The long, long, long road home (a working title)
In 2001 around the end of December, a good friend of mine from college calls me up and asks what I'm doing at the end of January. "Just the usual," I reply, "feeding, starting to calve, working in the snow etc. Why?" He says why don't I come down and visit him, then I can help him move. Did I mention that he lived just south of Orlando, Florida? Now a trip from cold, snowy Idaho in January to sunny Florida might sound like a good idea, to most people, but responsibilities take precedence. "Uhhh, where are you moving to?" "Just north of Billings (Montana)." Then he gives the sad story. They'd just had their second child earlier in December, C-section, then his wife got a touch of mastitus, was having a rough time of it, and he didn't really want to make her drive alone with the two kids in the car while he drove the Ryder truck. He thought that if I came down, she and the kids could fly up here to his parents' place and then they could drive up from here and it wouldn't be nearly as hard on any of them. Besides, we could make better time with just the two of us. So I checked with my folks to see if they could get along without me for a week, and so I made plans to go.
I get on the web and start searching for plane tickets. I couldn't find anything from Boise to Orlando for less than $800 one way, remember, this was just after 9/11 and flights were just starting to get back to normal. Well, I finally found a flight from Portland, Oregon to Orlando on America West for around $180, and then thankfully one from Boise to Portland on Southwest for $39. The time finally comes for the plane trip.
Now I get into the queue at the security gate and just as I get to the gate, "Sorry sir, you need to remove your shoes and put them on the scanner." Well, fortunately for me they are lace-up cowboy boots, so I've got to disrobe, and finally get through the security checkpoint. Ok, fine. So then I make my way to the gate, check in, and wait for them to call me for boarding. They give our group of numbers a call and just as I get to the jetway, the nice lady looks at me and says, "Sir, you've been randomly selected for additional security screening, could you please step over there." Now I work outside everyday during the year, so when winter comes, I get a little shaggy. I get my last haircut, and shave for the last time around Halloween, so by the end of January, I'm nearly in all my glory. Ok, I understand security is a concern, but the guy in line behind me was actually wearing a turban, and I'm a somewhat ruddy white guy, with a big belt buckle, boots, and a cowboy shirt, toting everything I was going to need for the upcoming week because I wasn't going to leave my luggage up to the discretion of 2 different airlines.
So I step out of line, (it was me and two other terrorists, both blue haired ladies, "randomly" selected) and get strip searched. Then I get on the plane and have a non-eventful flight west to Portland. Every other airport I've ever been in has one security checkpoint when you come into the airport and you can access all of the concourses after you're in the system. Turns out, Portland isn't like that. They have two concourses, with a security checkpoint in front of each, and, yep, you guessed it Southwest was in one concourse, and America West was in the other. I had an hour and a half layover in Portland, and I had to wait in line at the new checkpoint for about an hour. I just get to the scanners and they wave me through (whew). So I go running down to the gate, check in and am just about to get on the jetway when, "I'm sorry sir, you've been randomly selected for additional security screening. Would you please step over there." So I get strip-searched AGAIN. I finally get on the plane and someone's in my seat, so I took his. This turned out to be the bright spot of the whole flight, because I sat next to a lovely young lady and we carried on a fun conversation until she got off in Pheonix. I finally got into Orlando, and my friend was there right on time to meet me.
So, the next day I'm a bit jetlagged, and he takes the wife and kids to the airport while I'm sleeping. When he gets home we run into Melbourne and pick up the Ryder truck. "It's a diesel, right?" My friend asks. "Oh yeah." the flunkie replies (remember this). So we back up to his house and all those co-workers that were supposed to help, don't. So the two of us load all the big stuff, the little stuff, and all the crap in between until a couple of co-workers finally show up and help us for a couple of hours. We get the house completely loaded and it's only about 7:30 pm. Now all we have to do is load the things from the little shed out-back (riding lawnmower, motorcycle, etc) and we'll be off to the Dixie Crossroads for my promised seafood feast *drool*. We're getting a little tired at this point, so in order to get closer to the shed, we decide to move the truck to the back of the house. I get in and drive it while he directs me. As I'm backing up, the right side of the truck runs over the septic tank and the top collapses leaving the truck pitched backwards into said sewer. 3 hours later, we finally get the truck jacked up and out of the raw sewage (they've got pictures if you're interested), then the next hour loading the truck, so needless to say, no Dixie Crossroads.
The next morning we just get up and hit the road. He's driving the Ryder with his pickup in tow, and I'm in his car. We drive into Georgia then he needs to fill up, so we pull into a truck stop. We'd figured that since the Ryder/pickup combo was long and ungainly, we'd hit truck stops and use the semi pumps and then we wouldn't have to do a lot of turning. So we get up to the pump and right on the gas cap it says "unleaded fuel only". WTF!!! He said it was a diesel, RIGHT? He lied. So now we've got to find some quickie mart and play truck contortionist to fill the tank up. The next 6 hours were uneventful, and we made it to the other side of Atlanta where we stopped for the night.
Out here in the west, things are very big, but quite small. Whereas in the South, things are very small, but quite big. Confusing? Ok. Out here it's not uncommon for someone to say, "Oh yeah, it only takes about 6 hours to get there." "That's all? Jeez, I thought it would take longer." Now coming from such a viewpoint, as we cross the South, I'd see signs like "Andersonville 20 miles", Battle of "X" 5 miles. Killed us both. Here we are passing within a couple of miles of all these legendary sites, and we can't stop. But I digress, back to our story.
The next day we got up and drove all day to the west side of St. Louis. We checked into a hotel there and asked the clerk where a place to eat was. "There's that truck stop over there." "Is it any good?" "No, not really." This we should have listened to, because it was dreadful.
Now we got up the next day and I took my turn in the Ryder.
So, I'm in the Ryder truck from here on out, and my buddy takes the car. I forgot to mention, that I had a brainstorm and brought a couple of walkie-talkies for the trip so we could talk to one another while in both vehicles (if you've ever got to make a long road trip in two vehicles, I highly recommend this). We'd had a helluva time getting through St Louie the evening before. It was black'r than a, well it was pretty dark, and they were doing road construction on the interstate. That wouldn't have been so bad, but when they went from 4 lanes to 2, the frelling morons just put up the concrete barriers and painted new lines WITHOUT PAINTING OVER THE OLD LINES. We were driving, trying to follow all the twists and turns, but there were no visual clues, so it wasn't pretty.
After the trouble driving through metropolis, we decided to avoid K.C. and we detoured up through Chilicothe. All this time we had been watching the weather channel, and a severe winter storm was forcast to hit us in two days. We mentally did our calculations, and figured we'd make it to Montana just before the storm did, but we kept our eyes open. We picked up the interstate again and headed north to Council Bluffs, but as we reached Council Bluffs, we hit a 50 mph headwind. The Ryder just kept getting slower, and slower, until I was down to around 45 mph on the interstate, and cars were having to swerve to avoid hitting us. We called an audible, and pulled off in Missouri Valley to spend the night, hoping the wind would die down the next day.
The next day it was even windier, but it was daylight, so we pressed on at 45 up into South Dakota and then turned into the headwind and continued west. Around 6 hours and 200 miles later, we finally stopped in Mitchell, because we were fed up at this point. Got a hotel room, and watched the weather channel. Forecast: winds die to 5mph at midnight. We did the touristy things that there were to do in Mitchell, and went and slept in the hotel until Midnight, when we checked out and continued our journey.
The wind had indeed died down a bit and we were off but still at around 40 mph. At around 4:30 AM, I was just about to fall asleep at the wheel, so I pulled off the road to stretch and let the brisk -10 degree weather wake me up. My friend pulls up next to me and we started visiting. Right in the middle of the conversation he notices the steam from my breath is rising straight up in the air, and points it out. He's right, there's no wind at all and all we can muster out of old yeller (Ryder) is 40. Something's wrong. We limp down the road to the next exit, and all there is is a truck stop and an old feed store. We pull into the truck stop, and give 1-800-GO-RYDER a call. We're now a day behind schedule and it's a race to beat the storm.
The lady at the 800 number says she's showing an authorized service center at such and such truck stop in the town we are in. Turns out we're calling from such and such truck stop, but the mechanic doesn't get in until 7. I crash, but Power is too stirred up to sleep. Now when the mechanic gets there he's in way over his head, all he can do is replace the fuel filter. Hmmm, that could be the problem though. So we get a new filter and we're back off toward the finish line like a terd of hurtles. How'd the filter work you ask? I got all the way up to 45.
Now South Dakota might be a lovely state, but if you've ever seen it at 45mph, the shine quickly wears off. However, like the pioneers we were, we pressed on to the next town which happened to be Wall. And yes, we did stop at Wall Drug, and that's where we made our next call to 1-800-GO-RYDER. "Our next service center is in Rapid City, so see if you can make it." "What if we can't?" "Run it till it dies, then we'll tow you in." Just what you want to hear. Right now it's about 10:30 AM, and we finally limp into Rapid City at around 3:00.
We drag this thing in to the Rapid City Chevy dealer, and they put their little computer thingy on it. "I show that you've lost your oxygen sensor, that'll take us about an hour to fix, so if you guys want to go get a bite to eat or something, we'll get right on it." Now THAT makes sense. If the o2 sensor is bad, then the fuel mixture is off, so it's probably running rich, and flooding out. That explains the poor fuel mileage etc.
We jump into the car, and decide to run up and see Mt. Rushmore while we're that close. Damn impressive, and if you're ever in the area, don't miss it. We ate, and then drove back to the Chevy dealer. As we walk into the shop, we notice that the fenders have been removed from the truck. That CAN'T be good. The mechanic comes over and she says, "Uhhh, it wasn't the o2 sensor. You've got two dead cylinders. I didn't even think an engine could run on two dead cylinders. We tried to check the compression and these two cylinders didn't even register." "What's the fix on that?" "A new truck."
1-800-GO-RYDER. "Get a hotel room and we'll see what we can do." We get the hotel room, and go get a beer. When we get back (like ten minutes later), there's a message, but the phone number they left is a dead number. 1-800-GO-RYDER. "Well, we had a crew lined up to help you transfer your stuff, but we had to let them go because we couldn't get ahold of you." "Well we're here now, can we get them back and transfer it tonight, cause we're trying to beat a storm." "No. Tomorrow at the earliest"
The next day, we unloaded everything onto the ground, then had to reload everything into the new truck, and get out of RC at around 11:00. We drive nonstop as fast as we can to try and beat the storm but we aren't successful. The snow storm gets really bad in Buffalo Wyoming, and it takes us 2 hours to go the thirty miles between Buffalo and Sheridan, at which point we punt, get a hotel room, and go find the Mint Bar. We'd decided to get up at 6 the next morning, and come hell or highwater (ice included) we were going to press on until we got to his new home. We were all prepared for snow and ice covered roads, and 35 mph all across Wyoming.
We got on the interstate and had a broken snow floor for about 1/2 a mile, then smooth sailing all the rest of the way.
We got there at a reasonable hour, had time to unload the truck, and then I set the beds up while Power caught up with his family, and his new co-workers.
Nothing else to report, I made the 10 hour drive home from there the next day without incident. But I was sure glad to get home...