On the Road- Day 2, Part 1

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Waking up to Nebraska.

The following was taken from a daily handwritten journal I kept while on a recent photography trip from Iowa to California and back. It is meant to provide insight and dismiss suspicions that this is a carefree occupation of no work and all play. (Click here for the introductory post.) I’ll be the first to admit that I am still learning, and the last to claim I have it all figured out. This is simply the story of my experiences, a day by day account of what it’s like to be a nature photographer out on the road…

September 22, 2014

I woke early, intending to get a jump start on the day. It was still a six hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, and my plan was to get there early enough to go out on a scouting hike and hopefully find somewhere to set up for a sunset shoot. Out of my tent at 6:45 I took a minute to look around, seeing my surroundings for the first time in the daylight. It’s always kind of funny when you pull into an unfamiliar park to camp after dark and develop this hypothetical vision of what’s around you, only to emerge the next morning into a totally different world. The wide open field that I had thought was right behind my tent turned out to be a grassy buffer strip between the campground and the lake. It’s a good thing I didn’t wander off too far in the night.

I made short work of breaking camp and got set to leave. Still a bit paranoid from the noises my car was making yesterday, I rolled down the window and listened closely as I pulled out onto the road. Sure enough there it was; a constant steady screech even louder and more obnoxious than before. I took two slow laps around the campground, but it wouldn’t go away. Feeling a bit sick and fighting the urge to bang my head against the steering wheel I pulled over and tried to investigate. I got out of the car and walked around it repeatedly, looking for something obvious. I grabbed each tire and shook vigorously, feeling for play that might indicate a faulty wheel bearing. Like I say, I’m no car guy but my Dad had taught me that much. Everything seemed fine. Perplexed I got back in the car, dug out my phone, and turned to Google for help.

Five minutes later I had a full prognosis… and a big problem. I’d entered the cars symptoms- clicking noise in the transmission and incessant squeaking- and scanned through a few online automotive forums. Sounded like I had a U-joint going out. Furthermore, as the internet experts explained, if left unattended this would likely cause my drive shaft to fall apart, catapulting the car into the air and dooming myself and anyone in its trajectory to a fiery death.

Now that didn’t sound good at all.

Opinions were split as to how long you could actually let this go. Some thought you could make it hold out for a couple hundred miles while others argued it to be ignorant and irresponsible to have such a vehicle on the road. There was not a single mention of it being alright to drive from Nebraska to California like this though, especially with side trips that would traverse windy mountain roads. I had little choice. I eased my way into the nearby town of Lexington and waited for a service garage to open.

***

A mechanic behind the counter greeted me with a smile and a warm hello, despite his eyes being drawn to the Tiger Hawk logo on my University of Iowa ball cap. Lexington’s embedded deep in Husker country and it was a bold move to be walking around town in anything other than Big Red. It was early though, and I was being super polite, so he decided to let it slide.

I explained my situation, that I was on my way to California and the car was making some odd noises. Without hesitation, the man rose to his feet and said, “Let’s go check it out.”

We took the car for a spin around Lexington, myself riding shotgun while the mechanic drove. That guy must have had a magic touch because from the minute we left the garage the car purred like a kitten and ran like a champ. He put it through the ropes- braking, accelerating, swerving this way and that. Not a squeak, click or knock could be heard. We returned to the shop, and he said he thought everything was fine.

“Well,” I told him, “I’m still just a little bit worried it might be a U-joint.”

“I don’t think it’s a U-joint,” the mechanic said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because this car doesn’t have U-joints…”

Once again, for the record, I am NOT a car guy.

He went on to explain that front wheel drive cars don’t have U-joints, they have CV joints, and he still didn’t think that was a concern. Instead he suspected I had a thin coating of rust on my rotor from the moist air after being parked by the lake last night, and the squeal I heard was just that wearing off.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to drive this thing to Cali,” the mechanic said as he stepped from the car and handed me my keys. But before he disappeared into his garage I had one last thought.

“If it was rust, though, why was I hearing the noise already last night?”

“Huh. I’m not sure,” said the mechanic pausing at the door. “That is strange… Well, good luck!”

And with that he was gone.

I should have probably taken off the Hawkeye hat…

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