What Happened?

Apologies to the REI folks who shared time with me on our adventure in Olympic National Park. I know most of you wanted to read about my input through my blog.

Since we parted, however a significant event occurred that has shaken me and I feel it best to just cut to the chase for all who know “something” happened.

With that said, I will wrap up the weeks since leaving Canada briefly.

REI Base Camp Adventure was outstanding. All the participants were wonderful people. We visited the beach, walked though forests, including the Hoh Rain Forest, hiked on Hurricane Ridge, shared incredible meals and great conversations. The tables, set up nicely for meals was a pretty and homey touch. It was all very much appreciated and I thank all who helped take care of me, even before I knew what would happen within a week after our trip.

I did visit Cape Flattery, the furtherest NW corner of the US.

Driving down the Pacific coast, hugging it as closely as possible, spent time on Rialto and Ruby Beaches, as well as in Newport, OR and a few along California’s coast. It was foggy many times which limited visibility to the ocean, but even then I was able to walk a mist covered beach early one morning for one magical experience, including see a multitude of see life in the tide pools.

Now, along the drive, my 2019 Toyota 4 Runner had reached time for its 5000 mile maintenance. This I had anticipated and called ahead to a Toyota dealership in Eureka, CA to have the vehicle serviced. Having arrived there early, they turned it around in about an hour, which got me back on the road just after 9 a.m. 

After leaving Eureka, I eventually took Hwy. 1 in California which practically hugs the coast, but also travels through thick old growth forests, around, up and down steep inclines, twisting and turning right next to ocean cliffs. Many, many, many sharp turns, switchbacks, downgrades and upgrades included.

Reaching Bodega Bay, it was time to head inland where I originally had planned to take the highways down through the San Joaquin Valley, Merced, Bakersfield, etc. However, as I am often known to do, I changed my mind opting instead to take the high road - across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Having thought, by my 4Runner’s navigation system that I was actually going up the Tioga Pass through Yosemite, either I or the navigation altered the route taking the route over the northern end of the mountains. This actually was ok with me, as the other route would have been even steeper and have taken much more time with countless steep grades, up and down, switchbacks and so on.

The route I took was pleasant as I drove through vineyards, then dry grasslands before climbing the foothills of the mountains. Around Pioneer, half way up the now steeper grades, I had stopped for lunch afterwhich I started hearing a sort of thumping as I drove along. The sound may have begun a bit earlier before getting into the higher elevations, but that is about where it became noticeable to me. Thinking at first that it was the road construction that caused the sound I thought little of it. Upon stopping, several times, I looked at my tires, particularly the rear ones, as that seemed to be the origin of the sound. I did worry that maybe the dealership had not done something, as they were the last to touch my car. Yet no low tire pressure indicator was activated, no check engine light lit up, and I could not find a high spot or bulge on the tires which just might be causing the sound.

I continued on up the mountains, around sharp curves, too many times to count, taking even sharper turns in switchbacks, around corners without barriers or guard rails to endless drop offs from cliffs. At times, with more gradual curves, driving at the posted 55 or 60 mph was effortless. So with mountainsides and cliffs all along the way I proceeded. Coming down to less steep roads, it began to rain and the traffic had picked up substantially. One inconsiderate motor home driver, instead of allowing others to pass in passing zones, increased his speed, causing all who tried to get around him to speed up to at least 75. This happened when it started to rain, which only increased concern with all that splash back and higher speeds on wet pavement. A few road constrution areas slowed everyone down and it was then slow going - until we passed through the construction zones. At that point motor home maniac took off like a witch with her broom on fire. Good riddance. By then we were out of all the curves, ups an downs and away from those treacherous cliffs and mountain sides.

I stopped along the way to book a room in Bishop a few hours south on Hwy 395. 

The thumping had not stopped, but had not gotten any worse either, and still I could not identify any visible problem with the wheels. From Bishop I planned to be home is about 2 more days with a drive through Death Valley along the way.

Funny thing, upon waking in Bishop the next morning,  Friday, September 6, I got to thinking about Death Valley, then the scripture about “yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me…” started running through my head. Just to clarify, I am not religious in the biblical sense, but much more a spiritual being. From past experiences, I know I have guardian angels who have protected me throughout my life. I am thankful for that presence in my life and regularly say thanks for the protection and blessings in my life. The ‘valley of death’ thought was nothing more than my mind making connections with similarities: Death Valley / valley of death. I chuckled at myself.

Or was it?

Back on the road after breakfast I headed for Lone Pine where Hwy 136 would take me toward and through Death Valley. Even with ¾ tank of fuel, I thought it best to top off the tank, since my route through DV would not be a place to run out.

18 miles down the road at Lone Pine I exited Hwy 395 and headed toward Death Valley.

With no warning not more than a mile and half down the road, the 4 Runner did a little shimmy and sway, and down it went as I steered directly to the side of the road. Somewhat startled and confused, I pretty much had an idea of what just happened as the left rear tire came speeding past me, across the two lane road, down, through and over a shallow ditch only to be stopped by a barbed wire fence. 

And me, watching this play out in slow motion, not believing what I saw, yet fully understanding, while connecting all the dots. In a heartbeat, all understanding of what had been about to happen for nearly 24 hours became crystal clear to me.
Within seconds this clarity also brought with it the knowledge that I had been spared a much worse outcome if that tire had set itself free the day before. As you are reading this, you too most likely know from my descriptions of where I had driven the days before, since Eureka, what a disaster I had escaped. 

As many who know of my past mishaps driving my 1934 Pontiac across country and otherwise, roadside breakdowns are practically a common occurrence with me. This alone did not have me tied up in knots, though I did have several moments of confusion about what to do, as I started to walk back to Lone Pine, still clearly in view. But then, remembering my AAA membership, I made the call. A very, very bad connection had me shouting into the phone to be heard and understood. The shouting I had to do only angered me, but I also knew the person on the end of the line was doing her best to get the pertinent information from me so that I could be rescued. I calmed myself down and just shouted information. Ultimately, another, local operator called and finalized my location so that a flatbed in the town behind me, Lone Pine could come to my aid.

As I waited, I looked around and felt blessed to be where I was with the majestic mountains as a backdrop. That helped calm me and keep me in peace.

Lone Pine & Mtns 2019-09-06 09.42.46

In about 45 minutes Oracio arrived, expressed his disbelief in what he saw and also immediately drew the same conclusion that all since have expressed.

“Someone is looking out for you”

“You are lucky”

“You could have been killed” Yes, that was, and is, abundantly clear to me. 

As I awaited the AAA rescue, I thought about my thinking ‘valley of death’ and the ramifications of that. Had I had a premonition? I cannot say for certain but dropping to my knees was. 

Then and there I recited my prayer “thank you for watching over me, for protecting me, for guiding me, and thank you for ALL the blessings in my life. Thank you for my family and friends, for all the beauty that surrounds me and for my being ABLE to see and appreciate it. I pray for peace in our world, leaders who work to bring diversity and understanding not division and hate. Help me to be more patient with others and with myself. Amen

Through all this, it was also clear understanding that the dealership tech in Eureka had not tightened the lug nuts sufficiently, which is what eventually caused the sound I had been hearing and the almost tragic outcome. Less that a day before I realized that I very well could have been over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean or down a mountainside cliff. As I write  this, I begin feeling overcome with emotion about what could have been, tears well up in my eyes and I want to sob. 

Loading the vehicle was a bit of a challenge, but Oracio had the tools and equipment to get it done in about a half hour. From there we drove to Ridgecrest, CA about 80 miles south where there is a Toyota dealership. On the way there I called ahead to give them a heads up. 

Upon arrival they were expecting us and quickly went into action, first removing the 4Runner without the wheel from the flatbed. All the mechanics who had come out and seen the vehicle said nearly the same things including ‘you could have been killed’ as they found I had crossed over the mountains the day before.

The service manager Paul Saavedra took the reins and expedited what needed to be done. One of the first things he did was to call the Eureka Toyota Dealer,  and spoke with the general manager, Jeremy. Sending photos of the damage, that manager quickly confirmed that the tech in Eureka had not done a thourough job. Paul arranged a rental car for me and gave me several suggestions for hotels. Jeremy called me in minutes and expressed his regrets about what had happened and agreed to cover all the costs until this dealership could get me and the 4Runner back on the road. He also informed me that they immediately fired the tech who worked on my Toyota. That is unfortunate, but also a reasonable outcome for that person.

The unfortunate thing, however, was that here, in Ridgecrest, they had to order parts which would take until Tuesday, which is today if I get this sent out before I go to bed.

Sitting in Paul’s office was the first time I nearly broke down, as he called Eureka and expressed what a tragedy could have resulted from negligence. Fully aware of that fact from the beginning, it was hearing someone say the words that I could have died that it struck me to the core.

This is about as far as I can take this for now.

I have been staying in a motel here and though I have a rental I’ve been walking up to Denny’s or nearby restaurants, writing my blog stories, while yesterday driving out to Death Valley where I had lunch at Stovepipe Wells. Paul gave me suggestions about things to do also. A 90+ mile drive to the other side of the mountains would have taken me into the tall sequoias, but I had already been through that area several years ago. 

Today I drove to the Toyota dealership to visit my 4Runner where they had reattached the tire to the few good studs so that they could move it into the shop. It was enough to move it and that is all. The mechanic showed me what I’ve already seen but with explanations of what needed to be done. Hopefully the parts will arrive from LA in the morning. They believe they can make the repairs pretty quickly. If so, I might be able to resume this trip later tomorrow. If it is too late in the afternoon I will wait until Wednesday to leave.

My guardian angels, and I do mean angels, plural, are really put to the test when I run into trouble. From protecting me from  sailing off a cliff or into a huge Douglas Fir, rolling the vehicle to making sure no other vehicles were in harms way, even making sure that no traffic was coming in the opposite lane, diverting that wayward tire carefully off the road not hitting oncoming traffic, it takes a team to keep up with me.

Today I am better than last Friday and will feel more so as the shock fades away. Knowing what a close call this was, however, will stay with me. I am thankful for the love and support I receive.

I am blessed.


Loose tire in the desert IMG_1863-2 copy





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