It started out innocently enough, but then the truly hideous experiences always do. It was to be a simple trip from Indiana to Colorado to meet my parents and brother and his family from Texas in Colorado for a day of whitewater rafting. We were traveling in our mini-van pulling our pop-up camper in a caravan with our friends who had a motor home. We had swapped children in southern Illinois for a change of pace, and continued to follow the motor home, or so we thought, through Saint Louis and into central Missouri. That is until we couldn’t raise the motor home on the radio. Pulling up beside it, we stared into the confused faces of a family that bore absolutely no resemblance to our friends or children.
After a brief phone call to the Missouri State Police and an all points bulletin for our missing friends and children and a four hour delay, we found out that they had detoured to go the see the Gateway Arch. After a lengthy wait we believed that we had seen the end of the problems and we continued on our way.
Not even close. Our van began to overheat, or so the temperature gauge told us. This necessitated turning off the air conditioning and turning on the heat to pull the engine temperature down. Perhaps I failed to mention that this trip took place in July and that the temperature was slightly less than molten lava outside. We tried several remedies, including unhitching the camper from our van and hooking it to the recently returned motor home. All the remedies came to no avail.
We finally stopped at a NAPA store in Flagler, Colorado, still some 386 miles from our destination of the next morning. Their diagnosis was a bad water pump. I was dispatched in the NAPA pickup truck, complete with the NAPA hat on the roof to the next town for a water pump. The next town, however, was 96 miles away. When I returned the mechanic cheerfully announced that it was not the correct pump for that make and model of van. In returning the original water pump to the vehicle they noticed that the wire from the temperature sending unit had fallen on the exhaust manifold and was shorting out, sending a false signal to the gauge.
So, after seven hours of delay we set off in the dark of night to drive through 14,000 feet elevations with absolutely no sleep and what seemed like at least 13,000 feet drops on both sides of the roadway as we attempted to stay awake long enough to stave off certain death. We managed to pull into our destination with just enough time to crack a knuckle setting up the camper and head to the river for a full day of broiling like lobsters on the river.
Having returned from our excursion through ten states in six days, the mere mention of “The Vacation From Hell” still sends shudders of revulsion through even the most stout hearted of us.