I woke up at about 5:00 this morning. It was hot and loud in the Isle of Capri parking lot. It was going to be a scorcher all across Kansas, so I thought I’d get an early start and try to get to Colorado where it looked like the elevation was a bit higher. The high temps were still in the upper 90s, but the lows were supposed to be in the low 60s. That’s pretty good weather for sleeping if you live in a van.
Before 6:00AM I was on the road. I bolted straight across I70. No back roads. No Lewis and Clark. Just no nonsense travel as Eisenhower envisioned it. By a bit after 1:00, I was almost to Colorado. Walden started to stall a bit. I pulled over at the next exit where he died and refused to start. I sat there for a while contemplating my possibilities. Finding a VW mechanic nearby seemed improbable. This made the idea of calling AAA of limited use, where would I have him towed? I could investigate one of the Help-A-Follow-VW-owner emergency clubs. Or, I could see if I could figure out the problem. I wished that I’d gotten a spare fuel pump, as the problem seemed a bit like that.
I got out. I moved all the crap from the behind the back seat (read: on top of the panel that reveals the engine). Since I thought it might be the fuel pump or fuel filter, I unplugged the fuel return hose, plugged in another one that I had on hand, put the other end of it in a beer bottle I found beside the road and the bottle in a bucket, and turned the key. The bottle was filling up with gas. There didn’t appear to be water in it. It looked like gas wasn’t the problem.
Without someone else to turn the key, it was difficult to do the tests that I know to do to check whether the coil is producing enough spark and whether said spark is getting through the distributor to the spark plugs. When I pulled off one of the spark plug wires, though, the wire came off the connection to the distributor cap. This wasn’t a good sign. I endeavored to re-attach it. I noticed that the rotor looked a bit burned. I had a new rotor! I replaced it. I also had a new distributor cap, but it has a different type of connector than the wires that are on there now. With the repaired wire and new rotor in place, I turned the key. It cranked right up. See? The stuff that I learned about engines in the mid-80s and the refresher course I got from the mechanic in Montgomery actually worked. I left the engine running, put the lid back on the engine compartment, and headed on down the road.
Google said that there was a parts place at the next exit, about 10 miles away. I made it to the parts place. They had no spark plug wires, but could have them in the morning. This did not look like a very promising place to stay the night, so I headed on to my intended destination, Burlington, CO, a short 30 miles further, with the plan to get the parts place there to get the stuff for me so that I could do the repairs in the morning.
Walden seemed to be running a bit better. I got up to 70MPH, more easily, it seemed, than it has been lately. Then he slowed, and slowed, and slowed, I put on the flashers, and he slowed and slowed, and it was over. I looked again at the distributor cap. The contacts looked to be carbonized. I scratched at them with my knife. I remembered that the bike patch kit had some sand paper. I tried to file the contacts to the distributor cap. I put it back on. Nothing at all. Then I remembered that I hadn’t replaced the rotor. I put the rotor in, and again I was off to the races. And on it went.
It died just short of a sign saying “Leaving Kansas, Come Again.” It seemed just a little optimistic.
I managed to get it going again enough to drive another 100 yards to a pull-off next to the Welcome to Colorful Colorado Sign. I’d used all of my tricks. They were resulting in less and less. Burlington was only twelve miles further.
At this point, I opened a beer.
Yesterday, I was musing about traveling alone and how it requires me to do things that I might not do if I had a travel partner. Now I was musing that being alone when the car breaks down has certain advantages. I don’t have to explain to anyone else why it is that my car broke down. I don’t have to apologize that I can’t fix it. No one else’s day is ruined because we can’t get where we’re going. Since I’m not really going anywhere, it doesn’t matter that much that the car broke down.
I considered my options. I could just stay there with Walden and deal with it tomorrow. I had beer, wine, liquor, food. But it was 4PM and 100 degrees.
I could call AAA, but I’d still have to deal with finding a mechanic.
It was only twelve miles to town. I could bike in, stay at a hotel, pick up the parts in the morning, ride back out in the morning with the parts, install them, and be on my way.
Remember how I was talking about the advantages to being solo? Here is a conversation that I might have had with another person
“Uh, When was the last time you rode a bike?”
“Two days ago, I rode 3 miles, on the Katy Trail in Boonville.”
“Three miles. Wow. And before that? Do you remember the last time you road, say ten miles?”
“I don’t really know. I know it was before the fire. I probably did ten miles back when I was doing crossfit a couple years ago. I did ten miles pretty often when I was at Stanford.”
“Do you know that it’s 100 degrees? Do you think that you should take some water? Are you aware that there’s a headwind and though it may look flat, it’s a 250 foot climb?”
But no one asked those questions. I left a note on the car saying I’d be back in the morning, left some business cards on the wiper, locked stuff up, loaded a laptop and the camera in my messenger bag, hauled my bike up the side of an overpass and headed out.
Here’s where I left Walden. I hope that I’ll find him intact
whenever and however I get back there
As I headed out, I started up an exercise app that tracks distance, speed, and elevation change. When you push start, a woman’s voice says “Today is your day.”
It didn’t take long before the whole 100 degrees thing started to take its toll. At about 1.5 miles out I wondered whether I had my wallet. If not, I’d have to turn around. I did have the wallet. I was a little disappointed.
After 30 minutes, I’d made it just over 3 miles. The sun was relentless. I found a tree and rested under it for a few minutes. Water would definitely have been a good idea, and by good idea, I mean that making this trip without water was profoundly stupid.
After another 10 minutes, I started getting worried. I held out my thumb when a vehicle that looked like it might be a pickup. Sure, hitchhiking might be dangerous, but the situation that I was in was starting to feel dangerous. An hour into my voyage, I was just over halfway. At about mile nine I found a machine shop of some sort. I walked in the door, the receptionist looked a bit concerned and said “Are you ok?”
All I could muster was “Water?” She directed me to a water dispenser with some of those tiny conical cups. I drank and drank and drank. The folks in that room asked if I was OK. I told them that 12 miles was a lot further than I thought. I went to the bathroom and put water on my face and hair. I drank more water. I started to be concerned that I was drinking too much too fast. I drank more water. I walked in concert with an oscillating fan. I went back out to the lobby, hoping it was air conditioned. Some guys were leaving. I tried to get a ride with them. They had other things to do. I got more water. I went and lay down on the grass outside. I thought that lying down would give me enough energy to get back on, but Google said I had another 2.5 miles to go. That was daunting. No, it seemed like an impossibility. It was after 5PM now. People were leaving. I grabbed the bike, pointed it toward town, and held out my thumb. I found a ride. I threw the bike in the back, and hopped in the cab.
I was still largely incoherent, but managed to ask the guy where to stay. He said that the whatever-hotel-I’m-in-now was the nicest and had a pool. The idea of sitting in water was appealing. I indicated that I’d take it. I asked him about bars. He said that the nicest bar in town was right next to the hotel. That too sounded good.
I managed to get a room. It was over $100. That seemed expensive, but I didn’t care. I could do the math later. I got a shower. I reclined for a good while. I managed to get clothes on and walk the 30 yards to the bar. I ordered seltzer water and a beer. I think I wanted a steak, but was still unable to communicate or make decisions and for some reason ordered the fish tacos. They were pretty good, and, trying to embrace my Peleo side, ate less than one tortilla.
I made it back to the room, went back to the lobby to get a toothbrush and razor, plugged in the electronics, and surfed TV. I was completely engaged by a commercial about some plastic slats to put under sofas and chairs that have begun to sag. I don’t have any sofas or chairs.
Now I’m trying to decide how to proceed on getting Walden locomotive again. Do I proceed as planned and get the parts from the parts store and do more roadside repairs? Do I try to find a mechanic to do the work? Given that I can do it, it’s easy work. If I do it myself, how do I get back to the car? Do I attempt the 12 mile ride again? It’s 73 at 10:30PM. It should be in the low 60s in the morning. Perhaps I can make the ride if it’s not insanely hot. And it’s Friday before July 4, if they’re booked, I could be in trouble.