This happened back during our trip to Big Bend in April 2006. Hubs and I remain scarred.
White smoke billowed from the tailpipe of Hubs’ pickup as we pulled into a Shell station in the remote, tiny town of Marathon, Texas.
“Man, that doesn’t look good,” said a bearded man, who was sitting astride a rumbling motorcycle. Within minutes, the man and a half-dozen of his fellow American Legion Riders had assembled around our truck’s now-open hood where Hubs described the Dodge’s recent, erratic behavior.
“You’ve blown a head gasket,” one guy declared as the others nodded in agreement.
So there we sat, just a tantalizing hour’s drive from the outer reaches of Big Bend National Park — our vacation destination — in a truck that had rebelled at the worst possible time in the worst possible place.
This was to be our first trip alone — just the two of us, sans children — anywhere, in two years. It also was supposed to be a five-year anniversary celebration, as Hubs and I got married in Big Bend.
For weeks, Hubs and I had talked of little else. Vacation — yippee! Time alone!
We adore our tots, naturally. But we also revel in what little “us time” we can find. Dinners, movies — no problem. These, we can arrange, infrequently, granted, but still…
A week away? This, my friends, is a rarity for us.
We had planned this vacation down to the last detail — dates, campsites, restaurants and camping gear — and all on an exceedingly tight, bare-bones budget.
Truck trouble, especially something this serious, had not been factored into these well-laid plans. Granted — the truck had started acting up a week before we left town, but after replacing a leaky radiator reservoir, Hubs thought the problem had been solved. And we hadn’t had any difficulty in making the seven-hour trip from my parents’ Round Rock home to Marathon’s Gage Hotel, where we had just spent the night.
Angry and frustrated, Hubs used the pay phone (no cell phone signal available) to call our longtime Little Rock mechanic, George.
George gave us two options:
Have the truck towed to a bigger town, and get it fixed. (This, George said, would likely be an expensive repair job that would take two days.)
Or we could buy some “Bar’s Leaks Stop Leak,” pour it in and that MIGHT get us through the rest of our trip and back home again.
We weighed the pros and cons. If we fixed it, the expense would be enormous. Just getting it towed from our current location — the middle of nowhere — would be pricey. Then we would either have to get a rental car or lose two days of our vacation while waiting for the truck to be repaired. My hang-up was the money involved. Already, we’d spent more than intended on the front end trying to get Hubs’ pickup, with its accumulated 117,000 miles, road-ready.
On the other hand, if we used the Stop Leak and headed on into the park, we could end up stranded there — and for those of you who’ve been to Big Bend, you’ll understand why that was a rather daunting prospect.
But here’s the thing — while I’m a neurotic, paranoid weirdo where motherhood is concerned, I’m not that way when there’s just me to consider. And since the kids were safely ensconced at Nana and Granddaddy’s house, well… truth is, Hubs and I are both known for being stupid, stubborn and downright foolhardy. We are risk-happy people.
So my gut instinct was to pour this magic potion into the radiator and see how far it would get us.
(Who knew when we would get down this way again? Alone. For our anniversary… ahem …)
After giving the matter a few minutes’ thought, Hubs agreed.
He applied the Stop Leak, and off we went, with Hubs monitoring the temperature gauge and me watching the tailpipe for more smoke.
Amazingly, we made it to Big Bend and up to the Chisos Basin, where we hauled out a couple of beers and toasted our shared stupidity.
This is what I love about my marriage: Hubs and I are never more in sync, never more “together” than when faced with adversity. We trust each other’s instincts. And we both have the same bizarre sense of humor.
We spent the next two days hiking. As long as we were moving, we didn’t have the time or energy to stress over our predicament or to wonder whether we’d make it out of the park, let alone back to Round Rock.
On our second night, we went over our finances. It was two days ‘til payday and if our vehicle couldn’t make it home, we were, to put it delicately, screwed. At this point, we had just enough for one more night at the Gage Hotel, bar food and drinks — a necessity, by our definition — and the gas needed to get us back to Round Rock.
So we decided to cut our time at the park short by a day.
Thankfully, we made it back to the Gage Hotel and celebrated that night at the bar. The next morning, we began the long trip back to my parents’ house.
We stopped again and again to let the truck cool and fill the reservoir with more water and antifreeze. The Stop Leak, it appeared, hadn’t held. But miraculously, at 5:30 p.m., we pulled into my parents’ driveway.
We spent the next day — our fifth anniversary — wandering through one car dealership after another.
I suppose I could be disappointed or bitter about the way things turned out. We didn’t get to visit all the places we had planned, we had to leave a day early and we spent a lot of our vacation worrying about whether we would make it home.
But really, we still had a fantastic time. It reminded me of our early days together, when we would go on difficult assignments that required us to think quickly — and take stupid risks.
After five years and two kids, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that period of our marriage. So I guess I couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary present.
(And, for the first time ever, I actually lost weight on vacation.)