I was so excited last Friday to take my new friend Susana on a hike in the mountains. She just moved here from Spain a few months ago, and I wanted to show her the beauty of our wilderness. We had planned to go to Dock Butte and Blue Lake up by Mt. Baker. We made a good start with the kids in the morning, and were almost to the trailhead, when my car just stopped working. We were many miles up a gravel road, out of cell phone range. This has been one of my biggest fears as a hiking mama, and I felt my brain kind of stop at that moment, just trying to figure out what was going on.
I took a moment and looked under the hood – not that I’d know what I was looking for. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I tried a few times to start the motor, and it just didn’t catch. Another couple came down the road toward us, and asked if we were OK. I was kind of hoping that he’d be a magician and see something obvious, but he didn’t know much, either. He did offer to call someone for us when we got back down to civilization, but I said I’d try to use the PLB to text my husband.
They were able to squeeze around us and I went back to my pack in the trunk and pulled out the PLB. I fired it up and thankfully it was able to connect with my phone. I sent off a message to my husband in Seattle, and waited. It took quite a while for the message to send, and then for him to write back. While we were waiting, another car with two guys drove up behind us, and they offered to see if there was cell service at the trailhead, since it’s on the other side of the ridge and more open to possible cell towers. So they went past, and we took some time to explore the sides of the road where we were stranded. The sun was warm and it was pleasant; the air had the first tinges of fall.
My husband got our message and we were able to communicate that we needed him to call for a tow and a ride home for us. We don’t have a second car, so I was trying to figure out how the four of us were going to get home. One thing at a time, first we had to get off the mountain. After another wait that seemed like forever, but was really only 15 minutes or so, we got another text that help was on its way and he was working on the ride situation for us. Hallelujah!
I decided it would be a good idea to have some lunch while we were waiting, so we got out our food and had a little picnic on the side of the road. The kids did a little complaining, mostly asking how long it would be, but they held up pretty well. We explored some more, finding ripe huckleberries and thimbleberries, some pretty white flowers, some interesting rocks, a sweet little seep in the hillside with pillows of moss, butterflies, grasshoppers, and even a snake. My friend Susana helped entertain the kids, too.
After a reasonable wait, we heard the sound of the tow truck coming up the road. He drove past to find a place to turn around, and after a few questions, he told us to hop in the cab of the truck and got the car onto the flatbed. He was a nice young man, professional, and the cab was clean and roomy for all of us. I highly recommend Carl’s towing if you’re ever in the unfortunate position of needing a tow in the area.
He maneuvered us safely down the narrow, winding road, and back to Sedro-Woolley, where he deposited us at an auto-repair shop. I asked him to take us to one that wouldn’t treat me like a dumb woman, would tell me the truth, not tell me to do unneeded repairs and give me a fair price. The guys at Vollans were looking at my car almost before we made it into the seating area. They kept coming out to keep me posted on what they were finding. In the meantime, my friend Suzy arrived with her girls. I felt so lucky! We hung out for a bit, and soon enough the guys figured out that the issue was my distributor, and that they would be able to have it fixed by the end of the day. I never expected that would even be possible, so I was very happy. Suzy took the kids and Susana home with her while I settled in for the duration to wait for the repair. Tim at the front desk and the two gals who helped in front were quite the characters, and I enjoyed chatting and joking around with them, listening to the shop talk, and seeing how he treated the other customers who were coming and going.
I should have gotten out and walked around town while I had the free time, but I was feeling tired and stressed and just wanted to relax. Finally the part arrived and the guys were quick to get my car put back together. I was so impressed the whole time, and really felt fortunate to have had such quality treatment during what was otherwise a discouraging day.
I’m really grateful that my PLB worked just as it was supposed to. I have an older Delorme InReach, and it pairs with my iPhone via Bluetooth. I have the special app on my phone to send text messages of up to 160 characters. Usually I just text my husband to let him know we are safe, or to tell him we’ll be late but not to worry. He appreciates knowing that we are safe when we are away from the grid. I appreciate the ability to be able to call for help if someone is seriously injured, or, like this time, if the car has troubles and we are stuck.
We have the Budget Plan, and it covers up to 5 messages per month. Beyond that I have to pay for each extra message, and I would have to pay for tracking if I used that feature. I could also bump my service level up for the summer months and pay more for more texting and tracking capabilities. I don’t think I need that right now, so I just keep it at the basic service level.
When I first got it, I had problems with the batteries draining very quickly when they were left in the device in between uses. Delorme fixed a software glitch that caused that, but I just play it safe and keep the batteries out when we are at home. I have had troubles doing some of the upgrades, but I will say their customer service is excellent. Whenever I’ve called I’ve gotten through to a live person very quickly, and they respectfully and efficiently talked me through the solution. I wish their website had clearer instructions, and the software updater apparently doesn’t work well on Chrome + MacBook (I switch to Firefox when I need to update), but otherwise I have only good things to say about Delorme and the InReach device.