Well, we had an interesting weekend. We went out to Mono Lake, which was awesome. It would have been more awesome, but…
We took a 4WD trail around the south and east side of the lake, it was about an 18 mile trail, and was really great. A few sandy spots, but nothing the Jeep can’t handle. At some point “Reindeer Jack“, our antenna ball, went flying off due to the antenna hitting a bush. Remember that.
About 15 miles in, there were some sand dunes (that weren’t marked on the map) and recently with all of the wind they’ve had, the sand dunes have taken over the “road” we were on. No problem, we can go around the road… except that it’s all really quite soft.
We got stuck in the sand on the north-east side of the lake, about 3 miles from the end of the trail, just where the road heads away from the lake shore. (Check the map.) We ended up being really stuck and no amount of abuse of desert bushes as tire fodder could free us.
We slept in the Jeep overnight (which, incidentally, it’s 34°F and windy out there, good thing we brought warm clothes) and got an absolutely awesome display of stars, the milky way, and meteors. We slept maybe 3-4 hours and watched the sun come up at 6am.
Around 7am, when it had warmed up a bit, we started walking north towards Highway 167. We walked on the 4WD trail for about 3 miles. Highway 167 is pretty low traffic, especially in the early morning hours of a sunday, so we walked along it towards Lee Vining for another 3 miles, during which time about 10 cars passed us and kept on driving.
Finally, someone stopped to pick us up. They initially passed us, but slowed down, turned around, and picked us up. It was a very nice family with a big pickup truck, and they gave us a ride into town in the back of the truck. We found the tow truck people, told them our dilemma, to which the guy said “Oooh, the sand dunes…” in a knowing way. We got some candy bars and gatorade, and waited for him to be ready.
Pulling the Jeep out was no problem, the guy had plenty of winch line and chain, and it took maybe 10 minutes to winch me out and back onto a passable trail. Yay! We were off again!
We checked the undercarriage for damage, and drove to Bridgeport, where we had reserved a hotel, but hadn’t made it there that night. I asked nicely and they allowed us to use the room for a shower, so we got cleaned up. We got lunch, washed the Jeep, and headed towards home.
We got nearly there… to I-680, 30 miles north of San Jose. We were driving along, about 70mph, and I heard a “BANG”, then a lot of “ting, ting, ting”, and felt a loss of power. The clutch dropped to the floor. I pulled off the interstate and inspected the drivetrain under the Jeep.
The clutch housing seal was missing a bit, and I could see loose ball bearings through the gap. Not good. We called 911 (which, interestingly, you have to wait on hold for a long time for in the Bay Area) and they called a tow truck to pick us up. We finally made it home around 11pm.
The Jeep is going into the shop today for a new clutch.
(Adrienne proposes that this is Reindeer Jack’s curse, for us leaving him to fend for himself in the desert. We can both picture Jack, with his little reindeer antlers, sitting on a sand dune, laughing. Evil things.)