Journey to Burning Man

This trip has been a complete failure. My original plan was to leave for Burning Man a week of ahead of time. That didn’t happen. I didn’t leave until Sunday night — the night before Burning Man started. I made it a little over 100 miles before experiencing catastrophic engine failure. My newly rebuilt engine was toast. And when I say, “toast,” I mean, it caught fire. Then, my plans for an emergency engine swap to get back on the road to Burning Man was another fail. And to top it off, I lost my wallet.

The worst part is not missing Burning Man, the worst part is breaking my word. I had a couple of people depending on me to make it to Nevada. I had a job to do. A paying job. Besides the loss of income, I’ve Etch-a-Sketched a first impression into someone’s head that I won’t be able to easily shake. Unreliable. And that’s not me. At least, I don’t think it is.

Now, I’m riding in a tow truck. For the third time within a week. It’s safe to say that, since leaving Georgia this last time, Volkey Donkey has gone more miles on a tow truck than on the road. Add that to the list of fails.

Before I get too down on myself, all of this is to say that nothing has gone according to plan. Nothing. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I desperate? Yes. Am I discouraged? No.

Road bumps happen. Wallets disappear. Engines catch fire and die. The more I live, the more I realize that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle what happens to you. Some of the events might have been preventable, some of them might not have been preventable. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines of someone else’s life and Monday morning quarterback their mistakes. What about your own?

In life we have choices and events. Sometimes, events dictate your choices, but you still have choices within those choices so life is never fully deterministic. Remember when making your choices that working against a choice-dictating event is always a struggle. Don’t work against it, work with it.

Burned before the burn

I’m thankful I had a fire extinguisher and that my engine didn’t burst into an explosion of flames. It was more like a slow roast. Still, not a comforting thought considering I had two fully loaded propane tanks that was meant for the baby Incendia dome. It could’ve been worse. A lot worse.

After putting out my engine fire, I spent the night on the side of the road of Interstate 40.

I don’t know why being stranded on the side of the road scares people. I have been stuck roadside more times than I can count in the past three months. More than I have in my entire 30 years of living. And I’ve met some of the most wonderful people in the world that way.

In the morning, a driver stopped and offered his help. He gave me a ride to the next town (Cookeville, TN), and dropped me off at the McDonalds so I could get some breakfast and formulate a game plan. I called my friend Catch for a morale boost, he’s often got my spiritual back when I’m too in my head about things.

I told him about my predicament behind a grin and a chuckle, and he said, “You sound in high spirits for someone who’s engine caught fire.” And he was right… When you run out of paper towels right after washing your hands, or your pet urinates in the house again, or your roommates drank all your beer, or you lose your job and get evicted… These little annoyances come in all shapes and sizes, all the time.

The engine fire is just another one of those things to me. I don’t sweat the small stuff. And in the grand scheme of everything, the hole in my engine is tiny.

Hokey Pokey writes a blog post as he waits for the next tow.
Hokey Pokey writes a blog post as he waits for the next tow.

Somewhere between eating breakfast and taking a mile walk to the Walmart to get some supplies, I lost my wallet. I walked back and forth three times looking for it, but no luck. Yes, it sucks to lose your license (memorize your license number), and getting a new bank card replacement can be a pain (memorize your card number), but what I’m really missing is the polaroid photos of moments I will never get back.

The only way to get a VW to the desert…

Had I known two weeks ago what I know now, about an hour after I started writing this post, then I literally could have had towed my VW to the Nevada for free. Three words: Allstate Motor Club.

“I told you the only way to get a VW to the desert is to tow it,” said my would-be boss (had I of made it to Burning Man to work for him). And he was right. But I still believe there’s a reason why the VW Type 4 engine is still around. They were built to last, and they will outlast you if you take care of them.

I hate being told “not to come in” by an employer. It’s not just the disappointment in their tone of voice, it’s the self-disgust of someone who prides oneself on being punctual and meeting deadlines. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding my life, I want to accomplish what I say I’m going to accomplish.

The bittersweet symphony of “the only way to get a VW to the desert is to tow it” is that I could have towed it the entire way. For free.

As I write this, I’m riding in my third tow truck of the evening. That’s right. Three tow trucks this evening. Why? Well, my Allstate Motor Club coverage provides me with awesome roadside assitance. The premium coverage gives you a free tow up to $250. And, the kicker, unlimited number of dispatches. I thought to myself that there would have to be some sort of catch, but there isn’t.

I am on my way one $250 tow at a time. It’s almost 1 a.m. and I’ve got two more tow trips ahead of me to make it to my final destination — Asheville Vee Dub. So, knowing what I know now… I could’ve spent the last couple of weeks towing Volkey Donkey to the playa (Burning Man), instead of trying to fix an engine that was destined to die on me.

What a trip that would’ve been. Getting towed 2,500 miles at the rate of about 50 miles at a time… At that rate, assuming that each tow costs the full $250, it would have taken roughly 50 tows to make it there. And would’ve set Allstate back $12,500.

I can only imagine that if this post makes its way to the email of any Allstate executive, I’ll be the reason for a new policy change (and if you’re reading this, how about some free coverage for discovering and pointing out the flaw? Freestyle Van would welcome the sponsorship, just saying). This trip alone has been worth its weight in gold, and has already paid for a whole year’s worth of coverage.

Five tows later, I’m back at Asheville Vee Dub ready to drop my engine and get a new one.

Doing it right

I can safely say that rebuilding only the top-end of my engine is what caused it to throw a piston rod through the center of my case. The research I’ve done shows that if you properly seal up the top end of the engine on an old bottom with a lot of miles, then all that pressure is going out the bottom. Hence, the multitude of oil leaks.

“There’s no point in building the top-end if you’re not going to rebuild the bottom,” one of the tow truck drivers told me. “You’re just causing the bottom end to go out quicker. And if you get enough gas in the bottom, it goes boom.”

Indeed, it did go boom.

But now it’s back to the drawing board. And that drawing board has an empty VW engine compartment with a new engine penciled in. That is, once I can afford to get it and put it in… But the drawing board also has roses all around it to remind me that I’d rather be taking whiffs of the sweet smells of a running engine, than breaking down to smell the roses.

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