Thursday, November 27, 2008

Head to the mountains

I'm having to put these posts in small sections as i want to put photos in amongst the text rather than just the top, and I have already lost hours of my life working out how to do it and failed. If anyone can help please let me know, and yes i have checked the FAQ's, but lets face when have they ever offered a real solution? Or those bits of advise that end with the question, 'Has this been helpful?' It never is.

Chloe was already impressed by a gentleman offering to buy Sandy off me at a gas station. I declined his offer, although chloe was rather annoyed that i didn't ask him how much he was prepared to pay. Valid point, but she's not for sale, although it would have been interesting to know.

So first stop on the way is Montezuma's castle. Its an indian settlement built from the side of cliff dating from the 13th century. Sort of like Petra in Jordan without the fancy decoration. It was amazing to see how these people lived and they must have been very afraid of something because they had to climb a step ladder to enter their home.

The most interesting thing about this visit was the fact that it rained. Chloe visited a similar site in Oaxaca in Mexico two years ago and it rained. It never rains in these places but it does when chloe or her mother is there. Clearly, the indian gods recognise some significance they have.

On to Sedona and an unsually plush hotel (for us, anyway) that felt a bit stuffy at first but a kiwi concierge called Ryan more than made up for this. I told him i was welsh so we immediately talked rugby. There was a free wine/beer thing going on at the reception at 7pm. We said we'd see him there.

I arrived there just as they were clearing up the wine. Chloe was still making use of the luxury toiletries. I turned to go back to our cabin/room when Ryan turned up in a golf buggy (hotel residents were ferried around in it). Ryan confirmed i'd missed the drinks, then as he approached further asked me if i drank red or white in a low voice. I said white. He then asked, sauvignon blanc, riesling or chardonnay. I said riesling. "Be over in a sec" he whispered. As i walked back to the cabin, a bit confused, i remembered that chloe liked chardonnay and that she wasn't drinking white due to a stomach complaint. Bugger. I ambled / loitered and Ryan came running after me and gave me a chilled bottle of riesling. Good sport. I realised that every kiwi i've met has been a good sport. A bit like Canadians. Must be something about being a country overshadowed by a more brash and powerful neighbour.

(Wow, by clicking on the image you can actually drag it down the page). Ok, so help no longer required, but i can assure i have spent hours trying to do this. This is a victory!

Back to the story...

The next day we headed for the canyon. We had the roof down, the sky was blue the air was crisp. This is exactly what i had intended Sandy for. We even manged to stop in a lay by so i could eat last nights cold pizza from a sedona restaurant. I was in heaven.

After a walk through a gorge, we headed on to the canyon along the 89A, an incredible winding road with stunning views. This is what Sandy was made for. After stopping in Flagstaff for fuel and to put the roof up (it started to rain again), we were soon on the plateau just south of the canyon.

Everything was going perfectly until i glanced in my wing mirror. A grey mist seemed to be following us. What is that? Is it smoke? Is someone burning grass? Is it coming from my car? Is it oil?! No, its just fuel burning. Applying my aviation knowledge i was certain it was unburnt fuel coming from the exhaust due to the engine running rich from the high altitude (we were 8000 ft amsl by now). Ok, its oil. I'll just carry on until the next garage.

Hang on the, the sun's come out again. Lets stop and put the roof down. As i get out i glance back at the car. Its like there is a bbq strapped underneath it. Smoke pouring out. I look underneath it and see fluid dripping on to the hot exhaust. Shit, is that fuel!? I tell chloe to get out of the car.

A quick inspection with my finger tells me its oil. I get up off the ground and look around. we are in the middle of a plain with no sign of civilisation as far as the eye can except for a corrugated iron farm house at the end of a 100m drive coming off the road. But as a truck had driven straight past us to the farmhouse, i supposed they weren't that interested in helping out some stranded tourists. "Lets carry on until the next garage" i suggest. I figure its a slow drip and the dipstick showed plenty of oil.

I drive 50 metres and hear a whining noise - its a transmission oil leak, ouch this is going to be expensive. This car can go no further. I turn around and stop at our previous spot. Chloe got out sat against a fence post and decided to sketch the scene taking place in front of her. In retrospect, this was probably the most sensible thing to do. Chloe, if you're reading this i'd like to see that sketch, did you finish it?

So what should i do? I get my mobile from my pocket. The benefit of breaking down in the middle of no where, fairly close to one of the wonders of the world in a country like america is that you have mobile phone coverage. However, I foolishly had no roadside assitance cover. I called my car insurance company. "Did i get roadside assitance with my policy?" NO.

I decided to call ahead to the motel at Grand Canyon Village to tell them we would be late and if they knew of a garage nearby that could pick us up. I'm given the number of a Malones Garage in Williams. Its in the opposite direction of where we want to go, but its something. A lady with a deep southern accent answers the phone.

"Yeah we can pick you up. Where are ya?"

"Um somewhere between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, about 30 miles south from the canyon, on route 180".

It was a guess but but we had passed a sign a few minutes before we stopped.

"OK, i'll send someone out to you."

It was about 4pm. It will be dark in an hour. We waited. In a way, we were thankful for the chance to take in the scene. When you're stranded in a place like this, the vast scale of it becomes even more impressive. I was imagining how the early white explorers would have been riding across here on horseback for the first time, perhaps a day away from the biggest surprise of all, the grand canyon.

After about half an hour later a tow truck coming towards us flashed its yellow lights then pulled up. A bearded chap in a baseball cap got out and started unravelling chains and went about putting Sandy on the truck. "Thanks for coming" I said. He smiled and asked me if i had the park brake on. After a tense couple of minutes watching our rescuer hook heavy chains underneath the car and winch it on to the truck, we hopped into the cabin and the three of us drove off.

The man also had a deep southern accent and spoke in a steady almost stunted fashion. Is this the local accent? Chloe noticed he was missing some fingers and scars on his temple. He was amiable, said most of his trips were to tow away vehicles whose drivers had been stopped for drink driving or who had crashed off the road because of drink.

(The view from the truck's cab looking back at Sandy)

When we got to malones, Sandy was put onto a ramp and raised up. Four mechanics looked at her like she was a strange wild animal that had been captured. Our driver offered us a cup of coffee from the garage shop, which doubled as a convenience store.

I loved Malones, it looked like nothing had changed there in years. We smoked cigarettes with our coffee outside, i don't normally smoke (in case you're reading this mum) but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do when hanging outside a garage straight out of Spielbergs road movie 'Duel'. As soon as i lit it i asked our driver if i should put it out as we were standing quite near to the gas pumps. "Don't worry about it, Gas ain't as flammable as people think". Fair enough.

Just then two girls came in to the shop. They were wearing cowboy boots and dresses and seemed in high spirits. They bought some cigarettes from the shop and then skipped over to a car parked at the side of the garage. Our driver started chucking to himself. "Those girls just spent a night in jail!" It turned out he had picked up their car the night before following a meeting with the local police. They had been arrested for DUI (Drunk Under the Influence).

At the same time the manager, the woman i had spoken to on the phone with the deep southern accent was prodding a long metal rod into the underground gas tanks. She was shouting over the owner that their end of week stock take was out and there seemed to be some gas missing. This was unlike any other garage we had been to.

At this point i was called over to my car by Randy, the chief mechanic. Randy confirmed that it was a transmission problem. The gearboxes oil pump had leaked. I wasn't really listening to everything Randy said because i was waiting for the punch line. He didn't give it, so i asked him,

"How much is this going to cost?"

Afterwards, chloe told me at that moment i had the look of a hunted man. It was going to cost me a almost a third of what i had paid for Sandy. Not only that, it was going to take a week to fix. And how are we going to get the Grand Canyon?

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