Some days are worse than others ...
“I think your flight has, unfortunately, been canceled!” I said to myself as I made my way down I-290 towards the city of Chicago, at the wheel of my Chevrolet Avalanche.
I had heard a strange bearing-wobbling sound coming from the front of my truck, as I drove out, that morning. Many years ago, I had encountered a similar sound from my sports car and it wound up being a cracked bearing in one of the wheels, but it had been drivable for several days, until the bearing finally shattered and we almost lost the wheel. that failure happened at a very slow speed and I was in the process of taking in for service, anyway. Not that I thought it was something anywhere similar to that, as my current vehicle is a very heavy truck and far more durable than that flimsy sports car I had owned before. Again, it just had that kind of reminiscent sound to it.
I was pressed for time, as always, and I simply dismissed the sound as something “livable”, as nothing seemed to be inoperative, yet. I would take it in for examination and have it attended to, later that evening. Alas, that was not to be.
I had an important appointment in the city, after a pit stop in Schaumburg, and got onto IL-53 Southbound. (Point A) Traffic was moving slow and I began to experiment a little to try and identify where the strange sound might be originating from, by slowing and accelerating. The sound seemed to be reacting to engine speed and not road speed, so the idea of one of the wheels being the problem was quickly dismissed. It was an engine part of some kind.
As traffic progressed, I finally got on to I-290 and the sound purred along, without much variance, at 45mph, through the work zones along the way. Then something changed. I knew I was in serious trouble, but there was nowhere to stop in this “construction zone” section of road.
I was trapped and committed to see it through. There were a whole lot of commuters behind me. As much as I hated to, because I hate people driving and making cell phone calls at the same time, I reluctantly placed a cell phone call, calling my "S.O.", who was on her way to work, in another part of the area. I never got hold of her, so I left a rather ambiguous voice mail that things in the truck were turning bad … and I was going to be in serious shape, in very short order. I may not have a chance to call, again.
As I finally cleared the slower work-zone areas, I sped up and as I made my way past St. Charles Road, to the I-294 exchange, and the sound suddenly stopped. I knew that kind of thing could be good or bad … then quickly dismissed that stupid thought, as fifteen seconds later, I instantly had no hydraulic support, meaning ZERO power-steering or power-brakes, as I was whizzing around the balanced and tilted curves putting me right on to the Eisenhower Expressway. Honestly, it was very similar in the feel to riding a toboggan sled … hardly any control to speak of as I “man-handled” the steering wheel and forced the truck to respond to my direction. Thankfully the banked curves of that rather involved exchange helped in controlling the 6600-lb truck as I continued along.
As I looked at the dash, a never-before-seen “check engine” light appeared on the upper, right-hand side of the panel. “Oh really?” I laughed. Normally, the one I see when I start the car, is on the left side of the dash panel and is amber … this one was dead RED and looking pretty dim at that!
As I looked back along the top of the indicator dash panel, a whole new message reading “Engine Coolant Overheat!” What? What next? Oh, I had an inkling of what these clues were spelling out ... and it was not the writing-on-the-wall that I ever wanted to see. Again, I still had power to the dash panel and the engine. The on-board computer was still running, despite the tragic indications. Then, I got kind of worried when the dashboard suddenly went completely dead (as if the word "suddenly" during something like this is appropriate): There were no more idiot lights and the gauge needles were now reading zero on the speedometer, the tachometer, gas gauge, water temp and oil pressure … the computer had checked out ... and this missile was still flying along at 55 mph! Traffic was cooperating, thankfully, and I decided to “ride ‘er in”, as the engine kept running, but I could tell the engine was having issues, too, and would soon be gone. That would be REAL bad when that happened.
In my mind, all I could see were the overhead readout displays in the fighter jets, screaming “ENGINE FLAME OUT!” and “EJECT! EJECT! EJECT!” I half expected the canopy of the truck to jettison and my seat taking me two hundred-feet straight up!
I have to say, it is kind of weird what you imagine when things are going terribly wrong.
Anyway, I cut over to the right lane and I reached the exit. I successfully was able to nurse the afflicted truck up the 1st Avenue exit ramp, unopposed, and rolled to a stop, in the right lane, right at the traffic light. As I arrived, the engine literally gasped and died, when the faithful 5-year old battery went kaput. (point B)
There was no point to trying to restart the truck … I knew it was so OVER.
Not only that, because this beast is an "electric-everything", the windows were all up, the locks could only be operated manually, even the all-powerful "Can I help you?" GM ON-STAR system was totally useless. No power. The same problem exists when your DSLR's battery spirits its way to nothingness. You are not taking images anymore.
My amazing truck had entered the Stone-Age.
I took a breath to try and catch up to myself, as I reviewed what to do, as I was now trapped at the top of a very busy exit ramp … with no flashers and no modern way to indicate I was dead in the water. A few seconds later, it hit me. I exited the vehicle and raised the hood. When I looked down into the engine compartment, as I had suspected from what the computer had given clues to and with the lack of hydraulic power, I could easily see the reason for my distress: the “serpentine belt” (aka, the main fan belt) had let go. Thankfully, with my Avalanche being a bright red truck, I felt it would be hard to miss that hood being up and knew it had been a sign, years ago, of a distressed vehicle.
I got back in and with my cellular called “911”, reported my obstructing positional situation and was told that IDOT (Expressway Rovers) would dispatch a tow truck to clear me from the highway access area. He arrived about 15-minutes later and due to my very convenient hookup location, easily delivered me to a nearby parking lot.
I had also called my "S.O.", during the tow delay, and reported to her the relatively safe way the truck wound up, despite its total failure. She seemed relieved that it was nothing more and that I had averted catastrophe. If it had failed any sooner … it might have not been such a … well, it did not wind up like that and I am as thankful as I can be, inside. The timing was too perfect, for pushing the limit. I cannot explain it … and, for the most part, I do not want to. I will hand it off to a deeper faith.
The adventure continues ...