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Finally, I have permission to share all the stuff about the sixth and final Texas Rodeo book, starring Gil Sanchez. We have a cover, a blurb, and an excerpt! Which I hope you consider a good thing and not just another form of torture since it doesn't come out until June 30, 2020. If you prefer not to be teased, just ignore this link, but keep an eye out because I will be spreading the word as soon as it's available for pre-order, and there will be exclusive chances for newsletter subscribers to win advance copies, whenever those hit my mailbox. 


And now, on with our Christmas saga. When last seen, our intrepid travelers had just escaped Spokane traffic, which was a very good thing for our sanity and my bladder, given that I was around four months pregnant. Luckily we were able to cover the next eight hours without memorable incident. And then came time to go home...

(If you missed the first two episodes, you can go back and read them by visiting my website at and clicking on the archives link right below the Subscribe button.)

Christmas Tripping - Episode Three
It might be red, but it ain't no magic sleigh


In 2004, we owned two vehicles: a 1990 Ford two-door dually pickup and a 1995 Ford four-door dually pickup. I commuted to and from work in the ‘little’ . It occurred to us, though, as I started to swell and we realized we were going to have an actual baby, that it might not be the best Mom car.

As luck would have it, a girl from Sweden had been working for my parents as part of a farmworker exchange program. She’d recently finished her internship and gone home, leaving behind the cute little 1985 Jeep Cherokee she’d bought for transportation while in the States. Dad had driven it to the neighbors a few times and figured it would be a dandy car for us.

Plus it was cheap.

We’d ridden out to the ranch from Oregon with my sister for Christmas (see Part Two). My brother was already there (see Part One). All of us had to get back to Oregon after the holiday. For reasons that escape me now, my sister wasn’t going back at the same time as the rest us. Plus there was the issue of still having no space for my brother. We decided to take the Jeep home, because hey, it was only five hundred and ninety-five miles across three mountains passes in the dead of winter. What cheap used car couldn’t handle that?  
We did take it for a test drive first. We aren’t total fools. It seemed to run fine, and my husband was pretty sure the overpowering stench of gasoline was just a leaky fitting. It should fade once we got out on the highway. The lack of a functional radio wasn't so great, but we’d be driving through the mountains most of the time and there’s not much for stations, anyway.
Off we went, with my brother riding shotgun. When we hit cruising speed, we realized two things. First, the gas fumes, if anything, were getting stronger. And the fabric on the ceiling was coming unglued. The warmer it got in the interior of the car, the farther it sagged. This was especially annoying to my brother who, at six-three, didn’t have a whole lot of clearance to begin with. Within an hour, he was wearing the upholstery like a dusty gray veil. 

We toodled over Marias Pass, only slightly dizzy from the gas fumes when we rolled into Columbia Falls. The car ran great…right up until it overheated ten miles from Kalispell.

Steam rolled from under the hood as we pulled off on the side of the highway. When it cleared, we discovered the radiator was half empty. My brother fought free of the saggy ceiling and hiked to the nearest house. He came back with two plastic milk jugs of water. Radiator replenished, we did a U-turn and went back to the Towne Pump at Columbia Falls.  With the engine idling, they scrutinized the hoses, the water pump, the radiator. Not a leak in sight. They checked the fluid level. Hadn’t dropped a millimeter.
Either the leak had repaired itself, or there wasn’t any water in the stupid radiator when we started.
We refilled the milk jugs, stashed them in the back seat, and set off again. The sun came out and the day warmed to the point where I could crack a window for fresh air without risking frostbite, which diminished the fumes significantly.

Now if I could just get rid of that backache.

My pregnancy had been disgustingly easy to that point. No morning sickness, no weird food cravings. Then came the backache. The pain started on the trip out, while we were trapped on the interstate in Spokane. By the time we got to the ranch, it felt like someone had stuck a hot poker under my right shoulder blade. But at least it only bothered me when I sat for long periods of time. 
Like in a car on a twelve-hour road trip.
The longer we drove, the worse the pain got, until it radiated clear around to my ribcage.  When we stopped at a convenience store to refuel and switch drivers, I bought a pack of frozen peas, climbed behind the wheel and stuffed the peas down the back of my shirt. I pointed the Jeep straight down the road.

It headed for the ditch.

“Steering’s a little loose,” my husband said from the back seat.  

Uh, yeah. Just a little. Keeping the thing between the ditches required constant correction. Veer right, veer left, veer right, veer left. The gas fumes seemed to have tripled in intensity with the fill-up. I hunched over the wheel to duck the sagging ceiling--knuckles white, shoulder frozen, melting pea juice trickling down my butt crack--and tried to breathe very shallowly.

We reached the interstate at dusk. The sun had melted the snowpack, and a semi drenched my windows with gritty slush as I merged onto I-90. Imagine my surprise when the windshield wiper left a wide opaque streak directly in my line of vision. I hunched lower and flipped on the headlights.

The left headlight shone straight down on the yellow centerline. The right one did a fantastic job of illuminating the tops of the fifty-foot pine trees lining the ditch. The road in front of me remained dark--what I could see of it through the muddy windshield. I couldn’t see out of the side or rear windows at all.

Somehow, we got to Spokane in one piece. At the same convenience store where we’d experienced our car seat malfunction on the drive out, my husband bought a screwdriver and adjusted the headlights while my brother worked on the windshield wipers. I tossed my soggy bag of smushed peas into the nearest trash can, crawled in the back seat and stretched out flat. I could practically see the gasoline vapors near the floor, but I had reached the point where I was willing to sacrifice consciousness for comfort.

Being horizontal down did the trick. I was feeling no pain when we rolled into Hermiston. Or maybe it was just the fumes. 

One more to go, for those of you who've stuck it out this long. I definitely saved the best for last. Next cousin Jim Jay. 
Copyright © 2019 Kari Lynn Dell, All rights reserved.

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