Note: This is a travelogue post of my breakdown near Leadville, CO. If you’re looking for what to do in case of a breakdown, that post can be found here.
The dispersed camping area near Leadville, CO is a curious place. My first evening there I discover that butting right up against it is a county park complete with porta-potties, handy for campers with small children or those without a bathroom of their own.
Just beyond the park is Mt. Massive Golf Course, highest elevation golf course in the US. Daisies bloom along the fence line.
Within the next couple days I drive into town and am tempted by a pasta food truck. I order fettuccine alfredo (tasty!) and get to talking to the owner, who asks what I’m doing in the area. I explain about full-timing, my blog and books, and work-camping, and he’s intrigued. He use to run a chain of restaurants in Oregon and Washington. The stress caused health problems and he sold the business and now just takes care of this food cart. He’s a lot happier.
Downtown Leadville is a cute area. I see posters in some of the shop windows: “Save the Tabor Opera House” and become curious.
The historic Tabor Opera House (completed in 1879) was reputed at the time to be the grandest opera house between St. Louis and San Francisco, and was one of the most costly and most substantially-built structures in Colorado history. During it’s heyday it hosted many talents, including Houdini, John Philip Sousa, Oscar Wilde, and Anna Held. Today it’s in disrepair and needs a lot of work to be made sound again. The City of Leadville has pledged to purchase the structure from the current owners to renovate it, and are raising funds to this end. It’s a beautiful building and I hope they meet their goal.
Back at camp, it rains for a week. Not all day, but every single day. I take advantage of the rare bit of sun for walks and photos.
One afternoon, a rider goes past Cas on a horse. Another afternoon, a couple take a walk despite the rain, their bright umbrellas bring a little cheer to the day.
The rain isn’t all bad though. Some days the low clouds cling to the side of the mountains surrounding town and the effect is quite beautiful, if rather monochromatic.
And one glorious evening, the clouds part enough for a nice sunset.
Finally I hear back from Amazon about my drug test, the reason I’ve been hanging around despite the bad weather. The morning of September 1st I hop into Bertha to make the long drive to Denver to pee in a cup, and discover frost on the windshield. Okay, it’s really time to get going.
It’s a long drive from Leadville to Denver, but the time passes quickly with the beautiful mountain scenery along I70. Before long I’m traveling through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which crosses under the continental divide for almost 1.7 miles at 11,158 feet. There are a couple stretches of 7% grades, and signs warning truckers to stay in lower gears.
The drug test is completed without incident. I stop in REI and find the fancy wool socks I like for hiking are on sale, so I buy a pair. I also stop at Goodwill and find a Columbia jacket in like-new condition for $15, and it’s one of the fancy kind with a waterproof yet breathable shell and a detachable inner layer. I’m very pleased. The drive back to Leadville goes just fine. Bertha has no problem with the grades and is driving normally. When I get home, I hitch up in preparation of an early start tomorrow south toward warmer climes.
September 2, Friday
Every full-timer is eventually going to have a day like today. But I survived, and when it happens to you, you’ll survive too. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded vehicle/RV breakdown.
Bertha’s engine overheats just two miles down the road this morning, and I’m forced to pull over. A nice local named Jim stops to help. The coolant is low, it seems to have bubbled out of somewhere. After letting things cool down for a while, we pour more coolant in (I carry some with me) and turn Bertha back on. She starts up just fine and idles normally, but as soon as I start driving the temperature immediately starts to climb again. Oil levels are normal, there’s no obvious problem visible under the hood.
I breathe a sigh of relief. Yes really, I do. I’ve been fearing being stranded along the side of the road since I started RVing four years ago. It might sound odd, but now that it’s happened, the pressure is off. I knew it was only a matter of time before car troubles interrupted my plans and now that it’s happened I can stop worrying about it and start solving the problem.
Jim gives me a lift into the shop in Leadville with the best reputation, which can see Bertha today because one of the big jobs they had scheduled has canceled. There I get the number for the better-priced tow company and give them a call. Yes, they can tow both Bertha and Cas. I have them drop Cas back off at the boondocking area I’d been staying at, then take Bertha in to the shop.
A blog reader who I’d been planning on meeting up with in Twin Lakes tonight sees my Instagram photo of the tow truck and picks me up from the shop so I can get something to eat. I hang out on my computer in the lobby in the afternoon while they run some tests on Bertha. My iPhone becomes corrupted when I try to update the software and for a while I worry that I’ve lost my truck and phone/GPS/source of internet in one day, but I reset it to factory settings and am able to restore it using a saved version of my phone on iTunes. Crisis averted.
The mechanic comes out to the lobby. For sure the radiator hose is busted. The shop doesn’t have one in stock and because it’s a holiday weekend, it won’t come in until Tuesday. Once they get that fixed on Tuesday they’ll be able to finish running tests to look for other problems. It’s very possible that the hose burst secondary to some other issue (thermostat, water pump, head gasket) but there’s no way to know for sure until that’s fixed. If it does end up being something more complicated, I may be stuck here longer as the shop is short-staffed next week and won’t have time for a major repair until the week I’m due in at Amazon.
But it’ll be okay. If repairs take a while, I’ll contact Amazon and ask if I can start a week or two later. I have transportation for the next couple days thanks to Ethan (the aforementioned blog reader), have enough money to cover whatever the repairs end up being (if you’re going full-timing always have an emergency fund!), and the weather is looking better for Leadville so I should be able to get out and do some exploring.
It wasn’t a great day, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
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