Saturday, November 16, 2019

A tale of 4 tow trucks

On Halloween night, at 7:30pm just as the trick or treating traffic in our neighborhood started to die down, sweet cheeks and I shoved off on our first solo road trip in the van. The plan was to drive from Silverado to Santa Rosa in 2 days, 3 hours on the road Thursday evening would put us at a nice camping spot at Fort Tejon, and then just 5ish more on Friday would deliver us to Santa Rosa. Our objective was to see my brother, his wife and all 4 of their kiddos who were flying in from Texas on Friday and only staying for 4 days. Seeing how I really want Addy to have a relationship with her cousins, the timing was sorta critical. 

We rolled out of Silverado with a 'what can go wrong?' attitude. You know, just me, a 9 week old baby, a dog, 450 miles, and a 2003 Sprinter van, sounds like a solid plan.
Well we found out the answer to that little question about 2 hours into the drive, when the van wouldn't start after stopping at a gas station at the bottom of the grapevine. It was 9:30, I had stopped to feed Addy, and since fuel was reasonably priced I figured I would top off the half full tank at the same time (that actually saves my butt later). 

Tow truck #1
So I called Brendan and he took me through a list of things I could try to get the van started again, none of which worked. Around 10pm I called Farmers and they dispatched tow truck #1 to come get me. At this point we were foolishly optimistic it was the alternator, a problem that is pretty straight forward to fix. 
Around 11:40 the tow truck finally showed up. I've never needed roadside assistance before, so lesson 1 of the ordeal was that tow trucks take FOREVER to get to you if you go through insurance. 

We got towed to the Dodge dealer in Santa Clarita and slept there in the van. By that I mean Addy slept, because being over tired, and stressed about getting to Santa Rosa kept me up all night. 

At 7am when the dealer opened I explained to the service manager what happened and he took his sweet time getting around to looking at the van. Lesson 2, car dealerships have no sympathy for a lady stranded with a tiny baby. Waiting for a diagnosis at the dealer took FOREVER, and I was afraid to leave in case they wanted to explain what needed to be done. Thankfully Davey and the baby were really calm the whole time. Around 11am I asked if they could give me an idea of how much longer we would have to wait (all this time they brushed me off when I asked) and they said it was the fuel pump, and that they were trying to find a new one. Fortunately, a nice tow truck driver had been hanging out petting Davey and he offered to tow me somewhere else so I could get the work done that day. Brendan's favorite local Sprinter mechanic was 25 minutes away in San Fernando (I would have gone there the night before but it's in a really sketchy part of town) and he seemed to take pity on me/offered to look at the van and try to fix it even though he was supposed to go home at noon. So after all that waiting we were rushing to get the van onto tow truck #2 of the trip and we were off to San Fernando.

It was hot in Anatoli's waiting room, but Baby A didn't care. 
While Anatoli (Brendan's mechanic) looked at the van Baby A and I sat in his small, cramped 'waiting room' and watched cockroaches waltz across the floor. After realizing I hadn't eaten anything all day I used a gift card one of my way too nice co-workers gifted us when Addy was born and used Grubhub to get lunch delivered. 
Again baby A was an angel through all of this.

Eventually Anatoli came in and told me it was leaky fuel injectors and that he couldn’t finish the job because one was stuck and he wanted to go home (this was 2.5 hours after he was supposed to close for the day). He said I could drive to Santa Rosa if I just never turned the car off, OR if I bought starter fluid and sprayed that into a hose on the engine block to get started again. And since I REALLY wanted to see family I choose the don’t turn the van off ever option and jumped on the road.

Thankfully the drive from San Fernando that day was uneventful. I stopped three times, to feed Addy and once for coffee, and just left the van running (sorry environment!). I was crazy tired, and ate 4 apples in a row at one point to stay awake. But we made it to my sister’s house in Cotati (20 minutes from my parents) by 9:30pm and only missed out on half a day with the cousins!

Davey keeping Addy safe.
Fast forward a week, Brendan flew out and we were planning on driving into the Southern Sierras on our way home for a mountain biking adventure with friends. Thinking we would get the van proper fixed by Anatoli on our way home at the end of the weekend we hit the road Friday evening and slept at Harris Ranch, the halfway point to our destination.
The next morning, when we stopped for fuel just before heading into the wilderness the van died in a new way, while idling at the pump. At first we couldn’t get it started, called insurance to get it towed and were told it would cost a small fortune to tow from the middle of nowhere town we were in. We did a bunch of research to find a mechanic close enough for a reasonable towing fee, and eventually tried a few more times to get the van going. Thankfully Brendan is pretty smart and he got it started by not letting the revs drop below 1500. And we were on our way, this time to a mechanic in Salinas that our neighbor uses (it was the closest trusted mechanic who was also willing to look at the van that day).

We made it to Salinas just to wait for a few hours and then be told it was the low pressure fuel pump which they didn't have, and it would take a week to get one. After MORE research Brendan found a mobile mechanic in Santa Rosa, yes, where we had come from a day ago, who had the part and was willing to do the work.

Addy and I chilling in the van while Meth mechanic
looked at it with Brendan.
So again we struggled to get the van going, and then somehow managed to survive the congestion of the bay area while keeping the revs up, to arrive in Cotati at 7:30pm.
Mechanic #4 was a little crazy, maybe on meth, and in a spazy, possessed sort of way worked through replacing the low pressure fuel pump with Brendan. When the van still wouldn’t start they trouble shooted some more, until 12:30am when they came to the conclusion it was the high pressure pump, and meth mechanic said he needed to eat dinner.

Feeling foolishly optimistic on Sunday morning.

At this point starter fluid worked again to get the van running so we decided to drive home and have Brendan replace the part in our own driveway to save the cost of labor. I had been napping in the van bed with the baby while the boys worked on the van, so I felt rested enough to drive part way, getting us to the rest stop where I-5 meets the 580 at 2am Sunday morning. Yes, this means we crossed the Richmond bridge 3 times in 2 days.

In the morning we hit the road again, feeling confident we would make it home by mid-day, so much so that we were making plans: the first think I’m going to do when we get home is wash the baby… oh if it was only that easy.

Instead, you guessed it, the van died AGAIN, this time on I-5 while Brendan was cruising along at 75mph in the middle of nowhere about 65 miles north of Bakersfield.
I’m going to stop here to say that through all this ridiculousness somehow I was able to remain incredibly calm. Through the towing at midnight when I was alone, Anatoli’s cockroach infested waiting room, the night in meth mechanic’s yard with the boys trying over and over again to start the van, I was upset, but calm and collected. I’m not sure if it was for the baby’s well being, or I’m just different now, but it’s sorta surprising that all the stress, loss of sleep, uncertainty about the van didn’t break me. Even on the side of I-5 in 85 degree weather in a broken van, big rigs driving by within feet of us at 70 miles per hour, causing the van to sway as each truck passed, I was calm and relaxed. I sat on the bed with the baby and talked to her, fed her and watched her sleep. And she was an absolute angel again, not crying or fussing, probably not even really aware of how dangerous and stressful a situation we were in.

On I-5 in the middle of nowhere.
While she slept I did send out a plea for help to everyone I knew and on Insta, which was soon answered by the nicest most thoughtful friend in the world who offered to come rescue the baby and me. At that point it was around 3pm and I felt like I just needed to get the baby home. I couldn’t spend a week in Bakersfield waiting for the van to get fixed with a 10 week old and a dog.
Tow truck #3 was the nicest of the tow trucks I've been in haha
Tori to the rescue!!!!!
The van went on tow truck #3 around 4pm, after 2 hours of waiting. And around 5pm Tori met us at the mechanics to drive the baby and me home.

Brendan stayed in Bakersfield, wasn’t able to get the first mechanic to do the work, had the van towed AGAIN to the Mercedes dealer in town. After the new high pressure fuel pump didn’t work and just as they were about to install another $800 part Brendan suggested replacing a $14 seal (as suggested by some Sprinter Guru in South Carolina) and low and behold, that was what got the van working normally again.

We spent about $3,000 in parts and labor, saw 5 total mechanics, got towed 4 times, and drove about 1,000 miles in search of the answer and it turned out to be a $14 seal. Yep, that is our awesome #Vanlife life right now. Kicking ourselves for wasting so much time and money on a problem that could have been so cheap and easy to fix.

On the bright side the van works again, and I have had incredibly good luck driving that van ALL OVER the western half of the country, alone most of the time. We are so grateful to be home safe right now. And I’ll definitely think twice before going on another road trip with a little baby and a dog 😊

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dear Baby A,

One year ago I sat in a hospital bed wearing nothing but a pair of cycling shorts and sports bra. My legs didn't really work, and when I tried to move them using my hands it felt like I was getting stabbed with 100 steak knives. Only one doctor spoke English there, and he wasn't on duty, just nice enough to come in every few hours to check up on me and explain the situation. There was a NP who spoke a little English, but mostly I was helpless and alone. The day before I had been 'La Championa', they had cheered 'fuerte' at me and I had felt powerful, strong, proud. Now I was no one, with a dying cell phone (no way to communicate with loved ones in the US) and a broken body. It felt like the worst day of my life. I cried for maybe 5 of the 10 hours I was there before checking myself out without the doctors permission. I laid in that bed thinking about how I was giving up on my dream of wining La Ruta, of what this Rhabdo meant for my body, my career, and although I didn't really understand that I was dying at the time, it felt so hopeless.

Fast forward to today, November 4, 2019 I am writing a blog post while you nap. There is an infant car seat by the door and baby bottles have replaced cycling bottles in the sink. I blinked an eye and my life is dramatically different. It doesn't seem real sometimes, it's beyond my wildest dreams to wake up each morning and see your perfect being next to me. Because I almost died I got you. Because the heat stroke, dehydration, and rhabdomylosis I was forced to stay off the bike for 3 weeks, just long enough for my body to return to normal female functioning, just long enough to conceive you.

I feel lucky beyond explanation that life took this turn. After 10 hours in Hospital Max Peralta, the following two days of travel, uncertainty and pain, the weeks of waiting to recover, depression and despair, for all that to result in you is mind blowing. We didn't necessarily expect you, and it was certainly a surprise when we found out 3 months later that the lethargy and off-ness I experienced all through December was because you were growing in my womb. But it was the most beautiful surprise. Words cannot express how grateful I am, how incredibly lucky I feel every time I look at your face. I would do it all over again, I would push myself past the reasonable limit, give up on the dream, suffer from the agonizing pain, loneliness,and despair, to meet you. Thank you for turning one of the hardest days of my life into the most beautiful year. Thank you for teaching me that the suffering was worth it, and that there are more important things in life than bike racing. Thank you for making me a mother.

your biggest fan,