Wednesday, August 22 (I think)
Well.... we are not where we thought we'd be. But we could be in worse places, I suppose.
Yesterday started in a lovely way--Joe, Roxy and I hiked down to Blackwater Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall in a beautiful valley. Nothing but dark trees everywhere. We all loved the trek down 214 stairs, and back up again. As I said.... lovely.
Then we took off on our drive south. Our destination was the New River Gorge Bridge and vicinity. It is an area which draws a lot of folks to the water sports (canoeing, white-water rafting, etc) and the views of and from the bridge, which is very high and elegant looking. By this time of day, when I realized it was a 3 hour drive, I thought we'd spend the night in a nearby state park or wildlife preserve, and then this morning we'd do something on the river--most likely take a jet-boat trip.
The first segment of the 3 hours took us over a windy mountain road which was fun for Joe to drive. We went through some picturesque small towns (there are quite a few old towns in these mountains) and passed the Kingsford Charcoal factory. Then we picked up a 4-lane divided highway, and stopped at a Visitor Center to have lunch and upload Monday's blog.
Then we joined the interstate for what was to be about 30 miles. We stopped along the way to put air in one of our tires, which delayed us another 30+ minutes. And then we realized we'd passed our exit--we were about 24 miles past it, in fact. We were both so lost in our thoughts that we just never paid any attention.
Exit 34 was coming up (our intended exit was 59) and we were prepared to adjust our route, when suddenly we heard an unusual noise, smelled something burning, and then the engine temp gauge shot up to overheated. I yelled to Joe, "Turn off the engine!" and he did--we were already on the approach to the exit when it all happened. Joe said, "the engine just died" as we coasted down the ramp off the interstate and rolled--agonizingly slowly--along the access road, just making it off the road onto a short gravel shoulder before the momentum stopped.
The engine was steaming when Joe opened the hood, and there was radiator fluid all over everything. Joe couldn't find any leaks or burst hoses, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that something really bad had happened. We called Good Sam, our roadside assistance plan. It was about 5pm, I think... and 4 hours passed as the Good Sam lady looked for a campground to tow us to (unsuccessfully) and Joe spoke to their tech guy (thank God for cell phones). The tech guy was pessimistic as to the damage to the engine, and he and the lady working on our case decided to have us towed not locally--she was totally unable to find a campground anywhere nearby anyway--but down to Charleston, 34 miles further south. (As it turned out, therefore, it was very lucky we had passed our exit--we were that much closer to the only large city in the state!)
A side note here: we were really in the middle of nowhere, in terms of population. The nearest towns were 6 miles away in either direction. There is a small parking lot right next to where we stopped, and there were a half-dozen cars in it when we arrived. It seemed like the locals used it as a park-and-ride to form carpools, or just to meet friends. As people came to pick up their cars, or drove past, at least 12 people stopped to see if they could help us. One guy saw the engine overheating and came back (without asking) to give us some radiator coolant because "it looks like you might need this." And two different highway patrol people (not cops, but people who cruise up and down to see if anyone is in trouble) stopped to see if we were okay and find out if we needed anything, and to give us their number if we needed help. This is to compare with the time we were on the side of the road in Connecticut, actually ON the Interstate shoulder, for about 6 hours, and NOT ONE PERSON, civilian or cop, stopped to see if we needed help.
So at 10pm we ended up in the parking lot of Bert Wolfe's mega-car dealership--Ford, Toyota, Audi and Porsche. The tow truck dropped us at the far edge of the lot, outside the truck service area, and that is where we spent a very sad evening. We were pretty sure, given the fact that the engine refused to turn over and by the sound of it, that it was finally going to be beyond repair. We discussed what we would do if we had to leave Mo, how we'd get home, etc. We were both pretty heartbroken at the whole idea, but trying to deal with it. At about 11:30pm, finally we had nothing left to do but go to sleep and wait for morning. The service area opened at 7am, so we set our alarm for 6 so we would be up and dressed in time. I don't think either of us slept very well.