Jeep Adventure Part V: Getting Home

Read about the first part of our adventure here

I twisted my wrist.  The key rotated about its long axis, taking the ignition tumbler with it.  Click.  The electrical systems energized.  Kept turning as the spring resisted.  The instant the circuit closed, electrons jumped between the copper atom shells racing along the cables and through the coils of the starter solenoid.  Teeth grabbed and began to turn.  The starter worked like an outmatched sumo wrestler windmilling his larger opponent over using speed and leverage.  The engine turned while the smaller motor was spinning.  This much I had expected.  I held my breath without realizing it as the cylinders played a suspenseful drumroll.  And the award for most rugged engine design goes to…  Sparks combusted the fuel and air forcing the pistons down.  Inline 6 cylinder!  It started!

Now it was merely a matter of driving without a clutch, avoiding overheating again and finding our way out of the desert.  Transfer case in 4 low.  Now to get into first gear.  I couldn’t resist the urge to depress the clutch pedal as I shifted.  I just jammed it in, as I’ve been known to do, and we were rolling.  What luck!  Things were looking up and that’s a good thing considering what we did to address the second issue in our three part problem.  I reached down to the climate console and turned the heat on high to help manage heat under the hood.

Ambling along at a few miles per hour with the heater on was still preferable to hiking out.  We made it back to the way up onto the ridge and crawled up.  We rode the ridge back to a point that it turned towards where we wanted to go or continued back the direction of where we had camped.  Back towards the camp was known but had a formidable incline immediately after the fork.  Not wanting to have to stop and start again we needed to decide quickly.  I took a chance on the trail which seemed to go where we wanted.  Eventually we found a way back down into another wash.  I took it somewhat abruptly and the grade was a bit steeper than the passengers were expecting.  Someone questioned “We’re taking this way?”  Yes, we did.  I killed the motor to take it slower and then rolling started it in gear towards the bottom of the slope.

It seemed like we were where we wanted to be but there was still some uncertainty as we rolled along.  Our hopes rose as we noticed evidence of more traffic through the sand and eventually the trucks and trailers that had hauled off highway vehicles just far enough into the wash the park and unload.  The wash opened up and we saw the exit and final cattle guard.  We had made it out of the wash and were just a few short feet from the pavement.

I thought it was a good time to switch back to two-wheel drive.  It was actually a little late for that.  I wanted to continue rolling but couldn’t make the switch soon enough before getting onto the blacktop.  We rolled into the parking lot in neutral and stopped without being able to get it back into gear.  We pushed the Cherokee a few feet to avoid obstructing traffic.  Some older guys in a newer Wrangler drove by and wished us luck.  I’m sure we looked sufficiently sorry.

After considering pushing the Jeep to get it rolling and then popping it into gear I realized I could put it in gear before starting it.  We climbed in and I gave it a shot.  Engine off.  Shift into first gear.  Start the engine.  Hey, it worked!  Lets see if I can slap into the next gear.  Success.  We motored up out of the recreation area and onto the highway to make our way home.

Every light was a challenge.  We tried hard to avoid stopping knowing that the battery would only have so many starts in it.  Every attempt was made to time our arrival at the light with it being green.  Our timing was often so close to when the light would turn green that our ability to avoid stopping was dependent on the vehicle in front of us charging the intersection soon after getting the go ahead.  Some cars didn’t really get with the program and we almost did some accidental bodywork.  Think a PT Cruiser looks lame?  Wait till you see it after my Jeep has run over it.  We came within inches of one multiple times.  They might have been trying to teach us a lesson but they would have had themselves a learning experience.

We would’ve kissed the ground by the time we got back to my house had it not been so hot and had we not been so tired.  We had to stop at every light in the last few miles.  Every time the engine cranked strong in spite of being in gear I was glad I had spent more than $200 on the Optima YellowTop gel cell battery under the hood.

After cooling off briefly in my house we set about returning the adventurers to their abodes.  Rachel was kind enough to drive Cody and Landon home with me in her car.  Those classy gents thanked me for organizing our little outing as they were each delivered.  Must have suffered some heat stroke.  In spite of it all, no one was hurt and I think we had fun.  Thanks for going and for being such great sports about it, Cody, Landon & Rachel.

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