My original plan was to hike to Iceberg Lake on my last day in Glacier National Park. The weather forecast predicts an ideal day for it. But it’s Friday with the weekend closing in, so I think instead the more “responsible” thing to do is to get the little Tracker in for a diagnosis.
There is only one mechanic in a 50 mile radius from Many Glacier, and that is “Randy,” who works out of his garage in Babb, Montana, 20 miles from the Canadian border. I could tow it on in to Browning, Montana, 50 miles away, but that town creeps me out, especially after the warnings I have received. I don’t want to spend any more time there than the night already spent in the Casino parking lot. So I decide to give Randy a call. He is not home, so I drive on over to his house, which has about 20 cats crawling all over it. I sit outside and wait. At least now I have a Verizon signal, so I can begin to do some research while I wait. Where is NPR’s “Click and Clack” when I need them?
Randy comes home driving a faded red, almost pink car that must be 40 years old with the hood tied down with coat hanger. He opens the Tracker’s hood, which is a good sign, considering I have had mechanics in the past who can’t even find the latch. He tries to start it, tinkers around a bit, stares at the engine, backs up, and stares some more. Then with hands on hips, he proclaims what everyone else has said when they saw the steam blowing out the tail pipe, “Cracked block. That’s all she wrote. Mighta saved it if you’d only called me sooner.” I can all but hear the death march playing in my head. That’s all I needed to hear, that the death knell for my beloved Tracker may have been rung at my own hand.
At this point, I am feeling a bit stunned and gutted. A million thoughts are running through my head. Even if I could bear to dispose of my little Bratty Tracker, how would I go about doing so? Do I even know where the title is? Back in Texas in my storage shed? And as any full-timer knows, the “toad” becomes a mobile storage unit. What would I do with all the stuff stored in it? My kayak, my bike, my ice chest, my BBQ supplies? No room for any of that in the Winnie.
I am sure Great Falls has some redeeming qualities, but I will forever remember the image from the Walmart parking lot. It is directly across the highway from a massive oil refinery. The air reeks of putrid smells, and the night sky takes on a day-glow orange light. This is one lot that allows “extended stay,” and there are rigs that have been there so long, they are up on blocks. The dead weight I am towing behind me makes me think I should fit right in.
I can’t think clearly, but I do know one thing….time is of the essence. When towing with a 4WD, the engine must be started every 200 miles to lubricate the transmission. I am now down about 50 miles, with the inability to start the engine, and it is Friday afternoon. No offense to Randy and his House of Twenty Cats, but I need to get to a larger city with greater access to mechanic shops to weigh my options. So I head for Great Falls, Montana.
I spend all day and night here in the shadow of the refinery in what feels like a movie script of hell, never stepping out of the rig. I do constant research, checking Craig’s list and car sales websites looking for a replacement “toad.” Emailing back home, I ask my family to search my storage shed for the car title. As a full timer, I guess it should have occurred to me that paperwork such as this should travel with me, but I always worried about an on board fire.
I write to friends and family for advice, while just generally feeling sorry for myself. One dear friend responds with “Call me.” I write back, “I can’t. I will start crying, and I might not be able to stop.” I stare out the back window at the “hearse” I am pulling behind me, the oil refinery and the broken down rigs lining the perimeter of the parking lot as a back-drop, trying to figure out how I could have fallen from the heaven of Many Glacier to the hell of Great Falls in just one day…