The good news is that we made it the 2,900 miles to Bellingham, WA in one piece… I wish I could say the same for our little Cabriolet. Over the seven day trip, the car let us down in nearly every state, had to be hotwired more often than not, needed to be towed three times (yes, THREE!), and cost us more in repairs than we paid for it. Despite all of our car issues, we had an amazing trip through some incredible countryside, and we don’t regret deciding to drive a bit.
We set out of Pensacola on Saturday, and drove straight across Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana surrounded by the lovely odor of gasoline. The car trouble began just after dark that night as we stopped for gas in Texas. It refused to start, so after we fiddled for a while Élan hotwired it just to get us back on the road.
We spent the night with Elan’s sister Deja in Austin, then hit the road again the next day hot wiring after every stop. Central Texas is beautiful, with wildflowers blooming everywhere, and we loved having the top down in the scorching heat. We were proud owners of our very first seat belt tans.
If you have ever driven through West Texas, you know that there are lots of long stretches of emptiness, which is precisely where the car decided to sputter to a stop on the freeway that night just before sunset. Élan suspected the fuel filter, so we cashed in on our AAA membership and called for a tow. Several friendly locals stopped to chat us up while we waited for the truck. If you must break down, Texas is a great place to do it. Anytime anyone saw us under the hood, they would stop to make sure we were ok. On two different occasions, passersby insisted that we come home and stay with them until we could get the car running again. We heart Texas!
We thought that being towed would be the easiest and safest way to get to Midland, the closest town, 99 miles away, but boy were we wrong. We waited 3 hours for the tow truck to come, and once he did, he drove us 40 miles in the wrong direction while he argued with someone on the phone about who would drive us the rest of the way. He lost the argument, turned around and drove back towards Midland. It was about 2am by this point and I was dozing off until loud bells and whistles woke me up. The chain-smoking driver mumbled something about a check engine light and pulled off to the side of the road in a cloud of smoke. We discovered 5 gallons of motor oil puddled under the truck. Excellent.
The trucker had no tools or supplies, so Élan dug his out of the car and spent an hour helping the driver troubleshoot. With that much oil leaking, the tow truck wasn’t going anywhere, so he called an even bigger tow truck to come tow the tow truck towing us. The driver who didn’t want to come in the first place, eventually showed up 3 hours later. Again, Élan and his tools had to help them disconnect the drive line so the tow truck could be towed. Finally, we were back on the road with two chain-smoking truckers, one of which was most definitely high as a kite. As we were perched on the edge of the nasty sleeper bed in the back of the semi, Elan leaned over and whispered, “it’s my birthday.” Sure enough. I felt even worse for him when I realized that on his last birthday, we were stranded without a boat engine in Mexico. Geez, getting old is rough!
The tow trucks dropped us off in a Napa parking lot where we reclined our seats and slept for an hour before the store opened. After Elan replaced the fuel filter, spark plugs, ground strap and bought a spare fuel pump, we were on the road again by noon.
We made it to the New Mexico State line before the gas fumes were intense enough to pull off at a rest stop and replace the fuel pump too. That night around midnight we stopped at a scenic lookout and passed out in the car. We intended to pitch the tent in campgrounds and stay in hotels throughout the trip, but were too exhausted to mess with either for the entire trip.
I’d heard that Volkswagen makes good campers. I don’t think the Cabriolet is what people mean by that, but we managed to do alright. The drivers seat didn’t lean back, so I folded it forward and curled up on the back of it with my legs dangling over the trunk, and Élan reclined in the passenger seat. One benefit of our sailing trip is that we can now sleep anywhere, anytime, in just about any conditions. We woke up to a spectacular view of a rocky canyon the next morning.
We oohed and ahhed our way through stunning northern New Mexico (with its mini dust tornados) Colorado (lush green pastures bordered by snow capped mountains) and Utah (crazy rock formations) all the while trying to convince ourselves that the road, not the car, was causing us to swerve left and right over every bump.
Eventually, the swerving car started to become a safety issue, so we pulled over and jacked up each tire to make sure nothing was loose. Finding no clear problem, we continued on to Snowville, a truck-stop town in northern Utah. After checking air pressure in all tires, the car was still just too swervy to continue on. Tow truck number three was driven by an incredibly nice guy, who drove us 196 miles in the direction we wanted to go, so we got the most out of the 200 mile AAA towing maximum. Thank you Bluejay for insisting that we buy AAA before attempting a cross-country run in a Volkswagen. You saved us $1500 bucks in towing this week!
After the tow, we once again slept off the last two hours of dark in the car, this time in a Les Schwab parking lot. The next day we spent 8.5 hours and $550 in two different Les Schwabs buying new struts, strut mounts and two new tires (to go with the other two new that we bought in FL before leaving) and still had an awful bumping noise for the remaining 315 miles to my parent’s house in E Washington that night.
Finally, we made it to Washington! Fed up with working on the car ourselves, we dropped it off with a mechanic, and spent an extra day with my family, who surprised Elan with a belated birthday celebration. Had we not stayed that extra day, we would have been driving up I-5 around the time the Skagit River Bridge collapsed. Everything happens for a reason, so I guess I should feel grateful that our car was such a (cute) piece of junk, right? We had to order some car parts, so thankfully we were able to borrow my parents car for the last couple hundred miles of the trip.
After rushing across the entire country, the boat also got held up in the bridge traffic, so we missed our Friday afternoon appointment to splash the boat in Bellingham. That meant we had to stay out in the boat yard until after the holiday weekend. After all the chaos of the last week’s driving adventure, we were just grateful to be reunited with the boat, and see that it arrived in one piece. Bo Smith, from Smith Boat Salvage, did a great job taking care of Silver Lining during her journey.
When we finally splashed the boat on Tuesday afternoon, we weren’t surprised that it wouldn’t start due to air in our fuel lines. Sailboats have no internal suspension, typically the cushion is usually provided by water, so when you put it on a trailer and haul it cross-country, things get a little rattled. Rather than go through the rigmarole of bleeding the fuel system and spending the night under the crane, we just towed the boat with the dinghy the mile to our new slip. What’s one more shenanigan after a year and a half of them?
We are thrilled to be back in Bellingham once again and are excited to see how the next few months unfold. We will continue to blog about sailing, living on a boat, and the adventures of life, so stay tuned!
‘Til next time!
A & E