Q: What gear do you recommend taking along to fix a flat tire in the desert or mountains?
I have a spare but its only a doughnut.
VINCE MATTHEWS, via email
A: I dont like the donut spare that came with our small SUV but was blown away how well it worked on a backcountry trip.
We drove to the Paradise launch on the Selway River at the edge of the wilderness in North-Central Idaho for a river trip.
The gravel roads were rough and I worried that rocks sticking out of the ground would puncture the tires.
Anyway, as soon as we got to the campground, I noticed the front tire was flat. It was one of the cheaper original tires that usually comes with new rigs.
I put the donut spare on and worried how the river-shuttle drivers would make it back to town. I was amazed. They were able to drive out on the donut more than 65 miles to Darby, Mont., to get the tire repaired. About 26 miles were on washboardy gravel roads.
I still dont like the donut tire. I'm going to get a full-size spare and rim for our Subie and carry it along with the donut.
Here are some tips for tire safety when traveling back roads:
Make sure your tires and spares are in good shape and properly inflated.
Some drivers carry two spares.
Upgrade to better tires than the ones that came with the rig. Get tires that will take the punishment of gravel roads.
Have a good jack and know how to use it. You might keep a wooden board handy to stabilize the base of the jack in soft sand and mud or on uneven terrain. You can get plastic platforms that work, too. They are available at RV stores.
I also carry a couple of containers of Fix-A-Flat, so if I get a flat in a precarious spot on a steep road near a 100-foot drop off, I can inflate the tire and drive to a safer place to change it. (Tire dealers hate the stuff but it comes in handy.)
Sometimes, if the leak is slow, the Fix-A-Flat is enough to get me to a service station.
You also can use a tubeless tire puncture kit to fix a flat, but youll have to think about how you will inflate the tire after you fix it. Youll need an air pump that works off the cigarette lighter. Some people say an upright bicycle pump is more reliable. One thing, youll get a lot of exercise filling the tire.
BLUE JAYS, WHATS UP?
Q: I am curious. Have your ever seen a blue jay in this part of the country?
In my 20 years in Idaho, I know I have never seen one, so I was quite surprised when my 95-year-old mom told me she had one in her back yard recently.
According to the books, they dont even migrate anywhere near here. Your thoughts?
MELANIE STOHNER, town
A: Youre right, they are rare in Idaho.
We have the Stellars jay in Idaho, which is dark blue with a very dark head. The blue jay is blue, white and pale gray. They are distinctively different.
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game say blue jays are rare here.
But lookout. Sometimes blue jays will show up in the state in large numbers.
In early November 2004, we had a story about an influx of blue jays. About 250 of them were spotted in 150 different locations in the state.
Similar invasions were recorded in 1994 and in the 1980s and 1970s. Bird experts suspected that lack of food or lots of competition in their northern habitat in Alberta and British Columbia drove them into Idaho.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors