Report from the road #4 – to the Methow Valley and back.

I was toast after the Vancouver Island trip and when Greta went back into the shop to have her coolant issue worked on, I happily hunkered down for a few days in Seattle from 8/28 to 9/1 at a friend’s house and caught my breath.   I was finding myself a bit burned out of the constant bouncing around, 2 nights here, 1 night there, 3 nights here, 2 nights there, etc, etc.  It was great to sleep in the same bed for a few nights, enjoy great espresso within a 2 block radius, and have a hot shower every day.   And I was able to get out with my friends for one of the last Duck Dodge sails on Lake Union of the season.


Once Greta was ready to roll, Roo and I headed north again.  Our plan was to spend a final night or two with our good friends in Skagit Valley at the spot that had been our home base for the summer and then push off to the Methow Valley for a few days before  we started to head south towards Oregon.

So we departed Seattle for the last time (I thought) on 9/1, the Friday before Labor Day weekend.  We hadn’t been on I-5 North for more than 20 minutes when all gauges on the dashboard went out.  No speedometer, tachometer, engine temperature, gas level, or oil pressure.  I found myself driving on feel alone.  Not an auspicious start to this leg.  I called the garage, and unfortunately Kirk, the owner, was off for the long weekend taking a well needed break and the guys holding down the fort at the shop weren’t sure how to help over the phone.  So I made a decision to push on and connect with Kirk after the long weekend.

Roo and I spent a couple of nice relaxing days in Skagit hanging with friends, visiting our favorite spots, and getting prepped to depart the PNW.  Greta went in for a detailing and got her first wax job.  She looked great and was ready to roll, or so I thought.

On Sunday, 9/3, we pushed out to head up Highway 20, over Washington Pass to the town of Winthrop, WA.  I was excited to take Greta up and over Washington Pass.  It’s a long, steady climb, windy at times, and it would be a good way to test Greta’s mettle.

I expected Greta to get poky on the steeper of the inclines.  Kirk had told me to expect as much so I was not initially concerned when she was unable to do more than 55 mph on some of the steeper inclines.  But she seemed a little more sluggish than I had anticipated.  I hadn’t expected her to struggle to keep speed up quite so much.  And I could feel the engine fan kicking on a lot.  I suspected she was running hot and overheating but I couldn’t tell for sure since all gauges were out.

I saw some traffic coming up behind me fast so I pulled off into a pull out for a minute to let the line of cars backing up behind me pass.

That’s when things started going bad.  As I sat there idling, waiting for traffic to pass, the engine quit.   I tried to restart her and she wouldn’t turn over.  I got out, circled the van a few times, smelling and looking for anything that seemed off.   I waited 5 minutes and tried again.  No luck on the first try but when I switched over to the auxiliary batteries she started.   But I found when I switched off the auxiliary batteries, the engine struggled again and quit.

Shit! What to do? I was out of cell phone range.  Do I try to push on and limp her up and over the pass?  Do I put out an SOS sign up and try to get a passing vehicle stop and help me contact roadside assistance?  I was just a few miles from cresting the pass and I decided to see if I could limp her up and over.

She made it over but barely.  She quit a total of 3 times trying to make it over and when we hit the crest of the pass, she was chugging and struggling.  I was praying like crazy to the auto gods to just please please let me make it.  A long line of cars had stacked up behind me, and I’m sure their drivers were cursing me and my slow ass VW van.

As we started heading down hill, Greta mellowed out.  I could tell she still wasn’t 100% percent but she didn’t seem in imminent danger of dying on me.   We made it into Mazama and cell phone range.  I turned Greta off to give her a break for a bit and waited for friends to show up.  As I sat there, I was feeling pretty crappy and dismayed.  Heck, how was I going to make it through a year long road trip if Greta couldn’t handle Washington Pass?  It’s not that difficult of a mountain pass.  If Washington Pass was an issue, how was she ever going to survive the Colorado Rockies?

My friends arrived and as I followed them from Mazama back to their house, she died for the fourth time on the side of the road in Winthrop after having just driven about 15 miles of easy highway.  Something was way off.   I figured out that if I kept the power turned completely to the auxiliary batteries, she seemed to be ok.   So I turned the switch over the auxiliary batteries made it the last several miles to my friends place on auxiliary battery power.

It had been a long and stressful day.  I felt completely deflated.  I was supposed to be launching off, out of the Pacific Northwest and Greta hadn’t completed a 300 mile journey without major issues.

I felt even worse in the morning when I couldn’t get the van to start at ALL, regardless if I had power turned to the auxiliary batteries or not.  She was dead.

Since it was Labor Day and businesses were closed there was really nothing I could do but wait.   I was feeling really upset.  I started to despair and feel like the unluckiest person and that everything was falling apart.  But then I calmed down and started to take inventory.   Ok, so I’m stuck in the Methow Valley.  Is that so bad?  No, not really… if I’m going to be stuck anywhere I can’t really think of a better place to be stuck.  Do I really have anywhere I need to be within a particular time frame? No, not really.  And in the grand scheme of things in the world, this is not the worst thing.  The news was filled with reports of Hurricane Harvey, North Korea’s nuclear tests, and the forest fires raging through out the west.   That put stuff in perspective and I spent the remainder of Labor Day weekend trying not to fret while hiking, playing with dogs and catching up with good friends.

On Tuesday, 9/5, I connected with Kirk at North-Westy who had done the build out of the van.  As I hoped, Kirk did not let me down.  Kirk said he would drive out in a couple of days to figure out what the issue was all about and get Greta back up and running.

For the next few days I couldn’t really do anything except take walks with the dogs and hang out with good friends.  And in hindsight, this time was a gift.  I was forced to stop and take inventory and just let go and be ok with where I was at at that point in time.

The fire activity in the Pacific Northwest was causing ash to fall from the sky and smoke to obscure views and I think I had to work a little bit harder to stay positive when everything around me looked sort of ominous and somber.

Ash collecting on Greta.
The eerie reddish sun that gave the landscape an ominous feel.


While I was hanging out, waiting for Kirk to arrive to save the day, my friend gave me ‘The Surrender Experiment: My Journey Into Life’s Perction” by Michael A. Singer to read.    It couldn’t have been more timely.  The book essentially is the story of how all of these wonderful things happened in Michael’s life when he stopped trying to control everything and embraced what the universe brought his way.

While sitting around waiting, I noodled on what the universe had brought my way and over the next couple of days I came around to feeling pretty lucky vs. unlucky.  The Methow Valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve travelled and a place I’ve dreamed of calling home many a times.  What a great place to get ‘stuck’.  And if these issues with Greta had happened during the Vancouver Island trip with my mom along for the ride that would have been so much worse.  And my friends in the Methow are two of the most solid, grounded individuals I know and I couldn’t have had better sounding boards to turn towards during this moment of personal crisis.  And my mechanic was making the drive out in a couple of days to right the ship.  How fortunate to have a committed person in my corner.

Kirk came out on Friday, 9/8 and identified the root causes of the problem:  a bad connection to the alternator and something drawing battery power that shouldn’t be, completely depleting the main battery.

Kirk, owner of North-Westy.

The alternator connection could be fixed on site but what was drawing down the battery was unclear and Greta needed to go back to the shop for further troubleshooting.  He replaced the dead main battery with a brand new battery and that got Greta steady enough for me to plan on driving her back to the garage in Renton the following Monday.


Kirk’s Syncro 16 next to Greta.


That gave me another 2 days to chill out in the Methow.  Greta was running again and I spent the weekend driving around the Methow Valley, marveling at how freaking beautiful it is.

Pearrygin Lake State Park

I also hit some of my favorite places, including Hank’s Grocery in Twisp that has the best freezer section ever!  Where else can you contemplate what kind of frozen potatoes you’re in the mood for while a water buffalo hovers above your head?  Or have a Hyena stand witness to your choice of hand pie flavor?

On Monday, 9/11, with much trepidation I headed out in Greta, bound for Seattle and the garage to hopefully have the electrical issue resolved for good.  Greta charged up and over Blewett Pass and Snoqualmie Pass without issue and she got back to the shop just fine.  I spent another few days hunkered down at a friends house in Seattle, catching up on laundry and squeezing in as many chiropractic appointments as was possible.

A few days later Greta was ready to roll.  The electrical issue was resolved and the van had a thorough going over to make sure all was tight and right.   On Friday, 9/15 we departed Seattle again and headed out Highway 2, over Stevens Pass, to the Lake Wenatchee area.  Greta felt GREAT!  She devoured Stevens Pass without any issues.

We landed at Glacier View Campground on the SE side of Lake Wenatchee.    Hardly anyone around and we had a beautiful view from our lakeside campsite.

View from Glacier View campground.


The next day we set off to explore the town of Plain, WA which ended up being even tinier than I had anticipated.  Not really a town so much as a stretch of road with a cafe and grocery/coffee shop.

After breakfast at the only breakfast joint around,  I headed out rte 207, along the north side of Lake Wenatchee, down a gravelly, dusty forest service road to White River Falls. Roo and I had a GREAT day and night, exploring along the river banks and enjoying the peaceful setting.

The following morning, Sunday, 9/17, I packed up camp and prepared to push on and return to the Methow Valley.  But before hitting the road, on a tip from a passing traveler, I drove a little further up the road and checked out the upper falls and hiked a bit.  I stumbled upon a gigantic Western Red Cedar that took my breath away.  It had to be 20 ft across at the base and had clearly weathered many a storm.

Roo and I took our time making the drive from Lake Wenatchee to the Methow Valley and stopped along Rte 97, along the Columbia River, to romp on the river bank.

Columbia River along Rte 97.

Our return to the Methow Valley went without a hitch.  Roo and I spent 9/17 – 9/20 hiking and biking and driving around the valley and having a couple more days to visit with friends.

Old homestead
Pigs in a pasture. Praise the Lard!
Chaco and Sabe


On 9/20 we pushed off from the Methow Valley,  heading south towards Oregon without a very well planned route.  More on that leg to come in a later road report post.

One thought on “Report from the road #4 – to the Methow Valley and back.”

  1. Wow, what an adventure! I’m glad you’re safe and I love reading your perspective. We’re in Italy now and it’s good to see that the vita dolce is not worrying about time. I think I need to stay here to get in that mindset! Your photos are gorgeous. I can imagine the beauty you’re seeing. –Elizabeth


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