An east coast mechanic shop tour
Putter, putter, putter, stop
Very quickly into our trip (i.e., the first day we hit the road) we realized that DeVandra was not mechanically sound.
Our first day on the road was not the first time she had puttered out. No, we were all too familiar with the “puttering out issue”. It happened a few times before while driving around Toronto. We had two mechanics look at her before we took off, that’s why we were surprised when the issue arose again just before we crossed the border.
There is little that’s scarier than driving along the highway and realizing your vehicle isn’t going to go much faster or further; the only solution you have is pull off to the side of the road and wait for our engine to cool (or something). Meanwhile, large transport trucks are zooming by, at full speed, at night, vigorously shaking the box of metal you’re occupying in their wake. Repeat x 4 until we arrive at our first unintended destination: Morgantown, West Virginia.
We have been so lucky that two out of our three breakdowns have been in places with friends nearby. David (Debid) gave us a place to crash during our stay 3-day stay in Morgantown while our car was getting fixed.
Mechanic #3 told us that an old fuel pump was causing the puttering out. We got that replaced and happily travelled down the east coast to the New River Gorge, WV and Chattanooga, TN for some spectacularly warm climbing days. All was well that week as we were blissfully unaware of the epic that was to follow.
On the road to New Orleans
We knew something wasn’t right when we set out to New Orleans from Chattanooga. A fierce clicking developed over the course of the morning. It really started to worry me.
I began looking up mechanic shops near the highway — click, Click, CLICK, POP. We serve to the shoulder. This was the moment I decided to add triple-A to our speed dial. A 50-mile tow to Tuscaloosa, Alabama later, we arrive at an auto repair shop who tells us our motor has blown.
We quickly hop on to Couchsurfing.com to see if any kind souls might take us in for a few nights while we get back on our feet. After camping out in Mechanic #4’s shop for the night, our call for a temporary home was answered by Alabama University students, Maddie and Maria.
It turns out a motor for a 1984 GMC Camper van isn’t particularly cheap or quick to come by. We were vanless/homeless for 3 weeks. One of those weeks was spent in New Orleans — we travelled by train to get there. The two remaining weeks were spent hopping between hosts (some of which were climbers!) who we met through Maddie.
There were three weeks of gruelling uncertainty, poor communication and bad expectation management from our mechanic. After a laughably long test of patience, we finally made it out of Tuscaloosa with a brand new engine and a boatload of new friends. Things were looking up.
Third breakdown’s a charm
DeVandra was running really smoothly when we set out for El Paso, Texas. We were feeling good. We had the intention of driving as far as we could before stopping to sleep at a highway rest stop, so we quickly stopped to get gas so we could be on our way. We pulled into a gas station in a suburb of Dallas to fill up only to find that we couldn’t turn her back on! We were in disbelief. This was our breaking point.
“I thought this trip was going to have more rock climbing,” I sobbed.
Thankfully, I had recently met a family friend (Annie) at my uncle’s wedding this past September who lived near Dallas. Annie and her family gracefully hosted us for a couple of days while DeVandra was taken to mechanic #5.
The newest mechanic was shocked to find that the guy who installed our motor in Tuscaloosa had no clue what he was doing — all of the electrical wiring had melted inside! Crazy…crazy.
All of these mechanical trials and tribulations just amount to a lot of bad luck, when it’s all said and done. Through these trails I have learned that any seemingly bad situation can remain positive if you decide to perceive it that way. Our van troubles forced us to slow down and appreciate the amazing friendships we have/were able to cultivate along the way.
We finally made it to Hueco Tanks (a legendary climbing area near El Paso) without any engine issues. We can hardly believe it. And, as I write this on the peak of North Mountain, I’m happy to report that Jon and I have begun to enjoy easier times with the understanding that if there are darker days to come, we’re well equipped to find clarity and joy in the silver linings.
It’s been 39 days on the road.