September 19 – 25.
Great A’Tuin had become a giant rolling toolbox. With paint brushes, caulk guns, paint cans, a pedestal fan, a ladder, and more all wedged into its interior, our van was not having any fun, not traveling, and not living the life.
Greg and I had spent the summer working hard making money and moving from one house sitting obligation to the next with little opportunity to adventure anywhere outside of Atlanta. But as our stay in Cabbagetown wound down, short opportunities for traveling began to appear. A whole week with out any jobs or pets opened up, so we planned a trip to New Orleans to visit with my niece and her husband.
With 7 days ahead of us and more confidence in AT than we have had previously, Greg, A’Tuin, and I all journeyed together. This was very exciting. For the first time I wasn’t leading the van in our Honda. Since AT was still so slow, we took the scenic route off the highway, planning on two days to get to New Orleans with a stop at a campground in Selma, AL. We had just passed through a little dot on the map called New Site, maybe a 100 miles out of Atlanta, when suddenly AT lost all power. Greg turned off the road and the van rolled to a stop. After unloading everything from the back, we examined the engine. The drive belt was shredded. With no spare, we found ourselves stuck in the middle of almost “nowhere.”
Engine failure isn’t a new story for us. We already have this story, this one, this one, and of course, this one. We have certainly experienced worse engine failures than a little old broken drive belt. All we needed was a replacement and we would be on our way. So we called around to auto supply stores within a 50-mile radius, but no one had one in stock. It was Saturday and the earliest we could get a belt would be Tuesday from an O’Reilly Auto Parts in the next town ahead, Alexander City.
The big difference between losing the engine in the van and in the boat is that on the boat the engine is really the back up power source to those big lofty white wings, the sails. The van, however, only has the one means of propulsion and since you can’t jerry rig a drive belt we called for a tow to take us up the road.
We found a hotel across the street from the O’Reilly. With three days to kill, we spent some time researching our upcoming sailing trip to Mexico and Central America, doing a little computer work, and in the evening enjoying the best that basic cable TV could offer us, CSPAN3.
Tuesday eventually came and Greg jumped up at first light to be at the O’Rielly’s when they opened. I was busy packing up our few belongings we managed to sprawl across the hotel room, ready blow out of town, when Greg returned, not looking happy. Despite trying many things, including getting a jump from one of the hotel employees, AT still wasn’t starting. Luckily, my brain is always working on a backup plan, I had spent some our 3 days researching alternate escape strategies and had one ready. There was a Greyhound bus that stopped once in the morning and once in the afternoon just little over a mile up the road from where we were staying. We could ride back to Atlanta and get our car. We still had time to make the afternoon bus.
We hiked up the road and found the bus station, a bench outside of a barbershop. We had a 2-hour wait. What’s 2 hours when you have already been waiting for 3 days? We had Spanish to study and our sailing trip to plan. Then the owner of the barbershop showed up. He was a nice guy, very friendly, and very, very talky. Unfortunately, a lot of what he talked about was the color of people’s skin. I let Greg carry that conversation while I kept my eyes pealed on the road, now ready to get back to Cabbagetown, intent on running the bus down if it passed us by.
Back in Atlanta, we spent a night with a friend and weighed our options as to what to do. Greg did a little research on the Internet and found out that with an interference engine, like ours, we could have a bent value, a bent piston, or who knows, something worse. We considered driving back to Alexander City and working on the van at the hotel or towing it back to Atlanta and working on it somewhere in Cabbagetown. We discussed options for fixing the engine or buying a new one and possibly putting off our sailing trip. Delaying sailing was not on the table for Greg. We decided to tow AT to Florida and delay dealing with it until after we returned from Central America.
That morning we drove to Alburn, Alabama in our car and rented a box truck and vehicle trailer. Up the road in Alexander City we used our vast problem solving skills to get the powerless AT up on the trailer, then with me in the Honda, leading the way once again, Greg following in the truck, and AT trailing behind, we started down the road south.
By the time we got out of town it was getting late, so we spent the night in a truck stop, finally getting to camp out with AT, on the trailer, under the glow of the Flying J sign. The next day we made it to Stuart, Florida. The next morning we used the Honda to push the van into Greg’s folks garage and then headed back to Cabbagetown, leaving poor Great A’Tuin alone in the dark, not having any fun, not traveling and certainly not living the life anytime soon.