4NORMY: One Woman’s Saga of Adventure on the Road - Part 2

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Terry made a phone call and, with a smile, told me not to worry. The regulator would be fixed in the morning.

One of the guys took me to a very nice hotel and picked me up the next morning. At the dealership, six smiling men met me and they were proudly holding up a brand new regulator…a 1959 Lucas regulator in the original box! I cried an hour later when I started the roadster and slowly drove away from “the guys”; the original Lucas box packed safely away in the boot.

I’ve come to think of my trip with the roadster in two parts: pre Sioux Falls and post Sioux Falls. A more accurate conception might be of the shake down phase and the excursion phase. I never expected a breakdown free trip and dysfunctional gauges, flat spares and frozen wipers were really no more than anticipated inconveniences that were dealt with in turn. Even hose and belt replacements were repairs planned for in advance. The never knowing if the car would start however had been a tedious and time consuming effort. Every stop for fuel, food, lodging and sightseeing had to be planned before Sioux Falls; before the engine was shut off. Was it a safe place, could I back in, was there an incline to get me going, was it at least flat enough and with enough room so that I could push the car myself and then jump in and pop the clutch? It takes a certain level of skill and agility to seat yourself in an “A” under normal circumstances which truly becomes somewhat of a circus act featuring the human contortionist under rolling conditions.

When I left Sioux Falls I still couldn’t bring myself to completely trust that the roadster would start after so many miles of uncertainty. By the time I reached Chamberlain, SD that had all changed. I crossed the Missouri River three times that day just because I liked the view and just because I could! The car kept starting on the first try, and with my confidence soaring, I took last minute turns to Big Bend Dam and Fort Defiance. Between Chamberlain and Rapid City I toured the Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks. For most of one day I walked around and shopped in every store in Wall, SD. Just east of Rapid City a sign for “Custer” caught my attention and a quick turn south took me to Mt. Rushmore and Wounded Knee. I spent a late afternoon one day just rock hounding along the Kyle but eventually headed north again to Sturgis. I was too early for the big bike rally in August but I bought a t-shirt anyway and packed it away in the boot with all the other souvenirs. I was running out of room and told myself to stop buying things but that only lasted for the remainder of South Dakota and a few miles later I crossed the state line into Wyoming.

Wyoming saw the continuation of al fresco lunches. The weather was pleasant and with deli sandwiches from small stores, days were spent exploring around Devils Tower and in quiet hours along the Powder River and Crazy Woman Creek. A cold bottle of beer and my latest reading material completed glorious afternoons and spectacular sunsets of peace and reflection with no particular plans for the next day.

I kept buying souvenirs all the way across Montana. My favorite is a t-shirt I found in a small store near the Little Big Horn Battlefield. It depicts a child-like Indian chief in full headdress standing on the edge of a bluff. His hands are cupped to his mouth and he is yelling “Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Custer Right Over.” I even bought a stuffed toy prairie dog at Greycliff Prairie Dog Town that I have since placed on the shelf next to the little stuffed bunny my husband adored for reasons that can’t be shared here. At Bozeman, the signs for Yellowstone could not be ignored and so a three day trip south was in order. South, back into Wyoming and then west into a touch of Idaho and eventually north again into Butte we rolled. Along the way, small state roads and highways that were ideal roadster traveling material made it difficult to leave the Yellowstone area.

Just west of Missoula an ugly sky signaled heavy rains. I pulled into a large station near Frenchtown and decided to put the windows back in. I was not afraid because I had plenty of duct tape and the wipers were working after all. Fellow travelers and some locals told me that it looked like “hail” weather. Memories of Decatur, IL were still fresh in my mind. I thought about the hail and could picture my beautiful car all dented up like someone had beat it with a ball peen hammer and I quickly pulled the roadster to the nearest open pump under cover. I had just gotten gas and serviced the car but for the next thirty minutes I pretended to check the oil and tires, washed the windshield and windows, filled the tank (almost a whole gallon) and watched the skies for the golf ball sized hail a local had warned me about in this area. I sweated and watched the skies and stalled until the attendant inside (where he was safe from golf ball sized hail) waved at me. I walked slowly into the store, my eyes still on the clouds and stalled some more by pretending to look at souvenirs until the attendant told me I couldn’t sit at the pump any longer…that I would have to find someplace else to wait out the storm. The hail came down as I was getting my change and I could not, despite my best efforts, keep from laughing out loud in relief. Ten minutes later the roadster and I were back on the road under light rain without a ding. It rained the rest of Montana and through Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. It was a scenic drive and I enjoyed it very much when the rain was light and when I wasn’t busy packing souvenir t-shirts around the leaking windows.

Just east of Spokane, Washington, warm, dry weather returned along with a very strong head wind. The wind blew constantly and as the little car struggled with the wind I watched the fuel consumption rise commensurate with my temper. Mile after mile of head wind until I yelled at no one in particular that a little tail wind from time to time would certainly be nice. My yelling went mostly unnoticed, but I’m sure was witnessed by a few cars that passed as they were always staring at the car and waving. I’m sure some of them noticed anyway. I stopped just west of Moses Lake to pack the windows away in the boot one last time. I was tired of the wind and constant noise. Even if the wind persisted I thought I was looking forward to the Columbia River Gorge that lay in our path a little farther west.

The wind continued all the way to the Columbia River. As the little car nosed over the edge of the eastern side of the gorge the wind suddenly stopped and I yelled and whooped and slapped the side of the car. It was wonderful to finally have some quiet and be able to relax my grip on the wheel. Nearing the bottom and looking ahead at the bridge I noticed red wind socks standing straight out at about the same time as the wind, in even greater force than before, struck. I shifted the roadster into third as we began the climb up the western side. I kept one eye up on the hood and the other on the road and the heat gauge. The hood was holding well, the temperature gauge was rising. I shifted down into second gear just to keep moving forward, up the hill and still into that God awful wind. We limped along in the truck lane as the temperature gauge continued to rise and our forward momentum went down. The roadster began to miss and I pulled off onto the shoulder and shifted into first. The little car struggled so just to move forward and ever higher. I told the car lies about seeing the top just ahead and patted the center console yelling, “you are a magnificent machine.” Secretly I prayed that the semi slowly coming up the hill behind us would not push us farther off the shoulder and into the ditch. And so it went for what seemed like hours until the semi finally pulled even. As the semi driver came along side he opened his window and yelled for me to “get in behind—as close as you can.” As the tail of the semi passed the nose of the roadster I carefully pulled back into the truck lane and eased the roadster up to the truckers’ bumper and then slightly under where aside from tire noise, it was quiet once again. The roadster began to cool and pick up speed as the trucker moved up the hill.

Debi pictured (left) with another Open Road Adventurer, Mark, who also was traveling from Texas to Alaska by motorcycle with his eleven year old grandson, Mikey.

There’s a pull out/rest area at the top of the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 90 where I’m now sure, on windy days, travelers stop to brace themselves for the trip down or like me, stop to gather themselves after the long haul up. The semi didn’t stop but I slowed and eased the roadster from behind him and pulled into the rest area. As the semi made the slow turn away from the pull out, the driver waived and flashed his lights two times. I flashed back and waved watching the big truck roll on to the west. When the car was stopped and as I watched the temperature gauge slowly go down I cried quietly because there are acts of kindness that can never be repaid.

The morning I left Ellensburg, Washington, the weather had turned cool. I danced around the car that morning as I checked tires and oil and everything else in part to keep warm, but mostly because the wind had stopped. I dug out two souvenir t-shirts that didn’t smell too badly from being wet and put them both on. I threw my only hooded sweatshirt on the passenger seat and thought about putting the windows back in. I decided it would warm up as it got later in the day and drove off. The roadster seemed to thrive in the cooler temperatures and the drive through the Cascades, while not terribly long, was one I will remember always. The roadster had no difficulties going up and down the mountains. Through every pass the little car hummed and held tightly to each curve while I put on my hoodie and ran the heater on full. Fog and light snow shrouded the highway before and over the summit at Snoqualmie and with few other cars and only an occasional trucker along the way we cruised silently westward nearing the end of the road portion of our adventure.

The traffic from Seattle to Bellingham was too much like all the other large cities we had gone through and I wished for a few more days of open highway or the winding roads in the mountains along the way. Our last day before we boarded the ferry in Bellingham was spent in line waiting to load. Six days later after stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Yakutat the little car started on the first try and rolled off the ferry in Whittier, Alaska. Hugging the mountain sides along Turnagain Arm we drove the last few miles to Anchorage in the early morning hours when the road is quiet and the roadster just hummed.

My friends all draw a sigh of relief when they see me now – home safe and in one piece. They ask sheepishly if I had a good time, or with that, “I told you so” tone. Was it a nightmare of breakdowns, repairs, and hours stranded in one scary place or an other? I smile and simply say that it was a grand adventure with absolutely no regrets because that is all they can understand and they would not believe the rest. I think about trying to tell them about the lure of little blue cars and the hundreds of people that took time to just stop and talk with me about the A.

For so many it was a time to remember their own cars and express their regret in ever letting their cars go when life got in the way, as it usually does as you get older. I think sometimes that I will tell them how the wind feels in your hair and face in the minutes before sunrise and there’s nothing between you and the horizon but a ribbon of asphalt and the sound of the little engine. I wonder if they would appreciate the warmth of a sunset on their shoulders or a shady rest area beside a swollen river. Would they feel the awesome beauty of Rushmore in the early evening floodlights or the sheer magnitude of the Grand Canyon when viewed from behind the wheel of a two-seater convertible?

I can’t tell them about the kindness I received from “the guys” and so many others like the man that gave me a CD of his own recordings when I stopped for gas in Montana. He thought I might just enjoy the music. He had an MGA once and decided his music and my car would go well together. How do I tell my friends about the absolute joy of the Cascades or the upper passes of the Bitter Root Range lost in fog and light snow in mid-afternoon? How the little car’s performance up one canyon and down another, along winding roads, was the envy of every semi and most new cars. I would never dare to tell them about the little car’s struggle to get up the west side of the Columbia River Gorge in 110 mph head winds or how the friendly semi signaled for me to pull in behind him and up close, and how with an invisible tow rope he pulled the little car to the top. There’s no sense in trying to explain how every motel, hotel, and restaurant worker made sure I was parked in a safe place where I could see the little car or the countless times people took pictures as they drove by. There’s no hope in my friends understanding why a group of Harley riders, out touring themselves, would ask me to pull over just so they could take a picture of their bike next to my car. How do you explain Lake Michigan, Mt. Rushmore, Sundance, the Grand Canyon, and so many places across 14 states and over six weeks of random turns and stops to just gaze? Most of all, I want to tell them that I was never alone and that I was out there in the roadster, and so very much alive with it all.

Home now and the roadster sits in the garage waiting for sunny days when it can be out on the road again, humming smoothly as it travels up, down, and around the mountains where we live. Rainy days are spent with me tinkering under the bonnet, working on door panels and replacing the radio with a very fancy stereo/ CD player with speakers hidden under the dash. Ramps have been purchased and the oil changed. Tires have been balanced, but the horrible shimmy persists at 62 mph; new rims are needed, but can’t be found, yet. Evenings when sleep doesn’t come easily, I find myself down in the garage with the door open. The little car is pointed toward the open road with the engine running and “An Unchained Melody” playing on the new system. I fight against the urge to “give ‘er some gas” and set my hair on fire once again. Ah Norman, I sigh, but then I have to smile because he didn’t make me promise it would be just one ride. Summer is just six short months away and I’m already planning.

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Reader Comments (1)

Picture of Harley Johansen
Harley Johansen (Idaho, USA)
on February 16, 2012 12:04pm
Debi's adventure was one of the best stories I have read about MGA road trips. It reminded me of crossing the USA several times in my 1959 MGA when it was almost new and roads were less crowded, mechanics were available and usually knew what they were doing. Very nice to share Debi's experience.

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Last updated on January 31, 2012.