The van started making a weird noise while I was driving yesterday, so I did what all grown-ups do when their vehicles start making weird noises: I called my dad.

He said, “That sounds like a tire problem, probably a loose lug nut. Get off the highway.”

At various points in the last few days of driving, I have been very much in the middle of big deserts and extended mountain ranges: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally into California, and so my protest was automatic. “But I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

Even as we spoke, though, I saw the signs for an exit up ahead. Said exit wasn’t just an exit, it had an AutoZone immediately off the ramp. Yay! A place to buy a tool to tighten the loose lug nut. I drove into the parking lot, got out and looked at my wheel.

Hmm. “Loose” applied but only to the lug nuts that were left. Two of them were missing.

Inside the store, I chatted with the nice guy, who came out and took a look at the van and said, “You’ve been driving on that? Don’t do that anymore.”

He went back inside, talked to his manager, and sent me across the street to the Shell station. The nice guy at the Shell station said, “Whoa. That’s not good. You might have a real problem.” He jacked the van up, took the tire off, looked at the remaining lug nuts and said, “You were about five miles from disaster. And I mean a real disaster.”

Fortunately, the nice thing about being five miles from disaster is that you’re still pretty far away from actual disaster. As a result, though, I am now hanging out in an RV park in Needles, California, waiting to find out how much new wheel studs are going to cost me and when they’ll be able to get here.*

I don’t mind too much. I’m a little disappointed that I’m not on my way to Tehachapi, where I was going to introduce Carol to Vietnamese food (one of my personal favorites) tonight, but the park I’m staying at (Needles Marina RV Park) is the kind of resort park that I don’t usually stay at, with full hook-ups, laundry facilities, even a swimming pool. I will probably not be swimming, given that it was 41 degrees outside this morning, but I am going to take the chance to do some laundry and clean out the tanks.

I also will probably spend at least a little time trying to get the generator working. I haven’t been able to turn it on since Texas. I blamed both the elevation and the cold initially, but yesterday morning, neither of those things applied, and I still couldn’t get it working. I’m hoping that the problem then was that the battery was charging and pulling too much energy from the generator. (You usually want to let the generator run for a couple of minutes before letting things start drawing power from it.)

So, yeah, the technical difficulties of van life definitely reared their heads this weekend. So it goes. It’s impossible to feel anything other than really lucky, though, when I consider how much worse my yesterday might have been. There are youtube videos of people driving on the highway when their tires fly off — I’m guessing most of them don’t end well.

I also appear to have a cold: I thought it was allergies in Texas, was sure it was allergies in Albuquerque, but now… well, yeah, it’s a cold. Interestingly, a cold is so much less sick than a gluten-reaction that I’ve had trouble deciding that I was really sick. Congested, yes. Sore throat, yes. But until I added a cough this morning, I just wasn’t feeling the level of misery that would have deserved to be called “sick.” Even now, I’m not miserable. I just don’t feel well. I’m just as glad not to be driving, though.

Before I move on to the more useful parts of my day, however — a quick summary of the past few. I left Texas on Thursday and spent a long day on the road, winding up at Kyla’s house in the mountains that night. There was snow! Zelda liked it, I think. But there were probably also a lot of great smells around, because she was busy, busy, busy — heading off in all sorts of random directions. I was freezing, but she would have happily stayed outside for hours.

On Friday, Kyla and I enjoyed an art project. We took three of my photographs, and printed them out on canvas, then stapled them to pieces of wood. They’re hanging in the van now, and I love them. (Picture posted on instagram, so in the sidebar of the blog, if you want to see.)

Instead of returning to Kyla’s place in the mountains that night, though, I headed farther west, trying to get another hour or two of driving in. I spent the night in a Walmart parking lot outside of Gallup. Not my favorite ever parking lot, but it was cold and that was when I discovered that the generator wasn’t working. Friday was another long driving day. I’d intended to stay near Flagstaff, but when I got there, comfortably early, it was freezing cold and gray, with mounds of snow piled high on the corners of parking lots. I was so unenthusiastic. I might go back someday — it looks like an interesting place — but not in February.

So I kept driving, planning on continuing until I hit 50 degree weather. Fortunately, that happened sooner rather than later, and I spent Friday night and most of Saturday morning at Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area, my first (I think) Bureau of Land Management site. I was a little mystified when I got there — I’d pictured a road into the desert with visible spots where people would/could camp on the sides of the road. Instead, it was basically an unpaved parking lot with a low fence around it. I didn’t know whether to take a parking spot or to drive off the road into the scrub, but since I was only planning on spending the one night there, I just parked.

The sunrise was amazing. Walking the dog was terrific. It felt like I was out in nature, having an adventure, venturing into the unknown. I took dozens of photographs, and if I had more time, I would be sorting through them right now to find the best one. But I’d rather do laundry.

Little tiny white dot in the sky is a star. Many more of them were visible, but it’s hard to take photos of the stars.

Funny unrelated note: on Saturday night, I was tired after a long, largely uncomfortable day. I’d had a couple of restless nights, including one that was very much sweaty and miserable, between congestion and trying to keep comfortable in ever-changing temperatures. I looked at my bed and thought how much I wished I had clean sheets. And then I looked at the other bed and thought, um, self? It felt so lovely to crawl into the driver’s side bed with its clean sheets that night, and so absurd that I’d never really maximized my clean sheet potential before by using both beds. For the last two nights, I’ve slept in the driver’s side bed, which I’ve only ever done when I’ve had a tall guest in the van. Turns out, it’s perfectly nice. And the clean sheets felt like a luxury!

*I got new tires right before I left Florida. Apparently, you should check the tightness of the lug nuts after driving 1000 miles, which I never knew. I think I’m going to have to get myself the right kind of wrench for the job, though, because it would certainly have been useful to have about a thousand miles ago, well worth the space it would take up in the van.