$24.30 + $31.95 = the cost of a miracle


Back in the summer of 1990, freshly married, in limbo between college and seminary, we watched a film series on Sunday nights at Newberg Friends. It was Gary Smalley, as Tamara reminded me yesterday, talking about family relationships. What stood out to a bunch of us was that families should take camping trips. Why? Not because of the good memories, but because you will have a crisis, and those are the things that really bond and cement relationships. Just days after seeing the film, Steve and Diane and Elaine and I drove together to Seattle for Corey and Jill’s wedding. Somewhere on I-5 in the middle of Washington, a yellow jacket or a wasp got in our car. We could not get it out, had to pull over on the side of the highway, flew out the doors, and laughed until the coast was clear. A crisis-cemented relationship.

This trip we just took was no exception. I’ll remember tons, but the first I’ll write about is the crisis.

We spent a day in Jackson, Wyoming after our time in the Grand Tetons. Elaine suggested we visit Craters of the Moon National Monument on our long way home. We drove almost four non-stop hours, the last hour and a half through the high, sparse Idaho desert with a fierce headwind. It was blowing so hard that for the first time on the whole trip, the RV kept downshifting in order to keep its highway speed up.

After 45 miles without a town, we came to the thriving metropolis of Arco, Idaho; population 1026. We’d been talking about chocolate; Talli and Elaine love dark chocolate, of which we had plenty–Hayley and I were craving milk chocolate, which we were out of. All through the tiny town, we were debating whether we should stop and buy some milk chocolate. At the last possible mini-mart, I made the decision, and pulled over. It was the last chance for another 45 miles.

I got out of the RV, walked around to the passenger side…and behind the rear wheel well, flames, literal flames, were licking the edge of our RV. OUR VEHICLE WAS ON FIRE. I am not exaggerating. Actual fire. I was idiotic enough to kneel down and try and blow them out, and smart enough to tell Elaine to turn off the propane. The guy filling his car with gas said, “If you’ve got a fire extinguisher, you better use it, because that will go quick. ” Fire extinguisher! Duh. I pulled it out and emptied it on the flames. The wind was still blowing so hard that the embers kept glowing, so I got our water bottles and kept dousing it and pulling charred pieces out until I was sure it was out.

Then I totally wigged out thinking about what could have been.

We had no idea it was on fire, and could have easily just kept driving. That would likely have meant losing the whole thing to fire in the middle of nowhere. Imagine 60 miles an hour, trying to stop, getting the family out…

I choose to think God was taking care of us in huge ways, and I realized that even as I kneeled down by the wheel well at the mini-mart in Arco, Idaho. But we saw God’s care in more and more ways as time went on. We were 500 feet from an RV park, which ended up being the cheapest one (outside of campsites in the national parks) we stayed at for the whole trip: $24.30. They even had free horseshoes and minigolf!

Mini golf in Arco Idaho

We actually had a really good family evening.

What started the fire, you’re wondering? Somewhere along the way, the last 18 inches of our exhaust pipe fell off.

Cause of fire

Those four hours of hot exhaust from the hardworking engine in the wind got the coach so hot, it caught on fire, leaving this:

Fire Damage on the RV

So on the recommendation of the lady at the mini-mart, I found myself the next morning at Smitty’s auto body, expecting to be held hostage by a mechanic who had me over the barrel. He told me on the phone he could probably figure something out, but when I arrived at the shop, I found the door wide open, three cars in bays in the shop, radio and fans blaring…and not a single person in sight. Smitty showed up after 20 minutes, and Welder Mike showed up after another half hour. In about 15 minutes, Welder Mike had spot welded a new piece of three inch muffler pipe onto our exhaust.

“Get it done, Mike?” Smitty said as we walked in the office. Then he turned to me: “Knowing Mike, he welded that thing on there so good you could tow somebody out of ditch with the rope tied to the exhaust pipe.” I heard the story of why he had so much three inch pipe sitting in his shop; how he got scammed into a four year, expensive contract for his credit card machine; how he tries to deal locally, you know, to help the economy, but Lordy it’s hard in a small town. Then he had to call somebody to figure out how much the pipe cost, because it had sat in his shop for so long. I was sure I was a going to feel the pain. He pulled out the invoice, griping about how much the custom printed forms had cost him, pulled out his calculator to “make sure we give Uncle Sam his due”, and told me the total.

$31.95. I could have kissed him.

I felt Jesus smiling with me.

Home, but still vacating

family, rv

After 42 hours and 35 minutes of driving, and 2,214 miles, we’re back home. But I’m still officially on vacation, and I’m glad for that! We had an amazing time, full of scenic beauty, adventure, and crisis. I’ll probably blog about the crisis first, but for tonight, my goal was simply to break my radio silence.

A funny thing happened on this trip, and it was the reason for my radio silence. We only had internet access a few times, and our older two daughters absolutely hogged the computer: e-mails, chats, Skype…they had people to stay connected with, by gum. By the time I’d get my turn, it was usually 11 at night, and I wasn’t up to blogging our adventures.

So, tonight and tomorrow I’ll be uploading pictures to my Flickr account. Feel free to take a peek, and hopefully I’ll blog some soon. And I’ve got another non-vacation, old style, real blog post brewing in the noggin, too, so stay tuned for further developments.

Too much vacation, not enough internet!

family, rv

Having too much fun to blog…just a little bit of internet tonight before we leave in the morning for Yellowstone.

Glacier was unbelievable! By the numbers, rapidly:

7 cutthroat trout at Old Man Lake
6 mile hike (one way) to get to Old Man Lake with Talli and Hayley
5 rested Koskelas
4 days camping in Glacier (1 at Fish Creek Campground, and 3 at Two Medicine Lake)
3 species of trout caught
2 happy adults
1 brook trout caught by Aubrey, and 1 rainbow trout by me (16 inches on a grasshopper imitation)

And hikes…and stunning beauty…and lots of wind. Don’t know when I’ll get to write again, but trust me, we’re having a great time. 😉

Days 1 and 2


Aiming to leave Monday at around 9, we got out our driveway a little before 1. Not bad.

Our destination was Osburn, Idaho, about an hour east of Spokane, Washington. Considering our late start AND that we literally, actually ran out of gas on the highway, pulling into our campground at 10:15 pm was quite the achievement. (Hey, and I got to ride in the nice police officer’s back seat like a criminal to go get a can of gas!)

Got up this morning and had a little 1/2 hour drive to the Hiawatha Bike Trail. We first heard about this from my brother and sister-in-law, but Elaine’s the one that figured out this would be perfect as a stop on the way to Glacier. They’ve converted an old train line to a mountain biking path. Fortunately, you can drive in to the TOP and go DOWN, and then lazy people like us pay to take the shuttle bus back up. Here’s Aubs at the start of the day:

Top of the Hiawatha trail

The day had tunnels (the first pitch black, over a mile and a half, cold, very wet and muddy, and of course we all came out massively splattered because we let catorce girl lead the pack at much too fast a pace), riding, and beautiful scenery. What else is there to blog about? Aubrey followed me on a tagalong bike (Thanks, Muthiahs!), we all had a great time.

Drove another 45 minutes to an RV park Elaine found. Heaven!!! Beautiful view near St. Regis, Montana:

St. Regis campground

Even got to swim in the pool:

St. Regis Campground pool

I’m so enjoying myself, I’m almost giddy. Well, I wasn’t giddy when I went running trails with Ms. High School all-American. She said I did pretty good. On that one mile. That was downhill. After I’d rested while she ran ahead. 🙂

I’m heading to bed. And I’m going to sleep well!