Saturday Evening, October 11, 7:01 pm
...Thirty gallons and twenty-five minutes later led to a major breakdown twenty minutes south of Ukiah, California. The temperature was a brisk 36 degrees. The sun was just peeking out above the hills, and had we picked up a bad hitchhiker. Our ‘pure vegetable oil’ that we procured only a half hour previously, turned out to be a hydrogenated horror. Unbeknownst to us and because of the cold temperature, the oil that we had picked up from Jack in the Box had cooled to the point of solidity. Doogie rolled to a morale-devastating stop on the side of the expressway. With our heads in our hands, we all questioned whether we had reached the end of our journey. The tension was palpable. What had happened? Could it be fixed? We piled out of the car, pumped some oil out of the gas tank and spilled a bit of it on the ground. We stood transfixed as we watched the ‘oil’ turn to a greasy icing on the blacktop. The truth stared us hard in the face. Our fuel was no longer liquid. It had turned to snotty jell-o inside of the fuel lines. Not knowing the extent of the damage, we knew we had to get the fuel out of the tank before it cooled into a solid block, thus rendering our hand-pump ineffective. We began extracting the rapidly cooling oil from the tank as fast as possible into our fuel canisters. We raced to remove the oil. Each man took his turn at the half-inch air mattress-esque hand pump to siphon the 20 plus gallons until our forearms burned with the effort. Finally, we had pumped out all of the bad oil that we could from the gas tank.
We stared at the oil in disbelief. How could we have ever been consuming this product or anything like it, when in less than 20 miles, it had brought Doogie to his knees. All of those dead cheeseburgers and french fry ghosts locked eyes with us, and laughed smugly. Ryan summed it up soberly by stating, “If, in 20 minutes it can clog up quarter inch fuel lines, what is it doing to our arteries?”
A tense discussion arose. We assumed the worst and narrowed down all the parts of the system that could have been effected or damaged. An explosive brainstorming session led to all of the different options we had, from fixing it on the side of the expressway to towing it into town to throwing in the towel. This discussion led to the worst case and best case scenarios. Worse case: If all of those dead cheeseburgers had made it in to high pressure injection pump, Doogie’s heart, what would that have done to Doogie? Is there an afterlife for cars? Best case: The solidified grease did not make it past the fuel filter and into the engine. In which case, the tank lines would have to be cleaned and the filter would have to be replaced. Doogie required both testing and inspection. A complete diagnostic was what we needed, but that was not going to happen because we were stranded on the side of the road. With the sun coming up over the foothills, and the level of traffic thickening by the second, we knew we had to get it off the freeway. We decided we needed to find a better workplace and access to electricity.
On the other side of the road, there was an ancient “Rock Shop” featuring a barren cul de sac and a possibility of electricity. The only problem was that though it was across the road, for Doogie to get to it, driveway access was 400 yards of slanted uphill freeway. Ryan and Jeremiah went to shake hands with Mr. Rock Shop and verify that we could push our car there to work on it. Nick stayed back with Doogie and met our first ‘visitor’, a highway patrolman, who questioned how we had “broken down” and what was in all of the canisters strewn about next to the truck. A quick explanation was obviously in order. He seemed to gain some amusement listening to our past 2 hours of hell. His face was saying “dumb shit” while his mouth said “ok, well I hope you guys figure it out, and make sure you clean up your mess”, and he drove away. Thus ending another run-in with Johnny Law.
Ryan and Jeremiah returned and they presented a Herculean task. We had no other option but to push our 9,500 pound friend with 800 pounds of food and gear and roughly 50 pounds of fuel goo in his veins up the road, across 4 lanes of traffic. As Nick steered, Ryan and Jeremiah took their positions in the back, waited for a break in traffic and pushed with all of their might. We made it about four feet before gravity and the angle of the road began working against us. We waited for another break in traffic and vigorously pushed. This task required every muscle fiber in our bodies screamed with the gargantuan effort. As the truck crested the hill and rolled to a stop in front of the rock shop, Rick the owner supplied us with an extension chord to hook up the power. At first, we powered up the block heater in hopes of melting any goo that made it inside of the engine. Thirty minutes later, the engine was cold and the block heater was not working. We repositioned Doogie so that the engine faced the sun in hopes of allowing some uv rays to further warm the engine.
Meanwhile, our Panamanian friend, David had hitchhiked into the nearest town to get some diesel that we hoped would help break down the rest of the bad oil. Approximately two hours later, he returned with three gallons of diesel and a new starter. His contribution was complete.
Using a camp stove, we boiled water, placed the filters in the boiling water, and most of the oil embedded in the filters dripped out. Next we used the hand-pump to push the grease out of the lines. Alhough the entire process was extremely difficult, we had to persevere. We poured in the three gallons of diesel and slowly Doogie began to come alive. He coughed. He sputtered. It was apparent that Doogie needed that good fuel. He turned over, came to life, and it was go time. We needed to get to a gas station AS SOON AS POISSIBLE to fill up on diesel which would help us dilute the remaining goo in the system and burn it through. We DID make it back to Ukiah, and as we, once again, passed the Jack in the Box that was the bane of our existence, we hissed, we scowled, we cussed at it. Even Doogie growled a bit.
Diesel made it into our gas tank, and as we filled up there seemed to be a united sigh of relief. At least we are no longer broke down on the side of the road. There was a parts store within range. It was at this point that we could begin to check the systems, fix the problems, and get some real food. After a few hours of work, we decided to make a ‘run for it’ to San Francisco. The city was a 3 hour drive away, and we felt like Doogie could make it. If we could get there, we had friends, support, and resources.
Afterthought: Days no longer seem like days. Nothing is planned any more. Structuring our time has become difficult, because we have to deal with each event as it comes along. We are not able to concentrate on the future as much as we hope to, because we need to focus on the problem at hand.
More updates to come…