First Van Break Down

First Van Break Down

The day has happened. I knew I was bound to break down eventually (and probably more than once). That was about the only thing I could guarantee on this road trip. Which is totally expected in a 1983 camper van. What I wasn’t expecting was for this to happen on day SIX/ our FIRST night in Banff, Alberta. All I can say is thank god I wasn’t alone and that Renee was with me. It was one of the most stressful situations I’ve been in. If you know me, you know I’m a pretty layed back, go with the flow kinda gal.. but this was 11pm, on a mountain, in the middle of a cross road, while it was SNOWING. So the calm, cool and collected Clarissa was no where o be found.

On May 16th, 2017 we had set up camp at a great campground, Tunnel Mountain II. We had a wonderful dinner over the open fire accompanied with some wine. However, shortly after it started to rain, which turned into hail, which eventually turned into wet snow.. the worst! But we were still in great spirits! Renee’s cousin works in Banff, and it was only a 10 minute drive to her. Since it was shit weather we decided to go pay her a visit, and get the good ol’ friends-and-family-discount. She works at The Banff Centre, so we went swimming and used the hot tubs. A perfect way to spend the night considering the weather. 

Starting my Van is quite the process, especially in cold weather. Once I can finally get it to turn on I have to let it sit running anywhere from 10-15 minutes until the engine is warm enough to drive, or else it will stall out on me. As we were leaving, it started up like per usual.. taking a couple tries. We let it heat up, then started down the hill. It stalled out and died on us three times, having to boost it every time, and every time it could only make it about 30 feet until stalling out and turning off again. My handy-dandy battery booster just didn’t cut it anymore and we were screwed. So here were were, in the middle of an intersecting road on a mountain. It was snowing bad, freezing cold and our phones were on the verge of dying. MY NIGHTMARE. The few cars that passed us didn’t stop to help, and we were feeling defeated. Just “call CAA Clarissa” is probably what you’re thinking.. well I did, and they weren’t much help at all.. at first anyway. Basically I was on the phone with them, while renee was calling the local police station to come help us. We didn’t feel safe being in the middle of a dark road, and quite honestly we just didn’t know what to do. A Police officer showed up, and was just a useless ass. So back to square one. A security guard from the Banff Centre kept driving around to make sure we were okay, there wasn’t much else she could do to help. After over an hour of trying to figure out what to do, being on hold with CAA, and calling local tow companies, Renee went with the security guard to the main building to track down a some what cheap hotel room for the night, because clearly we weren’t going to be staying at our already paid campground. 

Turns out I had to upgrade my CAA, which could have been done at the beginning of this whole fiasco, a 10 minute process but no we had to talk in circles for hours. We FINALLY got a tow at 1am. We dropped it off at a shop and Renee and I stayed at a very nice hotel,which not to my surprise wasn’t cheap, and was the only one available. We both took hot baths to defrost our numbing bodies, then tried our best to get some sleep. 

I needed to get the fuel regulator replaced, so $389 later the next afternoon we had the van back and she was trekking up mountains again like a boss. For the rest of our week in Banff we had an amazing time, and that stressful night was in the past.

Lessons learned:

  1. The van is old, and doesn’t like the cold.. so if you don’t need to drive anywhere past 9pm.. don’t.
  2. In really shitty situations it can be very hard to stay calm, but panicking and stressing out isn’t going to get you anywhere. So just take deep breaths, and if you’re with someone else, calmly brain storm ideas on how to help yourselves out. 
  3. Try to have your phone charged at all times. You never know when you could be in some trouble. 
  4. It’s okay to call the local police if you’re stuck, don’t feel ashamed. Even if it turns out there’s nothing they can do for you other than give you numbers of local tow companies. There was comfort in just knowing that a person of authority knew where we were in case things got even worse. 
  5. Check your CAA before leaving on an road trip (you’d think that was a no brainer).  It was worth the $9 upgrade, then having to pay over $300 for a 5 minute tow truck ride. 


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