It’s all fun and games until somebody breaks an axle (again!)

April 10, 2012 in North America, Travelogue, United States

You know that dull moment the world has been threatening me with? I’d like to have it now. Please.

Pre-launch is crazy. You already know that. There’s really no way around it except to power through.

This week we’ve got the lovely Kari Bell in residence, the world renowned cacao goddess and one of our favourite backpacking buddies from our winter in Guatemala. She’s one of those people who brings light and joy everywhere she goes. She loves us enough to fly red-eyes across the continent to squeeze in a few days of visiting before we hit the road and enough to be enthusiastic about helping us move our entire storage unit from one facility to another. THAT, my friends, is love.

Kari & Tony at his birthday party last year... she'll be here for this year's too!

We’re getting through the lists. The visa applications for Thailand and Vietnam are all filled out and waiting to be approved later this week. The cottage has been sorted and is ready to downsize when we head to NH this weekend. It’s all coming together.

The icing on the cake: having the grandparents at the cottage for Easter. There’s no one I’d rather have over for a huge food fest than my parents. It’s fun to cook for people who like to eat and my folks are my very favourite low maintenance house guests. I get a lot of joy from watching my Dad joke with the boys and watching my Mom watch her grandchildren with that slightly misty-eyed smile that must be the iceberg tip of joy at the knowledge that she did that with her life’s investment in our family. That will be a good moment. I can’t wait for that.

Just about the time that I’ve found my calm space in the center of the prelaunch storm, the other shoe drops. In this case, it wasn’t the shoe… it was the axle.


There really is no sound quite like it: the explosive BANG of metal under tension snapping like a piece of old fashioned stick candy. It happened as I was getting ready to make an illegal left turn (we didn’t emphasize that to the ensuing police officer) and I knew immediately what had happened.

My mother was in the passenger’s seat and so I didn’t say most of what came to mind initially. But my gut instinct was a paraphrase of, “Daggum it I just dropped the stinkin’ axle.” Just as quickly I entered denial. Perhaps it was just a belt snapping under HIGH TENSION with a whiplash like crack. Perhaps it was a hose blowing off like a bomb shock. I refused to consider the transmission. It could not be the transmission. I would not allow it.

I rolled the van carefully down the incline under the watchful eye of the kind town employee who’d stopped with his green truck and flashing yellow light. We called triple A and The Man and we waited.


You might be wondering how I, not exactly a mechanic by training, knew instantly that I’d snapped the axle on our lovely bean-green-bus. It’s because I’ve heard it before. Last March, to be exact. I was riding home in the back of a pick-up-truck around the Lago, having climbed Cerro de Oro on a sultry afternoon. I love riding in those trucks, wind in my hair, the smell of the countryside mingled with humanity mingled with exhaust fumes. It is in those trucks that I feel most free.

We rounded a packed dirt turn in San Pablo and the driver gunned it up the hill when the unforgettable sound was burned into my memory and the truck lurched to a stop. Broken axle, laying right there in the dirt. Mayan men standing around scratching their heads. Mayan women with their rainbow wrapped bundles being lifted down from the bed of the truck and wandering away. Needless to say, I took a tuk-tuk home.

This is a charming story, one of those that the travel hardened tell over a bottle of Sol in the bar after they’ve washed the dust and axle grease from their legs and that their backpacking friends laugh in solidarity with. It’s less quaint and colourful when it’s one’s own vehicle left languishing in the dirt.


Atop Cerro de Oro

I was talking to my friend this morning as we both drove toward airports on opposite coasts, telling him the story. “DUDE!” He laughed (he calls me Dude, even though I’ve reminded him that I’m a girl.) “DUDE! Remind me never to let you drive my car!! You’ve busted TWO axles in ONE year?” Indeed.

“Perhaps the axle is a metaphor for something in your life,” Kari sagely suggested when I told the story across the wobbly glass table in the cottage some hours later. This lead to wild conjecture about what it meant and what I should be learning.

It occurs to me that there are many metaphors that could fit:


  • Breaking the axle could symbolize the things we do in life that are self destructive and bring forward progress to a halt.


  •  Or perhaps it’s about the need to keep patching the ship, stuff breaks, we’re left standing by the road. We can cry in the dirt, or we can get the van rolling again.


  • Maybe it’s to remind me that a big bang and a lurching halt are what’s needed sometimes to get my attention, to remind me to be thankful for the small things, like a cell phone, my parents being in town with their second vehicle, AAA membership and English speaking mechanics.


  • It could be as simple as a reminder that life is short and precious. If that axle had broken on the highway at 60 miles an hour, or if I’d pulled part way out into my illegal left turn, if any number of variables had shifted just a tiny bit we could be in the hospital right now with a thoroughly wrecked vehicle.


  • Or maybe, I’m just too fat and my excessive weight is breaking one axle after another, as my weasely little boys suggested.


“You could break the snoot off an anvil!” My Dad announced, with his signature smirk.

So it seems.

Spending $600 on a new axle after spending $100 to repair the windshield that was cracked last week is just what we were hoping to do with our Easter weekend.

So here we are, two weeks from the 3000 mile road trip with a new axle and new windscreen on the van we hope to sell. We’re loading her up this weekend for an exercise in moving stuff we don’t use and visiting people we love lots. Let’s hope she holds together.

After that, after we get through this marathon weekend, I’d like to place my advance order for that dull moment.

I’d like it delivered, wrapped with a bow on Monday morning to the cottage and I’d like it to last at least a week.

Is that too much to ask?