Life Beside the Fast Lane on Friday the 13th.

My intended route.

So those of you who own older RVs or any vehicle that might have over 100K miles on it, think about your fuel pump. I did, but only as an afterthought.

Consider this, you’re driving on an expressway. Like so many expressways these days there is construction on it. The traffic which normally flows on twin two-lane roads separated by a median, is often routed to form two lanes opposing each other on one side of the divided highway. Double the traffic runs on half the road.  A concrete reinforced median wall separates the traffic streams. In its best design, each side of this throbbing artery of traffic has fully one lane and almost a whole shoulder. In some  stretches there is no shoulder at all. Drivers pray for the shoulder and appreciate it when it comes.It represents a small measure of safety.

Actually taken in Marquette, Michigan, this pic tells the tale, sets the stage, and to many invokes fear and loathing.

Between the opposing directions of traffic, is the standard iron reinforced concrete barrier. There is a yellow line six or eight inches inward, toward the center of the lane.  The right side of the traffic lane has a yellow “do not cross” line. Six or seven feet from that another concrete construction wall sits stoically waiting for trouble.

So there is no room for mistakes or mishaps or inattention.

Or a blown fuel pump.

When a fuel pump fails and you are traveling at 80 KPH (in Canada)  or 50 MPH (in the U.S.) there is no sudden jerk to push you into the barrier. There is no adrenaline boosting “POW!” or “BAM!”  Instead there is just the comparatively gradual realization that you are slowing down. No matter how hard, or far, or fast you pump the accelerator you are irrevocably slowing down.

😮On the fright scale of 1 to 10, this is momentarily a 4 or 5. The engine stalled and needs restarting—no biggie—let’s just restart it and figure out why later. Put it in neutral, and start it while still rolling. Huh, one try, no luck. Put on the emergency flashers. Start steering toward the right. Keep clear of the median construction wall. Try restarting again.

Showing the preferred implementation of combining traffic—barrier on the left and open shoulder on the right—which cannot always be used in actual construction.

Slow realization, this gripping fear that you are powerless is a fear far greater than the sudden shock of a blow out. When the tire pops, you may or may not hear it, but you feel it and you instantly react to the pull of the wheel or the careening rush of your crippled five ton rocket speeding out of control. You don’t think, you just react—with your super-strong adrenaline-amped reflexes. Years of driving guides your strength, moderates your movements and you pull through. The fear comes later, after it is over.

But when your engine dies in motion, your car just refuses to respond.  On a lane exactly wide enough for two vehicles (if both drivers are aware of the need to squeeze and have the skill to do it,) the death potential dawns on you slower. You have enough time to react and handle it. But you are powerless. Your van won’t respond. It steers hard, it brakes hard, and it seems to expand in width enough to fill three lanes of traffic…not just the one and a half you really have to share with whatever is bearing down on you at breakneck speed.

When it was safe I got out of the van and “finger measured” how close I had come to the barrier–two fingers–

And the people behind you are caught by surprise too, although they have options you don’t.

And you pray as you look in the left side view mirror. You pray to your God that the big rig trucks, the smaller work trucks, the rented moving vans, the Oversized Class A RV’s driven by Senior-Citizens, and hundreds of cars, will have the awareness to see you and the skill to avoid you.

Slowing down is inevitable. The fuel pump supplies no fuel to the engine, now it only pushes adrenaline to an already thrumming body. Getting over to the side as far as possible was paramount. Your van has exactly two inches to spare between itself and the barrier on your right side and yellow line your left.

But years of driving practice have paid off and you are over to the side and out of traffic…technically at least.

Two mirrors give you a good view of your life possibly passing before your eyes.

Trucks, buses, cars, vans, and semi’s continue their unceasing parade in your side view mirror. Each grows too quickly from Too-Large to Murderously Monstrous, yet miraculously disappears in a roar of wind, swaying and fumes only to have another appear to take its place. Non-stop. Explosion after explosion of gale force wind rocks your van and thunders through your chest. These vehicles don’t slow at the sight of your emergency flashers; they seem to speed up as they realize they can squeeze past. This fear, this constant explosive threat to your existence is more than you can face. It is deep into your chest and stomach and joints and head. And you are powerless.

Until you aren’t.

The crazy people passing you at high speed don’t want to kill themselves or you. They are taken by surprise perhaps, wary of their own driving skill, probably, but they aren’t trying to hurt themselves. The noise and the rocking and the fear continues within you until you push down the fear. That is the part you control. That is your decision. That is your salvation and that is your strength.

The 911 Call in Canada is a mechanized speech which is repeated over and over, in five different languages while you wait.  “Stay on the line you are connected to 911”– in French, in Farsi, in German, in Spanish, and again in English. For agonizing minutes this drones on until an operator can get to you and while your bladder trembles and your guts tighten.

But you hang on. You fight temptation and don’t hang up and try again. Finally, an operator asks if you are safe, if you want medical, police, or mechanical help. Your story as it has happened so far spills out of your mouth like so much vomit and finally she decides you want the police.

Another wait, though this time only a few very long seconds. The traffic seems to have sped up even more and your mind skids and your heart with it.

A man comes on the line. Calmly,  the police officer asks if you are safe. You are, but you don’t know for how long before one of the maniacal heathen drivers behind you slips and you are  a ball of flame. He tells you to STAY IN THE VAN, exactly where you are. He continues to tell you your phone number and he looks briefly somewhere and tells you your name. Your cell phone emergency location system has pinpointed you to within five feet, and he and his band of saviors will help you. He asks if you’ve called for a tow and you have.

You breathe.

Explosions of wind pummel your van, but you breath. And listen. And slowly, his calm cultivates your own and you listen and breathe and get mindful of the situation.  And together you make a plan. Or rather you tell him what you have accomplished so far—which was actually considerable.

You’ve called your emergency number for roadside service to discover that your account does not cover anything and even if you do give the insurance clerk a credit card number, all she will do for the money is call for help. But you’re doing that. You scream at her that you will probably be dead before she gets all the information and credit card entered, and hang up on the unhelpful minion of the almighty dollar. Explosion after explosion of wind has stoked you beyond any state where you could be helpful. Your own cursing and vulgarity slap back into your face and down to your soul.

You had only yourself. You had to be yourself. You had to get this done.

You’ve tried, God above knows you’ve tried, but relentless explosions of wind and rocking continued. You Googled your own location. You Googled towing services nearby. Explosions of wind and rocking and noise pummeled you steadily. You’ve spoken with one service who informed you that his five trucks were all out on a monstrous accident on the 401 and it would have been tomorrow, or late that night at the earliest before he could have helped.

Continuous wind explosions threatened your courage, but you remained within yourself, not within the fear. You thanked him and he gave you another tow service to call. This one had more trucks on the road. You’ve called them and they promised their help. You’ve told them where you thought you were located and asked them if you should have called 911. Yes, that would have been a good idea they responded. And so you did.

One of the two men in blue who answered the dispatcher's call. “Professional, calm and reassuring” are the best description of these two of Ontario's Provincial Police. Thank you Gentlemen.

The Ontario Provincial Police arrive and park behind you blocking traffic. This makes space for an officer to assess your condition and take your papers. Within seconds he has returned to his vehicle. He pulls behind you, completely off the road to allow traffic to flow. Their brightest flashers of red and blue maintain the attention of the oncoming drivers hundreds of meters away and you know that they know something dangerous is here.

Police vehicles trigger a universal primeval instinct for survival.

The traffic slows.

You breathe, this time remembering to exhale.

“Betsy” being hauled up onto a flatbed tow truck. You can really see the close confines of a construction lane.

The van, a Chevy, was pulled up onto the flatbed by Kevin, the driver and for the next 90 minutes, your very best friend. You pulled away from the scene followed by a long line of drivers who must have been relieved that at least they are moving. That, and that they didn’t have to try to squeeze past a tow truck, a police car, and a disabled Class B Campervan. Their combined relief could never match your own.

So how did I get in this spot and what happened?

I had taken Betsy, our Roadtrek Popular 210 to the Kitchener Ontario factory for some body repair, a propane tank and a new filler tube upgrade. Getting to and from Kitchener is about three and a half hours from home. Rhonda had planned to come with, but instead elected to stay home with our granddaughters to finish the last day of “Gramma Camp” with them.

Hence my solo trip.

And hence was lost my need to be brave for another person, to be tough, to buck up under pressure, and to “just lead, dammit.”

You never realize how big a person you are until you have to become one for the people you love.

As to the solution to the fuel pump problem; Betsy sits at this moment at Custom Truck and Auto Repair in London, Ontario, awaiting “surgery” on Monday morning. It has been determined that the fuel pump is indeed not functional. This is good, because Monday is NOT a Friday the Thirteenth. On Monday morning, we intend to drive to my son's house and be driven to Detroit and be dropped off at the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, to take a bus from Windsor to London, to pick up Betsy in the afternoon. Rhonda insists on joining me in this adventure, as she vows to never leave me alone like that again. I am thankful she did not experience it.

So, final words of advice?

  1. Breathe, both in and out.
  2. Buy gas from a reputable name brand station.
  3. Keep the tank above one quarter tank–ALWAYS–this tends to leave whatever dirt there is in the tank resting at the tank bottom, as running out of gas and draining the tank “dry” will suck dirt and whatever else is in the tank into the pump and/or the engine
    (I follow this rule, but I am the fourth owner of our beloved Betsy, and who knows what owners 1,2, and 3 did or did not do?)
  4. When you have work done on your gas tank, have the service guys check out the fuel pump for signs of wear and crud gummed up inside it. If there are over 100,000 miles on the vehicle and you are having the tank drained and dropped anyway, have them put in a new fuel pump. (I know this is extra, and perhaps unneeded, expense but then so are Car, Home and Life Insurance.)
  5. Practice driving and parking your van in tight spaces. Learn how big it is and how close you can get it to objects. This will give you the confidence you need at unexpected times.
  6. And most importantly, despite harrowing experiences, when you get bucked of the bronco, get back on and show it who’s boss. We enjoy trekingourway and will do so as long as we are safely able. (I am personally waiting for the development of a completely self driving Roadtrek to get me where I want to go once I can’t do it myself!)
  7. Lastly, and firstly, give thanks to God who provides you with courage when you need it, angels when you meet them, and the appreciation of life to see the good wherever it is.

 

 





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