A last minute change in plans pointed me southwest across Nevada via US Routes 93 and 6. For the first time I was worried; the drive would be long and hot, and would lack cell service and the comforts of civilization. I worried about the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, despite it running fine up to this point.
So I worried, and 34 miles southeast of Ely on a 90-degree morning it broke down.
I called AAA with one tentative bar of service and argued about where my car had broken down. “What’s the nearest cross street?” she kept asking, but there was no cross street. I was on a one lane highway in the Nevada desert.
“If they just take SR-6 headed southwest out of Ely they can’t miss me, I’m 20-30 miles out,” I guessed before she put me on hold for an ungodly amount of time while I stood alone in the midday sun, sure that I’d be kidnapped by a trucker.
When my tow arrived we took the car back to Ely. The driver said I was lucky the car broke down where it did. “Once you get over those hills, there’s no cell service. Sometimes I have to pick cars up at Black Rock Summit and that’s really out there. It’s right in the middle. That’s bad.”
He told me about teaching math, science and mechanics at the local school in Ely. When he would retire in a few years he would fix up his Thunderbird and road trip around the country. I asked if he’d bring his wife; he told me she would probably die before then. She’d been battling cancer for seven years and wasn’t doing well. My problems felt smaller.
Back in Ely, the local mechanic couldn’t find a problem. He said the car must have become stuck in a low gear, but was fine now. I booked another night in town and planned for smooth desert driving the next day.
And on that next day, the car ran fine until Black Rock Summit, when the gear slipped once more on the way up the hill. We—the team that is my car and me—crept to the top, nearly out of steam. At the summit I let her coast down the other side; when she reached the bottom she was running fine again.
I pulled into Tonopah a shaky hour later and the car rested while I sought out a lunch stop, butterflies in my stomach throughout every bite of my turkey sandwich, heavy on the mustard.
We’re getting to California today, I told the car, and myself. I wasn’t about to cancel the night’s hotel reservation in Lee Vining, the eastern portal to Yosemite.
Heart-in-stomach all the way, we traversed Tonopah to the state border, and then Lee Vining. I settled in for the night, unsure of what to do in the morning. I was on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas and the closest services were mountains and miles away. I wasn’t sure she we would make it. Tomorrow we would try.