Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christmas 2014: An Eventful Drive Home

And just like that, the holidays were over and we were on our long journey home. I don't think goodbyes will ever get easier for me, and no matter where I live and make my home, I'll always be looking forward to the next time we go back to our hometown.

That morning, we saw our first and only snow while at home. A mere dusting, with the roads mostly cleared besides what was being blown on the quiet highways. But it was cold - with highs in the single digits. Looking at the weather forecast, it wasn't going to get any better up there...however, Arizona was experiencing record-breaking highs, and that made the trip just a tiny bit more bearable.

Charlotte resisted getting in the truck at first. She certainly wasn't ready to leave her new friends, and the snow which she had taken quite a liking to! But she settled right back in to her spot - right between Curtis and I, fast asleep.

For our trip back, we decided to take it easy and have some fun. Our first stop was to see some of the Bridges of Madison County. Curtis and Mitch are big fans of Clint Eastwood, not necessarily this particular movie, but we had wanted to see these for a while so we decided to see them as snow covered bridges. 

Oh, Curtis was constantly checking on the engine of his truck. While the alternator had fixed some issues, there were still others present, like strange sounds or smells would occasionally come up. When he closed the hood with only marginal pressure, the black windbreaker thing in front shattered, as you can see in the above picture! It felt like we were driving an old, beat-up car from a cartoon, where you start driving and as you go, pieces fall off until you're left with just a seat and the steering wheel.

However, we were still able to enjoy the beauty of these bridges, and Charlotte was most grateful for a chance to run around in the snow!

Driving through Winterset, IA

Loved this courthouse building!

Holliwell Bridge - the one where the movie was filmed.

Curtis took these pictures and found letterboxes while I tried to keep warm in the truck.

After seeing the bridges, it was around 2 in the afternoon. We were behind schedule, but had nothing left to see, so we planned to head right to Fort Smith, AR. We made it through Kansas City and were 30 miles North of Joplin when all of a sudden....the truck stopped working. We had heard some noises throughout the day, but right before it stopped, Curtis thought that he should pull over at the next exit. As it turns out, the truck just couldn't make it that last mile. We were panicked, yet remained surprisingly calm as Curtis turned on his hazards and pulled to the side of the road. He got out and looked at the engine, tried a few things, until we finally decided to call a tow truck. It wasn't expected to arrive for an hour and a half, and so we bundled up with the blankets and pillows in our truck and said a prayer of thanks that we were safe. We knew that the tow would take us to the next town - Lamar, MO - so I found a Super 8 on my phone and made a reservation.

Through it all, God was with us, and looked out for us the whole way. Only 45 minutes later, (half the time that we expected!) the truck showed up and the driver quickly got us (including Charlotte!) into his warm truck while he got ours on the back. He told us that when he heard we were out here, he rushed to help because he knew how cold it was. (Even though we were coming from Iowa, where it was 20 degrees colder during the day than it was here at night!) He also gladly dropped off Charlotte and I at the hotel, and even grabbed a cart and unloaded the luggage we'd need for us. I checked us in while Curtis went with the tow to the mechanic.

Now if you're familiar with Lamar, Missouri, you know that it really isn't that big of a town. The tow took our truck to the only mechanic in town, which Curtis described to be like a "Mom and Pop" garage - family owned and operated, with the garage attached to the house. The guy there wasn't like a professional and really had no obligation to help us, but he agreed to anyway. He even gave Curtis a ride back to the hotel. This was by no means an ideal situation, but God was with us for every moment. We settled in to the hotel and tried to de-stress.

The next morning, we knew we had until 12  in the room. We were anxious as we waited for news about our truck to arrive. At 11:30, we reluctantly decided to reserve the room for another night, because we hadn't heard anything and didn't think that the truck could be fixed in such a short amount of time. Curtis even started looking for used car sales around the area, and for rental cars in case we needed that. Nothing seemed to be convenient. We decided to try not to worry about it, and walked to a Sonic across the street.

At Sonic, Charlotte enjoys her "pup cup" of ice cream!
 However, once we ordered our lunch, the mechanic called Curtis with good news: it was just the fuel pump that was shot, so he could replace it and be ready in 2 hours! He had also called the hotel, and they said that if we could get our things out of the room quickly, that they wouldn't charge us for another night! Once we got our lunch, we hurried back to the hotel to pack up. They graciously allowed us to wait in their lobby for our car to be finished. It ended up being a bit longer than 2 hours, but we were very grateful once we had our truck back and were on the road again! That night, we were able to make it to Broken Bow, OK. We learned from that drive that Oklahoma is NOT flat - and we were disappointed to not get to see this drive in the daylight!

The next day, we started off by going to a nearby state park and finding our 8th Whispering Giant! 

This is Charlotte's 1st whispering giant...she didn't get all the hype. ;)

We went looking for the letterbox but were disappointed to not find it. While Curtis searched, I let Charlotte lead me through the woods. She loved it here! While the weather was continuing to get warmer the further South we got, all the radio stations were saying the same thing: "It's cold outside!" :)

Crossing the Red River into Texas

After our quick detour, we began a loooong drive through Texas. We love taking back roads just as much as we enjoy taking new roads, and so we literally did not take a single interstate all throughout this state. Thank God for highways with 75 mph speed limits! 

Above is what our entire drive looked like. At least 95% of it. Ahhh!

By sunset - we're still in Texas...

...And it still looks the same.

Except sometimes it's green.

I get this whole bed to myself!

We finally made it out of Texas and found a hotel in Artesia, NM for the night. (The whole town was booked for some was a Tuesday night?!) Oh, and there was snow there. We have come this far South only to run into snow. Great!

The next day, we set off on our final leg home. As we drove, we saw clouds in the far distance, and they came closer and was rather ominous driving into this. 

But as it turned out, the clouds were just fog - no snow yet, but there was snow predicted for later that day! We were thankful that we beat it, because we were going to drive through the Sacramento Mountains, which are East of Alamogordo, NM. 

We stopped for a letterbox in Cloudcroft, NM. Charlotte loved running around again!

Normally, Charlotte sleeps while we're driving, but somehow she just knew that the views on this road were too beautiful to miss!

Oh, and here in Southern New Mexico is where we saw the most snow from our entire trip. Given, it's high elevation, but still. That's pretty sad, and I don't even like snow that much! Thankfully the roads were clear and we were able to enjoy this lovely drive down the mountain.

Tunnel coming up! 
I love this picture of Charlotte. We're stopped at an overlook of the White Sands Valley.

See that layer of white in the distance? That's White Sands National Monument - Not snow!

Curtis is getting good use out of his Christmas present already!

I love this view of white sands, followed by more mountains!

Once in Alamogordo, we stopped for some letterboxes. It was in the 50's here and it felt amazing! 

Charlotte is happy to be back on the trails in the sunshine!

Facing the New Mexico Museum of Space History, with White Sands in the background.

Finally, for our last stop, we went to see White Sands National Monument. We've driven past it before, and finally decided to spend a little time here. It was SO fun! We drove through the driving loop and pulled over at a point where no one else was around. They are pet-friendly here which is wonderful, and Charlotte had a blast running around and kicking up the sand!

See Yeti down on the road?

This place is amazing. Dunes of white sand as far as you can see, with blue mountains and skies in the background. It really looks like snow, but feels MUCH better! ;)

Snow capped mountain in the distance!

Charlotte's racing toward me, with Curtis trying to keep up!

Put my camera on Auto-timer to take this!

Here's how my camera was positioned for the auto-timer picture :)


Panorama of this incredible place

Charlotte taking a break from all her running

Driving through the loop

This was such an enjoyable break from our driving, and definitely a high point before what was to come... After we left, we were driving to Las Cruces when we heard a new sound from the truck. It sounded like a recorder. It was a little concerning, but mostly funny. It was a recorder that only knew 2 notes. We were mostly confused by it, so we didn't stop until we reached a gas station. Curtis checked the engine, and decided it was probably the pulley which held the belt that connects the engine to everything else. (Air conditioning, alternator, power steering, water pump...) We took off on our final leg of the trip, ready to be home. The recorder sound was gone. We started talking about our next vehicle. When suddenly...

We were driving West on I-10, with 4 hours left on our journey, when we heard something that sounded like something unscrewing, and then ping! It fell off. We exchanged a nervous glance, waiting to see what would happen, and then it all happened at once. No power steering. Some liquid came spilling out over the windshield - like windshield wiper fluid, but not. The engine overheated. Curtis turned on his hazards, pulled over, and got out to look at the engine. It was immediately obvious what had happened - the pulley and the belt were gone. Curtis walked back along the interstate looking for it, but it wasn't anywhere to be found. Even if we could find it, there would have been no way to get it safely attached for the rest of the drive. We really had no choice again but to call for another tow truck.

Yeti gets a lift for the last leg of the journey.

2 hours later, our truck finally arrived. It took longer this time, but at least it wasn't 20 degrees outside! We thought about our options, like where to get towed, and decided that all we really wanted was to be home. We didn't want to go to another mechanic or spend another night in a hotel when we were so close to home. Curtis knew exactly how to fix the truck, it was just a matter of being in the wrong place and not having the tools to do it. And so, we decided to just get towed back to our home. 

We really had a great time chatting with the tow truck driver. He was from El Paso and owns the towing company. We were also very thankful that he allowed Charlotte to be in the truck with us, and she was the perfect sleeping puppy the whole way home. last. No more driving, no more stressing about this trip, we were done. 

And one last HUGE thank you to our friend Mitch, who came over and brought us dinner that night at 9 when we finally made it back! We're so blessed with such a good friend!

Overall, I look back on this entire trip and see God's faithfulness and hand of protection the whole way through. He placed just the right people in the right places to be there to help us. Our problems over this trip are so small in the big scheme of things, yet He was there, watching out for us every step of the way. I'm walking away from this big adventure with more faith and trust than before.

Oh and by the way, Curtis was able to fix the truck and it is up and running again! :)

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