Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: That sinking feeling...again.
Date: Fri, 17 Oct 1997 22:45:25 -0700

08:57 Boulder Creek RV Park; Lone Pine, California :: 17 OCT 97

Hmm. Wrote down the date and noticed it's a famous one. Bolshevik Revolution, if I recall correctly...

Yesterday I left Malibu/LA after a nearly 2-week hiatus from traveling. I've got old connections spread all over North America, and one of them's in Venice, just a block off the beach. Rob's the youngest son of an old Air Force buddy of my dad. He, his girlfriend and their entourage made it hard to leave, a hardship compounded by hot, sunny days, unseasonably warm El Nino surf and an unparalleled group creative energy. But, eventually, I did leave.

The day before yesterday, my last night in Malibu, I rummaged through the trailer for some reading and found my dog-eared and unravelling copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This thing's never far from my thoughts and one of these days, I always tell myself, I'll get around to tackling a little project I've had in mind for a few years. I read a few pages of the first chapter and the notes I've scribbled in the margins. There's something important in here, apparent right from the start, an important lesson even if it's not the one the author, Robert M. Pirsig, intended. I read the first chapter, grew weary and fell asleep.

21:15 Behind the Jack in the Box; Bishop, California :: 17 OCT 97

Some might say today was a low-quality day. I suppose it was. Tomorrow's not looking significantly brighter. Today the bearings blew on one of the trailer wheels. No false alarm this time. I've had the wheel off for a look. In fact, it's still off. Drove twenty miles into Bishop with only three wheels. I get to pay a towing company $150 for the privilege of having them follow me the distance into town.

It could be worse. It could be Saturday night instead of Friday. I'm parked across the street from a repair shop which opens tomorrow morning. Still, I'm not optimistic. The spindle shaft--the bit of steel the bearings roll across--is shot. Unfortunately, the spindle is at the end of the axle. I'll most likely have to replace the whole axle. I would be a very lucky man if such an axle were to be found in Bishop on a Saturday. A better bet would have it shipped here no earlier than Tuesday.


Hold on Kathleen, I'm coming.

Did I tell you all my kid sister's having a kid? Due October 28th. Trying to make Whistler, where she lives, in time for the miracle. It shouldn't take more than 5 long days to get back, but I was hoping for some sight-seeing along the way. May have to forego the sight-seeing.

Up until a big white Bronco pulled up alongside early this afternoon, it was a high quality day. But the Bronco's occupant gesticulated wildly, "Pull Over!" pointing to the trailer. Thin plumes of white smoke billowed from the wheels on the driver side. I pulled over and jumped out. They pulled over and jumped out, brandishing a fire extinguisher. But the smoke was coming from one of the wheels. "The brakes have seized up," said one of the occupants. He explained that it had happened to him before. "Give it a half hour to cool down, and while backing it up a bit, hit the brakes," he suggested, "that should unlock them."

I thanked them for their help and let them get back on their way. But a half hour later, after following the instructions, I got under way and in a few hundred yards, more smoke. I pulled over, waited another half hour, same instructions, drove away...more smoke. That and the bearing dustcap had blown off...and the spindle now revealed by the missing dustcap seemed not perfectly centred on the wheel...and the wheel had about half an inch of play if I pushed it. Oh dear.

After removing the tire and hub it was already obvious. Disassembling the wheel revealed the sparest ruins of a cartridge and loose roller bearings splattered about the inside of the wheel. Worst fears confirmed. Well, not the worst yet. Inside the trailer for some paper towel to wipe the grease from the spindle. Ahhh, yes. Worst fears confirmed. And the outer cone was quite shot too. Ohh dear.

I was just about to unhitch the truck to drive into the nearest town in search of assistance when the California Highway Patrol showed up. About time. Two hours later, I'm still waiting for the tow truck, and wondering how they're actually going to tow a 35' fifth wheel that only has three wheels. I'm thinking things like loading it onto a flat bed, or mounting a dolly wheel, or...I don't get it but the Highway Patrol must know something I don't.

Finally, at least an hour later than the ETA given, a regular old tow-truck arrives. The guy's pleasant enough when he confirms the patently obvious, "does the wheel touch down if you pull the jack out?" That is, he can't possibly tow the thing in. "I don't know," I tell him, "the jack's blocked up so I could get the tire off--now, even if I lower it all the way I can't pull the jack out."

Driving in on three wheels had been one of my two possible options before the highway patrol arrived. The other, which I was in the process of attempting at the time, was to drive into Bishop and hope someone had the right bearing in stock. Given that the spindle was shot, simply replacing the bearings would never get me all the way home, but it would get the trailer to Bishop for sure, and on four wheels. However, that was at 2PM and it's now 4:30PM. Too late to find an bearings tonight. We use his jack to get my jack out and then lower the wheel. It stops about 6 inches from the pavement. We look at each other. "Just take it slow," we both say.

That's when I tell him about the nail in the very lonely remaining tire on that side of the trailer. Hey, when it rains it pours, even on a warm sunny day like today. We look it over. We look at each other. "Just take it slow," we both say.

I could've parked in a campground in Bishop, but we'd already passed it when the tow truck operator pulled us over at the edge of town to discuss options. The Jack in the Box parking lot is often used by big trailers, the operator told me. Something about staying the night in a parking lot waiting for mechanical repairs seemed symmetrical. Last time it was a Canadian Tire lot. Just to round out the symmetry, I went and caught a movie. Bishop hasn't as many cinema screens as Val d'Or, but they're all in English so after seeing In & Out--which wasn't that good--tonight, I've still got The Edge--which I've heard is not so hot either--for tomorrow night.

At least this time I'll be able to use the truck and do some sightseeing. If it starts looking like Tuesday waiting for parts, perhaps I'll just go spend a couple days in Death Valley. Bishop's a nice enough town, but I would like another look at Death Valley.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
It's a problem of our time. The range of human knowledge today is so great that we're all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him.
  graphical element Robert M. Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance