Initially, stepping out of the car to inspect the damage, I was not terribly concerned. I thought from the sound and vibration that we were dealing with a blown tire. I was annoyed at the idea of unloading the back of the car to access the spare but that was about it.
Within 10 seconds of inspection it became clear that our situation was worse than a blown tire. Rob had been driving at the time and he told me that the car had suddenly lost power. When the car was put in gear it made this awful grinding sound and it rolled freely even when it was in park. I knew in my gut that it was something transmission related but the engine ran well enough if it was left in park–a fact whose value was not lost in the heat since it allowed us to wait for the tow truck with the A/C on.
It was about 7pm when I called AAA to request a tow. We were miles from anything resembling civilization and so it was little surprise that it took over 3 hours for anyone to show up–especially since it was a Friday night!
Now I know that I have previously lauded Robs enthusiasm and vibrant personality in the context of a climbing partner– but the following 36 hours deepened my appreciation for this friendship even more.
We both knew that I was facing thousands of dollars of repair costs and major time loss at the very least as we had diagnosed the transmission as the problem. In spite of that, Rob was just a lot of fun. Writing this sentence feels very out of place in a way because this experience was painful and inconvenient but somehow Rob just made it fun, and that is something I may never understand but I will always appreciate.
The wrecker showed up, and for about a hundred bucks we were on our way to Sioux Falls. It was 10:30pm and I was freaking out at the though of getting a motel and having the car left elsewhere. All my insulin and medical stuff was in the car along with food and the stove! How would I manage apart from the car?
This problem resolved itself as our driver suggested that we just bivvy in the garage parking lot. He assured us that if we slept in the shadows around back, no one would hassle us…
While this option may have been one notch above living in a cardboard box, it allowed me to be close to all the “comforts of home” and I felt better for it.
The next morning we woke up and found that the shop was still closed and that it would remain so for two more days. We knew that it would be too costly and frankly risky to spend two more nights in this parking lot waiting for the shop to give us the news that it would cost more than the entire car was valued at to rebuild the transmission–to say nothing of the time required to make such repairs.
It was hard to accept the reality that my precious car would be going no further. We had spent the previous night exploring options of simply getting ourselves and the gear back to NY (since the car was clearly down for the count) and found that the base line cost was at minimum a thousand dollars. This was also hard to accept since I had budgeted a sum of my own money for car repairs from the beginning of the project and this would have basically cleaned out the “repair fund” for the remainder of the project! Paying a grand to get you car back and running is one thing but paying over that amount to borrow a car for a day, after which you are left with nothing…not a good option.
We eventually found one service that was reasonably affordable–with one catch: 24 hour rental! A second days charge would have made the grand total close to a thousand dollars…so I got a cab to pick up the rental and Rob unloaded the gear from the dragon wagon. We were going to blitz for the east coast in one 24 hour push.
Google maps said it could be done in 23 hours and change so we figured it was the best and cheapest option to get ourselves and our gear back to my dads place in NY.
We got a guy to come out and junk the dragon wagon and after transferring all our gear to the rental, I had to watch as my car and erstwhile home got loaded onto a flatbed truck for the second time in 24 hours.
There was no time to feel sorry or mourn. We had to get under way. I had done some buildering the day before so we hadnt lost the project and we decided that we could find something that would count as climbing to keep the streak alive along the way.
We found that at a gas station in Indiana with a lovely stone facade and mercifully inattentive employees. We completed the drive to NY without incident and made it back with literally 10 minutes to spare!
So we were back in NY having lost the car and the rocket box-we packed the rental car tighter than the law of physics would have suggested was possible. Now at least I could borrow my dads car to climb locally, store my gear and have a place to sleep that wasn’t a parking lot in Sioux Falls. The immediate survival crisis was out of the way but the survival an completion of the project still is looming before us.