Wall-E The Rock Van: Pt.1 A Very Safe Road Trip

The poorer the adventurer, the richer the adventure.

(Photo above from old trip into Mexico.)

I walk into the small dingy office, and tell the very large man in the chair that after $260 in parts I only had $100 for labor for taking out and installing the new part, and what did he think about that.

He pointed behind him. There was, above his head, a sign that said in big red letters “$125 per hour (2 hour minimum), No Exception”. A machete was stuck into the wall next to the sign. The machete, says the mechanic shop owner, is for people who didn’t want to pay. I tell him I had one too, but that it’s for plants, and not really sharp anyway.

He pulls out his pocket knife. He gives me some pointers on sharpening. I somehow manage to steer the conversation in the direction of my volunteer work with kids. When someone opens the door to ask about a new client, he says not to worry, his boys would do the installation for $100 dollars. People can tell right away that I can’t lie to save my life – and boy, when I’m nervous, words just spill like oil from a BP ship.

We also look like a female punk rock band, piling out of a van with our Mexican tans wearing glasses, bright shorts and all the attitude of coyotes who’ve just breezed through the border their first time.

My registered life in Colorado is on the brink of a disorganized mess after living in Mexico for almost 2 years, so I’ve decided to take a small 6-month break and idle from Mexico back over to the Rocky Mountains. And that there would be the slightest 32-hour driving detour through Yosemite Valley, California, abusing the straight line to our final destination and making it more of a banged-up closed parabolic bell curve of driving hell, through long stretches of no-where Texas and the southwest.

I feel like breaking down out there, on the road, alone, would be the end of me. I’ve had one-too-many panic attacks while being stranded in my van in the south – I imagine that if I did break down, some months later I would be found crawling across the Colorado border like the child found on a raft on that Florida beach, who came all the way from Haiti; I’d be barely recognizable, having been adopted by a pack of dingoes and surviving by dumpster-diving fried food behind southern KFCs; I’d be full of stories about desert storms and ghost towns, of lizard-looking dragons and the odd human friend that maybe existed, or no.

No, better not to break down alone in the south, I think.

Besides, Yosemite is a long-ass drive, and belting Matt and Kim Lightening in the car for 10 hours can’t be repeated with the same enthusiasm twice.

A gas station attendant in the tiniest town before San Antonio, Texas ask if we’re a band, so after a brief pow-wow, we decide to go along with it. Our spontaneous rock troupe would include ex-punk Francesca on lead vocals, mellow Xelo on cello, dependable Jen on bass, and yours truly on cowbell.

Here’s a bit more history on my new fellow band members.

Francesca Cesario, OG outdoor badass who recently ascended Aconcagua, just finished her International Alpine Rescue course, and most impressively (to me) is losing her large toenail to frost-nip (a whipping cold -15C volcano summit in the southern Mexican state of Puebla).

Xelo, a magical and happy human being, has the darkest sense of humor this side of the moon, and would crush you in a Cards Against Humanity game, and her heeler puppy Suni.

Jen, the youngest of our troupe who jumped at the chance to have an adventure in California before her visa expired.

There was a disclaimer with these three: I had explained to my fellow female adventures, and the community on Facebook, how the spirit of the road trip was pure adventure: “Hey, anyone want to go to join us on any part of a trip to Yosemite-Zion-The Diamond to help with diesel, driving or to give a belay?” And everyone wanted to go.

There was one thing: the van could lose power at any time.

“There’ll be an element of surprise to this trip,” I told people.

The cost of driving to Yosemite with 4 people would be like a very cheap bus ride, I said, just more mysterious and unexpected because of looming mechanical/electrical problems. Wall-E is the perfect adventure vehicle – a 2005 Sprinter van with 5 cylinders (a whopping three working without a hitch), two cup holders, standing room for a young adult African elephant or three-and-a-half camels, first-class leg room (if you don’t mind the dog herd coming with us) plus 5 functioning seat-belts for human beings, and a luxurious hammock that swings excitingly with every turn. All Wall-E needed was new brakes, an emergency hand brake, turbo, a windshield, and small engine overhaul for two faulty cylinders. So WallE got an oil change for the trip.

So far, so good, the little Mercedes engine lasted to the middle-of-nowhere outside of Ft. Stockton, Texas, where we swapped out the battery with a spare I happened to have, until that failed too, and we hailed a passing truck to jump-start Wall-E awake. Now we’re in exciting Ft. Stockton, which is a fantastic pueblo full of elusive road runners and tiny horned dragons that look like lizards. We found there’s a leak into the alternator, and by happy coincidence the replacement is exactly what I have in the bank.

We’re waiting for the piece, drinking tea and maté in the vansion’s parlor, and trying to figure out where to print the car insurance card that went missing on day 1. Best case scenario, we’re playing spoons for a cheering crowd at a pub in El Paso, an upturned hat on stage with us. Worst case scenario, we arrive at Yosemite without any trouble.