There and Back Again – A Personal Journey

Where to begin with this post? There comes a time in life when you have to make a change. Sometimes, a big change. What follows is a personal story, but see if you don’t identify with some of what you read here.
It was this time almost 12 months ago that I had just been offered a job to go back to my old employer as a contractor. Essentially, my old company was acquired in 2013, and nearly all of us were laid off by the new owners the next year. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was still stressful. A few weeks after I was let go, I got a call from the new company asking me to come back in a contractor role, which I was only too happy to do. I went back on May 12, 2014, excited and ready to jump into my new/old role. I was being asked to help with some tasks that were new to me, and I was ready for the challenge. My wife and I celebrated with a fancy dinner at chez Red Robin. Life was good.
It was also around this time that my wife and I also celebrated a major milestone – we were officially 32 weeks pregnant, and headed for the home stretch. Our little peppercorn was now the size of a cantaloupe, and we were busy making everything ready for our daughter’s arrival. I gave my wife a hard time about having a girl, but secretly I was ecstatic (and I think she knew it). I had felt our daughter’s kicks, read her stories before bed, and smiled when she would respond to my voice. No one else, besides my wife, had the honor of feeling her kick or move around. I was the only other person she knew. Life was very good.
I will never forget the day my wife called with the news – our baby didn’t have a heartbeat, and the doctors said we had lost her. It was one of those events where you remember everything you were doing, where you were standing, everything. I can even tell you what I had just eaten for lunch. At first, I was in disbelief – the doctors could just fix her, right? After all, they’re doctors – fixing people is what they do. I raced to the hospital as fast as my old truck would take me, and met my wife there just as she was finishing up. We cried on sidewalk. Life was not good.
Camper: $80. Carpet remnant: $0. Covered, secure, dry storage for my toolbox: priceless.
About ten months later, we decided we needed to make some changes. Our daughter was gone, and a huge void in our lives could never be filled. Seattle is all we had known for the last 10 years, but we thought maybe it was time to leave it behind. Our housing situation was such that we couldn’t stay, anyway, so why not make a big change? We landed on Springfield, MO when we decided on a place to go, which seemed like an affordable, quiet, family-oriented place to start over.
Day 1: Leaving Seattle
It was St. Patrick’s Day when we said goodbye to Seattle and hit the road. It was around 5:00 AM, and we wanted to get to Missoula on the first day (about 500 miles), so we dragged ourselves out of bed and got in the truck while it was still dark. Our good friend met us at Starbucks for some coffee and to say goodbye. We were out of the city and past Snoqualmie by 7:00, so we were doing well.

I tried the flying route, but I bogged down on Mt. Si.
I had just a few concerns about the truck getting across the continental divide. We decided to take the Focus with us, meaning we would tow it on a U-Haul trailer.  My 1992 F-150 has the 5.0 engine and a M5OD-R2 transmission, so power could be found in most gears, depending on the road. The Focus, along with the trailer, tips the scales at about 5,000 lbs. My 23-years old truck was in for a long week.

Fun fact: my truck was clean when we left.

By the time we reached Missoula, it was evening. We were stopping every three hours to let the dog out, get gas, or both. On top of that, I kept it under 55mph that day, helped by the massive inclines in Idaho, and of course the Continental Divide (2nd gear, screaming up the hill at 25mph). It really wasn’t a long drive, but it was a long day, and I could feel and smell the transmission by the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot. I remember telling someone that I could use about another 100hp over these hills.
We loved Montana. My truck did not.
Day 2: Missoula, MT to Sheridan, WY. Warm days, frosty nights.
The second day of our easterly sojourn started off great – hot breakfast, Starbucks coffee, and a clear, cold morning. Conditions were perfect for a road trip. After filling both of the tanks yet again, we made our way towards Sheridan, WY. After the first day of travel, I discovered that the safety chains between the trailer tongue and the hitch were dragging the road, even though I had twisted all of the slack out of them. The solution? Zip ties, naturally. I always keep zip ties in my toolbox, don’t you?

Pro tip: don’t stay at the America’s Best Value Inn, for obvious reasons.
Day 3: Sheridan, WY to Sioux City, IA.
We’ve stayed in worse hotels, but I can’t remember when! We hit the road early, and didn’t stop for gas or breakfast until we were out of town. The thing that stands out in my mind from this day is the constant wind from the north. We were driving east across Wyoming and South Dakota, and on the open plain, the wind hits you at full force. I think I drove straight turning left most of the day. The wind was so persistent that my camper shell actually moved to the right and back about two inches throughout the day. On the plus side, the roads were pretty good, and flat enough that I could keep it at a steady 60mph most of the time.

Day 4: Sioux City, IA to Mt. Vernon, MO.
By the fourth day, we were getting tired, but we still had a long way to go. Remember the quote in The Lord of the Rings, when Treebeard is taking Merry and Pippin to Isengard? “I always liked going south. Somehow, it feels like going downhill.” That’s exactly how the run from Sioux City to Mt. Vernon feels – just driving south, all day long. We had covered half the country in just three days, but now we were only going to cross one state line the entire day. We drove down Interstate 29 most of the day, and made our last stop for gas somewhere south of Kansas City. I know some of our fellow Hoons are from Kansas City, so I won’t badmouth you guys too much, but seriously – what’s with the traffic? It’s worse than Seattle!

The car, the truck, the wife, and the dog all made it one piece, so I’m happy. My truck is no worse for the wear, although it’s going to need new tires this year – highway driving with a heavy load definitely made a difference. It’s an ugly old truck, but it’s dependable, it’s comfortable, and damn it, it’s mine. I know this post isn’t really about cars, or car things, or car people, but it’s an important chapter in this hoon’s life, and I wanted to share. Thanks for reading this far.
[Photos Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Marcal Eilenstein]

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32 responses to “There and Back Again – A Personal Journey”

  1. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    Thanks for sharing. I hope you felt a little positive energy on the journey. Road trips, and a community like Hooniverse can do that you know.

    1. mve Avatar

      We did, and I agree. I have missed it here.

    2. mve Avatar

      Incidentally, I missed the memo about ditching IntenseDebate. Not a bad thing, necessarily.

  2. acarr260 Avatar

    My condolences on your loss. My wife and I lost our first midway through her pregnancy, and it’s very difficult. We now have a wonderful son who watches racing and car shows with me. I may not be able to afford the car of my dreams now, but his smile and seeing him roll onto his side to watch the tv whenever he hears race cars is worth it multiple times over!

    1. mve Avatar

      Thank you. It’s an indescribable loss, but we are taking it one day at a time.

  3. GTXcellent Avatar

    I can’t imagine the suffering and pain you guys have gone through. I’m not lyrically gifted enough to put down the right sympathizing words that would do any justice so I’ll just say good luck in all of your new endeavors.
    On a different note – have you looked at the top plate in that Mazda built tranny? There are 3 little rubber plugs that will leak fluid, but they’ll only leak when driving so you never see a puddle. Apparently a known issue that I just found out about the hard way.

    1. mve Avatar

      Thank you. I don’t expect anyone to have the right words, but I appreciate the thoughts.
      No, I’ve never looked at the transmission, but I had it rebuilt about two years ago, and it’s been running great ever since then. I appreciate the tip, though; I’ll check it out.

  4. nanoop Avatar

    “see if you don’t identify with some of what you read here.”
    Yup, I do recognize myself, and it’s not just owning a Focus.
    Good luck with all of your current and future endeavors!
    Cheer-up, just in case: Maybe you’re aware of this, but ‘M.Eilenstein’, in German, is ‘m.ilestone’ .

    1. mve Avatar

      Thank you very much.
      I never noticed that play on words, although I do know that my last name means “rolling/hurrying stone.” Ironic, because I never like to be rushed.

  5. Batshitbox Avatar

    A tragic impetus for what I hope will be a transformative trek. Also an extremely well written post, full of well put phrasings that tie in a lot without explicitly stating everything. It’s not all garage talk all the time here in the ‘Verse, and car nuts need to remember why we have cars, to go on journeys in; around the track or around the country. We also have community and that will be with you even when the wheels fall off. I look forward to more.

    1. Guest Avatar

      Batshitbox: I believe you just said what all of us our thinking, if not exactly in the same words.

      Marcal Eilenstein: On behalf of all of Hooniverse, our heart goes out to you, and best of luck on future travels.

    2. mve Avatar

      Many thanks, truly. My truck is not just a truck, and this blog is not just a place to chew the fat. I’m really grateful that I could share this story, and I’m glad my truck is there to get us through part of it.

  6. Metric Wrench Avatar
    Metric Wrench

    You put it so much more eloquently than I could. We made nearly that same trip, but both ways, ten years ago with our 8 year old in tow, baffled by her parents depression and not really comprehending why her little brother didn’t quite get born. We drove out from the midwest to Portland to see old friends and the country while we were at it. We went out to the beach, and I ran along the sand each day like the devil himself was trying to catch me. Mother and daughter watched the waves, talked, and both tried to understand. Out of time, we packed up and came home. And we were somehow better.

    1. mve Avatar

      That’s a great story. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who likes to get in the car and drive when things are tough.

  7. lil-red Avatar

    Marcal Eilenstein;
    Very sorry to hear of your loss to you and your wife. Welcome to Springfield, i am
    writing to let you know about the Steak & Shake cruise-in tomorrow at 1550 S. Glenstone,
    I will be there starting around noon with the mini-peterbilt which was featured on these
    pages some time ago. Hope you can come out and meet a bunch of car guys.

    1. mve Avatar

      lil-red, I can’t believe I missed this. My wife and I would have been there in a heartbeat. I’ve heard about you and your rig, and I’ve been meaning to meet you for some time.

  8. CapitalistRoader Avatar

    My 1992 F-150 has the 5.0 engine and a M5OD-R2 transmission…

    That’ll work. Gear spacing isn’t great — third gear is too low, making it a big grab to fourth — but it’s still very doable. More importantly:

    The car, the truck, the wife, and the dog all made it one piece, so I’m happy.

    1. mve Avatar

      Yes, you’re exactly right. Some of those steep hills meant grabbing 3rd gear when 4th ran out of rev. I hated doing that – it was almost better to just drive slow in 3rd than try to keep up the speed in OD.

  9. barney fife Avatar
    barney fife

    I’ve got a 1989 F-150 reg cab, long bed, 4.9L / 5 OD. Bought brand new, by me, in New Braunfels, TX in Dec, ’88. Now at 165000 miles, Left me sittin only once when the external, frame mounted fuel pump took a dump, at about 90K. Was my retirement gift to me following a 20+ year Army career. It’s still a daily driver. Everything works, even the AC. Why buy another?

    1. mve Avatar

      It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

  10. Sjalabais Avatar

    It is very brave and takes sharp honesty to share your darkest moments publicly, and I’m glad you did that. Your post captures the mood of turnarounds, and the will to peek beyond the horizon, that is often the seed of a new, better life. I can’t claim to understand your loss, but I have kids that are the main priority in everything we do, all the time. It sounds like you were prepared to live that way, and I hope you manage well now! So what did lead you to Springfield? It’s a vast country, I figure between job opportunities, different climates and communities, it’s pretty overwhelming to choose.

    1. mve Avatar

      Several reasons brought us here, but the cost of living was part of the discussion, as was family in the surrounding area. I grew up in Lebanon, so I have ties to this area.

  11. Alff Avatar

    I made this trip almost exactly 20 years ago – Bellevue to Kansas City – in a decrepit diesel UHaul with a car hauler and an Alfa Spider. I knew I was getting into the hinterlands when I was repeatedly asked, “Izzat a Ferrari”? I finally started saying yes. It turned out to be a one way trip for me which resulted in marriage, three awesome kids and a good life. I hope you find similar happiness.
    BTW, Kansas City traffic has nothing on Seattle but this is the time of year when construction projects bloom like dandelions. You just got unlucky.

    1. mve Avatar

      The biggest mistake we made was going straight through on 29. Never. Again.

      1. Alff Avatar

        Umm… yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever used that as a route through the city.

  12. HycoSpeed Avatar

    Marcal, thank you for sharing with us. You have linked to you blog before, and there and here, I cannot read your story without suffering from some sort of massive windshield wiper fluid leak. As the sort of guy that has a real hard time with these ’emotions’ things, and communicating said feelings, I have a real admiration for you being able to open up with us. I hope you and your wife find blessings and peace in your new home.

    1. mve Avatar

      I tell people that it doesn’t get better, but it gets different. You learn to live with the pain, in a way.

  13. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    my sorrow for your loss
    we had found that deploying the jib while sailing east on I-80 is going to result in a lot less control-ability problems than one gets with the spinnaker sail whilst reaching cross wind in tack. the Wyoming transportation dept. doesn’t recommend deploying the sea anchor to trail starboard as it is not effective at increasing rudder authority under these conditions. it is said that increasing centerboard depth would be helpful. the Wyo. vehicle operators hand book is chock full of such helpful tid bits.

    1. mve Avatar

      If only I had brought my copy of the Wyoming vehicle operators handbook!

  14. Mike England Avatar
    Mike England

    Marcal: Thanks for sharing. My condolences on your loss.
    On the other hand, if you need a great truck, you can’t do better.
    And Springfield MO is a wonderful place, to go to college, to raise a family. . . to start over.
    I hope your new life exceeds your expectations.
    I have a 93 and a 94 f150, both with the 302 and they are awesome.
    I earned my BS at SMSU in Spfld MO in 1985 – I still miss the place.
    I hope the place is as good to you as it was to me!

    1. mve Avatar

      Thanks, Mike. We’re slowly getting settled in here.
      I agree about these trucks – to me, they’re some of the best looking trucks ever made, tough as nails, and dependable, no matter what those GM guys say.

  15. dukeisduke Avatar

    Wow, I just read this. I’m sorry about your baby, Marcal. My wife and I have three girls (almost 15, 13, and 11), and we had some anxious moments during the delivery of the first one. I hope that you will be blessed with one soon.
    And yeah, the 5-speed in the F-150 wasn’t meant for towing. I remember when I bought my ’95, looking in the brochure and seeing the huge disparity in towing numbers between the 5-speed and the automatic (mine was the 5.0 with the 4R70W). Of course in 17 years I never towed anything with it, even though it had the “Super Engine Cooling” package (HD radiator, transmission cooler, power steering cooler).