Remember I mentioned the temperature yesterday – 8 degrees – that is, it is 8 degrees BELOW zero!@!@#@~@!#~~
So this a.m., prior to finding out the true distance from zero the temperature was, I left with the rising sun, counting on the nite’s ice disappearing with the light, anticipating Des Moines and reconnecting with lovely activists there.
What I didn’t count on was the fuel freezing. First hitting the freeway, I noticed the truck straining to get up a hill. Thinking the wind must be furious again today, I planted my hands carefully on each side of the steering wheel, prepared to fight to stay in my lane.
Soon the truck began puttering and sputtering. Oh no, I’ve been through this before, in the very beginning, when I attempted to run on biodiesel through another cold wintery day in Georgia.
But I haven’t run biodiesel since the Sierras at least 5 days ago now.
Western Iowa is desolate, not unlike the deserts of western Texas, bleak and stark, especially when covered with the brightest, whitest snow imaginable for miles and miles.
There is evidence of trees, oasis now, surrounding a cluster of farm house buildings infrequently here and there - and some times straggly maybe 4 across trees running in a straight border along the boundary of the farm - evidence of clear cutting, probably many eons ago.
I worry about making it to Des Moines in time for the protest. I see an exit 2 miles ahead. Creeping toward the exit, I see ‘lodging’ sign so I take it, thinking I can make calls at the hotel and at least be in a warm place. As I pull off the interstate, the sign indicates 3 more miles down a narrow, 2 lane little road.
I’d rather take my chances on the interstate – at least there I know eventually another vehicle will come by - and maybe not a small-minded small town person.
I switch back onto the freeway entrance, going about 35 mph now. I idle for a few minutes, trying to get the ice or whatever it is dislodged and fuel circulating, hopefully.
Pulling back onto the freeway, I travel slowly down the right lane with hazards blinking until I see traffic coming – then I pull over onto the shoulder and creep along.
Strewn along in the side ditches as well as in the medium, are hulks of abandoned semi’s - cab & body at severe 45 degree angles, dually trucks and the more infrequent smaller car. It is not encouraging.
Finally I see another green sign announcing the next exit 6 miles away. 6 miles. Hmmmm. I check my speedometer – I am now reduced to 20mph and traveling on the snow-covered but solidly packed shoulder.
I give up getting to Des Moines in any reasonable hour.
But I will try to make it at least 2 more miles. How often growing up did I hear my dad tell me he had to walk 4 miles to school when he was a kid, through winter weather too. So I figure if I make it to the 4 mile mark, surely I can walk as far as my dad did when he was a little boy. (my dad was born & raised in Iowa)
5 ½ miles, 5 miles, 4 ½ miles – I see a billboard blaring “food, fuel, next exit” in the desolate white horizon. It is very hilly here, but amazingly straight roads, up and down, down and up further.
The sun is excruciatingly bright and the heat in my truck is blasting, but my feet feel incongruously cold. I have hit the 4 more miles to go mark and I feel so relieved. I can walk from here if need be.
The truck trudges on, sometimes dropping to 5 mph, sometimes rolling downhill up to 15mph. I’m traveling all the time now, on the shoulder – unless a bridge appears and the shoulder disappears.
There seem to be more semis and cars passing now, making the landscape seem less bleak.
Suddenly at less than a 1 mile to go, I see a huge American flag waving on top of the hill. I mean HUGE to rival those at car dealerships on Mission Street in Hayward! Oh no, not a good sign. Another little smaller one appears close by the big one. Two huge flags dotting the landscape.
I’ve made it though – it looks like not one but TWO gas stations – one for each flag. A “Kum and Go”, believe it or not (only in Iowa) and a Casey station. I know neither station will have a mechanic but I scrutinize the buildings as I inch along the exit, trying to make the unexpected garage to appear.
Crossing over the interstate toward the gas stations, I glimpse a large sign that I think reads “White People” with "Road" underneath – quickly reappraising, I realize it says “White Pole” – not sure if that’s reassuring.
The tall, early 30’s white fellow behind the counter is friendly enough, selling me 911 unfreeze-it stuff for my gas tank. He tells me you have to purchase diesel 1 in this weather, not diesel 2.
Hmmmm. He tells me he's been through this before many times and there are no diesel mechanics in this town – and I am in a town – I can see evidence of houses a few feet down the road from the stations. There are also several hotels and motels.
I empty the plastic bottle of 911 goop into the tank, top the tank off with what the fellow assures me is the best anti-freezing blend of diesel one and two, and take off, attempting to get back onto the freeway but being forced to try driving around the parking lots of the Super 8 and Days Inn. Unsuccessfully. Once again, I can barely reach 20mpg.
I return to the gas station to announce it didn’t work. The guy reiterates, trying the mechanics about 6 blocks down won't work - they're the ones who don’t work on diesels - EVER. I ask him to call them – so I can break the ice so to speak- it tends to help to talk with them first, when stranded in the middle of potentially bigoted lands that boast huge American flags and White People/Pole roads…
‘Driving’ down the narrow, tree-lined street with semi-huge Victorians, spacious yards lining the little road - no poverty in evidence here. I note a sign clearer of snow that says “We Support Our Troops, Victory in Iraq” along with more smaller replicas of the giant flag.
What can I do? I continue down the road – 4 more blocks. By now, I’m going about 2 miles an hour, despite my best efforts to go faster, and she seems almost unable to move forward period. I can see myself stuck on this road, no I can’t see myself stuck on this road. I see the red brick building of the repair station on the left another block away – but I notice another auto repair station on my right which I have limped into. Maybe the guy at the gas station forgot there are 2 repair folks in town!
I leave my truck idling and rush inside – he doesn’t work on diesels, but the next guy oughtta be able tow me to his place… he says with a nod toward the brick building, his competitors.
When I return to my truck, she has warmed up a little and I can proceed forward, 5 mph now. I drive the remaining block, cross the street into the parking lot out in front of the old garage.
The older white man, who I spoke with over the phone to tell him the pink peace truck was on its way, stands in the lot empty of all but his truck, watching me pull in.
We had already had the conversation about no diesel work but I convinced him I had an extra fuel filter, if he could put it on.
30 minutes, one long conversation with another fellow, and $65 later, I’m back on the road again, this time going the speed limit – but too late to make it to Des Moines, still an hour away.
I’ll try to make it to Iowa City…