Journal Three: Diary of the Open Road

Diary of the Open Road

Diary of the Open Road: Day Seven

Diary of the Open Road: Day 07

We knew when we signed up for a cross-continental road trip in a ’95 Chevy Astro, we were basically asking for a break down. It wasn’t so much of a matter of “if” but more like “when”. 

Truthfully, we didn’t expect it to happen on day seven, but there we were tucked in the corner of a buffet restaurant connected to Shell in the middle of nowhere in something, Tennessee. The drip coffee as depressing as our situation. 




But before I get ahead of myself, here’s the story. 

It went something like this:

We were driving. 



And then the radio kicked out.



And then the engine started to shake. 




And then Vince died. 



As terrifying as it can be to literally have your vehicle break down while you’re behind the wheel, all I can do is praise Jesus for clearly having His hand over our situation. Sometimes, people who know me make fun of me for getting over-excited about simple things like sunsets and good, fresh, moist, fluffy, doughy, home-baked bread, but perhaps, it was my over-excitement for these things that may have potentially saved our lives today. 

Just before Vince began showing signs of death, I looked over to my right to see fields blanketed with the prettiest yellow flowers you could imagine. As someone who had just been living in a Canadian winter one week ago, all I could think of was how much I wanted to run through those fields like the little kid I sometimes become. Morgan and I enthusiastically decided to take the next exit and treasure hunt for a back road that would take us to them. As we slowed down to the yield, the engine began to shake and I could feel us decelerating while my foot on the gas should have had us accelerating. And I can truly say it is by the grace of God that a Shell gas station was the next turn to my right as Vince had just enough life in him for me to pull in and back up into an open spot. I didn’t even have to put him in park because he died right there. 

But we were safe. Confused, yes, but safe.

That could have happened on the busy, high speed highway we had just exited. 

It could have been bad, and it really wasn’t. 

We are very thankful.

After a phone call to Morgan’s Dad who suspected it may have been an issue with Vince's alternator, he advised us to ask around if the mechanic across the street was reputable. When we got some mixed and unclear responses from people we talked to, we decided it was worth it to call CAA and use one of our five insured tows to take it to Jackson where we could have a mechanic at Meineke take look at it.




After a full diagnostics, the problem was discovered to be the alternator, which was news we were hoping for. They told us they would have us out of there by closing, 5:30 pm. 

For the fine price of $384 US that robbed our coffee budget. 

Current coffee budget: negatives.


5:30 pm rolled around and Morgan was called to the front desk. They explained that they had successfully replaced the alternator, and we would be all good to go in a matter of minutes. We had began packing up our things when the mechanic came back out and approached us with sleeves rolled up and a discouraged face as she dropped the news that as they were backing him out of the garage, Vince died again. 

Right then and right there. 


Turns out, the alternator was very broken. But that wasn't all. 

To explain, our van has a secondary battery that sends a current to an inverter which allows us to run appliances without draining the main battery that the engine runs on. Unfortunately, the supposedly "brand new" battery installed in the back was actually four years old and far past its expiry date. Not only did the battery need to be replaced, but it was the cause for the alternator failing as it overworked it to nothing. A chain of reactions that could have been easily avoided had we known what we know now. You live and you learn. 

And although we felt like our situation was piling up to a point that seemed overwhelming, we were at the right place in the hands of people who had our best interests in mind and went above and beyond to give us the help we needed. 

Here's how:

1.) The three mechanics on our case worked for an extra hour and a half after operating hours, so we wouldn't have to wait around in the morning for Vince to be fixed. 

2.) The woman we had been talking to primarily, who's name we discovered to be Emily, personally drove us to the nearest auto parts shop to buy a new battery ourselves, so she wouldn't have to sell us one for the mark-up price. 

3.) And then drove us to Wendy's and bought us supper. 

Like, I'm not sure if this is a Southern thing, but that to me, goes far beyond customer service. 

4.) When I asked her how much it would cost for them to install the new battery, she simply said in a quiet voice, "just don't worry about it. If I have to install it myself, I will. We've got you".  

I couldn't help but tear up a bit at the words, "We've got you". In a world it can be sadly difficult to trust people, to encounter generosity and kindness like that, made the stress and confusion of this day begin to fade. 

5.) They also waved all diagnostic fees.

To the crew at Meineke, we don't know how to thank you. For your skill and hard work and especially the laughs. We won't forget any of you.




And although this day held a great measure of stress and long, tiring hours, I kind of (half) loved it because of the memories we now carry with us. Our tow-truck driver, Mike, brought our spirits up by sharing stories of his motorcycle trips to the west coast during the ride, told us “we’d be there in no time”. We treated ourselves to avocados and raspberries and set up a picnic while Vince was in the shop. We felt like we found the right people to help us, people who didn’t take advantage of the fact that we are two young chicks who happen to know very little about vehicles. From the mechanics who were just so awesome for reasons mentioned above to Charles, the hotel guy, who gave us a huge discount on a room after hearing our story.



We decided to check into a hotel for the night to get the best quality of sleep we can before making up two days worth of driving tomorrow. This may not look like the "van-life" you see on Instagram. It's real life. 

Today, we chose to laugh instead of cry. I mean, any crying was just for dramatic effect. We decided to focus on the ways Jesus protected us and the people he put in our paths to help us through this instead of get discouraged by the extra expenses and the time lost. I don’t have photos of pretty, yellow flowers and rolling hills at golden hour for today, but this is part of our story. And in a strange way, I’m glad it is. These are the parts of this journey I’ll share with my grandchildren one day. That time I had no idea what I was doing and got through it anyway, learned to roll with it and not lose heart. Like my dad always says, “just stay the course, Sarah. Just stay the course”. 

I’m learning what that means, through every mile and every experience. It’s going to be okay. 



sarah kierstead