The Trip From Hell

In 1998 we began the process of selling the house in Illinois and moving temporarily to South Florida. We had a trailer that we had bought for this purpose and to move the kids to and from college, and had already made several trips to North Carolina, where we had intended to move eventually, to put stuff in storage there, and a couple to South Florida.

In the Spring of '99 I had some a/c work done back in Illinois, as we had to make the previous trip back from NC without any. That was a bit of a bummer trip, but it was not The Trip From Hell. My mechanic told me, after getting a clogged orifice cleaned out to the tune of $350, that the compressor was only working at about 85%, which he said would be okay at 85 degrees, but we might find inadequate at 95. Not wanting to fork out another $500 at the time, I told him we'd live with it for a while.

Then in late June we took a trailer load of household goods to Hollywood to get the condo we were going to live in temporarily fit for human habitation, insofar as condos may be so situated. Coincidentally, my 35th high school reunion was at that time, which we attended and at which we had a great time. Yes, SWMBO went with me for the first time.

The trip was one I don't wish to repeat. When we got down to Hollywood (with a severely overloaded trailer on which we had a flat the first night out), I heard a rumbling noise in what I thought was the front end. Figuring brakes and/or differential, I took it to a mechanic my aunt uses. I hadn't been too happy with the brake job he had done on an earlier trip, but I didn't know the area, and he was convenient and he could get me in. He did the brakes and replaced an axle bearing on the right rear. $580.

We left Hollywood for Atlanta on Thursday at about 1600. The a/c gave out about an hour later near Palm Beach. Have you ever driven the Turnpike from Ft. Pierce to Wildwood in the summer in the afternoon with no a/c? The sun is in your face the whole way. There wasn't a cloud in the sky the whole day.

We stayed overnight in Gainesville (planned) and when I went out to the car the next morning there was a pool of fluid under the right rear tire. That is generally considered to be not a good sign. I looked underneath and found the fluid to be coming out of the end of the axle. I also figured the differential wouldn't be completely dry, so I could drive it at least a few miles. However, the Ford dealer in Gainesville surely wouldn't be open yet so we decided to get at least a little time on the road.

We drove to the Ford dealer in Lake City (some 30 miles or so up the road from Gainesville) and they put 1 pts of gear oil in the differential and confirmed my diagnosis of a failed axle seal but they couldn't get me in until Saturday for the repair) The mechanic confirmed that I could probably make Atlanta with a few stops to top off the differential, so off we went. But first we stopped at an auto parts store and bought a couple of quarts of differential oil.

I figured if we could make the 36 miles from Gainesville to Lake City, we could do the 65 miles to Valdosta. We did. I put on my Tyvek coveralls, crawled under the car, got the plug out of the differential, but realized there was no way I was going to be able to get the oil in. So, fighting a very hot axle and differential case, I managed to get the plug back in with only a few scorches, and we drove over to a Wal Mart where I bought a little pumping oil can. We stopped at a nearby parking lot with a big tree, parked in the shade, I put the Tyvek coveralls back on, crawled under the car, and pumped about 8 oz of oil in.

I figured if we could make the 65 miles to Valdosta, we could do the 100 to Cordele. We got gas, and then drove into town looking for a shady situation similar to Valdosta. We found an abandoned gas station with a canopy and repeated the process, including the hot running gear and scorched skin.

Do you remember the temps on 30 July, 1999? Well, it was 98 or so in the Southeast. Do you recall the a/c situation? Did I mention we had a big black dog with us? Even though she goes outside occasionally to attend to personal business, she is basically an indoor, air conditioned dog. She has never experienced sustained heat like she did on this trip. And, yes, we are dog lovers, and we kept her well watered.

I figured if we could make the 100 miles to Cordele, we could do the 140 to Atlanta. It worked, although we did get slowed to a crawl for about half an hour 30 miles south of Atlanta, and again on the Perimeter about 10 minutes from our destination (Dunwoody). No clouds, 98 degrees, no a/c. Anyway, we got there (about 1645), got the dog in the kennel okay, found a Ford dealer who would look at the car on Monday, and dropped it off.

We spent the weekend (we were there for a shower party for our daughter and her fiance) without incident, and they were able to have the car done (replaced axle seal; $125) Monday by 1400. We picked the dog up at 1500 and by 1530 were under way. I wasn't sure there would be a dog, as she had never been boarded before (we had no choice for this occasion) and she was 12 years old. Poor thing; what stress.

It was much cooler that day, and it turned out that between the 4–60 air conditioner (4 windows open; 60 miles per hour) and the little bit of output from the one in the car, it wasn't a bad drive. Of course we only had about five hours of daylight driving anyway.

We got back Tuesday morning (all nighter with about 4 hours sleep in a couple of rest areas in Indiana), got unpacked, made an appointment for the a/c for Friday, and settled in and relaxed. Except we still had packing to do and there was an open house by the realtor on Sunday!

So, all in all, it was a lot of trial for a 2 week vacation that didn't seem like one. There was way too much anxiety about the car and sundry other things for me to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I did manage to get out to Highland Hardware (a great tool store in Atlanta); twice! And even SWMBO liked it. She found some neat things in the garden department.

Anyway, things I learned:

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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