Archive for March 15th, 2015

BigBlue’s Rebirth…

So there I was having coasted into the Diamond Desert Casino vast parking lot at about 8pm. It was too late to call AAA, so I just did my nightly routine and crawled into bed knowing that I’d give them a call in the morning and had all the time in the world to wait for their arrival.

BigBlue at Chiricahua National Monument

BigBlue at Chiricahua National Monument sign in the southwest corner of Arizona. Her last off-road adventure before her transmission broke.

Right at 8:00 am sharp the next morning I gave my AAA Premium Plus Membership number a call and within an hour a flat-bed tow truck was pulling up beside me asking where I would like the van towed within a 200-mile radius for free. That worked out perfectly, because my brother Kenny lives 140 miles away up in Phoenix!

red do nothing button

A button that was seen at Chiricahua Visitor Center underneath the informational video about Cochise County. Cracked me up! But thankfully, calling AAA’s Premium Plus membership for service was nothing like this button…they had a tow truck at BigBlue’s side within the hour…for free!

Jim from Bronco towing was my driver and I learned a lot from him about truck driving and Arizona living and how much it normally costs to get a tow (let’s just say there is no way I’d have been towing it to Phoenix at $3/mile!).

BigBlue on tow truck

Looking like the end of the road for Bigblue…Jim getting her up on the trailer to haul her 140 miles to my brother Kenny’s house.

Jim dumped me off in my brother’s driveway on Ash Wednesday. The next day my brother towed me to the mechanic he uses and the following day I received the bad news of BigBlue’s health…needs a new transmission which would cost $2800. It would be her 4th one. (2001 wasn’t Chyrsler/Dodge’s best transmission year!).

harris hawk

A Harris Hawk…James Audubon named it after one of his contributor’s and friends. Seen in New Mexico.

She’s got 205k on her and a few other idiosyncrasies (no a/c, tailgate hydraulics don’t work, front driver door handle doesn’t work from the inside, the van doesn’t fully lock, headliner is held up by 100 thumb tacks, exterior is peeling, front interior lights don’t work, headlights are incredibly dim, washer wiper fluid doesn’t squirt, the multifunction switch doesn’t work [ie, no intermittent wipers nor auto stopping in the end of the loop cycle by the wipers], etc) but I sure have bonded with her, imperfections and all! But dumping nearly $3,000 into her…doesn’t seem like it would be the wisest thing to do.

BigBlue at Sunset

Perhaps it is the end of the day for BigBlue with her quoted $2800 (plus an additional $800 for engine mounts) restoration costs. It was looking like BigBlue and I were going to have to suffer a heart-breaking severance 😦

So we all started shopping online used car lots while my brother Kenny drove us up to Flagstaff for my nephew’s First Year Student Awards ceremony for the weekend (which my parents were joining us as well on their way back to St. Louis from Los Angeles)!

Austin's awards at NAU

Proud of my nephew Austin making a 3.5 or higher during his first year at NAU in Flagstaff. Here he is with his family and my mom and pop (I’m the photographer!)

Dining at the 1899 Bar and Grill

We had a lovely dinner at the swank 1899 restaurant in our own private room to celebrate Austin’s award. Starting in the lower left: Austin, Ken, Julianne, me, Karolena, Pop, Mom, Hank, Colton

After a weekend of good times up at Ft Tuthill Recreation Center, and driving through gorgeous Oak Creek Canyon with my folks, I posted to my extended family and facebook friends to see if anyone knew of a good-running-camping-clunker. There were several affordable (ie, 1,500-3,000) vehicles out there which my brother, sister-in-law, mom and dad all weeded through.

Mom and I at Oak creek Canyon

It looks like I’m pontificating about something (or karaoking!) while my mom and I stand in front of some of the beautiful landscapes at Oak Creek Canyon on our way to Phoenix from Flagstaff!

Then my oldest brother (ie, not Clay who I left in Houston, nor Kenny who was housing me in Phoenix, but Danny who lives in St. Louis!) texted me and said he’d loan me his “Blue” for the remainder of the trip and I could just give it back to him when I was done! Now “Blue” has her own idiosyncrasies! She is a manual GMC 1996 Sierra pick up with a small camper shell on the back (but has cruise control!) that gets 14mpg on the highway. She has 320k on her! She is not totally waterproof (but close)!

Dan's big blue

My brother Danny offered his “Blue” to help me finish the rest of the trip. It really would have made a good storyline if nothing else! She has 320k on her and apparently she loves to camp and get further into the wild terrain (4wd!). What a sweet brother I have!

So with that bit of information, I was going to ride home to St. Louis with my folks and pick her up and drive her back out here to outfit her with the setup from the van. That was the plan. But the next morning my pop woke up and said, “I think we should call around and see if we can find a cheaper transmission.” So we placed a few calls and found one for $1300. And so we towed her to A to Z Transmission shop. That was the course of action we took and my pop fronted the money.

Dad and I at Oak Creek of the few times we could get him to pull over and take in the sites!

Dad and I in front of the bluffs at Oak Creek Canyon. We had wanted to get on hwy 17, but with mom and I navigating, we found ourselves on the slower, more beautiful and scenic 89A through Oak Creek Canyon!

Meanwhile, back in Houston, the IRS came a knocking. My brother Clay helped me with the run-around of that situation. My brother Danny was giving up his long loved pickup truck with guaranteed tech support whenever (and where ever) I needed it. And my brother Kenny was towing me hither thither and yon and housing me (not to mention creating a whole new bed liner for me in my van!). And my mom and dad fronted the transmission. I know that once I get to Pennsylvania, my sister will be doing up something just as sweet. I sure have a great family!

succulent star

Succulent Star (until I get a pic of the new wood interior liner my brother Kenny and niece Karolena designed and built for me!)

So BigBlue and I will be hitting the road starting Monday the 16th. Arizona is going to take a long while. I will be heading back down to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, and then hitting all the other many national park areas in Arizona before heading to California and get to hook up with some more great family members!

Lein Family 1980

Lein Family probably somewhere around 1980. Back: Lori, Clay, Ken, Dan. Front: Mom, Dad and me

I am feeling very, very blessed!

Vonnegut quote on Chiricahua mountains

At the top of Chircicahua Mountains National Monument…with a rather interesting quote from Vonnegut added. This has been an interesting and bizarre several weeks of “travel” plans!