4:17AM, The alarm goes off. It is early....and dark....and early. I get up and start loading the Silverado. I take a few things for the car food wise but leave as much as I can for the girls. Ike is somewhat surly getting up. However for at least 6-7 years there hasn't been one morning where he hasn't been surly so actually this is not unique. I get Kt up too as she has to come with us down to San Diego Airport to rent her a car to use for the next 4 days. Bonnie had purchased a danish coffee cake thing from the store which I take half of. I am finally up early ...but it is too early for inferior waffles.
4:40AM, Zooming into San Diego. Not a lot of traffic now. There are cars on the road though. They are just Priuses.
5:00AM, We check in to rent the car. I get the insurance and was prepared to pay the "young driver fee" to add Kt as a second driver. That of course keeps everything covered for liability and such. However a "young driver" for Thrifty is only down to 21 years old. So Kt could not be a legal second driver on the car. For a moment, I pondered the risk of what I'd be liable for if she smashed it or got hit and I wasn't driving the car....but then I figured "Hey what could possibly go wrong for a Niedfeldt?" So I drove it out of the lot into the very next driveway to the "Evil Gas Station from Hell". There I handed a....wait for it....wait for it...HYUNDAI Sonata over to her ever so cautious 18 year old hands.
The Evil Gas Station from Hell was a risky place to transfer this car to Kt. In this lot a mere 18 months before, nearly to the day, we filled a rental car with gas to return to Thrifty right next door. Literally 20 feet separated our rental car and the Thrifty lot. After filling our gas tank to return the car, my wife backed up from the pump and mysteriously a pylon protecting the Natural Gas filling station rammed itself into the back of our car. After a week sitting quite unimpressed in the American shoddiness of a Chrysler 300 we returned it with its bumper maligned and tailight broken. Thank God for having a legal second driver and the optional insurance. In retrospect I think that was a good indicator of the future direction of Chrysler.
5:20AM, Ike and I head out to return our truck to Cedar City by 1:00pm Mountain time. Can't afford any delays. Ike is not aware that we have headed out. He slept through the drive into San Diego, the car rental, and actually most all of California and wakes up around the Nevada border.
8:00AM, We pass Victorville, CA where an accident on the West bound lanes has closed the highway because of a death. The wanted to open it by 8:00am but that hasn't happened. All the cars are exiting at an offramp. I start watching the odometer for the distance. 9.5 miles later I see the end of the backup with plenty more cars adding on.
9:00AM, I hear another report about how they hope to have the highway open soon. Wow, I believe had I been going that direction that this nice little truck would have been doing some desert offroading. Insanity.
10:30AM, We are rolling into Las Vegas, we have 145 miles to Cedar city and two hours to get there. However, I sure wish I had a Prius because we needed gas. $70 of gas later and two egg Mcmuffins and we were headed eastbound and down loaded up and truckin. Ah we gonna do what they say can't be done. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there, I'm eastbound just watch old bandit run.
12:00PM (MDT) We hit the 29 miles of AZ. I love God's creation but the AZ DOT has put down some crazy windy roads through canyons with nice drop-offs and they are not as zippy as I would like.
1:02PM we pull up to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Cedar City, UT. There is a HYUNDAI ACCENT...now wouldn't that have been nice to have... sitting next to the office with a vacuum cleaner running near it, and a radio, cleaning supplies, and the car has two doors open, the keys are in it and the car is RUNNING. The sign on the office door says "Be back in 20 minutes" Now needless to say people do not leave their cars open, running, with their vacuums running, in Milwaukee very often. This town seems different that way. The temptation was that if I left them the pickup perhaps they would not remember there was a Hyundai in its place. I was thinking of how excited Bob would be about my new Hyundai.
1:18PM, Lisa shows up having taken another car through the car wash. She was dressed quite nicely and looked about 21. She had long blonde hair and lots of jewelry. She was essentially....hot. Basically there was hardly one thing that made this girl look like she belonged in Cedar City, UT. So as she took us back to Superior Auto to pick up the Volvo I asked her if she was from around here. She said, "Nooooooo, I'm from San Mateo, CA and I'm just here while my husband finishes up college." Her look of despair at being trapped in this little town in god-forsaken nowhere said a lot. She said that when he graduates next May they are moving back to CA. She did not like the weather or the lack of....everything. I told that back home in San Mateo I bet that Hyundai would have been Gone, Baby gone. The only thing more attractive would've been a Prius.
2:00PM, I go to the office to pay for the car. HOLY CRAP! $300 bucks for...wait for it...plugs, wires, and an oil change with air cleaner and oil filter of course. I guess there is an advantage to being in the middle of nowhere. That took care of the misfiring. However there was one problem we had to nurse the car home, They could not fix one remaining problem and it was the one that blew all the white smoke. I had blown an oil seal on the turbo and scads of oil was getting blown into the exhaust. Although the misfiring had been fixed by my replacing my nearly burnt away spark plugs and affected wires, there was still significant power loss from my weakened turbo. With enough oil we could get the car home without cracking the engine block because it used all the oil.
2:40PM, We went 60 miles. We are putting up enough smoke that even BP can't burn that much oil off the Gulf. I check the oil. Down 3 quarts. Holy crap. This is going to be expensive.
3:20PM, We went another 70 miles. Down 3 quarts. I find a product called STP Stop Leak. A thick goopy oil that is supposed to moisterize and gunk up your seals to fill leaks. Only 450 miles to go...TODAY!! Cars now drop far back from us because visibility is poor. When we go up hills the car lacking power often slows to a top speed of 35mph. Cars are careening off mountain passes due to lack of ability to see the road.
4:20PM, Another 70 miles. Down 2.5 quarts. We finally get to a very long stretch of highway with mild hills and stretches in the valleys of the basin. This eases the stress from long climbs up mountains.
5:10PM, We go almost 90 miles. Car is only down 2 quarts. Now the car is relatively smoke free in overdrive and only puts out colorful bursts of smoke on downshifting or upshifting. I felt like a silver, noxious cigar driving down the highway.
6:40PM, 120 miles this time. just under 2 quarts. Looking good as we are about to enter Colorado.
9:00PM, We had some nice valleys to travel in but we are now hitting some of the more aggressive parts of the Rockies. Lots of long mountain highways and we literally crawl over some of them at a top speed of 25mph.
9:20PM, I notice two State Patrol cars have two different people pulled over on this windy mountain stretch. Interesting considering how little police are in the west. A few miles later I see two State Patrol cars with people pulled over on the other side. As I notice this I see a State Patrol in my rearview mirror. I move over to the right hand lane to let him pass only to see him pull behind me. Oh brother. I have a feeling that the problem will be my rolling environmental disaster. Corporal Anderson was a big boy. I call him Corporal Anderson because his title was a Corporal. I called him Anderson because he he looked exactly like Louie Anderson. I swear to God I could have killed the man and ended the entire stop simply by throwing a donut over the side of the mountain. His little partner goes screaming by to catch yet another motorist. Cpl Anderson had two important points to make. First he said, "You were driving in the left lane." I said "Yep" (I have been driving in the left lane for 4000 miles up to this point or more than 500,000 miles in 26 years but who's counting) He said, "Were you aware that that is passing lane and you have to move over by law?" I said, "Nope" (Well of course I know thats a law...and if my turbo was working, passing is all I'd be doing to people and you'd be stopping me for speeding. Plus my wife has pointed out your concern to me for ...26 years...about that very issue). He said, "Do you know your car is also belching a lot of smoke?" "Yep" Cpl Anderson asks, "Where are you headed?" "Denver. Sleeping overnight at a friends. Only an hour and half left." Again his concern is overwhelming, "How long have you been driving?" "We have been on the road for 16 hours." "Are you two switching off driving?" Without missing a beat my son chimes in "Yessir!" (I had not let him drive as I was very pre-occupied babysitting the car and negotiating mountains and oil, etc..) My child was an enthusiastic natural born liar. I was so proud...and scared at the same time. Cpl Anderson wrote me a stern warning about driving in the left lane which to this very day I am pondering and contemplating. Mainly how Colorado legislature has too much time on their hands...OR...the sheer brilliance of getting the idiot slow people out of the left lane. I'm sort of wishing WI would get all our fricken idiot Buick drivers and make them drive on the shoulder or something.
11:00PM We hit the worst of the rockies and the Continental divide...which happens to be in the middle of a tunnel through a mountain. I stop at the top of the last mountain climb and we do one last oil check. Only one quart down after all those climbs. Getting better. Looks like we're going to make it to the flats of CO and beyond and make it home. I think that last climb however took 15-20 minutes with a top speed of 17 mph in spots.
11:30PM, We come over that last rise where the lights of Denver lie spread out before us. What a sight. we cruise up I-25 to Broomfield and pull into the Drs. Brucker driveway at 11:45pm.
1:30AM, Ike and I finally go to bed after telling our tale of woe and catching up a bit with Eric. Eric was/is one of my best friends and was my roomate from DMLC days. He left after freshman year and I left after Sophomore. He went to Univ of CO and then Univ of Texas and Post Doc at Rice University. He has a PhD in Chemistry and is married to Noel, a Pediatrician. They represent two of the very few people with such exceptional educations that are still the coolest, interesting, down to earth, Christian, and warm-hearted people I know. Tomorrow we have a quick 1000 miles to home. But I am going to get my oil in bulk at Walmart this time and save some money. Almost home.