How 2+1=11 Part B: Spokane

In the first installment of 2+1=11 we saw 2 weeks become 3 in Seattle. No big deal, all we had to do in Spokane was exchange our winter clothes & camping gear for stuff more suitable to the tropics and swap out a headlight & wiper blades on the Subaru. No problemo. I’d taken care of all the heavy lifting on the car months before- even laboring much of the previous winter to prepare for this trip! I had even worked on the car the winter before that (2010-11) in preparation! We would still make it out to Montana before Halloween with time to spare to see Glacier National Park & Yellowstone. Little did I know what was in store for us! Cue laughter from Lynne.

Brace yourself for a mechanics saga! For those less enthralled by reading about car work, pictures are at the bottom (including your favorite- car work! :)

Leaving early from Seattle that Saturday morning October 20th 2012 we rolled into Spokane before noon and headed right back out to go north to Chewelah to visit my dad’s side of the family who was splitting the distance for his oldest sister’s birthday party. We had the added bonus of seeing my grandma as well. I was happy to be out of the Roo as it was a handful to drive overloaded! We met my brother in North Spokane and the 4 of us headed up together. Once again it was great to spend time with family! We spent the remainder of the afternoon at my grandma’s house and our timing was perfect to rototill her garden! I somehow managed to time my visit in the spring well also! It was the first year since I was a kid that I was able to till her garden in both spring and fall! It brings me a lot of joy to see my grandma still working in her garden at nearly 90 years of age and with a big garden at that! I have loads of admiration for this woman in countless areas of life. She’s a quiet pillar in her community who’s been affecting lives around her for many decades. Out of all the people I’ve known she’s lost more people close to her throughout her whole life- her father when she was young, her sister/best friend as a teen, her brother- a Marine killed on the beach landing in Guam, her husband when I was still a boy and most recently, her oldest daughter- yet she is always bright & encouraging. We don’t choose our family and in this way I won the lottery many times over!

Back in Spokane the next day I shot family photos for Lynne’s cousins as a small thank you for our time in Neah Bay. The weather turned that next week in Spokane for the first time in months as I edited images and organized things at my dad’s place. We attended a square dance with the Story family our near Mt Spokane and felt the chill in the air as fall had officially arrived down south. After 17 years I decided it was high time to remove the dead branches in my dad’s large birch tree. Lynne belayed me high into the tree as I cut out the parts that were the source of its ailments. We were only a few days from departure. … or so I thought- hahaha.

I began the process of researching the million and one little electronics details necessary to support shooting photos and video on the road for months. Initially I looked into cloud storage or a vpn connection to a machine back home but research and trials showed slow upload speeds would cripple such a plan. Eventually the plan became to just carry more hard drives and a few more memory cards. Being a person who wants the best possible deal this process drug on until the new year in SoCal!!! Halloween came. we were in Spokane. Just a few days to go now! Sadly I passed on an opportunity to head to the Banff Film fest in Banff Alberta with my friend Dave Ohlson for the premier of his film K2- Siren of the Himalayas. We needed those 3 days to be ready to go by that next Tuesday .. we could still make Yellowstone before November 5th when the road closed!

As a precaution I checked the front brake pads on the Roo as there was steering wheel wobble while braking. The passenger side inner pad was quite thin so I opted for Napa’s most heavy duty pads for cooler running & longer life. As a bonus, I replaced the rear shocks with new ones from Autozone. Lynne smiled. Just a couple extra tasks. No big deal- neither of those car jobs took over an hour. Somehow another week had passed. On November 4th we went for a hike to Rocks of Sharon & Big Rock overlooking the Palouse with my dad and his youngest brother as exercise had been lacking in our trip preparations. This lined up well geographically with a visit to see my best friend Dave and his family at their farm house out in the country southeast of Spokane. In between work the next week we got out to take Roscoe on a long walk above my dad’s neighborhood. He enjoyed it as much as we did! November 9th surprised us with snow! Not only did we miss visits to Glacier & Yellowstone but we were missing the main part of our plan to head south during fall and miss winter altogether. This would put a wrinkle in our packing plans as it’s tough to pack the same clothes for Montana in November and March in Panama. Three people in the Subaru does not allow the luxury of packing both (or anything at all according to Lynne)!

Yet another weekend was upon us! It was my brother’s birthday and the 5th annual Bonfire at Sekani! Snow and cold temps scared many usual suspects away. well at least we were only days from leaving. Another treat in our tardiness was catching a visit with my friend Sandra over from Germany and Chamonix. We celebrated Lynne’s birthday in the packing scramble of determining the minimal/ optimal gear for our time through the deserts & tropics followed by mountains of South America! At Pull N Save north in Spokane (one of the city’s wonderful U-Pull wrecking yards!) I found a comfy rear seat making Lynne very happy, trim strips to reattach the rear ceiling and create storage netting anchor points, and new sun visors- all worth their weight in gold. I checked the front wheel bearings and the drivers side was becoming malo! It had lasted the 10k+ miles since my alignment in the Spring when Tom, owner of Expert Alignment, told me I could make it about that far. He is one of the most honest and best mechanics I’ve met in a long long time! He’s the only person I would pay to work on one of my cars! I can’t say enough about this guy as he offered me a lot of advice and help over the phone and in person as I was working on building up the Subaru for this trip. Thanks Tom!

I built a more sturdy shelf for the back of the Subaru as the one on our dry run to Utah the previous spring had had issues with its 1/4″ plywood construction. I under-laid it with a smaller piece of 3/4″ plywood obtained from the garden and some wood screws. The date was November 19th!! EEEEEkkkkk! Lynne had been patient for weeks- four to be exact! But she was ready to be on the move. This trip had to start sometime! As a happy birthday present and an effort to keep her in good spirits (and on board with the trip!) I put her on a plane to Denver so she could have thanksgiving with her sister as planned. I would be on my way in a matter of days with my pops! Or so i thought! This was becoming much less of a hahaha sort of thing. After my nth trip to Pull N Save in north spokane to find a variety of Subaru Parts and braking a long 1/2″ drive breaker bar + a Craftsman 1/2″ drive ratchet while removing a hub (one of several front ends I removed for the hub/wheel bearing assembly per Tom’s recommendation), working through rain or snow days I thought I was super close. At this point things began to spin out of control.

I had violated one of the key rules of wrenching. Don’t work after dark in inclement weather out in the driveway when you’re tired and hungry!! Well rested and well lit, sure work in the rain or snow. But THIS is always a bad idea. My biggest mistakes have always occurred with this combo. It’s mainly the lack of sleep/ darkness combo but rain and snow don’t help. In the name of caution I had opted to replace a front brake caliper with one from Pull  N Save as my old pads had worn unevenly. I should have just put brake grease on ‘em and called it good. A couple days before thanksgiving I was working well after dark in the driveway while it was precipitating- perfect time to bleed the brakes right? On my first wheel cylinder I noticed the nuts retaining the wheel cylinder studs were loose. I Used a small 10mm combo wrench to tighten ‘em. Did I clean off the Alaska mud first and spray some WD 40 or equivalent on ‘em? No! SNAP!!! My inverse happiness index maxxed .. or so I thought. The next morning my pops picked up another wheel cylinder from Napa. unfortunately it lacked studs. I headed to Lowes that night before thanksgiving at it was the only store open. I’m not sure why they call themselves a hardware store because hardware they have not!! Especially in metric!! The next day I savored time with family. A treat as I thought I was going to miss my second thanksgiving with family of my life! The next day it was back to the brain bashing fest! My dad had picked up some all-thread as soon as stores opened. I cut studs to the proper length and cleaned the ends with a die/ thread chaser. With this on the car I thought I would be done with a routine brake system bleed in 20 some minutes. Wrong again. I somehow managed to strip the rear passenger bleeder valve threads on the wheel cylinder I had replaced the previous winter when I replaced the rear brakes!!  This was heading well beyond ridiculous. Yet another trip to Napa and I thought I was out of the woods. HA!! How I managed this is beyond me but even using caution I managed to cross thread the retainer nuts thus destroying another wheel cylinder!!!! Frustration levels were right up there with the inverses happiness index. The time pressure to be gone on this trip was felt more acutely with each mistake. After a lot of deep breaths I did the only thing to be done, strengthened my resolve and picked up another wheel cylinder at Napa. I installed it  with only one hitch. In my haste to head inside the previous night I had not capped the rear brake line adequately enough. Fluid slowly leaked out the line … not something you want to do .. as bleeding the entire system becomes quite difficult (air becomes trapped behind a lip in the master cylinder I learned). After yet another wheel cylinder I carefully installed it and bled the system. There was still air in the line (soft brake pedal on first depression). I bled it another time. I bled the master cylinder and and all 4 wheels … again and again. I should have gone to the effort to do a hydraulic bleed but oh well. I’m in Mexico now- todo tranquillo.

So the short of it, I spent a week fighting fires that we’re necessary in the first place had I left the front caliper alone. Then things really got interesting. The shifter has had a LOT of slop in it for as long as I’ve owned the Roo. Rebuilding the shift mechanism always seemed like a large endeavor so I’d left it alone. What better time to tackle such a project than after full on battle with the Roo in the midst of winter a month after I thought I’d be rolling south towards Mexico. It turned out to be more simple than I thought barring the exception of a tricky double drift pin. I was stuck out at Pull N Save north and had resorted to the bigger hammer methodology I used to chastise my pops for. It wasn’t until I bumped into a kind soul- Matt Gordon- a local Subaru expert who was also searching for parts. He had it off in a a minute telling me of the mysterious inner drift pin (after I had already removed the cotter pin in the middle and the drift pin it rode inside. Who wouldla thought that amidst all that grease the ridge that appeared to be part of the shift relay that housed the inner drift pin & cotter pin I had removed was actually another drift pin? In this process I also replaced snapped exhaust bracket off the transmission and battled over what sort of deep cycle battery setup to run. We made the switch to full synthetic oil after running the numbers and seeing it’s way cheaper and better in the long run + it avoids the hassle of oil changes between WA and Panama when using Mobil 1 extended wear 15k mi synthetic oil. A note from Mexico- the math breaks down however if your oil usage increases in different driving conditions.

While replacing the shift linkage mechanism on my Roo I noticed another ominous woe. The inner CV boot for the drivers side drive axle was torn and grease had splattered the surrounding area. Oh me oh my! I had just replaced this drive axle for a very pretty penny on the way to the Yukon the previous September … in a Canadia Tire Parkinng lot!!! But that’s another story. So I once again tore down the front end. In the process I also noticed a torn ball joint- another item I had replaced in my full run through of the car the previous winter!! I had lost count of the times I have taken the front end apart! With the drive axle out I once again visited my buds at Napa that night and picked up a new CV dust boot with new CV grease. Working on it well rested the next morning I could only laugh. The boot didn’t match my axle. The stock Roo boot (and axle) is round. My Canuk boot needed to have expanded portions- called a Tri Lobe pattern. I went to another Napa to see if they could find a boot to fit my special Canuk axles. They offered to sell me a new axle at a good price. I meandered on to another fun wintry day at Pull and Save North where I was well known as a regular customer! I pulled some axles and looked for one in decent shape as that would be the fastest/ least expensive solution. I picked one up but it looked oldish and had small cracks in the rubber boots. After a stop by Sekani and managing to get the Jetta stuck I headed to napa’s Regional warehouse/main store on Freya. Near closing it was quiet inside so the counter man spent a half hour measuring my boot and pouring through books to try to find one that would work for me. I was indebted to him as his efforts paid off and he found one that would work. It turned out to be for Chrysler minivans, Chevy 1/2 ton pickups, etc. Boy was I gad to have that adventure behind me. Well almost. The next morning while my dad helped hold the retention band from rotating while I reefed on it with a pair of dike cutters (the method recommended by my friendly napa advisor on north monroe who really does know his stuff) I somehow had exerted a bit of extra force on the band and …. POP!!! it snapped and I reeled back with all my force unleashed (had been holding the entire workbench back with my hips!) My dad took a dike cutter in the face not far from his eye socket!! I felt terrible and took him in to stop the bleeding. WOW! This about summarizes how things went in preparing for this trip. Later he said it felt like being punched pretty hard in the face … with a hunk of metal.

At this point, you’re saying to yourself. “Wow Jon, that was a lot of awesome detail about workign on a Subaru. Thanks Jon! I only wish you’d written more paragraphs!” I’ll see what I can do in the future to aid your quest for detailed Sooob info as I took many photos of the repair work. You’re welcome!

The calendar said December. I was finally moving away from car work to the simple packing work I’d envisioned back in early October taking a week to accomplish. I had a few new hard drives in my possession- mainly 2.5″ laptop drives to carry along for multiple backups while traveling and a large internal drive for a vpn backup at home (which soon became apparent was doomed to be in the solution set by slow upload speeds). One of the last thigns I had to do was agonize over the amount of tools to take. Every square cm in the Roo is precious as we would be packed to the gills. But being far from home is not when you want to discover you are missing a key tool to take on a repair job. it’s liek Alpine climbing- the bare minimum with everything you need. In the preceding weeks I had created a 16 page packing list in Workflowy with every single detail we could think of! After a zillion other little details not mentioned here, I had dotted every I and crossed every T! Eventually all that remained was driving my way out of winter to Colorado where Lynne claimed it was 70 degrees in Boulder. Snowstorms & freezing rain were hammering the my region causing a final 1 day delay. Then after a seemingly endless time in Spokane I hit the road on December 10th 2012 bound for Montana and my dreams that lay somewhere to the south.

I really appreciate the patience of both my dad and Lynne and especially her encouragement to make it through the countless frustrations! They both offered immense help in getting this trip on the road and pointed south.


4 thoughts on “How 2+1=11 Part B: Spokane

  1. Dude, Jon. I read your entire mechanical adventure. I read every word. I read your words, slowly. I wanted the story to go on and on. I wanted it to never end. That part of this entry is likely 1 of my most favorite blog entries I have ever read. Yes, really.

    As a young boy, I was not into bicycles. Don’t know why, but as each of my friends’ parents got them a bicycle and they learned to ride, my parents did not. I’ve never thought to ask them why, and maybe they didn’t know that other parents were already buying bicycles for my peer group? Dunno.

    But at the very senior age of 7 years I finally got my very first bicycle; there was no looking back. I took to that bicycle like a newborn mammal to their mother’s swollen breast. I loved to think about that bicycle. I loved to look at the bicycle. I loved to sit on that bicycle. I loved to ride that bicycle. I loved that bicycle. And since my dad had a full a decent home workshop of tools, I learned to love to fix that bicycle.

    By the age of 9 I could overhaul my single speed, reverse-to-brake, BMX bike. That includes removing the bearings from the pedals, on the bottom bracket removing the lock ring on the adjustable bearing cup to remove the adjustable cup to remove the single piece ashtabula crank arm, as well as the rear hub including the 2 metal brake pads (double wedges of metal) from the hub’s brake drum.

    By age 10 I was charging my friends to repair their BMX bikes.This grew into a slowly aggregating but inexorable empire of wrenching and cash that would put me through college.

    But that’s a small digression. What’s important to convey is that I was a rabid bicycling enthusiast that saw cars as less than necessary and as part of my growing political identity I chose to avoid getting a Driver License in highschool. I had my bike, well, actually by highschool I had accumulated more like 8 bicycles of various configurations. Why did I need a car? I could ride everywhere.

    Later, while in the University of Washington in Seattle, I would happily ride to Everett or Renton to attend a college party. Heck, on days off from college classes my main interest was going on a 70 ~ 120 mile ride.

    People thought I was strange, this included even my childhood friends. But that really didn’t matter to me, I had my love – bicycle – and I had my politics – anti-car. And so I never drove a car in highschool. In college I still didn’t have a Driver License. Everybody else had a car and often friends would argue who got to drive the group to some event…. cars were everywhere and I didn’t need my own and I didn’t get my Driver License until a coup;le week before my 21st birthday.

    I thought it socially strange to go to a bar for my first legal drink in public and show the bartender an ID Card, rather than a Driver License. I guess I did have some fragile ego that I felt it was time to give in, time to experience political backstepping, time to negotiate with myself, wanting to fit in, wanting to step back from becoming (or remaining) a pariah. So yeah, I got my Driver License just a week before my 21st birthday and up to that point never ever driven an auto; not once.

    But that’s still a small digression from my main story I wanted to write about. The short of it is that I was never into wrenching on autos. Many friends in highschool really got into it. Most of my later life male friends that grew up in small towns had gotten into it. I did not.

    But I never met a person that could fully strip a bicycle frame faster and with more care and precision than me. I loved to wrench, on bicycles.

    I didn’t buy my first car until I was 38 years old, and it felt really weird to be responsible for this amazing collection of systems, sub systems, bolts, belts and fluids. I felt like a new father, new with his first child, responsibility seemed endless and daunting. And it was at that exact moment that I decided I would choose to learn how to wrench on autos.

    I’m an autodidact who loves books versus the brute force of Trial and Error, but I also flourish when in the company of a skillful individual that is also skilled in presenting their knowledge.

    My self guided auto wrenching education has been of the shady tree mechanic persuasion. I do almost no preventative work on my cars, instead, I fix them when they make it clear to me that they want some attention, which is often when I’m on an extended roadtrip. Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Likely, yes. But the protagonist is very skillful and educated in his wrenching and does almost no repair work because his consistent intimate engagement with his motorcycle prevents any emergency work. Yeah, that’s not me.

    I only know how to do the mechanical procedures that my car has needed to be performed. And since my choice of rides is quite similar to your own, I get consistent opportunity to learn new things! I have a 1984 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon. To make clear, this is a true 4WD, it is not an All Wheel Drive. Though I don’t have a transfer shift to 4-Low and 4-High, I do get an Extra Low gear when I shift into 4WD.

    Thanks for sharing your pre-trip wrenching adventures!!! I’ll say this again, this entry is easily 1 of my favorite blog entries I’ve ever read. Thank You!

    Here’s a photo from October 2012 of my car, with it’s newly decorated hood from a two-step dance gone wrong with a Buffalo in Wyoming after climbing in the Wind River Range – Cirque of Towers for 9 days in September 2012.

    • Dave I’m glad you liked it! I wasn’t sure I was going to write much about my months of wrenching experiences as I figured it would fall upon dead ears. I have plenty more such material from the previous winters working on this thing preparing it for the journey! You especially have a connection to this car as Kevin’s mom bought it new in ’83 so you probably recall it from when you were growing up! I also started working on bikes before cars or just about anything that needed fixing when I was a kid! Have you read Off the Map: Bicycling Across Siberia by Mark Jenkins? you would love it! He also describes his love of bikes as a kid and how that led him to such an incredible journey! That Buffalo really messed with your ride! That must have been after climbing with Kunzo.

  2. Near closing time @ Napa/main IS the best time there! Early Spring coming here. I’ve already ridden 300 miles:). Thanks for calling!

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