We woke up the Saturday before Christmas at 6:00 AM to windows layered in frost and an inch of fresh snow on the ground. The wind and rain that made Friday so nasty were gone, replaced by bitter cold and a tease of sunshine. We drove the 7 miles or so from our campspot on the FS road outside of Tusayan up to Grand Canyon Village, where we parked at the Bright Angel Trailhead to cook some breakfast before setting out to run down to the river and back up. It was just past 8 AM, probably 15F outside, so we crawled in the front seats to treat ourselves to a little car heater action while we finished our coffees. Justin cranked up Lucy, turned on the heaters, and about 20 seconds later, the engine shut off.
For 2 hours we (mostly Justin, honestly) tried to get the motor to turn over again. We hoped at least that we could get her started one more time and then drive to a mechanics to find out the real issue and get a fix, saving ourselves a tow. Eventually, we bit the bullet and called a shop in Flagstaff that came with a decent recommendation from the mechanic at the Grand Canyon. They were happy to tow us for $250, which considering it was a 4-hr round trip drive, seemed like a decent deal. We had a few hours until the truck showed up, so we were able to sneak in a quick run down into the canyon a mile or two and back up. It was hard to think about running or anything else except getting the car in shape, and I was in a pretty bad mental state coming back up.
Our tow truck driver Alfred was a friendly local guy, and the 80 miles back to Flagstaff passed pretty quickly as we chatted about cars, politics, airplanes, and traveling. He dropped us at the shop and wished us luck. Within a few minutes of starting the diagnostics, the mechanic came back with some bad news: one of the bearings in the timing belt pulley had seized, shredding the pulley and the belt in the process. It’d be an expensive fix to replace the whole timing assembly, but we had no choice. He mentioned that there was a small chance that the ruptured belt might have slapped the engine valves and damaged them, but he hadn’t seen it all that often on Subarus, especially if it broke at low speed, so he didn’t think we should be too concerned.
Except, the valves were damaged, and to replace them required taking out the whole engine block, several days worth of labor and a couple thousand bucks as well. There’s no way to know that until the timing assembly is repaired, so we still had to pay for that, only to find out that Lucy was drivable, but with imminent engine failure. I lost it in the lobby of the auto shop when they told us. Lucky for me, Justin kept it together and settled up with the mechanics so we could get somewhere and figure out our next steps.
We could have taken a risk, kept pushing on east with only 3 cylinders, but she was rough to start and we knew there was a 50/50 chance we’d end up stuck out in the middle of nowhere, needing another tow, and probably 200 miles from a rental facility.
Later that night, as we were sorting out a plan over beers , Justin compared it to having to decide to put down your pet. She’s still alive, but old and sick, and it’s just not practical financially to keep her going. It’d be easier if she just kicked it, wouldn’t start, wouldn’t move, and we had no choice about it. Instead, we had to drive her around a few more times, pull everything out of the back, and leave her behind in the de facto junkyard at the shop. Our plan right now is to drive a rental back to SC, buy a used car there, then swing back through Flagstaff and get the rest of our stuff (including our new-ish roof box) on our way back to Seattle. Driving across the country in Lucy felt like an adventure- not always seamless or Type 1 Fun, but still an adventure. And maybe it’s just our current level of sadness, but driving across the country in a rented sedan feels like a level of hell.
It’s been tough emotionally, which is only compounded by the expenses we definitely weren’t expecting. Money is only money, and there are much bigger problems in the world, but when you work hard and save and make sacrifices, it almost physically hurts to lose it unexpectedly.
There will certainly be more challenging times in our lives together as a couple, but losing Lucy feels like the end of the season of adventure we’ve been living. Her demise snaps us back to the reality of our situation: for all the fun we’re having, we’re not employed, money isn’t endless, and you have very little control over most of the plans you make. We will get another car, and have plenty of adventures in it (and hopefully fewer headaches), but Lucy will always be special. She’s the first car we’ve owned together, our first shared project, and the place we’ve made a lot of memories in. We’ve put a lot of love and energy and miles into her, and always assumed she’d kick along until our adventures this winter were done. We left her parked facing the mountains.