Toyota Rav

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Harlowton, Montana Fairgrounds

1) Fact: On August 16th, I loaded my string of dogs (Jigs, Chloe, Lolo, and Romano) and gear into my Toyota Ravioli and hit the highway headed for Indiana. I was sad to leave Montana in the middle of a perfect Big Sky summer, but knew I had many things to do back “home.” At age 43, I have spent half my life in Indiana and the other half in Montana. Some days when I feel divided between two places, I remind myself how lucky I am to have two homes with people I love at both ends… I guess this also fits into the good fortune category.

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Crow Fair 2014

2) Good fortune: On our road trip, I cut through the Crow Nation, rounded a bend, and witnessed a stunning sight — a white-capped sea of teepees rose up from the rolling Montana grasslands. I had stumbled upon the 96th annual Crow Fair, one of the largest modern day American Indian encampments in the nation. Over 1500 teepees are erected near the Little Big Horn River each year, making the Crow Fair “the teepee capitol of the world.” Next year, I plan to return to watch the pow-wow, parade, and rodeo. Plus, I really want to see the Indian Relay. After watching the gorgeous Independent Lens documentary, Indian Relay, on PBS, I would love to experience the horses, riders, and action firsthand. Go to http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/indian-relay/ to learn more, and click on WATCH VIDEO to view the 55-minute documentary for free.

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Romano… a dog with too many opinions

3) Fact: Romano, the new edition to our string, often howls when I tune my car radio to classical or country music stations. I have yet to determine if this means he really likes classical and country… or he can’t stand classical and country. My other three dogs are silent in the vehicle — you wouldn’t even know they’re in the back seat unless you turned around. Romano attempts to harmonize to the music, and talks to me when he thinks it’s time to stop for a walk. If he wasn’t so cute, he’d be very annoying.

 

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Indiana sunset

3) Fact: After putting another 1800 miles on Ravioli, the String and I crossed the Indiana line on Tuesday evening. Indy was having an unseasonably cool summer until we pulled into town. Now it is in the 80’s with high humidity. The daily lightning and thunder storms have been intense. Romano lets me know hours in advance that weather is moving in… the poor guy goes manic running laps around the yard, whining, trembling all over, and trying to climb the gate. Thankfully, I know that when the temperature drops low enough, he’ll always calm down if I let him sit in Ravioli — Romano loves his car. I leave the windows wide open (even if it’s raining), and have two Ryobi fans blowing on him to keep him cool and also add some soothing white noise. When it’s cold enough, I’ll try a Thundershirt on him.

The Toyota Ravioli parked at a cemetery in Texas back when she was just a pup  at only 150,000 miles. Pig, my great Iditarod lead dog, is on the left, Jigs in the center, and Borage to the right.

At only 150,000 miles, the Toyota Ravioli, parked at a cemetery in Kansas, was just a toddler in this photo. Pig, my brilliant Iditarod lead dog, is on the left, Jigs in the center, and Borage to the right. Pig and Borage now travel with the String in spirit…

4) VERY good fortune: My beloved 1999 Ravioli waited until after our 1800-mile road trip was over to blow a leak in its original radiator. When I pulled into a restaurant just miles from my Indy home, I noticed coolant spraying from the front of the vehicle. I couldn’t help but laugh, feeling so fortunate this did not happen in the middle of South Dakota. And then the next day, as if to reinforce how lucky I really am, I got a flat tire on my way to the mechanic!?! I tried to remove the car jack so I could change the tire, but the bolt holding the car jack in place under my seat was rusted tight (I usually carry a larger jack but took it out of the Rav in MT because I had no spare room). A can of Fix-A-Flat given to me as a going-away present by a friend saved the day. I inflated the tire and drove a few miles to Indy Tire for a patch job. The man who worked at the front counter said, “I’ve never seen someone with a flat tire so happy.” And I was happy… feeling oh, so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time once again. They repaired the 3-month old tire, and used a large wrench to loosen the frozen bolt on the jack, oiling the threads so it will be ready when I need it again. Just as I pulled away from Indy Tire, the Great Ravioli’s odometer rolled over to: 276,000 miles.

 

 

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After Ravioli died last Sunday on a lonely stretch of Montana highway, my mechanic turned the ignition and immediately declared the three dreaded words, broken timing belt.” I am a Toyota-owner devoted to taking my 1999 Rav 4 for the long haul. “Wouldn’t it be cool to hit 500,000 miles?” I often tell my friends and family, excited by the possibility that my vehicle is just now hitting middle-age. Only a very few select people (mostly mechanics) get as excited as I do when I talk of testing the endurance of my little SUV-that-could.

During the 12 hours between having Ravioli towed to White Sulphur Springs and getting the call from my mechanic detailing the extent of the damage, I was overwhelmed with a strange sadness. A giant hunk of metal, plastic, rubber, grease, and glass shouldn’t make me so emotional, yet it does. Some of the best times in my life were spent road-tripping with my mom in this vehicle. Driving down the highway, I can still picture her sitting there next to me, her purse tucked between her feet on the floor, a dog draped over her lap. I spot an old farm house, or some flowers, or a dog, or a train and I long for my parents — they both loved to take drives just to “look at things.” What I wouldn’t give to have them back in these seats for just one more trip down to Greensburg, me half-watching the road and half-looking where they point, hearing their voices saying, “Look over there…”

I know that cars don’t DIE — they just break, they stop working. We have the option to move onto something newer, better… or we can repair what we love. If only the rest of life worked that way. “You’re in luck,” my mechanic told me when he called the next morning. “Ravioli has a non-interference engine. Most new cars have interference engines which means that when a timing belt breaks it usually does serious damage. My dear, Ravioli just needs a new belt… and she’s ready to roll again.

It’s silly, I know, but I teared up when he told me the news. Non-interference — I like the sound of that.

DSCF1647On the way home from the mechanic’s garage, Ravioli turned to 272,000. And, no, your computer screen isn’t plastered with dust, my dashboard is!

BROKEN TIMING BELT
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How could this be??? I’ve been religious about changing Ravioli’s timing belts on schedule. My Montana mechanic, Heath, and his wife, Shelly, drove 35 miles from White Sulphur Springs to Martinsdale at 8 pm on a Monday evening to tow Ravioli into the shop. Talk about amazing service! I’m crossing my fingers and toes no other damage was done… and that my trusty steed can be restored to her old (“vintage” sounds better), yet dependable self.

DSCF1545Ravioli’s current odometer reading: 271,663 miles. But tonight, she gets a free ride off into the sunset.

 

 

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… tying your broken-down Toyota Rav to the back of a kind stranger’s truck, and allowing him to drag you 13 miles back home. I was SO THANKFUL my Ravioli’s battery failed on a main road instead of the dozens of remote forest service roads I enjoy “getting lost on” every week. Billy saved me this morning by offering me a tow. But once we got rolling it was pretty scary driving with limited steering and brakes, especially since I was following way close to his rig. Billy knew what he was doing though, and I thank him for taking an hour out of his day to haul me and the four dogs safely back to Martinsdale. Tomorrow, I’ll drive my old Ford dog truck (a.k.a. the MOOSE) to White Sulphur Springs to pick up a new battery. I hope that vehicle makes it!

 

Thanks, Doug!

Thanks, Doug!

I’m devoted to my 1999 Toyota Rav 4 (a.k.a. “Ravioli”). The vehicle — basically just a big dog crate on wheels — has delivered my string thousands of miles across this country. Yesterday morning after I stacked my belongings and 3 dogs in their usual places, I popped the hood for a quick check of the fluids. I was horrified to discover an empty coolant reservoir. WHAT NEXT? I thought, knowing better than to say it out loud — I didn’t really want an answer. I dialed up Ravioli’s “doctor” and, as always, he answered the phone. “What’s up?” Doug said, knowing I must be stuck somewhere with a sick car. When I’m broken-down on the road, Doug rescues me with his knowledge by phone; when I’m stalled-out in Indiana, he’ll come looking for me. Thankfully, yesterday I could drive the Ravioli straight to his house for a consult. It didn’t take him long to find the problem, mend it with radiator stop-leak, and send us on our way. As I merged onto Interstate 74 WEST, I glanced down at my odometer, catching the numbers as they rolled to 266000. I love my little Ravioli…