Epic Camping Fail – in the Desert with a flat Tire, raw Carrots and no Water.

June 29, 2024

Camping fail, Wyoming camping, USA dispersed camping, wild camping, fail, outdoor adventure, tent camping, epic fail
Sometimes all that helps is laughter and sarcasm

I want to scream. So loudly that the hidden camera might fall out of the bushes. But then I'd rather not. Right now, with our luck on this weekend, it would definitely land on my head and break my neck.

This weekend we just want to pitch our tent on a green, tranquil campground in a scenic Wyoming State Park and relax contentedly beside a burbling brook. Eat a delicious spaghetti meal, sip hot chocolate, and hike in a picturesque canyon.


Instead, I'm standing in a swirl of hot dust holding a small package of raw carrots in front of a flat tire, looking back and forth between the sun burning over a no man's land and the last three drops remaining in our water bottle. How on earth could all this have gone wrong in less than 24 hours. If it starts to rain now, I'll freak out.


It is 1 a.m. and suddenly I am almost out of my skin and very nearly out of the tent—it's thundering. Then heavy rain. My boyfriend and I look at each other in the dark. I can barely see him, but I don't need to see him to know that inside we are both strangely laughing out loud.

This is the story of an unforgettable epic failure of a camping trip. Get yourself a bucket of popcorn ready!

The thing with the fuel

Camping USA, camping fail, car camping, tent camping, desert, Wyoming, no fuel, gas stations Wyoming, Medicine Lodge State Park
In search for dispersed camping - with almost no fuel

If only we hadn't been so busy at home—well into the afternoon. When we finally get in the car, it's much later than planned. We set off somewhat frantically to Medicine Lodge State Park, two hours away—an idyllic campground and archeological dig site nestled beside a small creek with prehistoric Native American petroglyphs painted on a limestone cave wall.

When we arrive we realize that our combination of a "retired and self-employed" couple means that we have absolutely no sense of the days of the week. That's right, it's Saturday. And Mother's Day weekend. And after seven days of rain, the weather is finally wonderful. But that also means the campsite is fully booked and we didn't make a reservation. Ta dum.


Fortunately, there are areas in the USA where you are allowed to camp in the wild. Well, there's no water, no restrooms, no supplies, nor anything else. Just... the wild. Steppe and cactus and all that. But to me that's better than going home!

We scout out a gravel road that leads high up onto a rocky cliff above the official campground.

"Sarah, have you seen the fuel gauge?" my boyfriend suddenly calls out.

I'd rather not. I have no idea why neither of us noticed this before we left. Not filling up in Wyoming is about as smart as rolling around in honey in the forest and then wondering why you are been eaten by a bear. As the last remnants of a cell signal begins to fade away, I try to find the nearest gas station. It's 25 miles away—and that's including a shortcut over a dusty dirt road.

The thing with the water

Northern lights Wyoming, pink northern lights, Medicine Lodge State Park, camping, stars, star gazing Wyoming
Northern lights over the tent - spectacular!

We rumble through lonely and surreal red rocky landscape. Above us looms a menacing, dark blue sky. After filling up in a small, one-horse town, we drive the 25 miles back to our rocky cliff. We find a Forest Service map that shows us we where we can wild camp. Up there we find everything and nothing: dust—yes, bushes—yes, shade—no, water—no, but there is a fantastic view overlooking orange mesas, white rock pillars, and golden cacti at sunset. Woohoo!


We set up our tent and heat some tasty leek soup on the stove. Although we brought our large blue water container with us, it's almost empty now because we had planned to refill it with water at the State Park’s spigot as we spend the night at the beautifully developed, green campsite, now seep down in the valley below us.

"Oh, we'll just drive back down to the State Park tomorrow morning and fill it," says my boyfriend. "It will also be Sunday, so lots of people will be going home and we may even find an open tent site for tomorrow night!" Sounds good. I pour more tea water—after all, we've got enough for the night and we will resupply tomorrow morning.


At night, we watch the aurora flicker above our tent. It is the weekend in May 2024 when the northern lights are visible over the US, Germany, and even as far south as Mexico—a real exception and a fantastic natural wonder. Only visible in monochrome to the naked eye, but violet, red, and green with a camera’s long exposure. We look up at the stars. Nobody is out here but us. It is magical.

The thing with the tire

Come on, really? Flat tire, middle of nowhere, no water and of course it's Sunday
Come on, really? Flat tire, middle of nowhere, no water and of course it's Sunday

The next morning is also incredibly magical, because something has conjured up a huge screw in our car tire.

"Shit, I'm freaking out!" I shout as I run back to the tent to give my boyfriend the bad news. "The tire is flat! All the way flat! Totally and completely flat!"

Strangely, my boyfriend has a pragmatic calm. Calm pragmatism. Whatever! I'm freaking out.

"I have AAA with Roadside Assistance," he says. When he enters our location in the AAA app, we find that the nearest contract service center is a whopping 125 miles away. That's Wyoming. Endless expanses of nothing.


"We can just put the temporary spare tire on ourselves, drive to a non-contract garage that's closer, get it fixed, and just pay for it ourselves," I try to be pragmatic.

That really is a great idea on a Sunday, since almost all garages are closed anyway. Why does shit like this always happen on a Sunday or holiday? You never accidentally slash your leg right outside the emergency room on a Tuesday morning.

As we look for the temporary spare, we find the car didn’t come equipped with one, there is only a small air compressor and tire goo. We almost begin to laugh. But only almost, because the 9-gallon drinking water container in the back is still almost empty, the sun is blazing, and the temperature is rising—rapidly.

The thing with the hike

Medicine Lodge State Park, camping, hikes, trails, camping fail, Wyoming, wild camping, dispersed camping
The canyon near Medicine Lodge - beautiful red and brown rocks

"Look, if we take this shortcut trail, it's only a mile and a half walk from here down to the State Park in the valley," I say, holding a map under my boyfriend's nose.

Okay, that means we do have to hike down from the cliffs in the blazing heat with very little water—but hey, there's water down there and we can finally resupply! Since our original plans had been to stay at Medicine Lodge State Park for two nights anyway, and go hiking, we pack up our four one-liter bottles and set off. The car will wait until tomorrow when the garages are open again. We brought enough food for two days. Tonight, we will eat treat ourselves to tasty food—pasta with olives, tomatoes, and parmesan. Yum! We'll cook it up when we return tonight to our rocky cliff where we will enjoy a perfect view of the sunset.


Down in the valley, we fill up our water bottles and decide to hike further into a red canyon. Just like our original plan had been. After hiking three and a half miles into the canyon, it's so sunny and hot that I decide to put on more sunscreen. I rummage around in my backpack. Where is that damn stuff?

"I…eh…think I left the sunscreen in the tent," I say somewhat flatly, remembering where I put it this morning. We turn back. But for some reason, if you've hiked three and a half miles in a canyon, you must hike three and a half miles back out again. We fill up with water yet another time at the State Park and barely crawl up the mile and a half cliff path to our tent, using up at least a quarter of our new water. Toasted and exhausted, we collapse into our folding chairs. My boyfriend has little red heat spots on his forehead, probably from sun and heat.

But the view before us is awesome. Really now. Look!

The thing with the food

Sarah Bauer, camping fail, epic fail, tent camping Wyoming, Medicine Lodge, age gap relationship
Who cares - it's beautiful here!

After this…interesting…day and walking 10 miles on foot, we so deserve an awesome dinner! I get out the stove, cutlery, tomatoes, olives, oil, and cheese.

"Have you got the pasta?" I ask my boyfriend.

He looks at me. "Isn’t it in the car?"

Although we both know the truth, we look—again. Then we laugh loudly in a silly way. The noodles are at home on the kitchen counter, right where we left them.


That evening we eat cherry tomatoes, olives, a bag of raw carrots that we find in the car, and a muffin. At least we now have plenty of water, because we obviously haven't cooked anything with it.


The sunset is once again quite fabulous. Clouds are lit up pink from below while orange rays pierce the sky with fiery flames behind the mountains like spotlights at an unforgettable concert night.

However, I don't quite trust the peace. Not after everything that has happened.


Despite my latent state of alarm, I still shoot up in an unhappy surprise at night when there is a bright, sudden flash, followed quickly by a tremendously loud boom. Thunderstorm. Sheets of heavy rain begin to pelt the tent. One after another. Until four in the morning. The weather forecast had forgotten to mention this as a possibility. We snicker sarcastically. What a continuing shit show this is! Now if the car gets stuck in the mud tomorrow morning on that dust road...

The thing with the garage

Flat tire, camping, epic fail, Wyoming camping, dispersed camping, BLM land camping, Medicine Lodge State Park
There's the screw!

The next morning we wake up feeling wonderfully refreshed. NOT! I'm feeling liker after a long party night, just without the party.

After a delicious breakfast of Snickers bars, we work our way through the goo kit instructions together trying to make the tire halfway roadworthy again, at least for a short time. A drawing in the instruction booklet shows a tire with a fat screw sticking out of it. "That looks just like our car! Maybe this will work!" I exclaim euphorically. It's interesting what little can sometimes excite you. After almost two hours of fiddling around in the now blistering heat, we find the goo patch actually does seal the screw hole well enough that we can bump along somewhat slowly to the tire garage, about 50 miles away. We rumble along the hard shoulder at almost a walking pace while trucks thunder past us.


At the garage, we are delighted: they take care of us immediately, and the tire can be permanently repaired. And for only $20! YAY! Now, it's time to go home!

After 20 miles, the cell phone rings. It's the garage. "Ehm... sorry... but we forgot to put your hubcap back on. It's still here," says the mechanic meekly. I scream. Inwardly. But only a little. We drive back. Giggling and making weird comments. The mechanic doesn't understand what's wrong with us, but we can't explain it to him at that moment either. There's just some shit you just have to experience yourself to truly understand.

And then we are finally home. We are tired, tried, tested, and full of memories.


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