Green Chiles and High Elevations

My first real adventurer Walmart parking sleep was much better than I ever expected. I got up early and saw a few other travelers getting up as well, which made me feel like I was on the right path.

I went and got breakfast at Jerry’s Cafe, which came highly recommended by my good friend Ashleigh. I knew the moment I entered New Mexico every meal I purchased had to have green chiles in it, or what was the point? I got a bomb breakfast sopaipilla with green chiles and I honestly don’t know why they had anything else on the menu.

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Had to stop half way through eating it when I remembered I should probably take a picture before I inhaled the rest of it.

Gallup has a marvelous Cultural Center with a lovely museum of the area’s history which focused on the Native American culture and arts of the region. It’s free and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re passing through the area. It was a great primer on New Mexico’s rich Native American cultural influence on the area and the United States as a whole, which was the perfect way to start my first full New Mexico day.

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Found this perfectly topical poem in the museum which will be with me for the rest of my life

I kept on driving the mother road down to Hotel El Rancho. The El Rancho is a hotel built in the 1930s by movie stars for movie stars. It was majestic to say the least, so naturally, Betsy fit right in.

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“Charm of Yesterday… Convenience of Tomorrow”

Being in the city for so long got me and Betsy antsy to go back out in nature and do a hike for once. We headed outta Gallup and to Red Rock State Park to see Church Rock. This was my first taste of high elevation hiking and boy was it ever wonderful. I took a million and one photos and felt like I was my old self again, taking photos of every desert flower hiking in the desert. Betsy felt right at home too, as expected.

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Betsy sure looked great with those red rocks!

After what felt like a wonderful breath of fresh air, we kept on truckin’. All the way past the continental divide! (This wouldn’t be the last time I would cross it on this trip…) Now, I was in the same watershed as my final destination of New Orleans!

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Crossing the Continental Divide, take 1

We filled up and drove on towards Grants. It was a lovely little town, but one where the harsh economic slap of the interstate super slab was sorely felt. I stopped for a quick bite to eat and got on the move once more.

There is some flawless Route 66 driving in that part of New Mexico. Just a lovely two lane country road as the train tracks run parallel. The I-40 on your right, with semis passing by and checking out Betsy cruising along the side. That feeling cannot be captured or repeated ever again and I’m completely grateful I lived to experience it.

As I drove into the first of what would turn out to be many new Mexico sunsets I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Albuquerque that night. I felt Betsy get a bit tired too, and I wanted to find a place to rest for the night. I saw that there was rest area just off exit 102 on I-40 right beside the Sky City Casino and I thought that would be a great place to spend the night.

Turned out the rest area was closed, not sure why. So I ended up posting up in the parking lot of the casino. It was well lit and loud, but I backed up into a spot at the end of the lot so Betsy’s butt was facing the interstate. I got in the camper and conked out for the night.

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Breakfast with some semis

It was probably the best sleep in Besty I’ve ever had, which was exactly what I needed to prepare me for the biggest scare with Betsy I’ve ever had the next morning in a McDonalds parking lot…

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Just Slipping It In

Once we knew the engine was running, I felt confident enough to put the transmission back in.

I think I like getting dirty more than I like being clean. 🌚

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But before I could even do that, we realized that I didn’t have the right gear oil in my tranny. So I did my first transmission oil change before I had even put the transmission to use. Check.

After having so much trouble with the flywheel and clutch assembly, I was terrified of actually putting the transmission back in the truck. I was scared I was gonna mess something up, brake something, not align something, or make any number of newbie mistakes that would set me back months.

As I was aligning the input shaft to go through he clutch assembly I made many frantic texts to friends far and wide. Making sure I was doing it right with the rugged set up I had of an uneven and tilted drive way and a cheap Harbor Freight transmission jack that would periodically not work for who knows what reason.

I experienced new levels of stress induced TMJ with every turn of the wrench on each nut and bolt to draw the transmission deeper into the engine. With every rotation I felt like something was going to shatter somehow.

Magically, nothing went wrong, even though I was expecting the worst. The transmission was in and now the home made linkage the previous owners made up had to be attached. We ended up just slapping it up there without being able to test it until we got the new u-joints and the drive shaft installed.

I'll just be over here, greasing U-joints. 🌚🔧 📷: @ephish

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Crust Master Evan helped me instal the new u-joints on my old driveshaft and I greased them up. I had a grand old time. I was so close now to driving Betsy for the first time in six months. All that was left to do was connect the clutch linkage and see if my baby would properly shift into gear with the engine cranking.

Being able to shift gears, turns out, is pretty important…

The Art of Asking for Help

You could say that I’ve had a pretty tumultuous month on the road.

From getting stuck in Farmington, NM for almost 3 weeks, rebuilding almost everything on Betsy, to completing the Route 66 part of my journey, to pushing through my longest and farthest driving day ever from Oklahoma City to Austin, TX, to getting stuck yet again in Austin with my soul twin I had never met in person before and living with her in her 24ft RV, Mander the Dodge Commander.

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Mander and Betsy. Best Friends Forever.

This entire trip I’ve been at the mercy of the unpredictable, spontaneous, wonderful, and magical kindness of strangers. This takes practice, time, and the elusive skill of trusting your gut more than your fears.

I recently rewatched Amanda Palmer’s TED talk about the Art of Asking and I couldn’t believe how much of this I experienced myself since the first time I watched it.

I feel like I’m always getting asked how I’m pulling this adventure off, and to tell you the truth I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I’m relying on the fact that everything I need in this world to survive another day already exists I just have to be creative enough to see it and open and felixible enough to let it into my experience in whatever form it comes in.

Right now I’m stuck in Austin. If you don’t follow my Instagram, you might not know but Betsy’s transmission decided that 3rd gear was the only one it wanted to be in. I’ve tried everything and at this point it’s looking like the only option I have is to take the damn thing out and most likely take it apart and put it back together. Again.

At this point I’m only 8 hours from my planned final destination of New Orleans. I’m at the end of my nest egg that I saved for this trip, which was supposed to be 2 weeks long which has turned into 2 months long. My emergency credit card is maxed out from having to fix my brakes in Albuquerque. And I still have to figure out how I’m going to rebuild my entire transmission in the middle of the street.

Well, my transmission took a big ol' dump. She's stuck in 3rd and I can't get her out. So it's looking like I'll be in Austin through the holiday season. I keep repeating to myself that it's about the journey and not the destination but it's hard to keep from getting discouraged. If you know of any temporary jobs here in the Austin area, please send them my way. This will probably be my biggest hurdle yet. Thanks so much for all your support and help along the way. I can't believe the places I ended up, the people I've met, experiences I've had, and relationships I've cultivated because of this trip. It's everything I wanted it to be and many things I never thought I could have. I'm grateful beyond any possible comprehension and I never want to stop feeling that way, even when I'm in the depths of despair fighting Betsy's hissy fits. ❤️🔧

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I’ve been extremely lucky to get the help I have received, even without asking for it, and I’m beyond grateful that anyone even reads this, and follows my damn journey in any capacity, and wants to help any amount at all to let me live this crazy dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember. But I think I’m at the point now where I have to be even more vulnerable and ask for help now more than ever. So here it goes…

If you know of anyone that can help me here in Austin either with their expertise, their tools, their garage space, their trailer or tow truck, their leftovers from Christmas dinner, their friendship, their extra coffee, a place to shower, or a temporary job or gig so I can make some money here I would be more than grateful for it. If you have been following my story from afar, you have watched me break down again and again and again. You have also seen me keep pushing through it all again and again and again. If you’re not in Austin or the surrounding area and you don’t know of or don’t have any of the things above to help me, I also have a PayPal and Venmo. If you have any other ideas on how you can help, feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment!

To open ourselves up to the greatest happiness we have to face our biggest fears. This is me doing just that.

Does It Leak?

Once I finally had the new clutch assembly on the new engine, along with all the accessories from the old engine, it was time to drop that new to me engine in.We wired the generator and the starter. We put a new fan belt on. Dropped in that radiator. Connected all the hoses and lines. Connected everything to the carb. All systems go, it was time to start her up.

She started! And ran!

#frontendfriday Got the engine in. Finally. T-9 days before the big adventure. 📷: @ephish

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And there was small pop and all the sudden a big pool of coolant developed on the ground.

At first I thought we blew out one of our freeze plugs but that wasn’t it. There was a small drain hole at the front of the engine where there wasn’t one before. It was very strange. I managed to stop the giant leak with a spare screw I had laying around that happened to fit, it managed to keep the leak to a minimum until we could figure out what was going on.

After endless hours of searching on the internet about why this hole exists in the engine and where I can find a plug to close it I came up with nothing. I messaged a new Instagram friend, and fellow 1963 F100 owner, April, seeking advice for what this thing was. I saw that she had the same engine and transmission that I had on Betsy because of her awesome YouTube videos, which made me wonder if that drain hole existed on her engine and how it was plugged if it was there.

After sending her a million and one pictures, we finally came to the conclusion that was a drain hole that was supposed to be plugged with a tiny freeze or pressure plug that was 1/4 inch in diameter. The hole was not threaded so it wasn’t a regular threaded plug.

Now came the search for this illusive tiny freeze plug. I called several machine shops in town, none of them had anything that small. I scoured the internet looking to see if anyone even makes pressure plugs that small, and again I came up with nothing. I could not figure it out for the life of me.

Yet again, truck dad Evan came to the rescue. We decided to tap the hole and plug it with a screw and some RTV. After a quick trip to Home Deeps (pro tip: they have really cheap coolant and engine oil in their automotive section), we came out with everything we needed to preform the operation on Betsy’s new heart.

It only took a few minutes, but it seemed to work. We tapped the hole, slowly but surely, squirted some RTV in it and screwed in the right sized screw. I had to wait until the next day for the RTV to dry to add coolant back in and really test our fix.

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You can see that screw and RTV fix under the water pump there.

 

The next day I was a ball of nerves. I didn’t know how well our fix would hold and I was out of ideas about how to go about fixing this thing. Again I was pushed to my limits, as with every part of this project. Betsy sure needed to test what kind of person I was under pressure before she would let me drive her across the country.

This time, it quickly turned out I had nothing to worry about. Our hack fix worked like a charm and hasn’t given me any problems since.

Now that I could keep coolant in her, I planned to make some final adjustments to make. And that was a whole other adventure…

One step forward, six steps back. 💥🔧

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Ode to a Walmart Parking Lot

The duality of life in America is perfectly exemplified by a Walmart parking lot.
A sight for sore eyes after driving all day, you cruise around to find the perfect spot to call home for the night.
Not too close, but not too far from the main entrance either.
Close enough to the truckers, but far enough so that the sound of their engines idling all night is just a soft background hum.
You claim your stake, settle down, and listen to the sounds around you.

The sounds of real life America.
Families going to shop for their groceries for the week.
Teenagers hanging out and causing trouble.
Some cars drive by with a sappy, mellow tune barely audible, and others make everything vibrate around them from their turned up bass.
Minivans, big lifted trucks, adventure rigs, RVs, beater sedans, daily drivers and everything else in between is in this lot.

Perhaps there exists no better representation of what America really is than a Walmart parking lot.
People from all walks of life, all different values, beliefs, religions, theories, economic backgrounds, families, languages, races, colors, lifestyles, genders, sexualities, identities, cultures, experiences, and infinite amount of differences are here.
They all are valid here, they are all provided the same thing.
Just a safe place to park, be it for an hour or for the night.

Yes, the experience is different for all.
Yes, sometimes it’s less safe than others,
Yes, there’s better places to park out there.
Yes, their business practices are less than admirable, to say the least.
Yes, people are constantly coming and going.
Yes, it’s loud.

But they are open to everyone.

Isn’t that what makes any country great?

Go sit in a Walmart parking lot and tell me what you see.

Wigwam to Walmart

After a fun night at the Wigwam Motel I was ready to roll once again. But first, tacos and beer at Romo’s Restaurant in Holbrook! I had a great lunch while using some free wifi, I finished off a blog post, and set off for Petrified Forrest National Park.

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She really could be a NPS truck. No one would even know.

I followed Route 66 to the North Entrance, but I would suggest from Holbrook heading toward the south entrance because it all the cool hikes and views of petrified wood were on the other side for the park. From the South Entrance you can drive up through the whole park and rejoin Route 66 by exiting at the North Entrance.

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Painted Desert

Petrified Forest National Park holds the only remnant of Route 66 on National Park land. An old 1932 Studebaker sits where the Mother Road once ran nearby. The line of telephone poles you see, traces the original route through the entire park.

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That’ll buff out.

Something about being in this spot gave me some really strong emotions. I walked around this Studie, strolled over to the telephone poles, lined them up in my view from either direction, and squinted. It was like the ghosts of everyone who’s ever traveled through that spot all hit me at once. Even before Route 66, the pioneers going West for the gold rush, and the cowboys and rancheros. Countless human beings have taken this trip. All of their hopes, all of the dreams, all of the expectations for what was out west just waiting for them. What did their lives look like when they were traveling? What happened to them? Did all their dreams come true? Did they find new dreams? Were they happy out west or did they regret ever making the daring passage? Did they make it to their planned final destination or did they let the journey take them for a ride?

There I was in the middle of my own pilgrimage on the route and the spirit of all those that came before me was there with me too. It was that feeling of anticipation before you make a big life changing decision. You’re excited but terrified all at the same time. You’re scared to start, but you know you must. It felt like that times a million. It felt like I was feeling that feeling for everyone that had or has yet to come through this point on the road or in their lives.

To say the least, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t even write about it without getting weepy.

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What happened to kitschy post cards like this?

And just like that we had crossed our 2nd National Park off the list!

Now I was eager to make it to New Mexico before the end of the day. I had decided Gallup should be my goal for the night. Two National Parks and three states would be under my belt before I went to sleep that day.

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On the road, you never miss a sunset.

I rode a great stretch of dirt Route 66 just as the sun was setting and came up on a rest area in Lupton which is right on the state line of Arizona and New Mexico. I briefly considered setting up camp there for the night, it was pretty dark and quiet there, but I knew I just had to get into New Mexico before I could call it a day. So I pushed on to Gallup.

When I got into town, only a short drive away, I instantly regretted not staying in that lovely and quiet rest area. The only place I could find to safely park Betsy overnight was a Walmart parking lot. I parked Bets near some big ol’ semi’s and huddled up for the night, after eating some pretty bomb ramen. I soon learned that the big semi’s just idle their engines the entire night through. I mean, I guess I could say it was kind of like a fancy white noise machine that fancy people get because their fancy houses are so expensive and well insulated that they can’t hear anything except their own thoughts and the existential dread that comes along with that which keeps them from sleeping at night.

In the end, I knew this trip wouldn’t be complete without sleeping in at least one infamous Walmart parking lot…

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Home is where you park it.

Broken Bolts

After we took the old engine out and tucked it away in the depths of my garage, we put the “new” engine in the driveway. We had to take some of the parts from the old engine and put them on the “new” one so it would connect properly into Betsy. We took off the thermostat housing, the water pump, and the bracket for the generator, cleaned them and put them on the new engine.

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Cleaning is my favorite. Even if it doesn’t work, at least it looks good.

 

After that was done the next steps were to put on the flywheel and the new clutch assembly. We figured out that the flywheel from the “new” engine was 9.5 inches while the clutch kit that I got was for a 10 inch flywheel which is what was on the old engine. However, I only found this out after trying to put the new clutch kit on to the 9.5 inch flywheel, after taking it to get resurfaced.

After finally getting the right flywheel resurfaced, and watching several hours of YouTube videos, I figured out how to get the clutch assembly on there. I put blue Loctite on all the bolts, used the star pattern to tighten, centered the clutch with the alignment tool, and as I was torquing the last possible bolt to the proper amount, the half-a-century bolt broke on me.

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Same.

I had to take the whole clutch assembly off again to get that stupid bolt out of there. For the record, that bolt broke the Harbor Freight extraction kit bought to get it out. I promptly returned it, obviously. After drilling into it with everything we had and getting it our, we saw that we had hit the threads. I thought I had to find a machine shop that would fix it for me, but it turns out all they had to do was throw a Helicoil in there and call it a day.

However easy this may seem, that, it was not. After going through so many ups and downs with one project you begin to lose it. You lose your excitement, you lose your confidence, you lose your resolve to make anything happen at all. The smallest thing makes you want to throw in the towel and quit. This is the moment when you make a decision. This is the moment that really defines what you are made of. And however much you can imagine yourself in that situation, you definitely don’t know how you will act when you get there yourself. You can pretend that you’re the toughest mother effer out there, but until you’re faced with a constant stream of obstacles that beat you down to a pulp, you just don’t know.

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Also same.

To get through it all, I had to learn to see every failure as a positive. There is something about this project that I just can’t give up on. No matter if logically it all seems like everything is pointing towards me quitting, I just can’t stop. And so far, even in the worst of times, Betsy has only brought the best people into my life. That’s a lesson I will take to my grave.