OH, NO!!! Engine trouble…

8543 miles of solo traveling since the end of May, and in the last week of my four-month road trip, I heard a clicking/rattling sound in my engine last Sunday.  Aaaaggghhh!!!!!

As a solo, non-mechanical, 61-year-old lady, this is my worst nightmare! I happened to be in Waco, Texas, where I knew NO-ONE.  My closest brother/mechanical friend was hundreds of miles away.

It sounded like something plastic was fluttering inside the engine. I pulled over at the next exit with a service station, fortunately just a mile down the road, and popped the hood.  I looked so smart as I peered into a complete mystery of an engine! No, actually I do know the main parts of the engine and can check the oil, add oil or washer fluid, etc. — the few basic things I know.  Well, everything LOOKED okay! Except for a few drips of clear fluid on a horizontal thing-a-ma-jig behind the battery which was dripping down behind the passenger front tire. But the liquid was clear and not smelly.

What lies behind the battery? Horizontal, thing-a-ma-jig. Some dripping liquid – could it just be AC condensation? Fingers crossed!

I texted my son and described the sound and the clear drips I saw. He texted back to check the oil.  This I can do! I grabbed a napkin from my van and proceeded to “oh so professionally” wipe down the dipstick, stick it back in the appropriate hole, and pull it out again to look at the measurement on the end – it was only half full!  How could this be? I had just stopped 3 days before in South Carolina and had a complete oil change that was due!  Was the oil leaking out?!?  What if the oil pressure dropped and the engine seized!?! What if I was stuck in the middle of Texas with no vehicle?!? Yes, these thoughts immediately flashed through my mind.

My son advised me (from New York) to add a couple quarts of oil and see how it sounded when the oil was full.  Fortunately, I had pulled over at a gas station with a little store (really, it’s not just for Dr. Pepper and Cheetos?)  They had oil.  I actually had a small funnel in the van which, ahem…I sometimes use when out hiking without a bathroom.  Now I would use it for its intended purpose! Go figure.

I added the 2 quarts of oil and after a few minutes, and a Dr. Pepper, I got back in the van and drove a few blocks.  Still fluttering sounds from the engine – crap! But the oil pressure gauge on the dashboard read that it was fine, so that was a relief.

Google Maps is my go-to for finding stuff, so I searched for local mechanics. Then I looked them up to see if there were reviews on their websites and how far away they were.  How blessed I was to find one just six blocks away with good reviews.  But it was Sunday!!!!!  Sundays may be great for church and stuff, but lousy for mechanical problems that need an expert!

Fortunately there was an inexpensive hotel just one block from the mechanic so I parked there for the night.  Four months on the road and this was the first hotel I used – really not happy as now I had lost my bragging rights! Oh well, it was pretty nice to take a hot shower, lay on a bed and watch TV, and play the “WHAT IF” game.

What is the “WHAT IF” game?  Something I do periodically as I travel, coming up with different scenarios and deciding how I would hypothetically handle them.  Keeps me sharp and thinking outside the box when there is not a crisis in front of me.  But now I was playing it FOR REALS!!!  What if the oil was actually leaking and I woke up in the morning to a big puddle under my van and a catastrophic repair was needed? What if it wasn’t the oil and they couldn’t find the problem? What if something else was broken that I couldn’t see? Okay, would I have to stay in Texas for a few days – which would mean I would lose my online job if I cancelled last minute.  Or would I need to rent a car or buy an airline ticket to Albuquerque and then come back in a week to pick up the van…if I could afford whatever repair was done? Or I could take a bus, but nah, that is too slow and I had classes to teach Tuesday night. Okay, then, what would I leave here in the van and what would I take with me? What if the old (1999) van had repairs needed that were more expensive than its value? Would I scrap this and buy another old van? So many questions….

After I lay on the bed and thought my way through various scenarios, I felt perfectly at peace.  No matter how this played out, I was still (relatively) in control and could handle whatever happened.  I had thought of many different ways this situation could go, and many different options for what I would do.  See, this is why I play the “WHAT IF” game…so when a crisis does arise, I can comfortably think my way through to good outcomes.

Long story short, the next morning I found no oil puddle under my van and the dipstick still read full.  A wonderful mechanic took a look at my van as soon as he opened on Monday morning.  The clear liquid was indeed condensation from the AC unit which I had been running all day in that Texas heat (whew – glad I was right!).  The mechanic listened and looked as I started the van for him and promptly saw that the serpentine belt was paper thin and ready to shred.  I probably would have lost it a few miles down the road if I had not stopped when I did!!!

One hour and $60 later, I was on the road with reassurance from the mechanic that all else looked good in my old van.  He was pretty impressed with how I had handled things, and was so kind.  If anyone is near Waco, see Discount Automotive down on Highway 6 south of Waco – Jimmy is a wonderful guy and a terrific mechanic.

With gratitude for all my blessings, and a peaceful heart, I continued on the last few days of my road trip.  I stopped in Roswell, New Mexico, to see aliens – such fun!

Having a drink with the Aliens in Roswell, NM
Area 51 – yup, I entered!
Alien autopsy in Roswell, NM

Before I left Roswell, I walked to the public library to see THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE! Hey, I could always use some more knowledge! This sculpture is just beautiful!

The Tree of Knowledge at Roswell, NM public library
This was the beautiful tree trunk – titles, authors, important words from so many literary works! Spent quite a while reading as far as I could see!

I arrived at my daughter’s house in Albuquerque on Tuesday evening.  My four month journey was at an end.  So at almost 9000 miles in four months, spending less than $4000 on gas/food/stuff with just $64 for campground fees, $65 for one hotel night, and $150 for engine repairs/oil change, the trip was a great success! I saw family and friends – some whom I had not seen in 20+ years, spent a few weeks with all nine awesome grandchildren, crossed over 15 mountain ranges, walked/swam seacoasts and lakes and rivers, read 68 books, climbed some lighthouses, appreciated some museums, boondocked everywhere, saw beautiful vistas that were memorable, and made some amazing memories.

Now it is almost time for Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta (I get to crew for a Brazilian balloon team – YAY!!) and a mild fall/winter here in New Mexico.  I will teach 3 hours most mornings, and make some local trips here -to Taos, Santa Fe, Indian pueblos, state parks, etc.  If I missed you this 2017 trip, I will do my best to include your area next time! For those who are west of me, I will make a trip in that direction before too long!

Thanks for virtually traveling with me this summer!

–Scout, out!

From my bookshelf…

“But if you send something creative out into the world, it can be received and affect people in different ways than you expected or intended. And that was the most beautiful thing I learned on tour: that the stories I wrote down were mashed up in other people’s minds in MORE useful ways than I could ever have imagined. All across the country, I met so many people who were changed in a small way by what I wrote. And I, in turn, was changed by meeting them. What a lovely thing to experience.”

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day, 2017