Keeping up with this blog is proving to be a challenge! All three of us keep personal handwritten journals, and we rarely have access to wi-fi on the road, so this page doesn’t get much love. I am back in Austin for two weeks, so I am going to use this time to catch up on things that I have been putting off, like this here blog!
The RAGE Bus arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado sometime around November 20th (I don’t really keep up with dates very well). We were heading West in search of warmer weather when Caitlin received news of a friend’s passing. There was a sudden shift in energy and it seemed to swirl all around us in a chaotic whirlwind, and within hours Caitlin had hitchhiked back to Denver to catch a bus to Austin. Natalie and I found ourselves taking a moment to reassess our projected path, unsure about moving forward without Caitlin on board. We decided to camp outside of Grand Junction for a few days, since it seemed like a good spot for Caitlin to be able to return to us.
20 miles East of Grand Junction, just outside of Palisade, Colorado, there is protected land that is home to one of the last remaining wild horse herds, called Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range. It was dark when we left the interstate at exit 46. The only light to break up the darkness of the canyon was a glaring Halliburton power plant entrance sign next to the Colorado river. Our only option was to drive down an unmarked dirt road in search of the Wild Horse park. We cautiously drove the bus over a one lane bridge and into the vast nothingness. The road twisted and turned in the darkness until we finally stopped at a dry creek crossing. It was obvious that the bus would not make it across this point in the road, so I jumped out and stood behind the bus as Natalie slowly backed up to the last turn around spot. We did not observe any “no trespassing” signs or “private property” notices, so we decided to just park at the back of the turn around and explore the area in the morning. Finally! We were away from concrete. Away from florescent lights and billboards. It was just us and the stars- and the mysterious shadows of the canyon walls all around us.
We spent the next two days hiking and exploring the canyon with our dogs, who kept bringing us flesh covered deer bones. Pretty soon the dogs had recovered the remains of an entire deer carcass and were happily munching away on the bones in the middle of camp. In the distance, we heard a goat crying! We cried back and forth with the goat until we finally saw a tiny white dot pacing back and forth on a tiny ledge of the canyon wall. We had no idea if goats were native to the canyon, but the goat seemed alone and anxious on the ledge. But it was growing dark and the temperature was dropping, so we returned to the bus and bunkered down for the night.
The canyon wall where we first saw Cliff the goat! She is the tiny white dot near the top of the canyon wall.
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of a truck pulling up next to the bus. Natalie went outside to greet the man, who asked her if she lost her goat! Natalie told him that we didn’t have a goat, we lived on a bus! I heard the goat crying, so I got out of bed and joined them outside. I was introduced to Dana, who was untying the goat from the back of his truck. The goat had a rope loosely draped around her neck, and she immediately began snacking on the grass at her feet. Dana told us that the goat appeared on the canyon wall around the same time that we arrived in the canyon. She appeared to be a domesticated, friendly goat, perhaps abandoned by someone in the canyon. Dana rescued the goat by himself by tying a set of ropes to rocks and pulling the goat to safety.
Inspired by his act of kindness, we invited him into the bus for tea and breakfast. Dana is a native to the Palisade area, and he comes to the canyon every day to pray for peace and healing. He pointed to the great mountain on the horizon, “That’s Grand Mesa,” he said. “That’s the holy mountain. My face is on that mountain.” He opened up his laptop and started to show me his collection of pictures. “Here is a slain lamb, and here is a cross, but if you turn it this way, it is an angel.” One by one, we flipped through ariel photos from Google Earth, each one with a story. Dana warned us of the impending nuclear holocaust, and reminded us to do everything that we possibly could to prepare for catastrophic disaster. “You need to be able to survive underground for at least 45 days.” Dana spent time at a Hopi reservation in Arizona, where he was told that he was “the one who turns off the power.” Weighted by the gravity of fulfilling this prophecy, Dana has turned to writing passionate letters to the Human Rights Commission in hopes of reaching someone who will agree to switch to more sustainable energy sources. “No one will listen to me. I try to tell them what the cure is, but no one will listen.”
At some point during the conversation, we learned that Dana has worked as a mechanic for most of his life. Natalie asked him if he would mind listening to our bus to see if we had piston slap (someone in New Mexico mentioned that we may have a piston misfiring). Dana agreed, and we started the bus. Dana placed his ear up to his wrench and listened intently to the engine. “Nope! It sounds fine! But your harmonic balancer sure is wobbling.” Natalie turned the engine off. She explained to him that we have had problems with our harmonic balancer in the past, but it does seem to be getting worse. Natalie shut the engine off and Dana bent down to assess the balancer. “Well, here’s your problem…” Dana pulled out a broken bolt from the center of the balancer. Natalie walked over to me with a serious look on her face. “Jamie, it’s bad. But we are going to get through this and everything is going to be okay.” She opened her hand and showed me the broken bolt.
Panic. Panic is always my initial response. Is this really happening again? Oh my God, we are so far away from town. We are in the middle of nowhere! I felt my heart jump into my throat and I grabbed Natalie’s hands, “Oh God, no! No no no no no!” We joined Dana at the back of the bus. “Hey! This isn’t such a big deal. We’ll just take it off, take the bolts out, and put new ones in!” If only it was that simple. We have had an issue with our harmonic balancer since the day we bought Bessie. We spent a week in Muldrow, Oklahoma getting broken bolt pieces extracted from the crankshaft. The temporary fix lasted 11 miles and our belts flew off somewhere on the highway. We were towed to Atoka, Oklahoma where a family friend extracted broken bolts once again and replaced the belts. That fix lasted 250 miles, and the bolts snapped again. Finally, we were towed home to Austin and spent a month at a diesel repair shop in Wimberley, Texas getting the balancer fixed for real! The mechanics in Wimberley drilled out the bolt holes on the crankshaft and heli-coiled the threads. Our harmonic balancer is obsolete, so you can’t order a new one. Cummins searched a global database and turned up empty handed. The bolt holes in the balancer were damaged from the continuous wobbling, and were now oval shaped instead of perfect circles. Finally, we found a harmonic balancer that had the same bolt pattern, but a different pulley assembly. Jesse, the mechanic in Wimberley, was able to detach the pulley assembly and machine our pulley assembly to the new damper. I was certain that this would fix the problem! The balancer was placed onto the bus and locked down with the strongest bolts you can get, Grade 8, and sealed with red locktite for good measure. Even after all of this, the balancer still maintained a slight wobble. It was not completely “true”. Jesse warned us to not travel too far from home in the bus. He said, “It may last 50 miles, or it may last 5,000 miles, I just don’t know.”
So here we were, in western Colorado, with a handful of broken Grade 8 bolts. Dana began to take off the belts and disassemble the balancer. He began to pull a plethora of tools from his tiny truck. In a few minutes, he had the entire thing pulled apart and began to assess the threading with a caliper. He could tell I was worried. “Let’s take a break!” We went back inside and I began to focus on my breathing. I felt like I had not taken a breath since Natalie brought the bolt to me. It was all happening so fast! We began to make a list of the materials that we would need. An EZ-OUT screw extractor set, a set of heli-coils and a tap, 5 Grade-8 bolts, 5 lockwashers, 3 new belts and red locktite. I began to have deja vu. I had witnessed and participated in this process 3 times so far. Each time, it had taken hours to extract the bolts with a drill. Would our solar batteries support such an intense draw? Breathe. That’s all I could do. Natalie and Dana headed to town to retrieve the materials, and I was left to babysit Cliff the goat. Cliff was very anxious about being left alone, so I grabbed her rope and we took off walking. Cliff was happy to lead the way, and kept turning around to blink her creepy square eyes at me and smile. I’m not sure if she was smiling, or if that’s just how her face looks. Regardless, I felt a lot of reassurance from her. She seemed to be telling me that everything was going to be okay. We were all here together in this beautiful canyon at the base of the Grand Mesa. Where else could we possibly choose to be? Just a few hours ago, she was pacing back and forth on the ledge of a cliff, hungry and alone with no hope in sight, and Dana just appeared out of nowhere and extended the hand of mercy. Was I now the goat on the cliff? How do I surrender control and just stand witness to the magic of the Universe? Breathe.
Cliff and I walked back to the bus and took a nap until Natalie and Dana returned with the supplies. They even found a family that wanted a goat! By this time, the sun had made its way behind the mountain and the temperature was dropping. We decided to wait until the sun rose again before continuing our work. Dana stayed a bit longer and told us about the golden discs he made to read Bible codes. He said that he may have been Daniel the Prophet in a past life, and he has in his possession all of the Mormon artifacts. The golden discs, the shield, the sword, and the location of the true Zion. I tried to focus on his stories and not worry about the condition of our bus. Our house! Our only home. It could be gone in an instant. I reminded myself that the Universe put me here for a reason, and focused on being present and aware of my surroundings. Submit to the Universe. And right now my Universe was Dana, so I listened intently to the stories that he was telling me. “You see, it’s Eden that you girls are seeking, and you are well on your way. Right now, you are out of harmony and balance. But we are going to set you straight and fix your harmonic balancer. You will get to where you are going. And who knows, maybe you will end up right where you began.” Dana told us goodnight and drove away to take Cliff to her new home.
The next morning, Dana returned with several jugs of water. Water is a precious commodity on the road. Our 40-gallon water tank lasts us about 7 days. I was growing concerned with the amount of water that we had remaining in the tank, especially considering we had no idea how many more days we would be in the canyon, so we had switched to emergency power saving mode. All water was now reserved for drinking. Which meant we had a lot of dirty dishes and very dirty hands. With Dana’s gift of 4 jugs of water, we cooked up a batch of potatoes, washed our faces, and sat down for tea before beginning our work.
Finally, it was time to assess the damage. Using a caliper, we measured the depth of each bolt hole in the crankshaft. Then we measured the depth of the holes in the harmonic balancer. We determined that the balancer must have developed a wobble because the lockwashers were not put on at the shop in Wimberley. This allowed for a very small gap (about 1/8th inch), which was just enough room for the centripetal force to get the balancer out of line and snap the bolts. I found a can of penetrating lube in our toolbox and sprayed the inside of the bolt holes. Dana managed to remove 4 of the bolts without the EZ-OUT. The last bolt was broken in half, so we would have to drill a hole in it to extract it. Luckily, our friend Ray from Wimberley had gifted us a really nice power inverter! The peak 2400 watt inverter handled the draw of the drill without a problem. Within 30 minutes, Dana had drilled through the center of the bolt and placed the extractor bit inside. Car mechanics reminds me of performing surgery. Like Bessie is someones grandmother who suffered a myocardial infarct, and we are in some post apocalyptic cath lab in the desert. We slowly reversed the bolt out, praying that it would all come out in one piece. Along with the bolt, we pulled out a piece of a broken bolt from months ago! Hallelujah! The next step was to pull out the old heli-coils, drill out the bolt holes, and run a tap down the lumen to cut new threads. Cutting new threading into metal is quite the task. Dana, built like an ox, had no trouble rotating the T handle while keeping the tap nice and centered. When it was my turn to give it a go, I exhausted myself in less than 5 rotations! And Dana cut the threads to 4 of the bolt holes! My appreciation of his presence, his skill, his knowledge, and his patience swelled.
After the heli-coils were finally in place, it was time to reassembly the pulley. Natalie and I took over from here, lining the bolt pattern up to the key on the crank. One by one, we secured the bolts with the red locktite and lockwashers. Dana retrieved a torque wrench from his magic toolbox and we torqued the bolts to 60. We said a little prayer and started the bus. The engine roared to life, and the harmonic balance flew into motion. For the first time since we have had Bessie, the harmonic balancer spun true. Which means, no wobble! She was as smooth as the day she was born. I couldn’t believe it! With no wobble, that means that the centripetal force should never spin the balancer into an imbalance ever again. (Unless there is an underlying unknown catalyst that we are completely unaware of!). Natalie and I danced like we have never danced before. Jubilant! We squeezed Dana tightly in a group hug, as if that could even come close to thanking him enough for his kindness.
The next day, Dana returned and took us on a ride in his truck through the wild horse canyon! We were not able to make it very far down the road in our bus because of the creek bed. We didn’t stand a chance of seeing the herd from our camp, so it was super cool that Dana took us for a ride! Along the way we saw 9 different wild horses, and we just stood with them and shared the silence. I felt a sad tug in my chest as I heard the humming of the Halliburton power lines running the length of the majestic canyon. Even here, in this reservation, they couldn’t leave the land alone. They fenced the horses into this canyon and call them wild. Land of the free. No one is free.
As if Dana had not shown us enough compassion, he offered to let us shower and refill our water tank at his home in Palisade. We decided to sleep in the canyon for one more night because it was starting to snow heavily in the canyon and we were worried about the condition of the road. The next day the sun was shining and the time felt right, so we drove out of the canyon and met Dana in town. We gifted him with a necklace that we made for him out of braided hemp and a wire-wrapped heart shaped stone that we found during our hike.
Dana taught me a lot of lessons during these past few days. He reminded me to surrender to the Universe and allow the magic to wash over me in a fit of glory. I am not in control of any of it, life just happens as it is going to happen. I am merely an observer. And once I learn to stop fighting it and just LET GO, then everything will fall into place the way it was meant to be. Dana also reminded me that we are on an important journey, and bestowed upon on us his blessings in our travels. Sometimes I feel like I am not quite sure where we are going, but I know that one day we will arrive.