We started the drive home with relief that we weren't taking a rental or UHaul back. We cruised past Pine Valley with a full tank of gas and made our way back through the desert. We planned to stop halfway again, and the GPS was taking us a new route.
It took us through the Tonto National Forest, and it was spectacular. Rows upon rows of cacti defined themselves in front of steep desert landforms, and the desert went from the dirty flats to big mountains. The car cruised up and over each mountain pass on the way back and slowly rebuilt a confusion of confidence.
The night caught up with us, as we were about an hour from the $40 motel we booked on Expedia. The stars were prevalent across the dark sky. We talked about bringing the van back in the summer for a camping trip out in the desert to stargaze.
We made our way to the front desk of the $40 motel, and boy was it a $40 motel. No complaints whatsoever, only stories. The guy at the front desk was a hoot, and welcomed us with his quirky jokes and desk clatter. He said the town had a famous historical feature known as the "Bucket of Blood" where an old western shootout took place.
We ordered a pizza and called it a night.
The next day held a few surprises. Surprise #1 was a drive through The Petrified National Forest. Olin got another stamp in her National Park Passport. We learned that the wood was more like stone, as millions of years of river water had flown through the down logs depositing minerals on the way out.
We enjoyed walking through the interpretive center and learning about the history of the park. We took a walk along the path outside, and Olin climbed the staircase all by herself. She stood on top of the stairs looking down with a content smile. We made a stop at the Painted Rocks and drove over old Route 66. Unplanned stops are always the best, unless they are on the side of the road and you're not stopped by choice.
After The Petrified Forest, the car chugged all the way to Santa Fe before we met surprise # 2.
Smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe and from under the engine. The temp gauge read smokin' hot. Collin walked a couple miles to the nearest gas station to get Coolant and came back looking mighty glum.
The car had made it 13 out of 15 hours almost home, and now that feeling of uneasiness returned as we uneasily shifted to the nearest AutoZone. Back in survival mode, Collin said he was "Never leaving home" once we figured out how to get back. I looked into tow options, UHaul trucks, and even posted the Subie up for sale at worst case scenario. We found a Subaru mechanic near the auto shop, and he said to come on by for a quote. He suspected there was more wrong than he could see, so we booked another night in the motel to make a plan. And meanwhile, the budget was dwindling.
After skimming a few options, we tried to rent a UHaul trailer. They would not rent them for one way use, so we toyed with the idea of seeing the mechanic again and knew we couldn't afford id. We got up in the morning, stress-ate a big continental breakfast, and Collin said, "F-it, let's see if it'll make it home."
And two hours later, we pulled into the driveway. Now to see if it really is the (dun dun dun) infamous blown head gasket.
Dogs & Diapers