Well, it was an adventurous first day. I really should have seen it coming. After a week of frantic, stressful car work (that included dropping the transmission twice), part hunting and packing, I left Chicago on Friday at 5:30 am on my way to Aspen, Colorado. It was dark. There was a beautiful, dense snow/fog, and I was starting to feel good. Starting to feel excited. As Lorraine and the road roared below me, the possibilities of what the next two months might hold started to warm me from the inside. Which was good, because Lorraine probably needs a new heater core.
Then around 11:00 am, after stopping for gas and lunch, I could tell that the clutch pedal was losing pressure and starting to make noise. This kind of thing might have been fine for the flat highways of the Midwest, but with the Colorado Rockies looming, I decided to fix it. So, I pulled over somewhere in Iowa, and replaced the master cylinder with a new one I'd bought before I left. Then, with a some help from a couple of truckers named Ross and "Bingo" Billy, we bled the clutch. It was like a cold weather, car version of RAGBRAI, a large annual bike ride across Iowa, where frequent flats, good natured Iowans and roadside fixes are regular occurrence. Adventure, warmth, feeling good.
That is, until I started the car. I had pressure again, but was immediately met with that same loud squeal and grinding noise when the clutch pedal was depressed. Peril, cold, feeling anxious.
The noise mostly went away on the highway, but Lorraine was still making more noise than she should have. A lot more. And the clutch was pulsing. So, I called up my mechanic buddy, Sammy, and he said it sounded like it was the throwout bearing. This made sense. We had had trouble getting the clutch fork in when we first installed the transmission (which is why we had to drop it again) and that fork sits right behind the throwout bearing. Somewhere between the low pressure, the pumping I was doing to build pressure and the dropping of the transmission, something had gone wrong.
At 6:00 pm I squealed and hobbled into Iowa City and went to the only shop still open, the Firestone Auto Care in downtown Iowa City, with my hat in my hand. I explained my situation, told them that I had to be in Aspen on Sunday evening, and asked if they could help. Well, Andrew and Alex were real nice about it, which was good, because I was feeling pretty lousy.
At this point, let me admit to all those who would claim "I told you so," that I have heard you. The truck has been a constant project, with one thing needing replacing after another. Stress and breakdown around every corner. Having professionals do this work was something I should have done from the get go, instead of trying to fix everything myself. "Penny wise and pound foolish," as my mother would say.
On the other hand, I now know a lot more about cars and mechanics than I did before. Sure, it was a costly education and most of it is irrelevant since cars are now computers, but you get my point. Lessons learned and silver linings.
Anyway, the guys at Firestone gave it a look and told me yeah, it was the throwout bearing, and they could fix it by Saturday afternoon. They also gave the rest of the truck a look over and said I should be good to go.
So, here I am still in Iowa City. Last night I took a long shower, got one of the best night's sleep I've had in two weeks and had a long and amusing conversation at Buffalo Wild Wings with a young Frenchman about Interstellar. Now I'm at the Fair Grounds Coffee in Iowa City, waiting to hear word about what comes next. It's already been pretty interesting. Adventure, warmth, feeling up for anything.
UPDATE: Arrived in Aspen, CO safe and sound and without incident! Again, many thanks to the guys at Firestone in Iowa City for all the help.