Alaska to Florida Adventure: Days 7 – 10.5
Megan and I kicked off the USA leg of our trek by way of I-5 south to US-2 (to avoid Seattle traffic mayhem) from which we jumped onto I-90 around Spokane and headed east. Summer storms were making a racket in the Midwest and down South so we agreed to be flexible and adjust our route as needed based based on weather reports.
Once the evergreen glory of Washington State fell away, the road went flat (after the Yukon and British Columbia, we had a new definition for “mountains”). Our plotted I-90 path: Washington – Idaho – Montana – Wyoming – South Dakota.
What Actually Happened
Judging on how fast we’d driven Canada, we figured we could make quick work of the familiar roads and services of our home country. 5 days tops. Minimal stops, not even for a famous Idaho potato (Megan originally had her heart set on one; she LOVES potatoes).
Washington to Idaho gave us fantastic blue skies; Montana, not a team player, decided blue skies on vacations were too mainstream and instead whipped up an ominous rainy mess. We stayed overnight at a rest stop (toilets flushed, can’t ask for more) and cleared out just after sunrise.
We traded Montana’s ultra-straight path for Wyoming’s winding roads and rolling hills where a string of summer storms baptized us with hours of blinding rain. This is where things got iffy.
There were times when the Jeep didn’t accelerate proportionally to the pressure I put on the gas pedal (or so I thought). It lasted maybe a second every once in a long while. I dismissed it at first (I blamed paranoia and the weather). However, we pulled off for a rest stop and, after pausing at a stop sign, I sank my foot into the gas – to the floor – but we didn’t go anywhere (I stared aghast at Megan but she didn’t know why the heck I was rolling the Jeep at 1mph into the middle of the road).
After a moment, the Jeep lurched and we made it to the rest stop parking lot without further craziness (with exception of the lit up “check engine” light). Due to the unimpressive state of our combined car knowledge, we called my dad (there was no reception so we counted nickels and dimes to use the pay phone inside). I did my best to describe the problem to my dad but the car was technically still operable so we kept moving.
We stopped off in Gillette, WY, to stay at a Ramada Inn and get the “check engine” light codes pulled for free at the local Advanced Auto Parts (the codes were uselessly vague and we couldn’t get the car to repeat its symptoms to help determine the cause).
Enter South Dakota
Megan drove. We stopped for gas in Rapid City, SD, and started passing signs for Wall (city, very very small, VERY) and Wall Drug Store (some sort of local attraction) when more of the Jeep’s malfunction lights came on and the car did weird things. Alarmed, we took the first available exit (there was one already in sight, so lucky) and parked at a gas station to make phone calls and do research.
Unfortunately, repair places were already closed for a reason I don’t recall. The nearest hotel was a Best Western (literally across the street) and it accommodated pets so we bunkered down for the night. (Pressing on would’ve been reckless. There were 300 miles between us and Sioux Falls, the next place that might have services we may need to get home.)
Come morning, we eased the Jeep to a recommended mechanic for his diagnosis.
Him: “You need a transmission specialist.” Us: “Where can we find one around here?” Him: “Rapid City.” (Rapid City, SD, 50+ miles in the wrong direction.)
Next? Find a Rapid City towing company that’ll drive that distance to get us and, man, everybody kept saying ‘no’. Finally we found one guy, but we needed to wait an extra day because he was “out helping brand cattle” (only in South Dakota?). But we were okay. We had beds, AC, food, I had my notebook (for writing) and Megan had her crochet.
Dog Drama Explained: Megan lost a few favorite pillows and keepsake blankets in Wall when His Highness had a poop-splosion (she made sure to explain that poop + explosion = poop-splosion; her dog gets diarrhea when he’s super anxious and all I can say is that he was SUPER anxious. It was embarrassing to let strangers work on the car when it didn’t smell like roses).
The Last Tow Guy
We were loitering outside our room when the truck arrived. The driver was a cool guy, friendly, and didn’t mind our deer-dog in the cab (His Skittish Highness didn’t hesitate to hop into a strange truck – shocking).
This was only time we lost milage: backtracking 53 miles west to Rapid City, SD, for vehicle repairs.
Next in the Alaska to Florida Adventure: Wizards & Track Meets
[Did you wanna read the AK to FL mayhem from the beginning? Start here: Road Trip Manifesto: Go Big or Don’t Go.]