"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans", so the quote from John Lennon goes. And so it went for us on the first day of our multi-day camping/backpacking Yosemite adventure. Little did we know that the adventure would start with a blown radiator on a very hot day in the Owens Valley.
Between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes along Hwy 395 is a section of road called the Sherwin Grade. Going north, it ascends roughly 2500 feet in elevation in a 10 mile stretch. On any summer day this will test the cooling system of your vehicle. Ours failed on the way to Tom's Place (a small town with lots of campgrounds) where we had planned to tent one night at the East Fork campground.
Given that the (original) radiator in our 4Runner was fairly clogged, I was pushing uphill speeds around 60 mph in a loaded car and had the A/C going, the Sherwin grade had an easy win that went like so:
Just after I noticed the temperature gage pinned beyond the red, I pulled to the shoulder as a loud "POP" sound could be heard from under the hood, steam and boiling radiator fluid gushed violently from the radiator's reservoir container. Life was happening, that's for sure.
Cars whizzed by in their own struggle battling the grade, non stopping for us. Can't really blame them. So there we were:
4 PM on a Hot Saturday afternoon
No cell service, courtesy of Sprint
Not enough water to refill the iron hot radiator.
The engine smelled horrible and I wondered if there was more damage than just the radiator.
But sometimes there are delicious silver linings that go along with situations like this. For us, they came in the form of generous strangers and just dumb luck:
• With no cell service, Virginia tried dialing 911 anyway. The call wouldn’t connect but after pocketing her phone for about 15 minutes somehow the 911 operator was able to connect back to her phone. We started hearing a tiny voice from Virginia's shorts. "Hello? Do you still need help?" Hello??" Virginia took the call and we got connected to the local AAA towing service out of Bishop. How did this happen? We really don't know.
• While we waited, a friendly CHP officer pulled up and offered to stay with us until our tow arrived in about an hour. We said we'd be fine, but thanks anyway.
• After he left, storm clouds covered us in blissfully cool and breezy shade while Sam, the friendly AAA tow guy showed up and prepped the car for the tow back down the grade to Bishop.
• While the 3 of use rode in the front of his Ford F450 Super Duty tow truck, Sam took a call from his cell phone (AT&T). It was the CHP officer making sure we had our ride and weren't still stranded. Nice.
• Sam took the car to Bishop Radiator and Auto Repair, which unfortunately was closed for the day (Saturday) and are not open on Sundays. We'd have to find a motel near by for (at least) one night. However, Sam gave us the cell number of the radiator guy. "Call him tomorrow morning. I'm pretty sure he'll be able to help you." I was thankful for the tip, but truly skeptical. Sunday auto service in Bishop? I wasn't so sure about that.
• As the tow truck pulls out from the radiator shop, we're wondering how far we'd have to lug our stuff to the nearest motel. We look down the street about 100 yards to see a Motel 6, Best Western, Vagabond Inn and a Denny's. Nice. We got one of the last rooms available at the Best Western and settled down with some cold beer and the Sierra channel for the evening.
• In the morning I walked back to the car, called the number and left a message. While going through more stuff in the back seat I was trying to figure out how to deal with all the scenario's that could play out. We'd probably have to wait until Monday for a repair, which meant we'd forfeit an expensive reservation in Yosemite, and be late to the next reservation after that. Or perhaps we'd have to rent a car while a major repairs were done.
• A friendly black cat appeared at my feet and I got a little distracted while scratching her neck. Just then, my phone rang and I had the biggest silver lining moment of all. During a short conversation with Christian, he informed me that he'd be down to the shop in about 25 minutes, had the right radiator in stock, and the job would take about 2 hrs. We'd be on our way before noon. Wow. I couldn't believe our luck.
• During the repair we took a swim at the motel pool while the valley temps started their daily climb. We then took a early lunch at Denny's, checked out of the motel, walked back to the radiator place, paid the bill and bam: back on the Sherwin Grade with a fresh suit of armor to claim revenge on yesterday's loss.
So a big thank you to all these kind strangers that help us in our hour of need. Especially Christian at Bishop Radiator. Sometimes angels come with dirty fingernails, and that's just fine with me.
A tip to all my friends who travel U.S. Route 395: If your vehicle is running hot or acting up near Bishop or you can get towed to Bishop, here are some resources that we found invaluable and trustworthy and you shouldn't hesitate to put these in your contact list:
Bishop Radiator & Auto Repair
1280 North Main Street
Bishop, CA 93514
Christian or Jose will hook you up and get you going. You won't be disappointed. A special thanks to these guys - especially Christian who opened the shop on a Sunday morning to get us on our way. A more pleasant mechanic, you'll hardly find anywhere!
Mr. K Automotive
24Hr AAA Towing and Auto Service
175 W. Grove St.
Bishop, CA, 93514
760-873-7149 or 760-872-7611
These guys work out of Mammoth Lakes and Bishop. Sam or Bob know where to tow your vehicle for the service you need.
And if your phone shows "zero bars" yet you're really stuck, try dialing 9-1-1 anyway. Somehow they can connect to your phone on a magic frequency to get you help.
Have you ever been saved by the kindness of strangers? Let me know, I'd like to hear your story.
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