It all started a few months ago when my sister informed us that she was getting married in San Diego in July. We knew we were going to be in Red River New Mexico for the summer and started looking at the ways we could get there. We looked at driving the bus and staying at a RV park, but most parks were booked and we didn’t really want to spend the money on fuel. We looked at driving 3-4 hours to Albuquerque, and flying then renting a car in San Diego. We also talked about renting a car in Albuquerque and driving a modern car, as you may recall our daily driver is a 1994 Ford Explorer with 158,000 miles on it, which doesn’t really like to drive at highway speeds. Really it doesn’t like much over 60 miles per hour, which doesn’t really cut it on the freeway. So, a modern car would be nice. We weighed the different options and decided that we would be best to spend the money on the Explorer, it needed a brake job and a tune up anyway. Invest in the future right?
The time finally rolled around and it was time to hit the road. We packed up our stuff, which was way way too much as usual, and headed to Flagstaff. We spent a couple days in Flagstaff. We found a newly listed condo to rent right downtown for an incredible price. So new, we were the first renters. The condo had a few issues but it was pretty nice place, and really convenient for downtown access. In preparation for the rest of the trip we were looking at the weather and decided that it would be best if we left at 5:00 in the morning to beat some of the heat in the desert as it was forecast to be around 120 degrees. The evening before we supposed to be leaving we went to AutoZone to get some coolant for the trip. As I was walking into the store I heard a funny noise, but I wasn’t sure if it was our car or the one next to us. I came out, and the other car was gone and the sound was still there. So, I pop the hood and take a look. After a brief investigation I can see the belt tensioner falling apart into the fan. GREAT! Go back into AutoZone and ask about one, luckily, they have one, I buy it and a small socket set (for whatever stupid reason I didn’t bring any tools with me). I go out to the parking lot and start working on it. I didn’t want to take apart the entire front of the engine so I do it the hard way. After several hours of grease and cursing the new belt and belt tensioner was installed. Back to the condo for quick late dinner then off to bed. We actually managed to get out of town by about 5:30 am not to bad for us, which by the end of the day will be a godsend.
We head down the long grade from Flagstaff to Phoenix, make it to Yuma where it was 115 degrees, cross into California and unbeknownst to us...impending doom. Driving through the imperial valley you can see some mountains in the distance. I8 near El Centro is actually 52 feet below sea level, so a climb is in order. Basically, the climb starts just outside of Ocotillo CA, with a elevation of 377 feet. The first "hill" tops out at about 3000 feet in what seems like just a few miles, but I think it's around 20 or so.
Heading up the mountain we noticed several turnouts with “radiator water” barrels, sweet. Didn’t want to over work the Explorer so tried to keep a mellow pace of about 45-50 Mph. After awhile we noticed smoke coming from the car, checked the gauges, temp and oil pressure were good. I’m pretty sure we looked like a slow green rocket going up the mountain, just call me rocket man! Finally found a place to pull off and check it out. So close, just 50 miles from San Diego. Look under the car and see either oil or ATF dripping from everything. Pop the hood and check oil, all good. Pull the transmission dipstick, dry. That’s not good. I had some ATF, so I put some in, and start the car. While I’m lying on the ground watching I have Jen put the car in gear to pull forward. She puts it in gear and all the ATF I just put in comes pouring out from somewhere I can’t see. I tell Jen “we’re done, better call a tow truck”. She gets on the phone and gets one headed our way. We also find a transmission shop about 40 miles in the right direction. A little over an hour later the tow truck has loaded the Explorer and we’re headed to El Cajon CA. At about 4:30 we’re in the transmission shop going over the options. Oh yeah on the trip down the mountain in the tow truck Jen made reservations with Enterprise for a car. While talking to Paul the service guy he asks about a rental car, we tell him about our reservations, he tells us they have a deal with enterprise, so he calls them to make sure we get the special rate, and to let them know we were ready to get picked up. Enterprise shows up with a minivan and we move our stuff from the Explorer to the minivan, which took a bunch of space (I did say we packed way too much stuff). We go to the Enterprise El Cajon location and go out to pick our car while our stuff stays in the van. We pick a Ford Edge, hopefully it will fit all our crap. We go back inside, and then we’re told that the Edge is not available. As we’re talking to the agent we tell her that we have a bunch of stuff and need something large enough to hold it. She asks what van it was in, I wasn’t sure, heck I wasn’t even sure of the color (which isn’t really like me). After a few minutes we find the van, and the agent says you know what I’m just going to give you this one. We ended up getting the van for 50% discount, sweet.
Make our way down to the condo on Mission Beach. It was ok, at least it was a place to sleep. We booked this one because A) It was about the cheapest we could get and B) it was less than ¼ mile from the condo where the wedding party was staying. We unloaded our junk, and walked over to the other condo, where we had some dinner and adult beverages. If you haven’t been aware of the timeline, I’ll now fill you in on the other importance of leaving early from Flagstaff. We broke down around 2 pm pacific time by the time the tow truck came, and we made it down the west side of the mountain it was 5:00. If we had left 4 hours later like we normally do the rest of the afternoon may not have gone quite as well.
But we did make it down, and the next day I had the autopsy report from the transmission shop. The dumping of the fluid killed the clutches and torque converter plus a bunch of other things. They could rebuild it with updated parts to make it better than it was, and all it would cost is $3200. Looking like it’s going to be the most expensive vacation we’ve ever had.
Stay tuned for part two, there will be beaches, Russians, tigers, tiny trains, normal trains, plus much much more.