The Snake River was gorgeous, and had given me a stunning sunset and a gorgeous moonset, and I was looking forward to resting there for a few days, reading a book, shooting some wildlife.

My second morning there, I needed to run into town and get some supplies, including some coolant for Gypsy. She’d been leaking a bit, and I was planning to have her looked at when I got back to my son in North Carolina. Her coolant reservoir was periodically low, and she needed a top-up. I filled the reservoir and headed back to camp.

By the time I drove the 50 kilometers back to camp, she was beeping at me again that she was low. That was very unwelcome news. Sure enough, she’d leaked herself low on the half hour drive to camp. I decided to take her in to a shop in town first thing in the morning.

Swan Falls, ID 2019

There were three shops in town that might be able to help. So the next morning, I filled her reservoir again and headed to the one that seemed to have the best reviews on Google.

That fella didn’t have time to even look at her for two weeks. He directed me to the second shop.

The second fella had time to take a look, but probably not to do anything for at least a week. He said it looked like the water pump was leaking.

Swan Falls, ID 2019

Now, I’d just had the water pump replaced when I had the timing belt done a year and a half ago, so there was no reason whatsoever for the water pump to have gone bad. And a water pump replacement requires a whole mess of work, basically taking the whole front of the car apart. Estimated cost, about $1000 or more.

He sent me to the third shop.

Swan Falls, ID 2019

The third shop was busy, but understanding about my predicament. At first blush, they also thought it might be the water pump. I waited an hour or two for a mechanic to get a free hand to take a good look at the leak. The news was not awesome, but welcome.

The water pump wasn’t generating the leak, Gypsy had blown two coolant hoses going to the oil cooler up front, probably due to long-term oil leakage on them from the valve pan cover gaskets (which I’d also had replaced, shortly after the timing belt).  The cost for a repair would be just shy of $400. Still expensive, but less than half what I was fearing.

Swan Falls, ID 2019

The bigger problem was they’d have to order the hoses from Portland, Oregon, and they’d not be there until the next day around noon. On the upside, they had a courtesy car they could loan me for the night, so I wouldn’t risk overheating Gypsy going back and forth to the campsite. I rolled with the punches, packed up what I thought I’d need for the night into the PT Cruiser, and headed back to camp.

Swan Falls, ID 2019

I arrived at camp and realized I’d forgotten the power converter I use to run the electric pump to pump up my air mattress. I had the pump, but no way to run it. I’d also forgotten to bring any food beyond snacks. I decided to work around those two issues; I’d just sleep on the ground for one night, and I had those snacks I could get by on. I’d spend the evening reading my book.

…which I’d left in Gypsy.

Well, I’d write in my Journal of Impossible Things, then, no worries…

…which I’d left in Gypsy.

I still might have worked around all those issues, but I’d also forgotten my phone charger, meaning there’d be no way for the shop to call me if they needed to.

I headed back into town.

I got to the shop just before they closed for the evening, picked up all the stuff I’d realized I’d forgotten, decided it was a day that called for a few beers, and picked some up before I headed back to camp. Anything I didn’t have now would just have to be worked around.

I reinflated the air mattress (which needs to be done every day, they all stretch and lose a bit of air each night), got some dinner, got ready to write in my journal. My pen was still in the courtesy car, so I went to fetch it, and tripped on my way back into the tent. I stuck a hole right in the mattress with the pen. Because of course I did.


I was sure I had emergency patches for the mattress, but it turned out all I had were emergency patches for the tent. I tried one, hopefully.

It didn’t even attempt to hold air.

I drank a beer, wrote in my journal, drank another beer, and slept on the ground. A partially-inflated air mattress is worse than sleeping on a pile of 2x4s, if you didn’t know.

The next day I poked around the campsite a little, but mostly just sat and read and tried not to touch anything for fear of breaking it. When the late afternoon came and it was nearing the time the shop predicted for Gypsy’s repairs to be done, I packed up the PT Cruiser which I’d named Gary for my recently late friend who used to drive one, and headed into town to pick her up and find a place to get patches for the air mattress.

So. The oil leak that caused her coolant hoses to blow? Not the valve pan cover gaskets. When they pulled the oil cooler to put the new hoses on, the gasket disintegrated in their hands. That’s where a ton of the leaking oil was coming from. It looked like the valve pan cover gaskets because the oil cooler sits right behind the cooling fans, which were blowing the leaking oil all over the place.

Ok, fine. How much to replace the gasket, since you can’t rightly put her back together without it? $75. Ok, fine. Fine, whatever.


They had to order it from Salt Lake City, Utah. It’d be there the next day.

I got directions to a local store that might have patches, and took Gary there. I got patches, and headed back to camp. I put the patch on, and let it sit without air pressure for a couple of hours before attempting to test it.

I plugged in the power converter, plugged in the air pump, started to inflate the air mattress.

It blew Gary’s fuse.

Idaho was not treating me very kindly.

I drank the rest of the beer and slept on the ground again.

I woke up the next morning to a message from my cousin Bob, and a text from my son. Both were to inform me that my cousin Helen, my very first crush when I was far too young to know much about such things, had died in her sleep.

Seriously, Universe?

I wanted another beer.

Ring-necked Duck

I’d kept up my sense of humor through it all, but Helen’s death flattened me. I spent the day reflecting on life, managed to focus long enough to read a little, and went to pick up Gypsy. They’d just taken her out for a test drive…

…and she was overheating.

Fortunately, it turned out to be just that they’d forgotten to bleed the air out of the cooling system, an understandable mistake if you don’t know Volkswagens well. Once bled, another test drive showed her to be fine.

I drove her back to camp, made some dinner, inflated the air mattress, and slept well before leaving the next morning to put as many miles as I could between me and Idaho. After a very long drive, I landed safe and sound in Estes Park, Colorado, thankful to have Gypsy, my car, my freedom, my independence, back in working order.

And waiting for me in Colorado was something I’d thought I’d left behind in Seattle.

Swan Falls, ID 2019