The Griswold’s Weekend Vacation…

Written By: B.D. Butler - Oct• 22•12

I got my pic for The Griswolds here.

Sometimes when you go on a get-away weekend, you have a certain “idea” of how you see things going.  Then sometimes there is a totally different reality, and things don’t go quite according to plan.  After this past weekend, I certainly know what being a member of The Griswold Family feels like.  

We have never had any kind of problem traveling, and we have taken the birds on three-hour car rides to our beach cabin on the Washington coast before, so what would one more hour be?  Ah-ha, when the Department of Transportation decides to take a mountain pass with three lanes, on a Friday afternoon, and attempt to funnel those said three lanes into one, that phrase “Houston, we have a problem”, comes to mind.  Oh, did I mention the deer and elk hunters all going up into the mountains at the same time as the regular weekend traffic. Yep, that turned, what would be a normal four-hour car ride, into a very slow and drawn out seven hour trip.  


The birds seemed to be at ease, they had food, water, and toys to chew on.  Dexter is just a natural in the car, whereas Cooper I think could really “leave it” if he could.  Eh, we all have our strengths.  But I digress.



Our destination was our friend Bill’s “cabin” for the weekend.  I would like to clarify that Bill describes this haven in the woods as a “cabin” when in reality it is in fact what most would consider a summer home.  It is lavish, sleeps up to twenty people, has vaulted ceilings with wood accents and pillars.  Two bathrooms, a kitchen to die for, and two living spaces all accompany the comforts that most people don’t even have in their own homes.  We figured that we could fit two of our home into Bill’s “cabin” which is tucked away seven miles north of Winthrop Washington.  

Now from a bird perspective, I made sure that I quizzed poor Bill up and down before taking the birds to a strange location.  Heat, ventilation, insulation, not to mention when the last time his wood stove had been painted and cured (fumes from stoves can kill birds if inhaled), and the list goes on and on.  This time of year, the weather can change in an hour, so I wanted to make sure the birds would be ok.  Hey, I worry, and I will own that until the day that I die.  It’s one of the things that people either love or hate about me.  


We were put into one of the rooms upstairs, which happened to work out perfect.  It had electrical base board heaters that were controlled from inside the room, so with the help of the room thermometer I pack along on all of our trips when we take the birds, it was a perfect 69 degrees.  It also helped that heat rises, and I didn’t have to worry about the birds getting chilly.  We packed our folding table to put the travel cages on, and turn an area into bird central.    

The cages we use when we travel.

Eric and I were lucky enough to find Avian Adventure cages on sale, so we bought them.  These cages are smaller and fit in the car a little easier, when we get to our destination I set up the larger kennel size cages, to give them as much room as possible.  It’s a little extra work, but it’s worth it.  

We went into town, leaving the birds looking out of twenty feet high windows with trees and soft music.  They loved all of the sunlight, and scenery.


Winthrop is a town that is out of the old west(ish).   Plank sidewalks, antique and rustic store fronts will welcome you when you drive onto main street.  It actually felt a lot like home (Colorado) for me when we visited our family cabin in Creede, and added bonuses were the cowboy hats, and 4×4 trucks.  

Overall the weekend itself was enjoyable, and relaxing.  We planned on leaving on Sunday morning about noon, that way we could make it home by the early afternoon, and get settled.  Eric had a work flight very early on Monday morning, and needed to get packed for.  Looking back, it seemed like a good plan.



We did manage to get up, eat breakfast, have coffee, and get the animals all in the car by noon.  We thought we would take a different route home, just to potentially avoid any construction traffic if there was any, and enjoy the beautiful autumn scenery.  Hey, it’s not often you can get into the mountains  to see the trees turn.  We headed out, thanked Bill for a fantastic time, hugged Pam goodbye, told them we would see them back in Seattle and we left.  Sounds great, right?

About twenty miles down the road, Eric noticed that we were blowing what appeared to be smoke.  So, we pulled over.  The “check coolant” notification came on, and we popped the hood. We were definitely over heating.  So, I happened to have a jug of water with water from home (for the birds and their sensitivity to strange water), so we dumped that in, and tried to make it to the next town.  Little did we know the next town was not as close as we thought.  


I got my map here.


Eventually after the third try, even after Eric getting water from a nearby river to refill the coolant reservoir we finally had to pull over and give up going any further, because BMW’s have a shut off precaution.  If there is a chance of overheating, the engine will automatically shut down, so you don’t blow your motor.  Mountain road in the middle of nowhere, miles away from a BMW mechanic, worry started to set in. 

I have to say, one of my greatest fears has always been having a major mechanical problem with the vehicle we are traveling in, and having our birds on the trip.  With no ability to heat them, and being in the middle of nowhere. The dogs would have been fine, but our parrots aren’t acclimated to temperatures below sixty degrees, and even though parrots can be acclimated to temps lower than that, the process has to be slow.  It would require more time than we had, and the sun wouldn’t last forever.  

Well ladies and gentleman, the situation had finally crept into my world, and we had to figure something out.  I knew the body heat of the dogs would be helpful in keeping the interior of the car warm, and considering it was a black suv, it soaked up the sun like a sponge.  The temperature at the time was maintaining a nice 68 degrees.  This was perfect while we tried to figure out what the hell to do, while being stranded. 


I got cavalry here.


It was time to call in the cavalry.  Thankfully Bill and Pam were on their way back to Seattle, however they were planning on going a totally different route in a totally different direction.  Fate and timing sometimes take over, and things begin to look up.  They managed to turn around, and head back into our direction, reaching us in about 50 minutes.  

The reception on our cell phones was not the greatest, and getting information via internet was almost impossible.  Eric was text messaging his sister Heather, getting her to look up information and numbers, then relaying the information back via text.  Pam was on the phone with AAA, trying to figure out where we could possibly tow the car.  After a few hours being on the side of the road.  Bill was partially under the car trying to figure out why the water was leaking, Let’s just say, this was a whole team effort.  I in the meantime was trying to figure out the worst case scenario with the animals, and us getting home.  I began to slip into problem solving triage mode.  I think it’s the training I had as an EMT.  One step at a time, and don’t panic.

I managed to find a spot which got some sort of internet connection on my phone, and found out the nearest town that had rental cars was 75 miles away.  After arranging a rental van (which happened to be on sale) Eric and Bill had to get there before they closed, and waiting for AAA (which by the way was a totally god sent) who would tow us up to 100 miles.  It was then I realized the sun was going down.  



With no sun our SUV would have gotten cold quickly, therefore causing some potential problems for the birds, and if the rental van was not back in time, the birds would’ve been subjected to the exhaust from the tow truck and that would have killed them.  The unfortunate thing in cold weather, you can’t just crack a window for parrots.   

Bill had his Rav 4 packed with luggage in the back Sheldon’s (our golden retriever) sister Lucy in the back seat, and he and Pam in the front.  It was time to make a switch and move Lucy into our BMW X5 with our dogs and the birds into Bill’s car to take with he and Eric to get the rental van.  This way the birds would have heat, and safe from the elements.  The timing could not have been more perfect, because fifteen minutes after they left, the sun went down.  It got cold, as in below fifty in the shade of the mountain, and we would have had bird-cicles on our hands.  


Pam and I waited an hour and a half for the tow truck driver.  She and I then rode in the tow truck for an hour to the nearest town with a BMW mechanic, which was also where Bill, Eric and the birds were waiting for us.  The dogs slept the whole way in the BMW on the tow truck, with the sunroof partially open, and windows cracked for proper ventilation.  We arrived at the mechanic, and I took a breath of relief.  We had managed (with the help of Pam and Bill) to make it half way.

We decided that we would need to leave the BMW and continue the two-hour drive home, so Eric could make his flight home, and we could get us and our animal family home.

After getting everyone home, the birds back into their cages, the dogs fed, Pam and Bill back to their lives, it started to hit me.  Things could have been much worse.  If it would not have been for Pam and Bill, Pam’s AAA, and some fateful timing, we would have been truly (excuse my french) screwed.  Thankfully everything worked out.  

Instead of that nice and relaxing four-hour drive home whilst enjoying the beautiful autumn scenery, it turned into an eventful nine-hour return trip from hell.

We haven’t heard from the mechanic, and still don’t know if it is indeed just a radiator hose that stranded us, we will find out soon enough I am sure.  Until then, I am bundled up on the couch, listening to the furnace run, and thankful my family is safe and sound.  


It was indeed radiator hose(s) and got them replaced, for a costly fee.  Our AAA takes effect November 1.


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