Traveling Cross Country, the Car
Oh the things we asked of our little Honda Civic on this cross country journey!
Before leaving South Carolina we took the precaution to have our car checked out. We knew we would be putting 6,000 plus miles on it so we got new brakes, changed the oil, double checked the belts, and had the tires checked. This is where I give Jenni a super shiny gold star and let her read the words “you were right” since it was HER idea to check the air pressure in the spare (donut) tire. Otherwise, we would have started out with a flat “un-spare”!
The first 2,000 miles or so were quite routine—mostly interstate driving. As we traveled north from the Petrified Forest we went off script (and off road) to find Window Rock (a sandstone formation with a natural hole or window carved through it). For a while it seemed as if GPS was our friend, but once we had made a few turns within the town of Window Rock, AZ we began to see more dogs roaming the streets than on chains. We caught an occasional glimpse of the actual Window Rock, but then we seemed to move away from it. I finally made a U-turn and told Jenni to trust me—I wanted to try a sandy, dirt lane I had noticed a few blocks prior. I made the turn, taking our Civic on its first dirt road of the trip. I sensed a high stress level in the seat next to me. Sneaking between abandoned houses, after 50-60 yards we rounded a bend and, to our surprise, actually drove over a CURB into a government compound!
We were now in the parking lot of the Navajo Nation HEADQUARTERS! But we COULD SEE the Window Rock! We crept through the empty parking lots (it wasn’t even 8am yet) and finally saw a few other cars by a park. Turns out this was a park dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII who saved thousands of lives using their native language to communicate on the Pacific airways. The serendipity continued as it was also Veterans Day and they were in the midst of raising flags to prepare for a ceremony. We walked the park, took some pictures, and marveled at our good fortune. Then we took the civilized way out of the compound instead of sneaking down our dirt road.
Many dusty miles later we reached Monument Valley, part of the Navajo Tribal Lands. There were still a couple hours before check-in at the hotel so we decided to use the daylight available to drive the dirt road through the valley. Research had shown us that small cars could handle it. We asked a lot of our Honda Civic on this trip but this was probably the hardest. At some point the red, powdery sand led to bedrock that had the feel of an old fashioned washboard. We laughed at a small car coming toward us at 3 mph but we soon learned that was our fate as well. We took mercy on our car and did not finish the entire 17 miles. She was relieved. We got back to the hotel in time to check in. Appropriately enough we had reserved a ‘drivers room’ on the backside of the hotel.
We forced our car through thousands of desert miles from there. It was attacked by bees in the Mohave Desert, searched for trailheads on gravel roads in Saguaro National Park, saw its share of roadkill in New Mexico, and took to the gypsum roadways when the asphalt played out in White Sands National Monument. The ultimate sacrifice came in Big Bend National Park in Texas.
On our first morning in Big Bend we were only 100 yards from the lodge when a warning light said we should check the tires. When we could pull over, we saw one was low but we were only a few miles from a self-serve station so we pressed on. We inflated it to the proper pressure, after their compressor first DEFLATED the tire, and then we continued our hikes without incident. The next morning I was going to try to catch the sunrise but promised Jenni I would check the tire pressure first. No need. It was flat as a pancake. I watched the sunrise, while changing to the spare (kudos to Jenni once again), and was done by 7am.
Obviously we had to do something. Google showed that the closest town, 40 miles away, had a tire shop that opened at 9am. We packed the car, checked out of the lodge, and headed to Terlingua TX (at 45 mph). At the tire shop we were greeted by a handwritten note saying they were closed for the next 10 days. Next stop was the hotel we would be using that night. Front desk man said our next option was 88 miles away but we could check into our room then and unload the luggage. A gentleman who had walked in overheard and suggested we call the grocery store. Willing to try ANYTHING, I did and learned a young man had a maintenance shop behind the grocery store and he was there that morning. Minutes later, he stopped what he was doing and inspected the tire. He and I were shocked when he pulled a canine tooth from the tire! He plugged it, switched it with the spare, and I came close to hugging him! (Jenni would have I’m sure.) By 9:30am we were headed back to the park for a full day of hiking and exploring.
The next day, and another 460 miles, we bought our baby 4 new tires in San Antonio. We explained our journey and timeline to the salesman and asked for a miracle since the wait was over 2 hours. Discount Tire gave us the miracle and had our car ready before the restaurant next door had our sandwich ready!
As Willie Nelson sang, “On the road again ….”