Back in Wyoming (Finally)!

While I tried to make the best of it in Regina over the weekend of the 13th, it was still very frustrating to be stuck paying hotel bills, eating restaurant food, etc when I really just wanted to get home. The folks at the Honda dealership were, however, nice enough to lend me a vehicle for a few hours on the Saturday, so Riker and I headed down to Wascana Park for a walk, some sunshine, and chasing birds (mostly him). Then on Sunday we hiked down to the off-leash dog park and had a ball – both of us got to hang out with some really great people and dogs.

Wascana Centre in Regina, SK

Monday, full of optimism, I checked out of the hotel, walked over to the dealership with Riker ready to wait out a couple of hours of transmission work. Nope. It had just arrived and the fellows would need at least 6 to 7 hours to install it and test-drive it. They assured me the it would be ready the next day.

Tuesday, June 16th at noon I showed up again and they handed me the keys, got me to sign the warranty paperwork, and off I went. Finally! Bouncing along the highway south of Regina to the border, everything was going great. I had a pleasant interaction with the border guards (who even gave Riker a dog treat) and I was on my way again through beautiful northern Montana.

Around 6 hours into my projected 8-hour day of driving the first sign of trouble kicked in: the malfunction indicator light turned on just as it had after the transmission tanked on the trans-Canada those long days before. With a feeling of dread in my belly, I continued on, ever watchful for more signs that the vehicle was going to crap out on me again. Then between Miles City and Forsyth, the green light encircling the “D” (for drive) on the dashboard started blinking frenetically and the light around the “2” would come on from time to time. The steering wheel also starting vibrating over 65mph.

With light failing, storm-clouds gathering, a dead cell-phone battery, and a week and a half of accumulated stress and worry I was not feeling great. Even so, I slowed down and pressed on for Forsyth, pulling into the Sundowner Inn parking lot with tremendous gratitude that I would not be spending the night on the side of the highway.

Doug and I spent about an hour that night exploring my options over the phone and internet. The closest Honda dealerships were at least a couple of hours drive away either in Billings, MT or Sheridan, WY. We decided that I would try and get as close to home as possible and that if I broke down en route, Doug would come and rescue Riker and I (and we’d get the Element towed to the closest dealership).

With a fully-charged cell phone (and an hour’s worth of additional minutes), five hours sleep, and what I’d like to think was a steely glint in my eye, I loaded up the Element at 5:45am and prepared for my 10-hour plus drive in a vehicle that might die at any time. For the first 20 minutes the indicator lights stayed off and I hoped against all hope they would stay that way. Not so lucky, however. First the malfunction lamp came on. Then awhile later the circle around the “D” appeared. Then the strange blinking around the “2.”

Even though I was pretty worried, I was not immune to the gorgeous scenery of the Bighorn Mountains near Sheridan, WY. Definitely on the to-hike list!

Every time I passed through a town I’d call Doug and confer about whether I should try and make it to the next one. Each time, I thought “what the hell?!” and kept going, willing the Element to survive ’till home. About halfway through the day I thought we might actually make it and starting thinking that even if we didn’t it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could push the Element to the edge of the highway, set up camp, and sell my books out the back. I’d have Riker for company and he could hunt rodents for us…

Aside from the weird daydreams, something else strange happened: the indicator lights started to normalize. First the light around the “2” stopped appearing, then the one around the “D,” and around Rawlins even the malfunction light disappeared. What strange voodoo magic was happening?

In the end, I made it all the way back by dinnertime on Wednesday, June 17th. My brain was frazzled, my shoulders and neck were rock-solid with stress, but we survived. I still don’t entirely trust Ellie (our Element’s name), even after she got a clean bill of health at the local dealership and got us to and from Salt Lake City this weekend. She’ll need to earn that back by not stranding me in the middle of nowhere for awhile…

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