Friday, April 22, 2016

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

...and that pretty much sums up what's happened with this blog, as well as the vacation that occurred during the first week of this completely unplanned hiatus.

So let me back up a little bit. As you may recall, the last few weeks' posts here have been all themed weeks, in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt at getting far enough ahead here that there wouldn't be the need for a hiatus while my family and I were on our vacation. With my current work schedule, Fridays are about the only day of the week I get a chance to sit at my computer for more than a few minutes at a time and get some blogging done... and when I have a freelance transcription job (as I had in the weeks leading up to the vacation), that has to be done then as well.

Between finishing up those transcriptions for Twomorrows' Back Issue magazine and preparing for the trip, I didn't have any time to get the posts done for while I was going to be away from home. I had a backup plan, however... I would use the wifi at the hotels we were staying at and do some "best of" posts, using my iPad and re-running some previous posts from the first few years, just to make sure there was some content out there. More on that in a bit.

Part of the preparation for this trip was bringing in our Kia Sedona van to get the oil changed and engine tuned up -- always a good idea when doing any road trip, right? After waiting several hours after dropping the van off, I get a call from the shop that the van needed a new O2 sensor, but other than that the engine was fine. Well, they get the new sensor, but when taking the old one out, they find that that one is cross threaded (they blamed the factory, I don't know who to believe there) and a new housing was needed, which they wouldn't charge for. So far so good, right? Unfortunately, they wouldn't have a new housing until the next day, so we were down to one vehicle overnight (never a good thing when you have four children in the house plus two adults, and our other car can maybe hold five if the three in the back don't mind touching each other).

We got the van back the following day, and the next part of the plan was getting our cartop carrier put on it. This required buying some cross bars, because the rack on the roof of the Sedona didn't have crossbars, and the cartop carrier needed them. Bought those, put them on, put the carrier on. I also realized we'd need to bring a ladder with us or we'd never be able to get anything in or out of the carrier.

Several days of packing later, we finally hit the road. We left right after the kids got home from school, about 4:30 pm. Our first leg was to drive overnight to Reno, where we had a room reserved for that Friday night at Circus Circus. Our estimated arrival time was about eight that morning. The route planned had us on I-5 until about halfway through Oregon, and then we were on highways from there, cutting a corner through California.

The plan worked just fine until we crossed the Columbia River into Oregon. Now, there is a bypass (I-205, I believe, although that first number might be a 3 instead of a 2) that allows you to avoid Portland when traffic is heavy, which of course it is on weeknight. However, we were approaching the exit for the bypass, we learned there was a blocking accident on the bypass, so the plan was to just slog through Portland.

Well, once we got into Oregon, my navigation started telling me to get off I-5 and get on some other road to get around the traffic. I didn't want to do that, because I had a planned route and didn't know how that would affect it, but my wife kept insisting we follow it, so we did.

We ended up going on some surface streets and avoiding all major freeways, heading east, and finally getting to familiar territory again around I-84 (near where my former employer, Swift Trucking, had a terminal I'd been to a few times). We decided to stop there for dinner, and then continue.

Instead of getting remotely back on our course, the navigation had us going on a different highway entirely, going over Mt. Baker. And that's when things really started to go to crap for us.

As we're approaching the highest point the highway crosses Mt. Baker, the oil light goes on. Now, given that the van had just been serviced, I couldn't figure out why it would be going on, but I hoped it was just that it needed some more oil (there have been occasions when I was shorted on the oil in an oil change, although it had been years). Unfortunately, it was late at night, and no gas station or anywhere else for miles that we could buy more oil at.

We had to push on until we could do something about it, and finally made it into a town where there was a 24-hour Safeway. We stopped there, got some oil, and put two quarts in. When we started the van up again, the oil light went off, so we figured that would take care of it. Au contraire!

As we were heading into Bend, OR, the oil light came on again. By this time it was about midnight, and of course the only thing open was Shari's and Walmart, neither of which would help us with this problem. We decided to press on and see if we could make it further south before stopping and waiting to get things checked out. That turned out to be a bad idea.

About five miles out of Bend, the check engine light came on, so I started to look for a safe place to pull over (some highways in Oregon have paved sections on the side of the road, usually intended for semis to pull onto when they need a place to take a break... I was hoping to find one of those). Before I could find one, the check engine light started flashing... and the engine died just as I was pulling off the road.

We'd just joined AAA a month before the trip, so we called them up for a tow back to Bend. Of course, the problem there was A) It was the middle of the night, and B) There were five of us. The person we talked to at AAA didn't think to let us know that no tow trucks could take the five of us until after we'd had to cancel the first truck and send for a different one, and then we learned we'd need to get a cab for three of us to get into town.

By about 3:00 AM, the cab had arrived and took Jessi, Tristan and Desi back to Bend (where they would wait at the Shari's) and our foster son (a teenager) and I waited for the tow truck, which arrived just after that time. The van got towed to a AAA-approved repair location, and we got dropped off at Shari's to meet everyone else.

After having a bit to eat, we decided that instead of hanging out there for five hours (when the repair shop would open), we'd get a room at a local hotel to get a little sleep. Fortunately, there was a relatively cheap place halfway between Shari's and the repair shop, so we walked there, and I got a few hours of sleep before getting up to walk to the shop.

They got the van into the shop and started checking it out, and several hours later, learned that there was some oil sludge buildup in the engine that prevented proper oil pressure, and the bottom line was, it would need a new engine.

Of course this new engine would cost only about $50 less than the van was worth in running condition.

We had an extended warranty on the van, which was just 4,000 miles short of expiring (and I also wasn't aware of), but unfortunately that warranty required us to be able to show records of regular service or it wouldn't be honored. Now, I don't know about you dear readers, but I am in no way consistent with where I bring my cars to get the oil changed... I pretty much take it to whoever's convenient at the time, so it wasn't like I could call up one place and get them to send a copy of the service record to me.

I'm going to jump ahead here, and then resume the chronology: We weren't able to find enough records of service once we got back home to get the warranty honored. Spoiler alert!

Back to Bend. We had a decision to make... we could A) Stay in Bend until we figured out what we were going to do, B) Rent a car to continue the vacation, or C) Rent a car to get back home and screw the vacation.

We went with plan B, although we decided to cut part of the planned trip out in order to get home and try (unsuccessfully) to get the records together (oddly enough, I probably had some of the records in the van until about a week before we left, when I cleaned out the glove box of all receipts and paperwork that I thought were not needed any more). We ended up renting a huge SUV that I didn't really like driving (it felt like I was driving a semi again), moving the cartop carrier onto that, transferring everything into the SUV, and then hitting the road again.

Aside from being pulled over in California for speeding (which my wife got us out of when she told the trooper what we'd been through by that point... not a planned tactic, but it worked! I hadn't been using the cruise at that point, and the kids were being a pain, which is why I wasn't paying attention to my speed), we made it to Reno all right, if about 12 hours late. Thanks to the height of the SUV and the carrier, we had to park in oversize vehicle parking, which was annoying. We checked in to the hotel, got some dinner, and then I went to bed because I was exhausted while Jessi and the kids checked out the attractions briefly.

I hoped to get one post in before going to sleep, but it turns out that these days, free wifi is only about good enough to check email, and not much else. If you want more internet than that, you have to pay for it! This was the case in Vegas, as well.

After a good night's sleep, we hit the road (stopping for breakfast on our way out of town) to Vegas. The drive was more or less uneventful, although I was starting to stress about finding service records already. We had a good meal about halfway there at a local place that made their own bread for sandwiches as well as their own dough for pizza, and arrived that evening at the Golden Nugget.

After getting checked into our room, we decided to go out and check out Freemont Street. This used to be Vegas' biggest secret, but these days, it's even more crowded than the Strip. Several blocks of Freemont are closed to traffic, and there's lots of casinos, shops, restaurants, and the like. There are also lots of people dressed in costumes (not as many in established characters as I recalled, there were more than a few "I made this character up" people there).

I found myself not enjoying Vegas at all, even though I usually love it there. Maybe it was because this was my first time there with kids, maybe it was because of the unresolved van thing, I'm not sure. Everyone else had a great time, so I guess that's the most important thing. While in Vegas, we went to the Hoover Dam tour (which was interesting) and to the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon (which was expensive, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity).

After all that, we started heading North for home again. We'd originally planned on going to the Four Corners, as well as some parks in Utah, but it was decided we'd be better off trying to get those service records dug up instead. We'd already had a stop planned for the night in Salt Lake City (although we had to move our reservation to an earlier night), so we were Utah bound.

On the way there, we made a few quick stops, mostly for bathroom breaks, but decided to take advantage of being there to hit In-N-Out Burgers, which our teenager had never tried before. That might have been the highlight of the trip for me, to be honest.

The hotel in SLC was the nicest one we stayed at, and even had a pretty decent breakfast buffet in the morning. From there, we headed on home, with my wife Jessi even taking a turn at the wheel for a while (the first time since we'd left home) so I could get some sleep.

We made it home the Wednesday night after we'd left, and the following day is when we realized we couldn't reconstruct the service records, so the Kia was lost to us. Eventually, we found a junkyard who would buy it from us, and the following weekend we bought another van (an older Honda Odyssey with about the same miles as the Kia. Since my family thinks our vehicles have to be named -- the Kia was called "Victor Van," a name I never used, I decided we should name the Odyssey "Homer," for reasons I hope would be obvious).  But I'm getting ahead of myself. As it turned out, my sister Sandy had an extra car we could use while we figured out what we were going to do, so we borrowed that from her for a week.

We finished our vacation with an overnight trip to Portland, which had been part of the original plan. We'd originally planned on coming back home much later in the day than we did, as we still needed to pick up our foster baby from the woman who was providing respite care for her while we were gone.

By the following Wednesday, things were back to normal for us -- or as normal as things ever get for us. I was still struggling to find time to get this blog back on track, without success.

With any luck, I'll get posts done for next week today, and may be a little beyond that! I apologize for the weeks of nothing here.