On the fourth and last day of our camping trip, the morning started off with very gusty winds – like “wake you up at 5:30 in the morning” winds whipping through the campsite. Just another one of the little challenges that were sprinkled throughout this trip. I rushed out in my pajamas, in the very cold and gusty wind, to disassemble the awning that had blown over. (I discovered that one of the legs had broken, but I wasn’t able to take a good look to see if it could be fixed. I’ll investigate on the next camp-out.) I hurriedly packed up anything about to be blown away and headed back into the camper to hopefully get a little more sleep. I can’t really remember if I actually did get more sleep or not, but I got up at some point and started breaking down camp. Since I already had a head start, it didn’t really take that long to get it all packed up and put in the camper. Plus, I had the motivation of white powdered donuts and chocolate milk as my reward to be enjoyed as soon as we were headed out. We hit the road about 9 am, and the donuts were delicious.
It was roughly three hours later that Big Trouble came along. No warning lights came on initially, but I knew right away that this was serious stuff. As we were headed up a slight incline, the car’s engine started running VERY rough. Then “check engine” lit up. I had just seen a sign that said six miles to the next town, Vernon, which is a small town but not tiny. I eased off the accelerator a little and prayed that we made it to the exit. We did make it to Vernon, but barely. As we got to the exit ramp, the car completely died. Then the oil indicator light came on, and I knew that it was even more serious. Luckily, I was able to coast to the shoulder of the service road.
I called the roadside assistance company from whom I had purchased coverage. We’ll call the company “Bad Sam.” I told them I was dead on the side of the road. The lady was very nice and started arranging a tow service to a local auto repair shop. I asked her about towing the camper, and she started asking me all kinds of questions. I explained it was a very small camper, seven feet by 10 feet, built on a utility trailer. That’s when she came back to tell me that my camper would not be covered because it did not have plumbing. Huh? It has electricity – lights, outlets, and air conditioning. I pay $80 every year to register it with the State of Texas. The company did not mention anything about the camper needing plumbing to qualify when I originally signed up and they took my money. Needless to say, I was extremely upset. Luckily, the tow truck driver had the capability of putting my car on the flatbed trailer and hitching the camper to the back of his trailer. Whew.
As I waited for the tow truck, I thought about crying. I felt I had every right to cry and no one would blame me. But I quickly realized I was most likely going to be making some major decisions over the next few hours and I needed to keep my head clear. So I didn’t cry. Instead I called my brother. And we talked about what could possibly be wrong with the car, how Rosie was handling everything, and how the camping trip went. It made me feel so much better.
The tow truck came along and it didn’t take the driver long to put the car on the trailer and hook up the camper. Rosie and I climbed up in the tow truck and we all headed to the auto repair shop. (Rosie wasn’t really supposed to ride in the tow truck, but the driver made an exception for her. Otherwise, I told him that we’d just walk and be at the repair shop in about an hour.) It took the repair shop about 10 minutes to run diagnostics and tell me my car was totally out of oil and the engine would need to be replaced. This would be a very expensive repair. As the car had over 130,000 miles on it, I had already decided that if it ever needed such a major repair, it would be time to seriously think about a new car. And replacing the engine definitely qualified as a major repair.
So I quickly made the decision that my next course of action needed to be getting home. Out of the two years I’ve been at my current job, that particular week was not the time to be missing work. We had a major system conversion in the works for a company we had just acquired. My number one priority at that point was to be at work on Tuesday morning. But we were four hours out of Dallas in a small town that had no Uber or taxi service. Wichita Falls is about 45 minutes away and is a much larger city with rental car companies. How was I going to get there though? I asked the mechanic if he knew of anyone that would drive me (and that 110 pound dog) to Wichita Falls, and he offered up his wife. !! So we piled Rosie, my suitcase and a few other camping things I didn’t want to leave behind into her car and headed to Wichita Falls. We got to Enterprise Rental, and they fixed me up with a nice Kia Sportage. Rosie and I were on our way home again. We got home about 7 pm and I took one of the best showers of my life.
How it all ended: I enjoyed my rental car so much that I bought the very similar Kia Sorento with a V6 engine which was my #1 priority. So far I’m loving it. It’s quite a bit bigger than my previous car and is taking a little getting used to, but Rosie and I love the extra space. I had to have a hitch installed which I did the next weekend so I could get my camper back home. I signed the broken down car over to the repair shop. They had gotten me to Wichita Falls to pick up a rental car that let me get home quickly and without missing any work at all. They had stored my camper until I could come back the next weekend to pick it up. On top of all the stress of the week, I didn’t want or need the burden of trying to decide what to do with a car that wouldn’t run. My brother was available many times throughout the days of this adventure to offer advice and also did research on the types of cars I was looking at to buy. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without his support … but mostly his humor. It feels good to laugh when it feels like everything is going wrong.