Monday, January 17, 2011

On Cars and Fate

As some of you know, we love being in Nature. In the winter this tends to mean a trip to the mountains to ride some powder. At only four hours away, Pagosa Springs, Colorado is a favorite destination--Wolf Creek, the nearby ski resort has some of the best snow conditions and Pagosa has natural mineral hot springs, a gift anytime, but especially after skiing all day.

A few weeks ago a storm came through and left about 3 feet of snow in its wake. It also dropped the temperatures to well below zero at night. We recently outfitted our Subaru wagon with curtains so we could camp up there to save money on lodging and for the adventure. With temperatures so low, however, we decided to rent a "camper cabin" that we were assured had adequate heat and insulation. At $25, it was a steal. This cabin was located in an RV park and at around 10'x7' was definitely cozy. Furnished with a queen-sized bed, table, 2 chairs, a lamp and a space heater it really was ideal, with one exception: the provided heater was inadequate and the gap around the door was such that we could see outside. We had been told the heater had been running for a few hours yet the room was still frigid.

Luckily, we had anticipated this. We plugged in our own space heater and layered the bed with a quilt and a down comforter. With our first layer ski gear and our beanies on, we snuggled in for a cold night. And, it was cold! Under the blankets was warm enough but when it came time to wake up, we scurried to get everything packed and warm up the car. Rolling  through town around 8 o'clock, the bank thermometer read -11! Whoa. In our little shack, even with the heater going, it was probably around freezing. The car was also smoking in an unsettling way. Having never driven it in such arctic temps we wondered if we really wanted to go to the mountain where temperatures would be even lower.

After hot tea and a breakfast burrito at the Pagosa Springs Baking Co., we decided no, we were not up for the cold and we surmised that the snow would already be tracked out. This was probably the smartest decision we've made in a long time. After a brief soak in the hot mineral bath and a car fluid check we began our trip home. There are 2 routes to choose from, one goes through the Jicarilla Apache reservation in Dulce, NM and the other goes past Chama, NM. The Dulce route is our preferred way because then we don't have to deal with traffic near Espanola, NM. The Chama route, however, takes us by our friend Ron's place north of Espanola. We hadn't seen Ron in a month or so and thought we'd swing by and pay him a visit. Chama route it was.

Mom, if you are reading this, you may want to skip the next paragraph. 

The car was no longer visibly smoking and we were cruising along the snowy highway without any problems. Our little Subaru was doing great. About 3 miles outside of Chama, on an icy/snowy straightaway we heard a sound like we had run over some debris in the road. Only, there wasn't any debris. The wheels locked up, the engine shut down, and we began to slow down and skid along the highway. No one was in front or behind us, which was very fortunate. The rear of the car began to come around and we turned 180 degrees, facing from where we had come. This all happened as if in slow motion. We skidded backwards down the road for a bit then gently came to rest in a snowbank left behind by the plows. We were unhurt, the airbags didn't need to be deployed, but we were stuck. A quick look under the car seemed to indicate that we lost all of the transmission fluid. We realized that having this happen here, close to a town and without any other cars affected was truly lucky. What if we had been on the mountain pass? Or on the interstate? It turns out it was a good day not to ski.

Ok, mom, you can start again from here.

Luckily we had cell phone reception so I called for roadside assistance. Lane spoke to the passers-by that offered to help but not much could really be done at this point. We just needed to find a place for our car and to get us back to Albuquerque, 165 miles away. The closest roadside assistance was in Pagosa Springs, an hour north and not an ideal spot to leave our car. The tow truck operator didn't know of anywhere in Chama where we could have the car towed. That's when Teddy showed up.

Driving a 1961 Studebaker sedan, Teddy pulled up alongside our car, against traffic, with his basset hound Louie the Louse panting out the open window. He said he lived around here and wondered if we needed help. Lane told him our predicament and Teddy let us know he knew some folks in town that could help. We hopped in and headed towards Chama. On these icy roads Teddy maneuvered the Studebaker beautifully, using his "ABS brakes" (aka his pumping foot) to come to a stop in a local autoyard. While I waited in the car with a very unhappy, whining Louie, Teddy and Lane went in search of Bobby who might be willing to give us a tow and store the car at his lot until we could come and get it. Bobby was willing to do the tow, for nominal cash, but couldn't store the car. Not to worry, Teddy had an idea!

He tried to sweet talk the local grocery store manager into letting us keep the car in the parking lot for the week. No luck. Then, he said, "let's go to Fina's." Fina's is a local cafe/diner that Teddy frequents at least once a day. Fina enthusiastically agreed to help her regular customer and his new "friends." Bobby towed the car to Fina's and, after much effort, got the car into the lot. All four wheels were locked up and, even at a 45 degree angle on the flatbed, the car wouldn't budge. Bobby used his hydraulic skills to slowly slide the car off. There it would remain for the next 5 days. We exchanged numbers with Teddy and he said he would keep an eye on the car until we could get back up there. Off he went in his Studebaker, back to his house and his two other basset hounds, one of which was having an eye removed the next day.

Fina's was now closed, but the place across the street was open and we had a hearty lunch of New Mexican cuisine and waited for Ron to make the trip up from his place to pick us up. At more than an hour away, it was so great of him to rescue us but the day was not over yet. Once we arrived at Ron's we borrowed one of his vehicles and drove back to Albuquerque. Back at home we picked up our other Subaru, had a quick dinner, and caravanned back to Ron's to return his car. Then we did the last trip south to Albuquerque for the day. What ordinarily would have been a 4 hour trip, turned into a 12 hour ordeal but we were graced with the kindness of strangers, a good friend and a loyal basset hound.

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