I had one of the scariest travel experiences ever on Tuesday driving near the Mexico border from Deming, NM to San Diego CA. I overheated despite my most careful efforts, and pulled over literally in the meager shade of a cactus just inside the Sonora desert. I had lots of antifreeze, because the car had been leaking coolant for most of the trip so far, but I only had about 1/2 liter of water for the 100+ degree ambient temperature. And just before I got out of the car, which was just far enough off the road not to be seen by potential rescuers, it had started freewheeling on the gravel it had drifted into. Even if I got the engine running again, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the car to move. The only thing nearby I could have stuck under the wheels for traction were nasty bushes with thorns big enough to pop the tires. I was out of cell phone range, and about 20 miles from the last gas station. I’d been driving the 100+ degree heat with no air conditioning for over an hour, so I was already pretty close to heat stroke. Instead of feeling cooler when the car was moving with my window open in my small 12V fan blowing on me, it felt *hotter* than when I was standing still. The intake temperature on the Metro went up as high as 130 F, which I’ve never seen it reach before.
As I was waiting for the coolant temperature to drop down from over 240 F to something that wouldn’t physically injure me when I opened the radiator to refill it, I realized that, although I would *probably* make it out of this situation, there was actually a small possibility I wouldn’t. If I couldn’t get the car started before my tiny amount of drinkable water was gone, there was a good chance I would go into heat stroke and die before I managed to flag down help from the highway.
I popped the radiator cap maybe a little sooner than I should have. I might have scalded myself a little. But hey, it was wet! I poured in the new coolant, looked the system over for the umpteenth time to see if I’d missed something else obvious that might be causing it to continually overheat and overflow, and realized I didn’t even have time to do that. Swishing my almost-empty water bottle, I kicked in the clutch and hit the starter.
Now, this isn’t super uncommon…the car often doesn’t start on the first try. But after all of the sleep dep and dehydration and everything else up to that point, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I put my full weight into the clutch, turned off all the accessories, and turned the key again.
Slipping the clutch carefully to slide the car back off of the potentially immobilizing gravel and onto the road took all of 30 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.
I accelerated gratefully into the blistering heat, paranoically watching the coolant temperature on my iPad for the slightest hint of an overheat. I stopped at the very first gas station I could find, in Gila Bend, bought more anti freeze, had to exert a vast willpower to buy only 1 gallon of water, changed my fucking underwear, and headed out toward San Diego, very, *very* happy to still be alive.