“The scariest traveling experience I’ve ever had” or
“The day I thought I had finally pushed my luck too far” or
What will forever be know by us as “The story of Carlea’s water bottle”
Thursday started out great. We were all reveling in the success and beauty of yesterday. This park wakes up about 5 everyday. Maybe it’s when they open the entrance or it’s the perfect time to ride the “Going to the Sun Road” for the sunrise, I don’t know but every morning about 5am you hear the thunder of motorcycles coming up the mountain. It’s cool but it really sounds like thunder. Same this morning, I heard it and decided to go lay down in the hammock with a blanket for a while. It was delightful, cool, beautiful and peaceful.
Eventually Loralea woke up and came out there with me and we both fell back asleep.
It was fantastic.
Once the other three woke I made bacon and stuffed French toast. I had some cinnamon Dulce’ coffee creamer plus some strawberry jam and like a half a pack of cream cheese to make the filling.
After breakfast we are going to ride up to Boweman lake.
Boweman lake is said to be remote, pristine, and beautifully scenic. After our logging road experience Tuesday this is exactly what we’re looking for. Once we were done piddling around the campground we struck out for Bowman lake. We made it about what I thought at the time was half way and we had used up at least half our fuel. We left with a 1/2 tank and now we’re just at 1/4 so, I was concerned.
There was a cool old Wildland fire memorial marker. This was interesting because during this time that we were there the “Hay Creek Fire” was also burning in the area and only considered to be twenty percent contained. There were signs about being prepared to evacuate at any time and Informational Bulletin stations up every mile or so on this dirt road that was all wash boarded from the fire apparatus. We turned around and the girls said they’d be fine staying closer to the campsite for the day, but they’d spend all day at the campground if I’d let em. I was determined that we were at Glacier of all places we were going to see some beautiful stuff and make some everlasting memories. We headed into town of Columbia Falls, Montana got fuel and then I saw a playground. Carlea had mention in one of our 1:1s that she thought this trip needed more playgrounds so we stopped.
We played and played until we were ready to leave the playground, which takes a while. So eventually we headed back up to the Bowman lake. By this time it was like 3 in the afternoon. Now Boweman lake is like 30miles outside of cell coverage and 20miles or more down a dirt road. Google maps says it can’t even route you there by car. These were the worst washboarded dirt roads I’d EVER in all my life, been on. Nothing at the Outer Banks could compare to this nonsense. Now there is a speed at which you can go across the tops of the washboarding and it’s not AS jarring on you or the car but I’m sure your suspension is doing a ton of work. 30 miles of dirt road takes a long time, even for the Duke boys. Eventually we got to the Polebridge Ranger Station “infrequently manned” it says on the map. We roll past and head up the hills and turns. It gets steep and tight. I shifted down into manual for the first time and stayed between 1st and 2nd most of the time. Previously I had just been using the towing mode in the mountains.
We got 5-6 miles past the Polebridge ranger station turn off, climbing a hill and I suddenly loose power, the Suburban is still running but not moving.
The instrumentation went crazy. Check engine was flashing.
The display screen was scrolling “check gauges” “Engine power cut to protect engine” “Ignition retarded to protect Engine”.
The temperature was pegged.
I initially thought oh ok it overheated. Pull over pop the hood and let her cool off. No big deal, the engine has been reving on these hills and not moving fast at all so it makes sense it woud be hot. I wanted to leave it running so it could continue to cool itself. I threw it park, popped the hood and hopped out. As soon as I got out and certainly by the time I got in front of the hood,
I felt a legitimate physical pain in all the muscles of my body that are near joints,
I could almost immediately hear my heartbeat in both ears,
my inner dialogue started SCREAMING “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God”.
I was panicking.
I ran back and shut it off.
It diesels off, which was VERY concerning but in hindsight likely as attributable to the ignition timing as to the temperature.
There was a trail of car blood behind us for at least 200 feet. There was steam, and car blood all over the engine compartment. Remember we are 30 miles north of cell coverage and farther than that down a dirt road. Here I am at probably 5 PM by now with all four of my children and a dog with NO WAY to fix this. All the routes I would usually take to mitigate this problem are not available. My reality has now, for one of the first and few times in my life outpaced my ability to mitigate a situation, and I hated it. It was terrible and terrifying.
Here’s where memories are made and prayers are answered.
We sat there for less than 2 minutes. Clueless what to do and here comes this Ford one ton lumbering down the gravel towards us. They stopped and said what anyone might, “Hey, you need some help?” And for the very first time in my life I absolutely did and there was no denying it to myself so I said “well, I’m here from NC with my four children and our dog trying to get to Boweman lake, our car has died, I’ve blown a radiator hose and no idea how I’m gonna get this fixed”. So the Middletons, Stacey and Randy gave all of us a ride. Me, the four children, car seats, and Leo in the back. I thought to tell the children to grab car seats and put them in the back for now then everyone grab your water and we had just made sandwiches right before this happened so bring those too. It took a long while to get back to cell coverage and even then I wasn’t sure how much AAA was going to be able to do this far out. Once we got back to cell coverage Stacey was nice enough to start looking for a car rental company and I was in the phone with AAA looking for their partner shop locally and a tow truck. Turns out my auto renew card had expired like a year ago and although they had just sent me new cards they’re weren’t good as the account had expired. I didn’t even have a pen or paper so Stacy loaned me one. Thankfully Stacey found Dollar Rental was willing to rent us a car right now. That’s where we headed. When we go there the Middeltons entertained Leo and the children in the bed of the truck while I tried to rent a car. I had to pee so bad. I told the guy working there the basic situation before I headed to the bathroom. When I came back Clayton, that was his name, said that he had just done a quick Google search and apparently it’s a very very common failure and it s just a hose that breaks at the joint. He showed me a picture and it did look similar. The first car he tried to rent me the computer wouldn’t let him rent so he had to switch to a different one. A green Subaru Outback. When I came out and hit the unlock button the lights flashed and all the children started cheering, this was the car they had been hoping we would get. I wasn’t feeling as jovial yet but they were able to get excited about the small details and remain obliviously unaware of the overwhelming sense of doom and fear I was carrying in this moment. Clayton had given me a glimmer of hope. As I was talkign with Clayton at the Dollar Rental Car place, I explained the situation and what the tow truck had said. I had told him about the first tow truck guy refusing to take the job all together and the second wanting $700 and then how he had told me that If I hadn’t already lined up time with a shop there was no point because all shops were working two weeks behind and there was no chance I could get anything fixed in less than a week. Clayton said, man look I don't work tomorrow until two if you need a hand fixing it or if you need a hand getting it out of there here's my Cell phone number call me and either me or someone in my family can help you.
I get the children loaded into the rental Subaru and immediately start tracking down Clayton's brief research and it seems legit. I try to call Stefanie to let her know what's going on as I definitely don’t want her hearing about any calamity from anyway but directly from me, got her voicemail. Then I of course call Charlie. He is reassuring as always and seems to think it could be as simple as Clayton thinks he also said that Madison had done this same repair on his vehicle recently. I ask him to let Stefanie know what’s going on and when I hang up I watch a couple YouTube videos, garbage I gained nothing from them. Talked to Madison and got some good advice and caution. Then straight to the only auto parts store still open and I bought all the heating cooling parts they had for that year suburban and every tool I could imagine I might need. A stop at the slowest most understaffed Burger King I have ever seen in my life for dinner from a sack and 40mins is lost. Now me and these four children, this dog, and $500 worth of tools and parts go racing back to the carcass of our beloved chariot to try to revive her. The children are loving the disregard Daddy has for this rental on this dirt road while trying to get back to the Suburban and still have a decent amount of sunlight to try to effect this repair. We talked about the Duke boys daddy grew up with. Loralea thought it was just a mayonnaise family.
I get there and sure enough it’s the same plastic fitting that seems to be featured in a lot of repair articles. Now, in that moment I see the distant flicker of hope brighten. I get the hose and the broken end off and we head back to the campsite.
We got to West Glacier and I take a moment with the one area of cell signal to research the GM part number and the closest three Chevrolet dealers. Tomorrow morning we'll have to get an early start to try to salvage this vacation. One of the tow truck guys had some extra help coming in tomorrow at 10 and was willing to give a lower price then so I figured if I could know something as to whether I can fix this or not by ten in the morning, that would be a good start. We get back to the campsite about midnight. All but me, because see I was driving, are already asleep. I get them all in the tent and try to fall asleep myself. As I lay here there I realize that although the children have been eating all day and had Burger King for dinner I hadn't eaten all day since that stuffed French toast.
My mind keeps going back over all the details of the day and the order of events. Was there a sign this failure was looming I had ignored? I thought about how everything had played out and what I could do tomorrow and hoped that "Hay Creek Fire" would stay put and not go burn up my Suburban overnight, which seemed like a genuine possibility from the signs.
Really each of the people I had met today. Clayton and The Middeltons had all given me hope. My internal screaming dialogue had been "OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD" I sincerely don't think I've ever called on him like that before, at least not in my adult life. In hindsight as I lay on this sleeping pad and write this I realize he was answering me. When the Middeltons first got to us, literally within two minutes of this happening, the first car we'd seen in almost an hour, one of them said “Well, God works in mysterious ways so here we are and we ARE going to help you.” When she gave me a piece of paper and pen to write some notes on while I was on the phone with AAA or a tow company, it had a bible passage on it.