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Welcome to Nebraska
digimind
thwack
When it comes to tailgating, I'm the one who gets tense when Jamie is driving too close to the car in front of her.  Which makes it all the more ironic that as I drove the first few minutes into Nebraska, I got pulled over for following the car in front of me too closely.  I actually think the officer was looking for someone else, or at least was looking for a reason to pull over a car with out-of-state plates, thinking maybe he'd catch some fugitives or something?  Anyway, he let me go with a warning, but not before asking me to meet him behind my car to "go over my paperwork", which made me feel a little nervous and vulnerable.  Turned out to be a friendly conversation about my trip to Idaho, which itself was probably a cover for screening me for anything suspicious or incriminating.

As for what actually happened on the road, it was a 5-lane section of I-80 just as it enters Nebraska, I was in the 2nd lane from the left, as were a car in front of me and an 18-wheeler in front of it.  The left lane was totally empty.  In the left shoulder, a patrol car was parked, observing traffic.  Apparently when everyone in my lane saw that, they all gradually slowed down.  The effect of that is we all got bunched up closer to each other, and while that happened, normally I would prefer to switch lanes and maintain my momentum rather than hitting the breaks and starting a chain-reaction slow spot.  However, since the cop was there, I hesitated to do anything that might be seen as aggressive driving, so I just stayed behind the car and truck, too close for my comfort, which is what the cop saw and used that to pull me over.

Anyway, now I'm in Idaho, but there's a LOT more to write... more later...

Welcome to Wyoming, Staying Awhile?
digimind
thwack
By the way, Nebraska is a really wide state, so we were driving in that for quite a while, finally crossed into Wyoming in the evening, and kept driving until about 11pm when we checked in to the Microtel in Rawlins, which is awesome in every way except that the front desk employees were nowhere to be found, and we were in a hurry to check in.  I ended up dialing 0 from the front desk phone to find out who would answer it, and someone showed up after 4 rings, but it wasn't someone who could check us in - she had to go get someone else.  Were they off sleeping somewhere or what?  Otherwise, the hotel was great - seemed to be brand new.  I thought it was weird they had no comment cards, but I would have given them 5 stars all around except for the front desk issue.

Early next morning, we got up and headed over to the TA truck stop to fill up on gas and drinks before getting back on the road.  As I pulled toward the parking spots in front of the store, I realized I should probably get gas while Jamie goes in to get drinks, so I threw it into reverse, and that's when this trip took an entirely different tone.  My 2000 GMC Jimmy with almost 100,000 miles made a very unhappy clunk sound, followed by a whirring from somewhere in the drive train.  I didn't even give it any gas, I just tried shifting back into forward, which seemed to work, except it was still making the whirring sound.  So I pulled into the nearest parking lot as Jamie and I exchanged worried looks, and we went inside to ask for directions to the nearest mechanic.

The cashier we talked to happened to be the wife of a mechanic (small town, anyone?) and she gave us directions to his shop.  Then we found out that reverse gear doesn't actually engage, as we tried to pull out of the parking spot.  Well damn, that's definitely a transmission problem.  But what the hell?  I just got the expensive transmission service before going on this trip to try and PREVENT any such problems.  Did they mess something up?

So I put it in neutral and both of us had to push as hard as we could to get it out of the spot.  Then I put it in forward gear and it made it out of the lot ok, so we drove slowly and carefully over to the mechanic.  When we were almost there, I noticed that the engine temperature gauge was approaching the red line...  higher than I had ever seen it.  NOT good.  We managed to park it in the mechanic's lot before it got any hotter.

The mechanic looked at it while his kids Edward and Abby tried to chat with the unfortunate out-of-towners like they're some friends from school.  He found the coolant incredibly low, and added like a gallon and a half.  I guess that was the cause of the overheating, but why was it so low?  They should have topped off my fluids when I got my oil change and transmission service 2 days before.  It was also incredibly dirty, which seems to be a recurrence of a problem I had a few years ago, but was supposedly fixed.

Anyway, the mechanic didn't actually work on transmissions, so he called around town and found the only shop that does.  We paid $10 for the coolant and headed over to the other shop, knowing that the mechanic there wouldn't even be able to LOOK at our vehicle for a day or two, but what other option do we have?  We made friends with the two dogs and a cat in the shop before the mechanic/owner Terry came out.  The cat was incredibly cute when it cuddled with one of the dogs, kneading its paws into it, etc.  Anyway, Terry seemed to have way more important problems than ours to deal with, so we were waiting around a lot.  Finally he walked out with me to the car and checked it out, shifting into several gears while giving it gas with the brake on just to see which gears work, I guess.  Then he pulled out the transmission fluid dip stick and smelled it, which told the bad story.  I hadn't smelled what transmission fluid normally smells like, but this definitely smelled like burnt metal to me.

Terry's educated guess at this point was we would need to replace the entire transmission, but he wouldn't know for sure until he took things apart and gave it a proper inspection, which he couldn't do until the following day or two.  We were going to need to leave the car with him and find a rental to continue our trip.  (After all this driving, with only 2 full days planned for visiting with family in Idaho, we couldn't give that up.  Besides, to stay in Rawlins until the car is fixed we'd need to pay to stay in a hotel, whereas our accommodations in Idaho were already set.)  Well guess what, none of the big chain car rental places can deliver a rental to Rawlins.  The nearest is in Rock Springs, over an hour away.  The only place to rent a car in Rawlins is from one small car dealership, and their rates are higher than the chain places, but as we were learning to say a lot now, "what option do we have?"  Thank goodness for credit cards.

We called the rental place and asked if they could pick us up at the mechanic's shop, but were told by the guy who answered the phone that the guy he would normally send out for us isn't back from somewhere else yet, but he'd send him over when he showed up.  Well at least now we knew we could get a rental and we just needed to wait for a ride, so we got things settled with Terry so he could work on the Jimmy while we're in Idaho and, depending what he finds out, hopefully have it fixed for when we pass through Rawlins on the way home in 3 days.  I left him my cell phone number so he could keep me updated.

Meanwhile, our rental car ride still hadn't shown up, and Terry took off for lunch.  Jamie spotted a gas station a few blocks away through a field and decided to walk there to get something to drink.  A little while after she got back, our ride finally showed up.  It wasn't the guy who was supposed to pick us up though, just someone else who happened to walk in and be available.  Whatever, we were thankful to be making progress at all.

The rental car place set us up with a 2007 Ford Taurus with a tape deck and a cracked windshield.  We moved our luggage and stuff into it, signed our lives away, and were finally on our way to Idaho again, 4 hours later than we had planned.  Fortunately, in our travel plans we left only 8 hours of driving on the 3rd day (whereas the first two days had 12 hours each).  So we just arrived in Sun Valley, Idaho around 11pm like the previous two stops, but not before some excitement in Utah...

Welcome to Utah
digimind
thwack
We were driving our rental car through Utah, heading toward Idaho, when we approached a work zone on a road that was winding its way next to a river between mountains. The tanker truck in front of us slowed down more and more and then finally came to a stop when a patrol vehicle put its flashing lights on and stopped, blocking the road. After a few minutes, the trucker behind us got out and walked forward to talk to the trucker in front of us. Meanwhile, another patrol vehicle had stopped traffic in the other direction as well, leaving a clearing in the road. As the trucker walked back, I rolled down my window to ask what was going on, but before I could ask, he pointed up at the sky behind us. I stuck my head out and looked up to see a life flight helicopter approaching the scene. Keep in mind, this is a road winding between steep rock-faced cliffs. This helicopter just swooped around in front of us and landed on the road in front of the stopped patrol vehicle!



As the helicopter landed, the trucker told me what was going on.  In the river next to the road, someone had been canoeing, rolled over and hit their head on the rocks, was unconscious, and receiving CPR.  Suddenly our car problems didn't seem quite so bad!  We sat in our car hoping everything turns out ok for that person, and appreciating life.  We grew more concerned with every minute the helicopter remained on the road.  It ended up staying there for about 20 minutes.  I don't know if they put anyone inside because I couldn't see that door from my position.  I thought it would be insensitive to shoot photos of video of someone in their life-threatening situation, but since I couldn't see anybody, I wanted to have a record of this helicopter on the roadway since it was clearly going to be a memorable part of our trip.  I shot video of it taking off and flying over my head, but tha'ts on my mini-DV camera and I don't have a cable to download that to our laptop, so I won't be able to share that until I get home.

Welcome to Idaho
digimind
thwack
Driving into Idaho in our rental car was rough thanks to the incredibly uncomfortable seat murdering my back.  I had Jamie drive for a little while so I could lie back and rest my eyes a bit.  (Up until that point, I had done all the driving on the trip.)  Much of the drive is along a perfectly flat and straight road through a desert landscape between two mountains.  Puts you right to sleep.

Anyway, we were finally approaching Sun Valley, well after dark, and decided to stop at a rest stop.  While I waited in the car, the only light in the parking lot turned off (it was apparently motion-sensing because it turned on as we drove in) and when I looked up at the night sky, I saw the Milky Way.  I think that's the first time I ever saw it in person.

We arrived at the house in Sun Valley where my family was staying well after 11pm.  We were given the option of staying in a room with two twin beds and a shared bathroom, or a room at the fancy inn about a 5 min walk away.  We chose the inn.  We needed pampering at the end of that day.

So finally, yesterday we were able to relax here a little bit.  We came over to the house for some breakfast and met with all sorts of people from my mom's side of the family that I haven't seen in years (or in some cases ever).  We went out for lunch in the nearby town of Ketchum and found a place called Wrapcity, where I got a decent turkey club wrap.  We also went for a walk around the Sun Valley resort and my brother pointed out all the places I don't remember from being here as a child.  The only place I slightly remember is the outdoor ice rink where every time I skated around to where my parents were, I went toward the railing and caught myself on it.  Apparently I loved doing that.  I'm not sure if I remember that directly from experience or only from home movies I've seen of it.

In the evening, there was a free symphony orchestra performance in the nearby outdoor pavilion with lawn seating.  Apparently the orchestra is formed by inviting the first-chair players from orchestras all over the country, including two from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.  They played Ode to Joy (the whole thing, I think), and it was most impressive.  I was also impressed with the pavilion's acoustics and sound engineering.  For the grass seating, they had a complex array of speakers up on poles facing both forward and back, so that no matter where you're sitting, it sounds like you're in the center of an auditorium.  But it's not totally fake-sounding, because you can still hear the direct sound from the stage as well.  Very well-done.