Thursday, December 09, 2010

Upon Arrival....

Despite my dark, and never mentioned aloud, concerns, the van made it to Joshua Tree. I rolled into one of the primo sites in Hidden Valley Campground last night about nine pm. Not without drama, of course. But each epic was a “Terrie-type” one; that is to say – no true inconvenience was involved.

The first on-the-road problem arose just after I left from my family visit in Wisconsin, where I enjoyed leisurely days of lounging on my sister's couches while the wretched Wisconsin winter taunted me outdoors. I should also mention the wonderful Thanksgiving celebration we had the Saturday following the holiday – yum, yum, yummy!

At any rate, I had offered to drive my younger brother Al back to his home in Wausau, which is slightly north, and west, of Green Bay, where I had been staying with my older sister Gini. After driving 90 miles, I dropped him off and went upstairs to see his apartment. Upon returning to the van I smelled an odor which I instinctively knew was a sign of trouble, yet allowed myself to quell the fears by believing the rubber-like smell was probably some oil I had spilled while topping off before leaving Green Bay.

It wasn't, as you likely have surmised.

As I drove southbound on an interstate(53 or 51; fifty-something or other), with cruise-control set at 65, each time the engine would surge for an uphill injection of fuel, I would hear a slight, crinkling noise. “Uh Oh,” I knew, yet had no frame of reference to diagnose this additional clue.

What the sound was, I guess, was bits of the accessory belt crumbling and dropping away, as the belt wore away. It finally frayed to the breaking point; the belt broke, engine thrust dropped, and the power steering went out. This occurred as I approached an exit ramp at Mossinee, allowing me JUST enough time to understand I had to take that exit and get a safe place to stop immediately.

I rolled through the stop sign at the exit's end, and drove the couple hundred feet to a Kwik Mart convenience store, “conveniently” located so very closely to my break-down it could hardly be even considered such. Talk about a micro-epic! How much less traumatic could such a thing have been? Had just a few seconds passed before I knew I had a problem, I'd have been past the exit, broke down on a highway and having to walk the distance to the mart, then back to the van to await the tow.

Fifty dollars and a half an hour later, I was deposited at Martin's Auto Repair, where I was told “We can't get you in right now. It will be about an hour.” A whole hour!? I was surprised the man thought that would be considered even a slight inconvenience, considering I had just been towed to his place of business, with a full day's work already in process. Maybe he saw the New York plates on the van and figured I was...a New Yorker(with it's inherent “hurry up and wait” mentality).

I played online, updated my businesses, and within a short while was back in motion. Things went smoothly, except for the daily oil reading conundrum, until I passed Albuquerque, New Mexico. Reading the dipstick in this van has been practically an exercise in futility, and probably the dilemma is compounded by the fact that I really would like to believe what the guy who sold me the van told me - “It doesn't burn or use a drop! When you get to California, add a quart. That's all you'll have to do. It just had an oil change too! Here's the paperwork.”

The stick barely registers oil at some points, and other times is coated. Often when no oil has been added.... When I brought the van home, a friend looked at it(tut-tutting the whole time, and worrying aloud for my future) and said “You're down a quart.”

Having “just had a change(with paperwork!) that seemed – odd. Yet when I took it to the mechanic for a go-over(yes, NOW I understand just why – even on a $2,000 used vehicle – you take it to a mechanic for a pre-purchase look), the asked(after telling me all the problems) if I'd like an oil top-off. “It's quite low,” was the look in his eye. When I got the bill, there was a charge for two quarts on it.

Yet, a few days later, when I took the van to the afore-mentioned friend to do the platform build-out, he took a reading and said “Huh. It looks like there too much in there now!”

And so it has gone, the whole way along..... I've wiped that stick for a second opinion more times than a nanny wipes her baby charge's butt on a day of diarrhea, adding oil when I felt I'd better but never sure if I was doing the right thing.

Perhaps this issue will now be resolved to some extent, since I had the Sender Unit and pressure sensor replace in Sedona, Arizona....

I'd been watching my gauges religiously all the way cross-country and was stricken with an adrenaline surge more than once when, on a quick glance while doing 70 mph on a highway, noticed a red-line indication, only to realize it was the damned gas gauge telling me the tank was full. So, when the oil pressure gauge began doing a dance one afternoon an hour and a half west of Albuquerque, I began to panic. Watching closely, I saw the gauge “worrying” itself between a mid-range level it had previously been fairly static at, and dipping down to near the red zone....

Pulling into the next gas station, I sat and waited an hour for the engine to cool down. When I finally took the oil reading...well, it seemed very, very low. I could have kicked myself for not having been more diligent – except I HAD checked it just that morning and it had indicated being PERHAPS a tad low, but not even worth topping off, really.

I added oil, and as it registered on the stick, blew a sigh of relief I hadn't killed my trusty steed(Trusty? Yes, I guess Swanky IS reliable, being that here I am, in splendid Joshua Tree). Onward, to El Mapais National Monument, 20 or so miles away.

A Supertopo user had suggested El Mapais when I asked for suggestions for a day or two in New Mexico and Arizona. Though I will be coming through these states with Peter once he arrives, I thought it would be nice to take a few days now, instead of rushing through to Joshua Tree on a weekend arrival.

Unfortunately, the maps give Grants, NM as the highway exit for El Mapais, but the reality is that the exit before that is also an entrance to the park, and the one with the more scenic hiking vistas. I'd blown the afternoon waiting to check my engine's oil level and barely had time to get even a short hike in before daylight would begin to wane. As well, the BLM camp ground I was intending to use was back off the previous exit, and closed for the season to boot. After speaking with a park ranger, I decided to continue on toEl Morro National Monument 20 miles down the road, where the campground was still open(and free, because they water was off for the season). I'd take a short walk about, have a leisurely meal, and come back for a hike in El Mapais the next morning.

Well, early starts in the desert are reserved for warriors, one of which I am not. Especially sleeping n such cozy conditions – a down comforter on a queen-sized mattress with two huge pillows – it's just really easy to loll. Which I did!

So, instead of reversing my route, I decided to take a look at El Morro instead, and I am very glad I did. I've a separate posting for El Morro to come(I promise!) and will add the link here once it's published. Suffice it to say, for now, that El Morro is definitely worth visiting, if you enjoy a sense of history mixed with your nature wanderings.

After El Morro, I drove to Flagstaff, Arizona, where a friend, Tim, put me up for two evenings, fed me delicious meals, and took me climbing in between. We went up Queen Victoria, a spire in Sedona, and...I will make a separate posting(I promise!).

After leaving Tim's place, I headed down Highway 89, intent on a scenic cruise through mountainous terrain as I continued my trip. Planning to stop in Sedona and prepare/mail out two orders I'd received for my hair accessories, the day started out normally enough. However, as I went back to the van I noticed a small slice in the sidewall of one of my tires. “Crap.” I asked a man who appeared to be a local about the service station across the way, expecting they might be pricey, being in the main part of town on a tourist's highway. He didn't have an opinion on that, but he did think I'd probably be better served at one of the shops that specialize in tries, of which there were two a few miles further down the road.

Off I went, and turned in to Tire Pro a few minutes later.

Looking at the slice, I was told it was okay. The man explained to be that the cut hadn't gone through the white cording, and with a spatula-like implement, plied away the black section to show me what he referred to. He did mention that the tire was getting fairly worn though, and pointed out the wear from imbalance. I thought I might simply replace the tire now and his stance indicated that, as a frugal soul, he'd be getting a few more miles out of that tire before he replaced it. However, he was not me, and he was not driving miles between even small-sized towns, in a huge van. In the hot desert. I bought a tire.

After paying, the owner told me that the van looked pretty good otherwise, but when I mentioned my oil pressure issue(it had done the dance the whole way from Tim's to Sedona, despite having seemed fine the other day), he said this was not an issue to ignore. Upon request, he quoted me the cost of diagnosing the pressure, and after doing that, I was told the Sender Unit was the issue.

The rest of the day was spent at Tire Pro, where the patiently worked on my van. There was trouble identifying the correct replacement part and they were twice sent the wrong one. This would seem odd, except that each time I have had to provide the information on this van, it seems to “not be in the system” at some level, even with the VIN. Odd.

Long story short, they DID get the van back on it's wheels, at about 6:00pm. Thinking they'd not be able to complete the job that day, they said “no problem” when I explained I lived in the van, and would it be okay to sleep in it, in their lot, that evening. Super nice people, each one, who works at that shop.

But now , with the van fixed, I was in Sedona – tony Sedona – at dinner and bedtime and wondering where I was going to park for the night. Mentioning the nearest WalMart was X miles away, I was corrected, and told there was one just 15 or so mile down the road. (I've not spent a penny in WM on this trip, and intend not to, but that won't stop me from sleeping in their lots and using their restroom!).

The next morning I DID get an early start, at 7am. I drove through, and stopped in Jerome, a quaint and vibrant town without a SINGLE franchised store(separate post, I promise again!). Then a long push, to Joshua Tree.
EDIT: Here is the post on Jerome, Arizona

And here I am....


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1 comment:

TK said...

w00t! :D