Sun and Not Fun

Update on 6/10: Yesterday afternoon I found out my car was totaled. I think the final tally of destruction was some solenoids, the catalytic system, the transmission, the engine, plus a bunch of sensors, on top of a drive shaft that was already cracked, a wheel bearing with a short in it, and some bad fuel tank and compass sensors. We're new (to us) car shopping and trying to replace our shipping vehicle as soon as possible. Thanks for being patient during this difficult time!

Wolfgang going for a walk in Lake Cle Elum before our ill-fated attempt to go home on Tuesday.

Wolfgang going for a walk in Lake Cle Elum before our ill-fated attempt to go home on Tuesday.

On Saturday we loaded up our vehicles with some of the junk in our garage and headed for Washington. The idea was to take some of our unwanted furniture and housewares to my grandmother's house for a yard sale later this summer. This would make it easier for us to move without all that extra stuff that we didn't need.

We were also planning to clean out my closet and bedroom at her house and pick up a few things from my mom's. Basically, my entire family is selling all of their homes and moving this year, so we were trying to help declutter and clean out some of the junk nobody needed or wanted anymore to make it easier for them.

It should have been a pretty easy couple of days of sorting junk and playing in the lake I grew up next to. Instead, it turned into a Mad Max nightmare when my car broke down in the middle of the desert.


Tuesday morning we loaded up what we'd decided to keep from my grandmother's house and we headed out in the early afternoon. We'd made it about two hours down the road but my car was acting weird. The air conditioner wasn't working on or after hills, the engine was getting hot on the hills, the engine would rev up to 5000 RPMs, drop into second, and then progressively decelerate even on the flat parts of the freeway. It would shift up and then down and then whine and shift up then back down and then the air conditioner would die. It sounded like a motorboat in sludge. It was bizarre, and scary.

I radioed my husband in his truck and told him something was wrong. We pulled off on the Quincy, Washington exit, called his dad for advice, and then my car wouldn't start back up. He got it started but we decided the fan belt was trash and the best bet was to drive into Quincy and get a new belt at the Napa store there.

Then I discovered I couldn't stop at a stop sign without the engine dying, and spent the rest of the drive into Quincy with my emergency blinkers on, not really stopping even at red lights (don't tell) and managed to roll into the Napa parking lot.

He bought a belt and tried to put it on, and then discovered they'd sold him the wrong belt and they didn't have the right one. Now what? My car was completely disabled, the old belt was trash, and we had a kid and two huge dogs in my car that wouldn't fit into his. So I had no choice. I had to stay behind with the disabled car, the kid, and the dogs, in heat that my phone claimed was 96 but felt a lot worse than that on pavement with no shade, and inside a car with no air.

I don't really remember how long he was gone getting another belt. The next Napa store was 15 miles away. I had at least 30 minutes of this to endure, and I had to keep everyone from overheating for at least that long, but I think it was more like 45 minutes or even longer. We had a cooler full of ice water, but in the heat even the cooler was thawing out fast and the ice rapidly melted. I gave what was left to the dogs and passed out bottles of water. The dogs started to tremble, then one of them vomited. The Napa employees wouldn't let me bring the dogs into the store and I knew if I left them they would die.

I made a panicked post on Facebook; I needed ideas to keep the dogs from getting any hotter. I used a leash to tie the hatch on the back of the van halfway open so the sun wouldn't beat on the dogs but the air would still circulate through the back of the van. My cousin Karla probably saved the day with her suggestion to dip clothing or towels in cold water and drape over the dogs. I soaked our dirty laundry in the leftover ice water in the cooler and wrapped shirts over the dogs' heads, then over my son and finally one over my neck and chest.

It was still so hot, only getting hotter, and I had no idea how much longer it would be. I took the lid off a Rubbermaid storage tote and used it to alternate fanning my son and fanning the dogs. I started to feel sick and about then my husband came back into radio range and a minute later he pulled up with the new belt.


Whiskey Dick Mountain, picture from Wikipedia (yeah, it's really called that)

After the new serpentine belt was finally on the car would run at least well enough to get us back to my grandmother's house, albeit slowly. It was even worse now. I couldn't maintain 40 up the hills, I couldn't maintain 60 on the flats. I could barely hit 70 going down a hill. And Central Washington is all hills and shrub-steppe desert and hot, hot, hot. Every time the car hit 2500 RPMs it would begin whining and screeching, and I worried that if I pushed it the engine would catch fire. So there I was, stuck going 30 MPH down the freeway, lest the damn thing catch fire and leave me doubly-screwed in the middle of nowhere.

We made it back. Everyone survived. I might be super-stressed and dehydrated for a few more days, but nobody died and I think my husband got all the dog puke out of the upholstery, so I'm going to call that a win.

The car might not have survived, though. That remains to be seen. When we finally left Washington yesterday, all five of us packed into my husband's tiny Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, The War Rig* was strapped onto a trailer to be hauled to a mechanic a few towns away. It wouldn't make it down the freeway even at night when it had cooled off and was dark. It just couldn't keep the engine cool, and suddenly there was too much transmission fluid, and it kept shifting around erratically, and it just couldn't make it 25 miles down the freeway. I don't know when I will get her back, and I don't know yet how this will impact my ability to ship things. My husband's truck is a manual transmission and I'm not familiar with driving it. He might give me some more lessons this weekend but it will be hard to overcome some of the logistical issues of getting a car seat into a two-seater pickup truck.

I'm also considering renting a car, just off and on as I need one I guess. I don't want to rent one for a couple of weeks and have it sit in the driveway all the time, but once or twice a week I could get a ride to the airport to pick up a car for the day. I'm kind of leaning towards doing that. I don't like driving my husband's truck, and frankly I don't think it likes me driving it. I'm also thinking renting a car might be a good opportunity for me to test-drive some other cars, just in case.

*The War Rig earned her name after I ran over a deer. It was on the freeway, I was doing the speed limit (Montana freeway limit is 75-80 MPH) and didn't have time to do anything except hit the deer. The car went right over the top of the deer, no damage sustained, just a little pelt and blood that had to be washed off the undercarriage. I thought The War Rig was unkillable, but maybe I just doomed her with that nickname...


On the way home, about 45 minutes away from our house, we hit a tree branch. It was storming and I'm sure it just blew into the roadway in front of us. My husband initially announced we'd hit a rock, but I eventually deduced it was a branch when I made out the shapes of leaves and sticks in the dark. I know what you're thinking, "you never get a break, do ya?" and I'm right there with you. I was ready to punch a rock for ruining my life. Luckily the truck was fine, no flat tires, and we made it home alright.

During the drive, I kept getting warnings on my phone for flash floods and severe storms at home. I also had a notification that some of the coloring books had been delivered. "Please let them be in a dry spot. Please let them be in a dry spot. Please. Please. Please. I will knock a UPS driver out cold if I get home and they're ruined."

We got home. No rain, no floods, just lightning in the distance. Clean, dry, pristine coloring books in a box marked HEAVY on the porch. Win!

This morning it was on the news that before we'd gone through the area where we hit a tree branch, another car had been hit by lightning and everyone inside had been hospitalized. So it could always be worse, like you could get hit by lightning! And we didn't get hit by lightning! Winning! And my coloring books didn't get hit by lightning! Double winning!

I'm going to check, and if my mint survived the heatwave, I'm going to spend a good chunk of the afternoon drinking mojitos in the kiddie pool. I'm permanently hot, sunburned, tired, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and every time a car revs up its engine anywhere near my house, I jump. For a second I'm right back in the desert, roasting my brains out behind the wheel and praying to the gods of Whiskey Dick that the engine keeps on thrumming like a motorboat in hot sludge. I'm frazzled to the point of maybe no return... only mojitos and water can cure what ails me. At least, that's the excuse I'm going to use when my neighbors get nosy.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have some art, you know, if nothing else explodes in my face.