Tag Archives: What Roses?

Real Flat

Mark drove though all of Iowa. This is not an exaggeration. Iowa is a long state, and this was probably the longest stretch any of us did without swapping drivers. Shortly after we set off, we saw a pair of hitchers on the side of an on ramp. Apparently Iowa is a state that allows pedestrians on the side of the highway. We pulled over and Hank and Jimmy, who introduced themselves as brothers, came on board. They were headed for Des Moines, and eventually towards Minnesota. They hitch around everywhere, and Hank claimed to have been to every state but Hawaii. They were both incredibly good company, and made a good way to start off the day. Not long after we got them, another hitcher was walking towards a rest area, so of course we pulled over and he came on board too. Dave, a musician who busks at rest areas, joined us on our trip to Des Moines. They all said it was hard to get a ride in Iowa – no one stops. Hank and Jimmy had been stuck there for a few days. Dave seemed to be moving along at a good pace, on his way to NYC for his niece’s wedding. Our company stayed on until Des Moines, where we parted ways. We didn’t take any pictures while they were on, but Hank and Jimmy signed the bus and left their sign, so Mark did his best to recreate the scene.


Looking ahead on the map, we kept picking further and further cities as our destination for the day. Eventually we settled on Youngstown, OH, as the place we would spend the night. That would put us right at the Pennsylvania border, and we figured we would be able to make it home the next day. Iowa’s landscape is much like that of Nebraska – there were no mountains or hills, but it wasn’t completely flat either. The rolling hills weren’t enough to even slightly tax the bus, and we realized that our foreseeable mechanical worries were probably over.

Out of Iowa, into Illinois. Illinois is real flat. Not even any rolling hills to contend with. I was so used to driving on hills that it took me a while to adjust and understand that the road I was on was not uphill, but flat. I must have driven for 50 miles before I figured that out. Truth be told, there was not much remarkable in Illinois. Or Indiana for that matter. We stopped in South Bend for dinner.


Then onward towards Youngstown! We pulled in very early in the morning, and passed out.

Conquering the Rockies

We spent the night in Park City, UT, where part of the 2002 Winter Olympics were held. From where we slept we could see the ski jump. Everything in Park City seemed just a little classier than it should be. There were fancy faucets and a fireplace in the McDonalds, the facade for the Walmart was actually attractive, and matched the surrounding buildings. If you didn’t know better, many of these massive corporations could have been mistaken for local stores. Maybe it was all of the people and money that poured into Park City during the Olympics that raised the bar for these stores, or maybe it was the view of the mountains ringing the city that could be seen from anywhere in town. When nature sets the bar so high, you can’t help but try and compete. Just as an example, this was the view from the fuel station we stopped at on our way out of town:


In Park City, we were already up in the mountains a little bit, but we still had the rest of the Rockies ahead of us. I had been pretty worried about the Rockies – some truckers we had spoken to in Sparks, NV had said that it got as steep as 7% grade. I was not very confident in the bus’ ability to make it up something that steep, but the new fuel pump seemed to be working wonders. We were chugging up hills (of a much smaller grade) at 60 mph. We still had a long trail of smoke behind us, but Mark assured me it was just unburned fuel because of the elevation, and nothing sinister. Since our engine is mechanically injected, it doesn’t compensate for the altitude, and runs rich.

We kept climbing hills, and then coasting down a little downhill, then climbing and coasting again, repeat, repeat, repeat. After a while, the hills started to get even more gradual, and we started to think, “Maybe that was it. Maybe the worst is behind us, that wasn’t so bad.” We pulled into a truck stop to fill up, and struck up a conversation with a trucker pulling a trailer-full of cattle. “Are those lucky cows or unlucky cows?” Mark asked him. “Unlucky cows.”

We asked him about the Rockies, and if there was anything worse coming up. “Oh, you’re through most of it,” he said. “You’ve just got one little hill and then it’s flat until Pennsylvania!” Excellent! At the beginning of the day we had been seriously wondering if we would need to be towed over the mountains. The trucker next to us was adding some fuel additive to his tank, and offered us some. Soon we had a water bottle full of fuel additive and a tank full of diesel, and we set off again.

That one little hill turned out to be the biggest we had hit so far. Or at least the longest. At one point we were down in second gear trying to keep speed going up the hill, but we made it, and entered the low rolling hills of Nebraska. We didn’t stop until we hit Omaha, and actually slept on the other side of the state line in Council Bluffs, IA.

To Wells

Our flight out to Salt Lake City was mostly uneventful, and security didn’t bother us too much considering we were a bunch of twenty-somethings with hardly any (but certainly odd) luggage and one way tickets. Salt Lake City is a very striking city from the air, built quite literally at the base of a mountain range, it makes any view from within the city spectacular. We got our rental car outside the airport – the tiniest little Toyota something that handled like a golf cart. Considering the vehicle we were on our way to rescue, it seemed pretty funny.

The drive to Wells from Salt Lake is flat and straight. Much of it runs through the Salt Flats…which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. Along the way you can see a few salt refining plants, with massive mountains of salt outside. All along the highway, people wrote messages with rocks that stood out clear as day against the salt backdrop. We felt compelled to pull over, taste, and write some messages of our own.


We arrived in Wells in no time at all, thanks to low traffic and a high speed limit. Wells appeared almost exactly as we left it, and I have to admit it felt comfortable coming back there. I’d spent a lot of time walking around the town and talking to people before we left, and I felt like I got to know the place. And there was the bus! Straight ahead of the off ramp! The bus was in a dirt lot behind the Shine ‘n Chrome truck wash, and our little economy car just barely had enough clearance to jump the curb. She looked good, clean, untouched. Ali climbed in through the back and … hmm … some stuff was missing. We’re not really sure how, as there were no broken or open windows, but someone managed to get into the bus and take some stuff. The few items of any value were gone (the toolbox, inverter and batteries, radio and guitar) but they left some fairly easy to take items too. There didn’t seem to be much sense to what they took – among the items missing were a Yoshi doll still in its packaging, our moleskine of signatures, the stove (cheap and broken), the body fluid clean up kit that came with the bus, and the speakers we salvaged from an 80s conversion van. Weird. Whatever. What made the bus a bus was still completely intact, and seemed fine.

With some borrowed tools from Enoch (the owner of the Shine ‘n Chrome) Mark was able to get the old pump out and the new pump in place with relative ease. I hopped under the bus and reattached the universal joint on the drive shaft. We got a pair of new starting batteries (truth be told, the ones left in the bus were our biggest concern of the rescue, since they were really crappy and may not have gotten her started, so not much of a loss there), and started cranking to purge the new pump. Once purged, we tightened the lines, and tried to start. We could hear the engine nearly start, and then our batteries gave out. Not surprising, that was a lot of work. We got on the phone with AAA to see if we could get a jump. While we were still on hold, Enoch brought his truck and jumper cables over, and got us started.

The bus was running again, and smoking up a storm, so we said our thank yous and goodbyes, and headed back to Salt Lake City to return the car and begin our trip home. On the first hill outside Wells, a strange noise started coming from under the bus, and suddenly it got MUCH louder. Time to pull over and investigate. The universal joint caps I had attached had flown off, leaving the drive shaft barely attached. It turns out there was a little tooth I was supposed to set the caps under, and I had them on top of it, so they didn’t stay very long. Luckily, we had another two caps, but no socket with which to secure them. On the phone with AAA again, asking for someone to come by with just that socket, since we would make the repair ourselves. Apparently, AAA can’t do that, so Enoch to the rescue! He was able to drive the mile or so up the road to meet us and he brought the socket we had used earlier. Moral of the story: good people are better than AAA any day.

We returned the car at the SLC airport, which is always entertaining. I don’t think that driving that bus into an airport will ever get old. The looks we get are even better than what we see on the highway. With the rental squared away, we headed into the mountains to find a place to stay for the night.

The What Roses? Tour

Mark, Ali, and myself just got back from a breakneck three day 2400 mile sprint across the country. I’m calling it the What Roses? Tour. I’m kind of tired right now, but there are stories to tell and photos to share, all of which will be added here for posterity.