Sent: Friday, December 21, 2001 1:15 PM
Subject: Painful

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, if so, what does this picture say to you?

It says very bad things to me.  This picture was taken this morning, which is the end of the story, so we'll go back 24 hours, to the beginning.
Thursday, December 20.  Bend Oregon.  7:00 am.
I wake up early, with plans to head to Mt Bachelor for the day with my friend Karl to do some snowboarding.  I head out to run a few errands along the way, get some coffee, buy a new lens for my goggles, and then head up the long 2 lane road to the mountain.  It starts to snow on the way, everything is going to be great.  As I am driving along a slight uphill section of road, I try to downshift out of third, and I can't.  It is stuck.  My shift linkage is a little wonky, so I think that this is the problem.  I pull over, get out, and crawl under the car to see if I can identify the problem, or at least pull it out of gear.  No luck.  I call Karl, who is about 15 minutes behind me heading up to the mountain, and tell him the problem.  His reaction isn't good.  There is a design flaw in the transmissions of these cars where some part in the transmission that is essential for shifting in and out of 3rd wears out and breaks, necessitating a rebuild of the transmission.  He shows up and we try some more, still no luck.  So here I am in Bend Oregon, it is approaching noon on a Thursday, I have a Sunday flight out of Oakland CA back East for Christmas, and I need a new transmission.  Not only that, but I need one that has been rebuilt with the redesigned part so that this doesn't happen again.  I quickly run through my short list of options, and decide that the best thing is to tow the car back to San Francisco (500 miles away) so I can make my flight, and get the work done there by a mechanic I know.  We decide that since I still have third gear, that it would be a good idea to turn the van around and drive back to town, get out of the snow zone, and then get AAA to tow the van to U-haul so I can rent a truck and a car dolly.  This is actually the best part of the story.  In order to turn the van around, I let off the brake, built up some speed coasting backwards down the hill, cut the wheel, and when the van was perpendicular to the road, I jammed on the brakes and cut the wheel hard.  Next thing you know, I am facing downhill in the downhill lane, and drifting ever so slightly uphill, and then I start my coast down the hill.  It was just like you see in those driving school videos.
The rest of the afternoon is a long story, but eventually I finally rent the 15 foot truck you see in the picture.  The tow company put the van on a flatbed and backed it onto the dolly.  After chaining it down, I was on my way.  At 5:00pm.  My goal was to get out of Oregon, and past Mt Shasta in California, so that I would be out of the mountains and snow.  This is where my journey into the heart of darkness begins.  You could say that on the journey to come, I flirted with madness.  No, I flirted with madness, and she bought me a drink and cooked me breakfast.  Where to begin?  How driving over 30 feet of vehicle, towing a payload that probably weighed more than the truck itself?  How about the fog that dominated the first 6 hours of the trip?  How about driving on snowy roads so slick that merely breathing on the brake pedal activated the ABS system?  How about the fact that after a while I realized that the tail lights weren't working, so I drove the entire way with the hazards on?  Or, the fact that I could only see the very end of the trailer in the mirrors, so I was continually haunted by the thought of pulling into a gas station and finding the van no longer on the trailer?  Or the mind numbingly slow speed I had to drive, covering only 90 miles in the first 3 hours?
Fortunately, at this point, my mantra "it's all part of the adventure" keeps me a little sane through all of this, and I laughed more than I cursed throughout the whole thing.  At some point, I decide to drive the whole way back to SF, finally rolling into town at 5:00am, exactly twelve hours after leaving.
I'm still mostly laughing about it all, I've tracked down a good transmission rebuilder and a mechanic, but it will cost me about $1500 in the end, which will certainly take some time off the back end of the trip.  I sort of planned for some catastrophic mechanical work though, so it shouldn't hurt things too much.  So for Christmas this year, I am buying myself a new transmission. 
Back to the present....I got about 5 hours of sleep this morning, and feel pretty good, getting ready to head out for some lunch, after which I am sure I will take a nap.  I have two days to finish some Christmas shopping here in SF, and then I fly out Sunday.