Just about 36 hours ago we were happily driving the gorgeous Natchez Trace Parkway National Park, enjoying the fall foliage on a beautiful sunny day. We kept saying how perfect the day was and how lucky we were to be there on the perfect day when the fall color was so . . . perfect.
Then Mr. Pennies noticed the battery light was on. Strange. Then he noticed the engine was overheating. Yikes. We pulled off the road, turned off the engine, and MP (Mr. Pennies) stuck his head in under the hood. Bad news. The serpentine belt tensioner arm was completely broken. The van was undrivable unless we wanted to completely ruin the engine.
Since we were on the Natchez Trace, there were no businesses or services nearby. They are all banned. It makes for a lovely ride, but a problem in getting help. We called the closest ranger station at the camp ground we’d passed about 10 miles behind us. After about 20 phone calls by cell phone a very large wrecker carried our van on its flatbed to the campground.
We made quite an entrance as this huge tow truck deposited us in a regular camping spot. Several people couldn’t help but stop by to learn our story and compare it to theirs. It seems campers get towed a lot.
MP had gotten through to his parts supplier in California while waiting for the tow truck. The brand spanking new serpentine belt tensioner arm was being overnighted to the campground office. In the meantime we’d be sleeping in our van. Did I mention this was Halloween night? Would we have a spooky adventure like some of those shaky movies?
It was supposed to be a low in the 30s that night, but we had our warm sleeping bags along and our sleeping platform in the truck. Lucky on both counts. We went to sleep early as there was no light except from our mini-flashlights. Reading with them worked for a while, but didn’t seem worth the effort.
When we woke up in the morning I was trying to decide if warmth or food was more important. Warmth, definitely. We were glad to find a bbq fire starter in our truck. MP cut up a log he found lying in the woods. He had a very small hatchet he uses to hammer tent pegs in the ground when we tent camp. It didn’t have much heft so he would position it on the log and use another log to hit it. It was tedious, but it worked. Later a kind soul said to help ourselves to the wood someone had given
her. Building the fire, tending the fire, and watching the flames seemed like a direct connection to primitive living. It’s so basic. Only after the fire was going did I notice I was hungry.
We ate cheese sticks, crackers, apples, peanuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, V-8, water, and one precious can of Diet Coke. That’s what we ate for the 3 meals we were at the camp, and we could have eaten just one more meal from this stash. I made coffee with instant coffee powder poured into a bottle of water. Several shakes later it was very cold coffee. I told myself it was almost as good as real iced coffee, but without the sugar and milk it was mind over matter.
The essential truck part arrived about 3 pm instead of the promised 10:30 am, but MP was able to get it in by 5. We said good-bye to the new friends we’d made and got back on our journey. This time we took the direct route to our daughter’s house. Seeing businesses and more traffic was strangely comforting. Eating dinner at McDonald’s felt strange, like a new cultural experience.
Tonight we sleep in a warm, comfortable hotel. My shirt still smells of the campfire making me wish we could have cooked over the fire. Hot dogs, burgers, marshmallows, and most of all breakfast! The best breakfast in the world is campfire bacon and eggs with hot coffee. You can also add buckwheat pancakes and syrup to that if you want to be in heaven. You can get by with cereal and juice, but the smell of your neighbor’s breakfast will drive you crazy–especially the smell of coffee!
We were glad that everything worked out as well as it did, but we are going to join AAA for their terrific towing deal. We hear their Plus program gives you a total of 400 miles towing a year for an annual fee of $150. That’s a deal. Also MP is going to start carrying some spare parts for the truck. Life is an adventure, but I must admit I was a little shaken up by this one. A little scary.
Besides the cost of the new part, we lost money on the hotel room we’d reserved through Priceline. It was a romantic room overlooking the river in Natchez. On the other hand we had a Halloween experience we won’t soon forget. By the way, all the campgrounds on the Natchez Trace are free! They are on a first-come-first serve basis, but there are 50 campgrounds along the road. No showers, but decent bathrooms. No internet.
Happy camping, my friends! I hope all your camping trips are the planned kind.