I got caught in several traffic slowdowns along the way, so the first leg to Vacaville took close to two hours by itself. Of course, the rental truck isn't a speed demon to begin with, but I was deliberately keeping the speed to 55 anyway. (I'm not certain if the TRUCKS 55 MPH signs apply to rental trucks like mine, but I didn't want to find out.) At Vacaville, I pulled in to the Factory Stores (because they have a spacious parking lot with pull-through spaces). I really wanted to sit down to lunch, but time was pressing on me, so I grabbed a burger and fries to go, intending to eat on the road.
As I pulled onto Orange Drive, the CHECK ENGINE light came on and started flashing, and the truck lost a significant amount of power. Just before the entrance to I-80, I was able to change course and pull into a Home Depot parking lot. I tried stopping the motor and letting it sit for a few minutes; sometimes the computers will reset whatever the problem is. On restart, the light came back on and continued to flash.
I called the Budget rent-a-truck roadside assistance number and they said they'd dispatch someone. I got a text message shortly thereafter saying it would be 90 minutes. I called my family and told them, "There's been a hitch. I don't know when I'll be there. I'll call when I have an update."
It was probably the warmest day of the year so far, and the truck was already starting to heat up. I noticed that there were shady areas in the far corner of the Home Depot parking lot, so I figured I could limp over there. To my surprise, the check-engine light did not come on and the truck ran normally as I hostled it over to the shade.
If you must have a breakdown, there are worse places than this. Had this happened only seconds later, I might have been stuck on the shoulder of I-80, for instance. As long as you stayed in the shade, it was quite tolerable and maybe even pleasant, with a light breeze. I sat back to eat my lunch and listen to the miraculous comeback and subsequent loss of the Giants to the Mets over the radio.
The mobile mechanic from Sacramento got there twenty minutes earlier than predicted, which made me feel better, and plugged in the computer, and couldn't find any error codes. That's not good. It didn't even show any historical codes. He tried a number of different things with no success, and we decided that there wasn't anything he could do, and off he went. We shouldn't have done that, as it happens.
After letting my family know I was on the move again, I started up the van and pulled out. Within a minute, the light came back on and power dropped off. Had the mechanic still been around, I could have flagged him down. (In retrospect, we should have had me drive around the block to see if I could get the error to happen again.) By now I was starting to worry that I wouldn't get to the storage locker in time, so I decided to see if I could limp along to Yuba City. By all-but-flooring the accelerator, I could eventually coax the truck back up to 55, but it wasn't easy, and the vehicle couldn't find a "cruise" point on the power curve and kept hunting for it.
I was considering what other options I might have, including trading for a different rental truck in Yuba City (which would have meant my nephew and I having to shift everything out and in between trucks), spending the night in YC, changing the rest of my travel plans, and so forth. As I exited from CA-113 at Woodland, to my relief, the check-engine light went off and the power came back. The rest of the trip to the locker in Yuba City went smoothly.
Unloading the boxes bound for the YC locker was uneventful. I could see way in the back of the locker the empty box for the home stereo system, which I'd kept in case I moved. But of course I couldn't get at it; I would have needed a grappling hook to climb the Mountain of Boxes. After about 30 minutes at the locker, I headed out to Sutter. My nephew Shane (on the right in the icon photo) was there waiting for me. He has done an incredible job of mucking out my late grandfather's house of the last 30 years or so. There's still a whole lot of trash to remove, and the house really needs considerable restoration, but the progress has been significant.
Shane and I moved a metal desk that I'd forgotten I even had onto the rental truck, along with a couple of remaining boxes of my things, including what at first looked like just some paper bags but turned out to be a set of Elfquest prints that had astonishingly survived for years without harm in pretty bad storage conditions.
I said goodbye to Shane and, for the final time, my grandfather's house — and for many years my own — then gingerly reversed the truck and headed out again. The engine light came back on and the power dropped. Not good at all. So far, most of the trip had been in the relatively flat land between Fremont and Yuba City. Climbing over Donner Summit in an underpowered truck was not something I fancied.
I pulled over at the Sutter mini-market on the highway, picked up a couple of sodas, and tried restarting the truck. No engine light. Plenty of power. Light didn't come on as I headed east on CA-20 toward Yuba City. I resolved that I wasn't going to stop again until Sparks, where I was to meet Lisa at the Nugget for dinner and for the $10,000 giveaway happening that evening. I called my family and told them all was well but that I was going to need to keep on truckin' while the truck still ran.
The trip out CA-20 was blessedly uneventful. I did accumulate a few cars behind me from time to time, but fortunately it tended to happen just before turnouts, and I always pull out to let faster vehicles pass. The truck ran as well as I could expect, and the weather was fine as I topped Donner Summit and rolled toward Sparks.
Lisa doesn't have a mobile phone and I was more than an hour later than I'd said I would be, but knew she'd call me if she was worried. When I got to the Nugget, I saw her pickup parked in the outer lot and parked nearby in the uncrowded lot. I found her at her favorite slot machine, and she and Kuma Bear were happy to see me. I checked in for the giveaway, but I may not have actually qualified, because the official rules say you have to "tag in" with your club card by 8:30 PM on the day of the drawing and I didn't get there until 8:40. We went over to the Cabaret area for the drawing and I filled her in on the too-eventuful day driving to Nevada.
Lisa and I didn't win the $10,000 drawing, but getting the truck to Nevada in one piece probably used up most of my luck anyway. After the drawing, we went to the Oyster Bar for pan roast. I was relieved to be there.