Saturday, July 21, 2012

The long road home

Friday we gassed up in Jackson, then headed to Pinedale where we took a road up to a hiking spot.  When we got there, the visitors center was closed and there were no maps or signs, so we couldn't hike safely without having a clue where we were going.  We enjoyed an overlook of the Wind River Range, a bunch of 13,000 foot mountains in Wyoming and chatted it up with some nice Australians.  This area had such intense beetle kill, I can't imagine there being a single tree left in another year or so.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole place burned to the ground next week.  It was DRY.

A little friend of Dave's.

The Westy is a tiny bit smaller than a camper.  Hah!
While we were planning on sleeping at this hiking spot, we now had nothing to do there (thanks a lot, state park service of Wyoming!), so we headed south through the most awful, boring part of Wyoming.  We filled up at Rock Springs, then hit I80.  This is where things got bad.  On I80 we had a headwind from a dry thunderstorm and were only able to go about 40mph.  This felt unsafe.  The road was also very hilly and sometimes we barely could get over the hill while flooring it.  Not cool.

Evidence of the intense winds coming out of this dry thunderstorm... a dust cloud along the gust front.
We got to the divide and the Westy was dying, big time.  We stopped 3 miles before our exit that would take us south to Craig, Colorado.  We stopped, the van smoked, it was overheated.  It wouldn't start back up.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere.  This exit didn't even have a building, just a gravel parking lot for work vehicles that was empty.  Dave made a few adjustments and eventually started the van.  We got back on the highway and turned off for Craig.  We couldn't do anymore flooring it on the highway.  (Looking back, this is when we ruined the Westy's engine.)

We slowly made our way to Craig and got there probably around midnight (GPS had us arriving at 8pm when we first decided our destination, so that's how slow we were going).  We narrowly missed hitting a cow and a pronghorn.  It was lovely.  We found a cute little campground just outside of Craig and went to bed without dinner.

Friday it was apparent that the van was not running properly.  It had issues in first gear and wouldn't get up to speed.  We drove to Steamboat, promising to stop on the way to fish, but we forgot due to our car troubles.  Steamboat welcomed us with a NAPA, but we had no idea what was wrong, so no part in the world would help us.  We tried Rabbit Ears Pass, a 6%+ grade for 7 miles.  We got up to the first curve and could only go 15 mph, so we pulled over and turned around.  This was not fun.  I don't like heights or traffic, so pulling over on the edge of the road, up high was not my thing.

I called every mechanic in town and only one was willing to give us a five minute look.  Thank you Westside Auto!  We parked downtown for a bit and Dave replaced the part that was suggested to change.  We tried the pass again.  No luck.  The Westy had oil all over one side of the engine, the under part, and the back door.  Something was wrong that might not be fixable without a major engine overhaul.  We could drive around town, but were kind of stuck in this bowl of Steamboat Springs, not able to get out from hills on almost all sides.

I called for towing information and Park at Westside Auto (and towing, and Uhaul) suggested we tow it home with a Uhaul.  A real tow would be about $700 and Dave and I would have to find our own ride back.  Dave's cousin offered to come get us and the van in their porsche trailer, but they were out of state at the moment and we'd have to wait until Tuesday.  That would be fine if we weren't trying to move Dave to New York later this week!  The Uhaul was the cheapest and easiest choice.  We camped at the town KOA with about 2000 other people and one bathroom and fished for trout in the Yampa.


Saturday morning Dave talked to two more people about the mechanics of the situation, tried one last attempt at finding the problem, and then we gave in and rented the Uhaul before it closed at noon.  Unfortunately, all they did was help us hook up the dolly, but not put the car on the dolly.  While we were loading the van, a tow truck driver stopped by and told us we had to have the van backwards or we'd ruin the transmission.  (I'd like to think we would have figured that out, but I really appreciate the tow truck driver stopping to suggest!)  We put the van on the dolly, rigged up some rope to hold the steering wheel in place, and hoped for the best.

We made it over Rabbit ears pass.  It then started getting windy and rainy.  Two light, high profile vehicles in the wind were not fun.  We stopped at Green Reservoir and I thought we were going to blow right into it, so we kept going.  We made it through Eisenhower tunnel, down the other side, and made it home safely.  Thanks to some rain, my tomato plants are at least a foot taller than when I left them!

I have to say, the first issue with the van was totally not a big deal.  Being "stranded" in a campground in a national park was totally fun.  The second time was not as fun.  Dave is still trying to figure out what the problem is, but has narrowed it down to two pistons not having proper pressure (or something like that, I'm not so good with mechanics).  I think this means we can't fix it ourselves and this leaves us without a plan for moving to New York this weekend.  I'm sure we'll work something out!

All in all, it was a great trip.  I really love the camper-van lifestyle and loved Grand Teton National Park!.  Having a stove and a sink and two beds in one place made for easy camping in black and grizzly bear country.  I hate seeing it broken down!

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