Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It was worth it

I am grateful for the advice my employer gave me. Soon after I bought my Jeep and told him I was starting to go off-road, he told me, “If you’ve never been there, and you’re not sure what is coming beyond what you can see, sometimes it is wise to stop and walk the hill, assessing the situation first before proceeding.” Be Prepared, as my Boy Scout days taught me… at an incredibly intense level where life and valuable property are at stake. So I did… walk the hill… and then I kind of slid back down, because it was so steep there was no walking back down. At the top of this hill was the end of the line… it is a hill that has been carved into a trail simply for the sake of climbing that hill. It is intense.

Just as the trail took a rather sharp bend to the right sat a huge boulder, with a smaller yet no less intimidating smaller boulder and a saguaro on the left. On the way up, rounding that bend took a cautious approach and careful maneuvering so as to not gouge the passenger side of my Grand Cherokee. I also needed to maintain sharp focus on the obstacles on the left; they could take out a lower front fender or worse… the saguaro and small boulder would no longer be there if I went too far, because they would be taken out by my Jeep as I slid or tumbled down the side of the hill. After the bend was the intense degree of incline, like nothing I’ve ever tried. So I carefully proceeded around the bend, engaged 4-Low, and let the power of the 5.2L V8 take control. I honestly was very impressed by the power of the engine… I’ve pushed it a few times on the freeway just to see what kind of power it had, but no road driving could have ever shown me what kind of torque I have at my disposal, should I ever need it.

Coming back down was just as intense… the larger boulder at the bend was now directly in front of me, and I had to maneuver to the right of it to make the bend. If I went too far right I had the smaller boulder and saguaro to contend with, plus the possibility of going over the edge I had to keep in mind. So I shifted into “Granny gear” low, plus kept the 4-Low engaged, and proceeded down… very carefully, with my foot just easing off the brake enough to allow my Jeep to move under its own weight and not much more.

That hill was so awesome… Planting my front wheel up on that rock as a sign of “I did it” felt amazing at the moment, and no picture I took could ever capture the feeling I had as I soaked in the sunshine and reveled in my accomplishment. Unfortunately I didn’t think to stop and set up the camera so I could record the event, but I definitely will go back… after I get my 4x4 linkage fixed.

I was calm enough to recognize my blessings in the heat of the moment. For the maturity and levelheadedness to gather myself in ways I might not have in the past, I am grateful. For the lessons in planning and preparedness to have a lot of water and a handful of Nutri-Grain bars with me, plus a firearm or three to make me feel safer than I might have otherwise, I thank my parents and The Boy Scouts.

I got extremely lucky; I had made it almost back out to the freeway, and within ten minutes I was lucky enough to have an Arizona State Highway Patrol officer notice me waving him down. I was still a bit panicked still when he arrived… yet I had enough composure to remember the first thing I needed to do was advise him I was armed. He thanked me for letting him know, and began to ask me a few questions about my situation. I told him what I really needed was help getting hold of AAA, because although I had cell service and had literally (while I was standing there broken down) just bought a membership (which I should have purchased a few weeks ago or more) I couldn’t find a number to contact them for a tow truck.

The officer not only got his dispatcher to call a tow truck for me, he hooked up a tow strap to my Jeep and pulled me the few hundred feet needed to get me up on the freeway so the tow truck driver could find me. He made sure I had plenty of water, and he was on his way. He validated every bit of “To Protect and Serve,” because in that moment, he provided both protection and service. To him I am grateful, as I am also grateful to the ADOT officer who stopped shortly thereafter to make sure I was okay. I told her I had plenty of water, a few snack bars, and an un-chambered weapon on the dash… from which I had removed the magazine as I saw approach, out of respect for her safety, but I promised her that magazine was going back in place once she pulled away. She nodded in approval and told me she was glad to hear I was so well prepared, and went on her way.

The tow truck driver was a nice enough guy… I suspect he knew how to fix my problem but that’s not his job, and he made a lot more money putting my Jeep on the back of his truck than he would have had he repaired my Jeep and got me back on the road himself. He smoked five cigarettes during the roughly hour-long drive from around Sunflower to my workplace, where I dropped off my Jeep so I could borrow the work truck for the evening. One of the nice things about working for a small private company is the unwritten benefits; in the case of my workplace, the boss owns a Ford Ranger he originally bought for his granddaughter, but she wanted something “more fuel efficient” so the Ranger became the shop truck and she got a brand new Hyundai Elantra. Bonus for us.

So I paid the man the $250 for the tow… yeah, I know, I should have purchased the AAA membership before I broke down, but at least now I have it for next time. But at least they covered the cost of getting my Jeep loaded onto the truck, plus the first five miles... and I was on my way home. Before I hit the road I sent a text to my coworker who knows a lot more than I about fixing cars, and he agreed to meet me Saturday morning.

Within fifteen minutes Saturday morning, I had learned that had I only known what to look for, my issue was something I could have repaired myself. When I pull the handle that takes me from 4-Hi to 4-Low, it moves an upper arm that is connected to a lower arm by a linkage… sometime along the way Friday while I was out having a great time, the bolt that connects the top arm had popped out, because the connection for the bottom arm had become loose and the entire assembly had become weak. The bolt popped when the linkage was in ‘Neutral’ and I had no gear engaged at all. My immediate fix would have been to crawl under my Jeep, determine which way the lower arm needed to be set so I was in 4-Hi, and set it in gear. Once in gear the linkage won’t disengage; I actually can leave it exactly as it is and drive it forever, but if I ever want to use 4-Low I will have to stop, crawl under my Jeep and move the lover arm, and then once I’m done I’d have to re-set it. of course this is not optimal, because there may come a time when I’m halfway up a hill, or stuck in some situation like mud or something, where I won’t want (or be able) to go through that process… so I need to fix the linkage, but it’ll be a relatively inexpensive fix and I’ll be good for another 100K miles or more. It’s one of the risks a person takes when he purchases a used vehicle with 100K miles on it… I’ve had a few repairs to make since I bought my Jeep a year ago, but now that I’ve dealt with the major stuff I should be pretty much in the clear. Over the next year I need to do brakes, and about a year from now I’ll do new tires… hopefully at the same time I’m adding a couple inches of lift, so I can get even more adventurous…

Once I had learned what the problem was and I had learned my options for permanent repair, I spent the morning getting myself more “trail ready” than I already was. I assembled my new jack, which I had purchased Friday before hitting the trails… I had stopped at Pep Boys and Harbor Freight and picked up a few important things. Road flares, a first-aid kit, a magnesium & flint fire-starting kit, a flashlight with a glass-breaking tip, a variety pack of hose clamps and some duct tape, and a hanging flashlight for under the hood or more… plus the jack and a jump-start box… I also sorted out my tools into a “home” toolbox and “road” toolbox… I am now much more ready for whatever may come my way.

So I have parts on order at the Chrysler dealership, and I hope to fix the linkage over the next few days. If I can’t fix it I’ll take my parts and Jeep to a shop… but if that turns out to be the case I won’t let it slow me down. Unless it rains, I know a few places I can go and I won’t need 4-Low, so I’ll be out there again this weekend or next... I might even carry a cooler and a few blankets, and spend a night under the stars…


tammy said...

It's the perfect time of year for getting out there. Glad the problem wasn't too serious. And good job on being prepared.

mCat said...

First, I was filled with some anxiety as you described the first part and your climb up and down the hill.
Second, way to go on being so prepared.
Lastly - spending the night in the open desert sounds both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Can't wait to hear about it

Soloman said...

Tammy.. perfect time of year indeed. I'm so bummed it is raining today.. with my 4x4 not fully functional I'm not taking any chance. But.. it'll make things out in the desert more green, and we need the water, so there's that..

Soloman said...

mCat.. thanks for the 'review' of my storytelling.. what I gather is that I translated my experience well, because there was definitely some adrenaline rushing during the experience!

And the night in the desert... I get it, the 'terrifying' part.. but that's part of the fun! I'm also really looking forward to a serious view of the night sky.. what we see here in town is better than I had growing up in Ohio even, but I know getting away from the city lights is going to blow my mind..

Jen said...

Glad everything worked out. And I'm glad you were able to flag down a really nice highway patrolman. Gotta know, where did you go off-road?

Soloman said...

Vineyard, I've been heading out east to the Ft. McDowell area.. my first trip out there was up Four Peaks Road, and this trip was about 10 miles east of there. I've discovered that area has some cool trails I can play on in the Jeep that aren't too crazy, plus some amazing views.