Almost Home

We had the most wonderful vacation ever. Every single thing that we did was fun. There was constant laughter and few tears.

Until the drive home.

The first time.

We packed up our trailer, the 2 dogs, and all the kids and headed out into the Great Smokey Mountains. Although it's a scenic route to get home, it's not all that much longer than going on the regular highway.

We got about 3 miles into the mountain, steadily climbing the mountain roads. All of a sudden, our transmission stopped shifting. Completely stopped. The car slowed to a crawl, and eventually started slipping backwards! Traffic backed up behind us, but there was nothing we could do. To complicate matters, our cell phones weren't getting reception in the mountains. I was worried that we would have to wait there for hours until the park police showed up. Fortunately, a kind man in a pickup truck offered to chain our van (with trailer attached) to his truck and drag us into a road side pull off.

With that taken care of, we still didn't have a way to call for help. Waiting for the park police could take hours. We decided to unhook and abandon the trailer and coast down the hill. It was only 3 or 4 miles to the visiter center.

Once at the visitor center, we enlisted the help of the park police and park service staff. We managed to find a tow truck (on a Sunday afternoon) and a car mechanic in nearby Pigeon Forge.

The auto shop was like something from a movie. There were broken down cars everywhere, and car related debris spread out over the landscape. There was nothing but gravel and weeds to be seen for miles and miles. The mechanics were more than a little rough around the edges, and the other customers looked like they had walked across a desert and had spent the night there.

I wasn't feeling too hopeful.

Fortunately, the garage had a van that we could rent until ours was fixed.

It took us a while, but we managed to find a hotel that would fit all of us and allow pets.

We continued to enjoy our vacation as much as we could - taking the kids on hikes, going swimming in the hotel pool, etc.

3 days later, we were ready to pick up our car. They had rebuilt the transmission, and it was ready to go. $3,600. That's all I'm saying about that. The mechanic said that they had driven it around town, and it appeared to be completely fixed.

Once again, we all piled into the van (this time, sans trailer). Everyone was in good spirits, and we were confident we'd make it home by dinner time.

We tried not to be too alarmed when the "check engine" light came on after about 1 hour of driving. After all, it's an old van, and that light is on more often than the headlights are.

When we stopped for lunch, the car seemed to be idling hard. Again, we weren't too concerned. We know that the van isn't in the best of shape.

We were concerned, however, when we were almost halfway home and the van stopped shifting. Again.

We had to pull over on the side of the road. Everyone piled out of the car, but was limited to a very small patch of grass that was protected by the van. Ginormous trucks sped by.

Upon checking the transmission fluid, it was completely empty. There was fluid splattered all over the inside of the engine.

Fortunately, the transmission was under warranty. The folks at the garage agreed to bring us a rental van and tow our van back to Tennessee to be fixed. The bad news is that it would take at least 4 hours for them to get there.

4 hours on the side of the road can be fun. Or not. I chose to make it fun, and spent the time playing games with the kids. They were troopers. Everyone was happy and had fun until about the last hour of waiting. I was very impressed. It's not easy sitting on the side of the road, using the weeds as a bathroom, and being confined to a very small patch of grass. We were very lucky that the weather was mild that day (only in the mid 80's), and that the van shaded the small patch of grass.

I learned something about the kindness of strangers, and I promised myself that if I ever saw a family stranded on the side of the road that I would stop to help.

We had people stop to ask us if we need anything, to give us snacks and water, and to bring us a cooler full of ice. It was heartwarming.

At about 9pm, the tow truck arrived. We dragged all of our stuff out of our van and once again piled into the rental van.

It was after midnight when we got home.

A few days later, the garage called to say that they could find nothing wrong with the van, and that they would be bringing it to us in Raleigh the next day.

It was a little surprising that they could find NOTHING wrong. After all, it is unmistakable when your transmission isn't working properly.

As the mechanic was driving our van back to Raleigh, the transmission gave out on him. So, it was back to Tennessee with our van, once again. Fortunately, we didn't have to go with it this time.

We got our van back 2 weeks later.

What an adventure!


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