June 20th, 2001: Stranded in the Mojave Desert

Up around 8am after a great sleep. Really needed it after the previous day. No showers at this spot so I had to make do with a tap and a water jug. Cold but invigorating. Check out the lovely before and after shots of me. Of course I goofed. You're supposed to smile in the AFTER shot, not the BEFORE shot. Next trip I have to remember to either get a haircut just beforehand or bring a baseball cap. It's especially useful if you don't have air conditioning and are driving 120 with all the windows down.

The campsite was actually pretty nice. I felt bad about leaving it so soon. Would have enjoyed exploring the area more and spending a couple evenings of REAL camping with a campfire and all the fixin's. I figure the place would be pretty dangerous for small children. They could be rendered unconscious if one of these ginormous cones fell on them. I'm just glad one didn't land on the roof of the car in the middle of the night. That would have really spooked me. I'd be inside wondering if some big bear was sitting up there.

No more problems with the car in the mountains since I was mostly heading downhill. Stopped off a few times to admire the views. Had breakfast at the Mountain Top Cafe. I liked the place right away because they had old arcade machines of Asteroids, Pole Position, and Ms. Pacman by the entrance.

Things were going fine. I entered the Mojave Desert and didn't even know it. Then the temperature gauge started acting up again. But this time it seemed rather random. It would be normal, then go way up, drop back to normal... All of a sudden it leaped up into the red. I barely managed to pull the thing over before it stalled. There was steam coming out of the left side of the engine and smoke coming out of the right side. Not a good sign at all. I let it sit for ten minutes, cooling down the engine. I filled up on a little water and added some oil since it seemed a little low. I was just a few miles from Barstow so I figured I would have someone give the car a serious checkout there. The temperature gauge looked great when I set off once again. The coolest I'd seen it in some time. Actually, it was too cool, it dropped down to cold. And that is when my speed started to drop and the smoke started billowing out of the engine. (Even started coming in through the vents.) I could see Barstow just ahead, but after 3700 km, this car wasn't going another step further.

About every mile or so along the highways there are "call boxes". I was always a little curious about them and I was so happy to finally get to use one. Fortunately, my car died just next to one. I pick up the phone inside and an operator came on telling me I'm a silly bunny for not taking better care of my car. Actually, she just said to sit still, wait for the tow truck, and not accept help from anyone else who offers. What a trusting world! So I just walked around the area for about 45 minutes, waiting for the tow truck and wondering if there might be any snakes under the nearby bushes.

The tow truck finally arrived and the guy was very friendly, probably because he was charging me $90 US for the tow into Barstow. He dropped me off at Barstow Automotive Center. I filled out some forms and the lady said it would be a minimum $60 charge for checking the car out. And since it was nearly lunchtime, no one would be able to look at it for a while. "Come back in two hours," she said. Wonderful.

Not too much to do in Barstow, at least not in the section I was stuck in. I walked to a nearby fast food place and grabbed a sundae and then just wandered around, eventually sitting down at a bus stop (the only place to sit in any shade) and waited. Time to consider yet another change in my plans. I had been hoping to see Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam and then camp within an hour or two of the Grand Canyon. I figured I could skip the first two stops or I could call work and tell them I'd be back on Tuesday instead of Monday and make up the extra day later. Sounded like a good plan.

So I returned to the garage at 1:30. The car hadn't moved. A very busy place with people coming and going all around. I waited another hour. Still nothing. Finally I tell the lady that I'm sort of pressed for time and that if they can't check my car out soon, I'll just fill up on water and oil (at this point I figured that perhaps my oil gauge had been reading wrong and that I had been dangerously low in oil, causing the overheating and such). Naturally this got her attention and she set someone to work on the car immediately. The fellow said they'd have to replace the thermostat, the such and such and the this and that. It would take an hour and a half and cost $120. An expensive stop, but if it would fix up the car, I was all for it. Stuck in the waiting room with Jerry Springer on the television. And everyone else there seemed to be enjoying the show immensely. It was confirmed, I was in hell.

Tick tock, tick tock, time passed and the fellow finally came out. "It's a baby boy!" he exclaimed. Actually, he said they fixed the things he mentioned before but then the doo hickey blew. Now they'd need to re-bore the engine or some such. "That'll set you back about $1300" he says. "How long?" I ask. I have a serious panic attack when he says it will be a week or so to get all the parts and such.

So there I am, stranded in the desert. I'm supposed to be back at work on Monday. I certainly can't wait around for a week or two to get the car fixed. But what do I do, call the guy a liar and try driving off in my car? Call around for mechanics who make house calls so I can get a second opinion? I walk back to the bus stop and try to think of what to do.

There were several options, including renting a car and finishing out my vacation with it, taking up the guy's offer of buying one of their cars (uh, no thanks), jumping on a Greyhound bus headed for Vancouver, but I finally decided that a quick escape was the best option. There were no really good options, but this seemed to be the least wretched.

So I walked down the street to AVIS and rented myself a car. (Around $90 for the day since I planned on leaving it in Las Vegas.) I packed up as much as I could into the rental and then set off across the rest of the Mojave to Las Vegas, where I planned on taking the first flight back to Vancouver. I could go back to work a day or two early, perhaps work an extra day or two on an upcoming weekend, and then, when (if?) the car is fixed, I could fly back down and finish my vacation as planned.

Sounded half decent. The desert was absolutely beautiful but I was a bit too frazzled to enjoy it or take any footage. Once I got to the Las Vegas airport I realized that I should have gone to LA instead. Air Canada didn't even have any direct flights to Vancouver from here. There was only one flight, at 11:30pm, with Alaska Airlines. Dropped the car off, paid $300 for the plane ticket, and waited around, popping a few quarters into the omnipresent slot machines.

I must have been pretty fried by the time I made it to the airport. When I was paying for my tickets, the fellow looked up at me and said "are you all right?" I guessI must have looked like a complete mental wreck. Of course he then sends me over to a nearby table to have my bags searched. I suppose I looked too much like a terrorist or something. Nothing like having someone with little white gloves rooting through your dirty underwear...

I arrived in Vancouver around 2:30am or so. Three days of driving turned into three hours of flying. Since the next bus to Whistler wasn't until 9:30am, I just wandered around the airport in a daze. Back in Canada, my vacation still unfinished, and my car sitting in a shop over 2000 km away. Now I just have to wait and see if they can fix my Subaru, and if I'll be able to afford it. If so, then with luck this vacation is not over yet.


Alas, I never did get to finish the vacation. I spent the next few months on the phone with Virgil at Barstow Automotive getting the run around. They needed to replace the engine but engines for that kind of car were hard to come by according to them. Finally, I had enough of their excuses and tracked down an engine myself. I called them up with the news and said that I would have the engine shipped to them to install it. There was some humming and hawwing on the other line and then the manager came on the phone and politely told me that my Subaru had been scrapped several months ago! He denied the fact that I had been speaking with his mechanic all during the past few months and being told the car was still awaiting a motor.. The conversation did not end too well. Oddly enough, he was the one using the profanity even though I certainly felt like telling him what to do with himself.

But there was nothing that I could really do. In the confusion of getting back home I managed to lose (or was simply never given) the proper paperwork so I had no real proof that I hadn't just abandoned the car there for them to do with as they pleased. We even called Barstow's sheriff's office to report the incident. "We've had plenty of dealings with them and never had any problems," said the officer there. (As if they would try ripping off the sheriff!) I figured the owner was probably the sheriff's cousin or something and gave up on the whole matter. I knew I would just get more frazzled if I kept fighting over it. Still, there are times when I look back and am still so angry over it all. They didn't just steal my car, they ruined my vacation.

I'll just have to try making it to the Grand Canyon some other time. Perhaps send them postcards of my trip and let them wonder who on Earth could be sending them.

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