Saturday, July 23, 2011

Take two. The show goes on.

Sylvia update: As it turns out, Sylvia, in fact, needs a rebuild. Since the mechanic will have her for an extended period of time, we asked him to look through all of her systems and fix anything that looks questionable as we have hair-brained, crazy dreams of, perhaps, driving her to Maine this fall, an adventure that, I'm sure, has countless possibilities for minor, or major, hiccups. 

As I mentioned before, we headed out on revised plans to the northwest. After a few chocolatine-filled days in Seattle, we drove our most reliable and time-efficient car out to the Olympic Peninsula to Kalaloch Beach, my favorite family vacation spot as a kid, where we met my parents and two youngest siblings. Here we tried out my not-so-well hatched plan of sleeping in our three-person tent, something we have avoided for the last six years due to the not sleeping. I had delusions that it would be different this time since the boys now sleep through the night, and really wanted to try it out as I have backpacking hopes for the future so it seemed like good time to try it. Let me just say that we planned on camping two nights, but we only lasted one. After the fortunate few of us who slept woke up in puddles, we crawled on our knees to my parents' cabin they had rented, desperately asking if we could spend the night there. They were baffled as to why we hadn't stayed there in the first place and graciously squeezed us in. We really, really miss Sylvia. 

After a couple of cups of tea we were ready to roll, through the rain. Upon pondering the possibilities, taking into account where it may be less rainy, we headed inland, to the Hoh Rain Forest located in Olympic National Park, where Aaron happily placed another stamp in our national parks passport book. As one might expect it rained on us incessantly as we hiked through magnificent old growth rain forest with gnarled, moss-draped trees towering over the fern-carpeted ground, past crystal clear streams and milky rivers. I am very thankful for rain jackets and pants which made the day a pleasant exploration instead of a miserable ordeal. Our next stop was the sea-stackful Ruby Beach where we were greeted by a beachside pond perfect for rock-skipping and throwing. My little brother Zander has an amazing arm and can easily out-throw everyone, including the adults. Jason tried his very hardest to best my twleve-year-old brother, and, in the process, almost took out all of the kids and a group of strangers when he whipped a rock as hard as he could, releasing it at the exact wrong time. Thankfully he didn't hit anyone and his ego has mostly recovered since. As we lounged on the beach and the kids romped, played, and explored, the  clouds parted, and we were treated to a little bit of sunshine, a glorious end to the soggy day. After dinner back at the lodge, we headed down to the beach where Zander, Grandpa, Jason, and Isaac threw a football, while Aaron and I explored the huge logs that had washed ashore, trying to estimate which was longest as the sun set. Sigh. Though our time was shorter than we hoped here, it was really nice spending time with my parents back in old favorite places and sharing them with my kids. Thanks for inviting us.  

Click here for photos.

Monday, July 11, 2011

So we had this plan......

So we hatched this plan to take 25 days to make a sweeping camping trip across Washington state from Mount Rainier National Park to Kalaloch Beach in Olympic NP on the peninsula to meet my parents, to Anacortes where we hop onto Montana Sapphire again to sail through the San Juan Islands for a week, to Mount Baker, through North Cascades NP and hopefully through northern Idaho to Glacier NP before we needed to be at my brother's wedding in Helena.  We even made reservations at campgrounds, which is distinctly unlike us.  So as we prepared for our latest trip, Jason went through and replaced things that needed replacing, spark plugs, fuel filter, distributor cap, oil, oil filter, etc... Sylvia seemed to be in ok shape. Four days before our departure date with only the three-day, Fourth-of-July weekend between us and freedom, the passenger rear brake started leaking. Ugh. After a trip to Firestone where they could not fix it, Jason took matters into his own hands and gave it a try. Unfortunately, the brake drum was stuck to the hub and it became clear after many different creative attempts that we, indeed, needed professional help. So Tuesday morning, the day of our scheduled departure, Jason called around to see who could get her in. Long story short we ended up having two different shops work on her Tuesday and we were able to leave town around 6:30pm. Our hopes were to camp somewhere around Missoula (in normal car time,it takes around three hours), which I secretly thought was a bit overly optimistic. We arrived in Butte without any incident, brakes seemed to be working fine.

As we left Butte, both Jason and I noticed a curious tugging sensation every-so-often on Sylvia. We  began to worry that she may be spewing out gas again, so we pulled over at the next exit. Jason chose an awkwardly-sloped spot and hopped out to inspect. No gas to be seen. He asked me to rev the engine as he watched, still no gas, but the oil light suddenly came on. Oink! He ordered me to turn off the engine and I protested that if we turned her off she wasn't going to start again and he rebutted that if we didn't turn her off her engine might explode. I turned her off. Jason one, Kirsten zero. Upon checking the oil, Jason found that she was completely full so he tried starting her. She did not start. Kirsten one, Jason one. In enters the insurance company, who graciously sent us a tow truck. After about forty-five minutes, our short, lovable, Butte-Irish driver showed up and hoisted Sylvia up onto the truck bed and back to Butte we went. Along the way, at 9:30pm, he called all of the shops he could think of to see if they had room for us. The tow truck even stopped by one of the mechanic's houses because our driver couldn't remember his after hours number. Alas, no luck. It was quite the tour of Butte. We were on our way to the Comfort Inn where our lovable Butte-Irish tow truck driver could get us a discount when we passed by a KOA where I half-jokingly blurted out that he could drop us off there. Fifteen minutes later, after check-in, the driver deposited us and Sylvia into a campsite. Talk about arriving in style.  We asked him if he would like to join us on our trip through Washington, towing all the way. He just laughed. With Sylvia safely on the ground, Jason tried cranking her up and, with reluctance, she started, belching out gratuitous gas fumes. She still wasn't leaking, just running incredibly rich, as the tow-truck driver declared that he hoped that she didn't catch fire, and the leathery, gravelly-voiced campground worker smoked in the background. After pondering what could be wrong with her, our diesel-driving, Butte-Irish  hero disappeared into the night.

In the morning Jason promptly started calling mechanics to see who could squeeze us in. As luck would have it, the mechanic recommended the night before agreed to help us diagnose her. She fired right up and we beelined to Car Tunes. After depositing the keys, we turned our eyes towards Butte. I have to confess here that I have never had a high opinion of Butte, home to the Berkeley Pit, the largest superfund sight in the world. I realize now, that after all of the years of ignorance and jumping to conclusions, that I was wrong. Butte reminds us of a cross between run-down Lisbon and South Boston and we now hold a certain affection in our hearts for this place. I'm not saying we want to live here, but it has its rundown charm. It is a place of faded glory. During its heyday, it was one of the richest cities on Earth as it supplied copper to world. Now It feels distinctly dilapidated and stuck-in-time. We wandered through the heart of downtown and followed Broadway, lined with historic homes and mansions. We walked through the Arts Chateau mansion, home to one of the copper kings' sons and toured the Copper King Mansion where the big man lived himself. What started out as, "really? stuck in Butte of all places?" turned out to be a very pleasant and introspective, what-else-have-I-misjudged morning.

Back at the mechanic, we were informed that Sylvia, sadly, did not have pressure in one of her four cylinders and may be in need of a rebuild. Not knowing how long a fix would take we asked if he thought we could make it home on three cylinders. He answered yes and off we limped. We drove her straight to the mechanic in Bozeman, worried that if we turned her off at home, she may not start again. So after lots of unpacking Sylvia while I got to know the mechanics, and repacking it into my car, here we are in Seattle, in a hotel, on take two, of a much-abbreviated, much-less-campy, and revised trip to Washington, while Sylvia continues to baffle the mechanics whose best theory at this point is that she is possessed by demons. Get better, Sylvia, we miss you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Meet Sylvia

Life can be unpredictable when you travel in a camper van. Sylvia is our 1985 VW Vanagon camper van. We love her. She has safely housed and transported us to and from Moab, Vegas, Red Rocks, St. George, Zion, and Mesa Verde supplying more fun than you can imagine along the way. We love how our mindset changes when we step out of our reliable daily drivers and climb into her. Everything slows down, literally. 4,000 pounds and only 75 horse power? That's fine. No air conditioning in the desert heat? No problem. We've learned to relax and realize that each trip will take at least twice as long and that there will always be some kind of mechanical failure. Always. Take one of our last trips to Moab, she started losing serious power, struggled to go downhill with a tail-wind. We pulled over at the nearest exit to see what was wrong. One of her fuel lines had wiggled loose and was spewing gas everywhere. Jason handily worked a new clamp on and duck-taped it for good measure. The fix lasted an entire year until I was picking up trees at a local nursery and stepped out of the camper van to gas fumes and a trail of gas behind me. Upon calling the insurance company to have her towed, they informed me that I had to have the fire department check her out to make sure she was safe to tow. I sheepishly called the non-emergency number for the fire department and told them about my very non-emergency situation. They sent a fire truck out, with lights flashing. A little embarrassing. The fire-fighter glanced under the van and declared her safe for towing to the mechanic, who told me after working on it that some moron had tried to fix it with duck tape. I informed him that the moron was my husband. On the way to St. George, her roof air vent lost a bolt  and blew open, flapping violently in the high winds. We rigged it back "closed" with climbing gear. Unfortunately, we could not close it super tight so I had to ride with my arm behind me pulling on the climbing gear to keep it from flapping. In Vegas, she just wouldn't start unless we opened up the engine compartment and hot-wired her. You get the idea. Despite all of the difficulty, we love her so and have dirt-bag dreams of living on the road in her visiting scenic place after scenic place.