The Breakdowns Part One: "24 Hours of Cribbage and Other Time-Consuming Techniques."
Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you’re riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!
Bob Marley, Wake Up And Live!
It’s a long road from Kelowna to Ottawa; about 4500 kms. Which is about 2797 Miles. That’s about 49,227 football fields. Driving a distance like that in a 1981 Volkswagen Westfalia (Clementine… Or Clemmie) – through mountains, valleys, traffic, and in the cold – is bound to do a number on both the passengers and the vehicle. In this particular case, I think there was more damage to the vehicle and our wallets than to ourselves.
The real problems began as we crossed the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Clemmie had been riding well for most of the ride, save for a couple long climbs up mountain passes in Revelstoke, The Kootenays and Banff. She was lopey – she topped out at about 95 km/h on the flats – and we were okay with that, in fact we thought that was how Westfalias ran… - Wrong. (But more on that later!)
We crossed into Manitoba after a leisurely jaunt down the Yellowhead Highway. This was a much nicer route (and much more exciting) than the endless drab of Highway 1. We’d just come from a stop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta.
As we passed the border, we noticed our top speed had dropped to about 70 km/h. The motor in the back of our van was struggling to get to the higher rpms of third gear, and sounded… tired. The rhythmic putt-putt-putt of Clementine had changed to something more like putt-putt-burp-fart-putt-fart-putt… We, being relatively cash strapped, decided to ride it out a little longer in hopes that maybe something had been knocked and would fix itself.
By the time we merged onto Hwy 1, the situation hadn’t changed. Sedans, vans and giant trucks were getting caught behind us in lines a kilometer long. We were no longer safely bumbling about in our tin-can van at a steady 90 km/h, we were now a menace to society at 70 km/h. We shined it on until the ringroad around Winnipeg, and Kasey took to her phone to find a VW specialist.
Enter Smedt’s Auto Restore, in Selkirk, Manitoba. After Kasey talked to Bill on the phone and he said he could have a look at our van, we crept up past Winnipeg to Selkirk. He had a great little goat farm tucked away in a stand of trees amidst farm fields for miles. We pulled in, and after about 12 games of cribbage (probably 2 hours?) he had a diagnosis, and a potential solution.
Four hydraulic lifters weren’t actually lifting, thus 2 whole cylinders weren’t performing. (For a super cool engine infographic to help understand all of this, see here.) We had effectively traveled through most of Manitoba on 2 cylinders, and what’s worse is that he indicated that Clementine had been underpowered for much longer. We bought her running on 3 cylinders, rather than 4.
Westfalias are lopey vehicles, and are oft considered underpowered. Usually they top out around 110 km/h. We thought we had just over-loaded her with instruments, clothes, and the necesseities of van life… But no – she was running on 3 cylinders.
Anyways, Bill had offered to try and restore the vehicle to all four cylinders, and due to an amazing hole-in-one stroke of luck, he had exactly 8 brand new lifters designed for our van in his shop. (Seriously… It was really really lucky.) The catch was that we couldn’t start the van, and he would need to work on it the next day in his shop. We would stay overnight, and then hang out in the yard while he worked away at the van.
So he lowered the van, we rolled it into place under some trees, and made the bed. He started work on it the next morning. This is when I learned a lesson in humility…
Cribbage is probably the most frustrating game I’ve played in my life. It’s cards, a board, and little pegs – you’ve probably seen a crib board before. It’s harmless. However, I was ready to frisbee that little board deep into the trees to never ever be found again at least once a game.
The whole game swings on the hand you’ve been dealt. Somehow, Kasey is the Wayne Gretzky of cribbage. I won the first game, but for the next 24 hours of our cribbage fest, I suffered defeat after painful, crushing defeat. I watched my own excitement turn to frustration, jealousy, misery, and then to acceptance in every losing game I played… Which was about 98% of them.
Somewhere in this fog of losing games, the clock struck 3pm, and Bill came out with some good news and bad news. He’d restored Clemmie back to 3 cylinders, thus putting us in a better position to make it to Ottawa for thanksgiving. The bad news was he couldn’t get the 4th cylinder going. Try as he did, he couldn’t get the matching lifters out – they had seized inside the engine. He pieced the engine back together for us, and after paying him and thanking him for all the time he spent on the van, we were on our way to – eventually – our next breakdown.
Next Issue: What to do in Sault Ste. Marie when you’re stuck in a Canadian Tire parking lot for Thanksgiving weekend!