Leaving our new friends in Tucson was sad, but we were excited for the next leg of our journey to see the Grand Canyon. After a couple of hours driving, the truck started feeling shaky and was not pulling the camper well. It felt like it wasn’t in gear while we were climbing some decent size hills.
Then it happened. It just slowed, shook, and sputtered to a dead stop in the middle of the right lane, just around a curve in the road. Pete and I looked at each other with that, “Oh, sh*#t” look that we give each other when we know we are in big trouble.
We were not in a good spot, to say the least. There was very little shoulder and then a steep rocky hill beyond it. We were both feeling panicked about the situation and worried that we would be smashed from behind by unsuspecting traffic. We wanted the kids out of the truck and to a safer place quickly. Our only option was to have them climb the hill. The children could sense the urgency and scampered up like a pack of mountain goats. I, however, had flip flops on and could not get a grip on the steep ground. One shoe broke and the other fell off and rolled down the hill. I was grasping at rocks to pull myself up. When I reached the top I had thorns in my ankle and was completely frazzled.
Pete brought the dogs up there as well and we tied them to a barbed wire fence at the top. It was 6:05 when I made the first call to AAA for a tow. Our membership had just expired, so half an hour and $230 later, they were finally ready to take our call. We needed a tow for the truck and one for the camper as well, plus transportation for 6 people and 2 dogs. They were not very accommodating.
We were relieved to see a police car pull up. He blocked the road for Pete to roll the camper back off to the side. He told us our mile marker and went on his way.
There were red ants all around and I was imagining scorpions and snakes in the shrubs around us. That was the type of terrain we were in. The sun was starting to set behind the distant hills which added an immediate chill to the air.
After about an hour, Pete decided to unhitch the truck to get a head start on things. Surprisingly, the truck started up. He brought some sneakers up the hill for me and tried to convince me to take the kids in the truck and try to make it to Camp Verde, the nearest sizeable town. I was very reluctant. I feared breaking down a few miles away alone with the kids. But it was getting dark, cold, and a little creepy up there so I finally agreed.
I rode the shoulder slowly and the truck seemed ok. There was an exit coming up but it was not Camp Verde. Another quick decision…stop here in a town with nothing or chance making it further? I decided to try my luck.
Thankfully, we made it to Camp Verde and I was able to find a campground. It was now totally dark and very cold. It was the night of the blood moon, so the kids and I researched info about the eclipse on my phone while we waited in the truck.
The mood was changing and everyone was getting hungry and cranky. Note: This is where the mental breakdown kicks in. The kids had been in the car all day except for the time we spent on the hill. I tried to hold the troops a little longer by taking them to the nearest fast food place, just about a mile away. As we sat there eating in the warmth of the Sonic dining room, I felt bad for Pete and the dogs who were still out there on that desert hill freezing their tooshies off. At this point 9:00 pm, AAA still had not located a tow for the camper.
A little later, Pete (at the beginning of his own mental breakdown) called to tell me that his phone was out of charge and that I would have to be his lifeline to AAA. Soon after, dispatch called to give me an update. Apparently, they were having trouble finding a tow truck that could pull the camper and they were sending someone from Flagstaff, over 100 miles away.
They called back again at 10:39 to tell me that they could not find Pete. After reviewing the info, I realized that they were searching on the Southbound instead of Northbound side of the road. SIDENOTE: Every time AAA calls, I have to get out of the truck to speak with them because the bickering and insanity inside the truck at this point is enough to drive anyone off the deep end.
To sum up the rest, Pete was found and rescued by the tow truck driver just before midnight… a mere 6 hours after breaking down! Thankfully he arrived safe and sound, albeit a tad more gray hair and with the dogs sequestered in the camper. Bear was traumatized by the bumpy ride and still has issues because of it. You can read his account of it here.
A day full of stress and fears was finally ending in gratitude and comfort. By 1 am we were all together, huddled under a beautiful gazebo, directly behind our home on wheels. We had a crystal clear view of the rare and charming lunar eclipse. Life is a collection of experiences, and this day, we had run the gamut of them.
Top 3 lessons learned from our breakdown:
1. flip flops are easy for travel but not a good choice for an emergency. Always be prepared for the worst.
2. AAA starts sending expiration notices so early and frequently that people tend to ignore them… Don’t!
3. It’s great to have an emergency roadside kit, but pretty pointless if you can’t find it when the poop hits the fan. Keep it in a place that is easily accessible.
A few days later, after a restful stay at Distant Drums RV Resort in Camp Verde, we thought everything had been repaired. We set out on our merry way and were optimistic about making up some time. Not long after departure our spirits were grounded once again and the Excursion sputtered to a stall miles outside of Flagstaff. If we were going to be grounded for a while, this wasn’t that bad a place to set up camp. The city was hip and the surroundings were breathtaking! We like to do our breakdowns in style. The truck barely dragged our home on wheels to the entrance of the Flagstaff KOA where it “petered out” one final time in the driveway. The staff was super psyched to see us pull up; 4 screaming kids, a frazzled wife, incensed dad, yelping chihuahua, and a foamy mouthed bullmastiff. “Hi, we’re the Giargentes. Mind if we stay a while?”
Later that day we took the truck to a local Ford dealer and waited anxiously for the diagnosis. After hearing a new tranny would run about four grand, needless to say, we were praying for a miracle. The next day, blessings were bestowed upon us as we received the 4 magical words: “It’s not the transmission!” Hallelujah, praise all things holy! This is something we can definitely handle. We had our fuel injectors cleaned and clogged fuel filters replaced and were on our way one more time. Apparently our model truck has a second fuel filter in the gas tank that not many know about. That was the culprit!
We did get to enjoy some beautiful hiking while we waited for our repairs.
We finally made it to the beautiful, breathtaking, awe inspiring, must see Grand Canyon! Pete’s “Wally World”. I was beginning to think we’d never get there, but it was actually a reality. How could we spend all these months in the State of Arizona and NOT see the Grand Canyon? Mission accomplished 🙂