How I went from mushroom grower to axle hunter to boomerang kid
I suppose there has been a small leap in narrative between my arrival home in early December and my prolonged parking job that has lasted till now, two months later. I therefore have the feeling that some of you are wondering why am I still living at my parents’ house, working among the mushrooms growing in their basement. It’s pretty simple, really: both my wheels and my sidekick have been under the weather— not to mention the weather in this country is going bananas right now, so I am actually pretty relieved to be somewhere solid. But maybe you’d like to know how it’s all going.
The living-at-home-again thing is actually pretty great and beyond the fact that my parents are relaxed, loving roommates, who make it easy to spend many fortnights under their roof, I think it helps that we also know that it’s a temporary situation. I have not moved back in (Is it appropriate to say “knock on wood” here?); I am just here until my team is back to health.
You likely know the story of Rennie by now: he ate some furniture foam; he had to get emergency surgery to remove the blockage; while in there, the vet scraped his intestinal walls to get a biopsy and figure out why he had also gotten so thin over the last several months, and the tests came back that he has Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is probably best compared to Crohn’s Disease in humans, so he has to eat special food and drink only filtered water for the rest of his life. He is doing better. He has maybe even gained a little weight and we are waiting until his follow-up appointment in about two weeks to get the go-ahead to hit the road.
Roxanne, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. I guess you never heard the story of my bad tire change in Canada. Remember how I got a flat in New Brunswick? Well, about 800 miles later, I was in Philadelphia with Pep, who had come over from Barcelona, Spain, to tag along for a week of my travels, and while parallel parking the car, one of the back tires went on the curb and revealed itself to be flat. Roxanne is a dualie, meaning there are two back tires on each side of the vehicle, and so while one of the inside back tires had been changed in Canada, now the outside back tire on the very same side of the car had to be changed in Pennsylvania.
It seemed like an odd coincidence, really. Turned out it was not. They had put a slightly larger tire on there in Canada and so, not only had it destroyed its neighboring tire to the point that I had another flat, it had destroyed itself, wearing the sidewall down to almost nothing, making a double blow-out almost imminent. I cursed the bad tire job, thanked my lucky stars that nothing worse had happened and paid for two more brand new tires.
Fast forward another 800 miles to South Carolina, where I started noticing a loud noise that began at exactly 53 miles per hour. It was not an especially alarming noise. There were no accompanying sways of the camper or losses of power; it was just kind of noticeably audible. But when I rolled into Georgia, I knew that I needed to get to the mechanic pretty soon. He did a full check under the hood, finding a few wear-and-tear type things, like loose hoses and an oil leak. And then he started wondering about that side of the vehicle, where I had just put on three new tires.
Turns out that putting the wrong size tire on your car can totally annihilate your axle. The mechanic said that I was going to have to find a new axle, because the bearing on my current one had started to spin itself silly and the wheels could have flown off at any point. Again, I had been lucky, especially when you consider that before I came back to Athens, I had been in Savannah, trying to get to Jacksonville, Fla., but that had not worked out, which must have been a blessing.
And so began the process of driving around the state, picking up axles, taking them back to Roxanne in the garage, trying to get them to fit, and finding out that either they were too short or too thin. It was actually just two that we had to pick up and return, but it was 12 hours of driving total— my dad behind the wheel, me in the navigation seat, Rennie in charge of security.
When it became clear that finding an axle could take all year, because for some reason, they are not standardized and therefore, buying one based on the vehicle year and model does not seem to help, the mechanic had to come up with another plan. He went to a welder. Now, some of you probably just recoiled: “A welder? What, to ‘glue’ your axle back together? Why don’t you just put plastic drinking straws back there? They’ll probably hold up better.” But actually, just to reiterate what I said earlier, it’s not the long rod part of the axle that has weakened; it’s the part where the bearing slides on, and it had worn itself too thin to keep the bearing tightly intact, so all the welder did was build up the metal again to be able to hold the bearing firmly in place.
I have not heard back yet from the mechanic, whether or not this new fix has worked. As of yesterday, he still had to put the axle back together and see if everything would hold together. But if it passes his test, then with all four tires now the same size, there should be no problem farther down the road. And if there is, I know what it sounds like.
So now you know what’s keeping me here— not that it’s a really bad thing. I know for a fact, for instance, that one day I am going to look back on it nostalgically and wish it had lasted longer. At the same time, it’s going to be a good feeling when I do finally get to hit the open road again. I miss it.