Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Highway to [from] Hell

Yesterday was so ridiculous that I still can't believe it. The stuff stories are made of. Bad stories.

My friend Meagan and I left Dayton Tennessee at 6:30AM yesterday morning. We both live in Pennsylvania and so wanted to get a jump on the normally 12-13 hour drive. As an added incentive, there were tornadoes predicted for that afternoon. Not something we cared to stick around for.

Only five minutes from campus, I started hearing a strange low noise whenever I hit the accelerator. I checked all the engine lights, checked the oil––twice, and finally suspected it was something to do with the flex-coupler or muffler.
When the noise intensified to a deafening blast that we could hardly talk over, my theory was confirmed. I called my Dad for what would be the first of about about 15 times that day, and he advised that as long as it was just the muffler, we should keep going. That was about 15 miles into the 750 mile trip.

When, a short time later, I started to hear the muffler dragging on the ground, I knew things had just become more complicated.

I pulled off at the first available exit, which happened to be a place called Bulls Gap Tennessee, but I will henceforth remember as the only town in the world without metal coat hangers. I stopped at a gas station, inquired if they had any wire, and when I was disappointed, bought some duct tape and jacked the car up to make a temporary fix. Since the exhaust pipe runs at several hundred degrees temperature, I knew the tape wouldn't hold long, but it kept it suspended off the pavement long enough to get to a dollar store––the only store in Bulls Gap. They had only plastic coat hangers, but I found some zip ties, which, when linked together, worked very nicely to cinch the errant pipe up into its original position. The noise was still deafening, but I hoped the ties would at least last most of the way back.

They melted in about fifteen minutes.

Engine roaring and exhaust pipe dragging down the freeway, I pulled off in Kingsport TN, which I will henceforth remember as the only city in the world without level ground.

At Walmart, we finally found some metal coat hangers to untwist and wire the pipe up with. But there was no level ground. Even the Walmart parking lot was slanted, and when I tried to jack the car up for the third time that morning, it started to shift––not something you want happening when you're under it. We drove around town for several minutes looking for a level area, and finally thought we found one behind a pharmacy.

I jacked it up. There was nothing to block it with, but we were almost two hours behind schedule and I was in a bad mood, so I got under anyways. The pipe was hot enough still that it burned my hands, so I got back out to wait for it to cool. About 30 seconds after I emerged, the car shifted, the jack broke, and the car slammed back to the ground.

While I had avoided getting killed, I was now stuck without a jack. I called my Dad again, and he suggested driving it up on a curb. So I drove it up on several curbs before I finally found one that was just high enough to let me shimmy under. It wasn't ideal, but I was able to get several of the coat hangers, which weren't nearly as flexible as would have been useful, wrapped around, suspending the pipe a couple inches above the ground. 
Did I mention that it was pouring rain for most of this adventure so far? So by now I was pretty much covered in mud as we set off up 81 for the second time.

The coat hangers only worked for about 15 minutes before it started dragging again. Fortunately, my Dad had by this time started looking online for muffler repair shops further up the highway He found one in Harrison Tennessee and gave me the exit just before I passed it.

It was called Rusty's Muffler and was owned by an old man named Rusty with a long white beard. I explained to him that I just wanted it fixed so that it wasn't dragging anymore, but he said he could cut it off and weld a new piece of pipe on for $45 dollars, which was less than I was expecting to have to pay just for him to put it up on the lift and look at it. So we sat on the couch in his office for just about ten minutes which was all it took him to do it, and just like that, it was fixed. 

We had probably an hour of good driving before the storms seriously hit, causing a twelve car pile-up in just north of Salem Virginia, which caused us to have a two and half hour delay on top of the three hour delay from the muffler issues. We decided to try a detour through Salem and up 11, which was a good idea, except for another problem with my car.

After my family used my car for three months last spring, it has had some issues, including a broken AC and moisture inside. These two things taken together give it a major condensation problem when it rains and the car isn't moving fast... which it no longer was. So by the time we were halfway through Salem, I was literally having to wipe the windshield off every 45 seconds just to see to drive. This was finally fixed by turning the heat way up so that the air coming into the car was dry, and we finally did make it back onto 81 beyond the accident. But now we were five hours behind.

Things were uneventful until we reached Carlisle. That was where I was supposed to meet Meagan's Mom so they could make the drive back to Philadelphia. Meagan's Mom though, who had been waiting for five hours now, had accidentally run their car's battery dead. Fortunately I had jumper cables, but it was now a torrential downpour.  I was just getting dry for the first time all day, but jumping the car in the rain took care of that.

It was 1AM by the time I got home. That's almost 20 hours of driving; by far the longest it has ever taken me to make the trip between Dayton and home.


Kelly said...

Yuck, what a day!!!

Glad you finally made it home.

M G A said...

I am sorry, I literally chuckled when I saw the jacked up, duct taped, melted zip tied muffler - excellent job, I have to say. Crappy day, but it made for one hell of a story :)