 10 more miles of golf before we got to Artesia when they met up with us. These last ten miles were by far the most fun miles I have had in this trip. The kids rode along and helped spot the golf balls! We all had a blast laughing, playing, and taking the occasional funny photo! They even took turns driving. Both of them, despite being 8 and 10 years of age, can drive Paul’s manual transmission pickup truck by themselves so they are excellent drivers!
After we concluded our mileage for the day all 12 of us (my parents and sister, the GOTG crew, and the Kniepkemps) convened at the Artesia Hotel. They had a conference room set up where we could watch our CBS Evening News special air. This was surreal in and of itself but having my family and our new friends there with us to watch was very special.
After the airing of the CBS special we all went to dinner. It took a good hour to say our goodbyes to the Kniepkemps who drove back to their ranch that night. Just 3 days prior we had been in quite a pickle. Now we were in a different kind of pickle: trying not to cry as we parted ways with our new friends who we now consider our family.
Life is both joyous and painful; we run into the most amazing people but life mandates that we press on, forcing us to part ways with the people who have inspired and impacted us the most. The only way to cope with these situations is to realize that time is short and precious, embrace each moment with vigor, love the people you encounter, and pray that one day your paths may cross again.