I continued shuttling my folks to medical appointments and helping them complete the division of their acre and a half into four separate building lots, including their own. It took numerous phone calls and one day-long trip to the county auditor, visibly distressing on my father. To circumvent the cost of having the required street upgrades done, for which my folks did not have sufficient funds, they agreed to accept having the work done by the first buyer’s contractor, as a portion of the sales price. The buyer and his contractor agreed to and carried out the improvements. A couple of months later the paving and striping were complete and the lot-division was approved. My folks’ stress level subsided.
Not so for me, however, what with that work, my undone chores at home, and keeping Mike alive during the long hot road jobs of summer which always stymied his desire to eat.
My father’s lung surgery that fall was successful, and after a few days of hospital-recovery, he was sent home to finish healing. With no doctor appointments scheduled for him in the next two months, and Mike’s road jobs drawing to a seasonal close, we decided to make a quick trip to Colorado.
We spent a couple of days with our gunsmith-friends, the Coopers. Because an early snowfall closed two of the mountain passes we planned to take on our way home, we headed south over Raton Pass into New Mexico. The drive was scenic, camera-friendly, and I snapped my 35mm at each curve of the road. We encountered extremely high winds over the pass itself, but pushed on toward Taos, winding up and down a lonely two lane road. Glimpses of mansion-size haciendas, probably belonging to wealthy movie stars, peeked out between the vivid orange-leaved sumac trees that punctuated each narrow, serpentine driveway.
We stopped for lunch late that afternoon at Michael’s Kitchen in Taos, a café and bakery crowded-to-the-brim with people-filled picnic tables and loud conversations. Afterwards, I wanted to drive back to explore "Old Taos," a collection of domed adobe huts and buildings housing artisans and their retail goods, but Mike suggested we go find a spot to stay and return in the morning.
On the outskirts of a more modern Taos, we secured a campsite and parked for the night. I walked our dog while Mike pumped up the camper. When it didn’t began to rise, I opened the back door to find out what was the matter. There crouched Mike, with red fluid running down his arms and shirt front.
I recognized it immediately. "Did a seal brake?"
"So, we’re stuck down?"
"Yep." He stepped out of the camper and I wiped off the fluid with paper towels. The rare risk of Alaskan Campers had hit us—a seal in one of the four hydraulic shafts that raise the camper top had burst. This was a repair that only the Alaskan Camper Company could make, and they, of course, were located in Tukwila, Washington. We would have to make do until we got home.
Without space above the counter, we could not use the stove. We barely had room to pump water from the faucet at the sink. The refrigerator could be run on the car battery when driving, and on electricity when available at a campground, important for keeping Mike’s insulin cold. The windows we would have opened for ventilation were located on the top part of the camper, which now was telescoped outside the bottom half, and not available. The commode closet was now half-height, with two doors to navigate while backing stooped over into it. We chose to use the campground’s outhouse.
The cab over bed was not available, but with difficulty, we were able to reconfigure the dinette into its alternate purpose as an extra sleeping space. I insisted that Mike sleep on those cushions, as his joints often hurt, while I stretched out below on the narrow camper floor, thankful that we’d added a layer of indoor-outdoor carpeting over it years ago.
Luckily, we didn’t need to use the propane furnace because, with the camper top telescoped down, the vent was blocked. New Mexico’s weather provided warmth. Too much, in fact, and it made me cranky. Neither of us slept well that night.
By morning we had decided to skip the jaunt back to Old Taos, and strike out for home. We stopped in Santa Fe for breakfast, then on to Albuquerque and miles west, eating on Mastercard when our limited cash supply ran too low for comfort.
We rolled through Arizona at night, windows open, trying to cool ourselves. My allergies reacted to the desert flora—possibly sage in bloom—with a runny nose and headache on top of my miserable prickly-heat condition. At midnight, we pulled into a large truck stop in Kingman, Arizona. Their outdoor temperature sign read 72°F. I walked the dog while Mike gassed the truck. After fueling, we went into the restaurant, which wasn’t much cooler than outside and as crowded and noisy as Michael’s Kitchen in Taos had been.
We ate pie and rested in the booth for a good hour, then crossed into California and headed for I-5 north. Eighteen hours, five gas stops with driver exchanges and snack food refills, and one insulin dose later, we drove across the Columbia River into Washington State just before midnight.
"How many miles have we put on?" I asked.
Mike lowered his head to read the dashboard. "Damn!" He shouted. "The temp is way up … overheated!"
"I don’t see any steam coming out." I stretched my neck toward the windshield. "There’s a rest stop sign ahead." I pointed to it.
"I’ll take it." He slowed a bit, and within minutes we were parked in a truck-slot between two eighteen wheelers. Mike released the hood and fastened it up, then took a long look around the engine and climbed back into the cab and shut the door. "I don’t see anything wrong. Maybe the thermostat went bad."
"I hope so." Just what we didn’t need, another repair. I already had assumed that the hydraulic fix on the camper would not be cheap. "Can we just let it cool down and try again?"
"Yep. We’ll have to."
Next thing I knew, it was two hours later and Mike was returning from the restroom with a jar full of water. He poured it into the radiator and slammed down the hood. "It’s cooled down. You ready to head out again?" He handed me the empty jar, which I recognized as a juice container from the camper.
"Yes." I snuggled the jar down beside my seat.
We pulled back onto I-5 around 2:00 am, snacking on crackers and grapes purchased at the last gas stop. At South Center, we elected to take I-405 and avoid Seattle traffic. As we approached Kirkland, Mike noticed the temperature was high again, so we pulled off to let it cool down—a difficult decision to make only half an hour from home.
We awoke slightly after 5:00 am, and pulled into our Kenmore driveway thirty minutes later. We watered the dog and packed the perishables into the kitchen refrigerator before hitting the hay.
Cleanup and repairs could wait.