An Engine Rebuilt

An Engine Rebuilt

Coming into Boulder, we had planned a whirlwind month. We would see Ayana’s whole family (parents, brother, cousins, grandparents), two of Andy’s brothers and their families, Andy’s mom, all of our friends, and then we would take off to Moab for a giant family reunion on Ayana’s Dad’s side. It was already an intimidating social schedule after so long on the road in relative solitude, but we had no idea what we were actually getting ourselves into.

It all started with a failed emissions test. In Boulder County, an older diesel like Bea needs an emissions test every year. When we first bought the bus, it took around five tries for us to pass emissions, but since then it hadn’t been an issue. Given her history of failure, we weren’t too worried when she didn’t pass the first time. We probably just needed an oil change, a new air filter, and to clean all that motor oil from our last breakdown out of the engine compartment.

We took her to our favorite mechanics to  do the preliminary stuff: oil change, fuel filter, air filter, clean the engine compartment, et cetera. Unfortunately, after all of that work, the emissions scores were completely unchanged. So, back to the mechanics she went.

At this point we were already feeling a bit stressed. Our time in Boulder was running out, and with this second trip to the shop, we would not be able to drive Bea out to Moab as we had initially planned, which also meant changing the next leg of our trip (so long, Yellowstone). We dropped her off on a Monday morning so they’d have all week to fiddle with the injectors while we were at the reunion and we’d pick her up on Friday. The estimate for the injector work was pretty intimidating, but we were prepared to spend what needed to be spent in order to take proper care of whatever was causing the emissions problem. Again, the optimism of everyone involved really led us astray.


canyoneering in moab


We were blissfully out of cell service (and quite busy) during the week of the family reunion, so we didn’t get word from the shop until the following week. Hearing the timbre of the mechanic’s voice, we knew something terrible had happened before he even got the words out. So, they had found a couple of bad injectors, and taken them out to replace them. Unfortunately, when they removed the injectors it broke some sort of positive pressure seal in the engine, and over the weekend the cylinders had filled with coolant. As they dug deeper, they found that the head gasket was blown and would need to be replaced. If you know anything about head gaskets, this is about as bad as repairs get. But the bus is not only our car, it is also our house, so we accepted the grim news, bid a fond farewell to our savings accounts, and told them to do what they had to do.

I’ll bet you think that we’re at the low point of the story right now, don’t you? Just you wait.

The next blow came a few weeks later when we showed up at the shop to check on their progress. We hadn’t heard from them for a while, so we decided it was time to go see what was going on. We also needed to pick up a few things from the bus, as it had now been around a month that we’d been living in the same five days worth of clothing that we’d originally packed for the reunion.

When we arrived at the shop, our technician had about half of Bea’s engine spilled out onto the concrete. We asked him how things were going and he informed us that not only were the head gaskets blown, but we also had cracks in the cylinder heads themselves, so they too would need to be replaced. Ayana told him that we’d do what we had to because this was our house, and he replied that it might be time to take out a mortgage on it. Ouch.

Sulking a bit after that remark (it was a bit insensitive, right?), we climbed into the bus and got a real kick in the teeth. Well, three kicks in the teeth, really. Okay, three additional kicks in the teeth. Let’s just say our teeth were feeling very kicked. Not only were we looking at several more weeks in the shop and thousands more dollars added to our tab, but we also had a trifecta of new problems: there were mice in the pantry, gnats in the fridge, and our batteries were tanked down so low that they might never fully recover. This was an angry afternoon.

Some of this was certainly our fault. When we dropped the bus off, it was only supposed to be a few days, so we didn’t empty the pantry or the fridge, and we told the guys to plug in the battery charger, but didn’t really hassle them about it. As time went on, we worried about the food and the batteries, and did ask them several more times to plug in her battery charger, but we were constantly being assured that it was all taken care of and we would have the bus back soon. As time wore on, those little problems became big problems, and this was the day that we had to deal with them.

We hastily removed all of the food that the mice had sampled (or could sample), set up mouse traps, threw away all the rotten food in the fridge, tried to eradicate all the gnat eggs, and insisted to the technician working on the bus that it really needed to be plugged in if it was in the garage (and that they may have already ruined our eight hundred dollar batteries). It is hard to remember exactly what happened after we went home that day, but it was likely an evening of stiff drinks, takeout, and depression.

Okay, THAT was the low-point. We are not at the end of this story, and things aren’t yet ready to get better, but I think that was the lowest that we ever felt. After so long in the shop and so many false summits (false nadirs?), it was beginning to feel as if we might never get the bus back. Had we been complete fools to buy this bus and invest so much time, money, and sweat into it? At that moment, we both certainly felt like it.

But time passes, and optimism returns. The mechanics kept right on working, pushing up that bill every day. The cylinder heads came and were installed. Then the wastegate actuator failed and needed to be fixed. Then the water pump was leaking and needed to be replaced. But they did eventually they reach a point where they could find nothing more that needed to be fixed. The bus was functional once again. And we finally received that call we had been waiting on for months: it was time to come pick her up.


return of sweet bea


We brought her home and she runs like a dream. She passed her emissions test with flying colors and sounds like a whole new vehicle (which makes sense given how much of her is brand new). This was an enormous expense that we had not planned for, but we can only hope that these weeks of work and piles of money will add years to her life and our travels.

Thank you all so much for reading. We are so lucky to have all of you as friends, family, and readers. Many of you have already been incredibly generous in your assistance with our mechanic bills, for which we are so, so thankful. Anyone else that would like to contribute, you can sign up to be one of our patrons on our patreon page (each tier comes with specific goodies, check them out), or buy something from our shop, to which we recently added a bunch of new merchandise. Again, thank you so much for reading about our troubles, and do continue on to read about some of the good stuff that happened during those three unexpected months in Boulder as well.

Part 2: The Good Stuff

While all of this was a real disaster for us, we are very thankful for many things that happened during our extended stay in Boulder.

First and foremost, WE GOT ENGAGED!


engagement photo


If we can build a house together and share one hundred square feet for seven months, what hurdle could we not overcome? It has been a long time coming, but we are very excited to be taking this next step in our life together.


boulder house


Our time in Boulder we were also very fortunate to have a place to stay. If the bus had gone to the shop for seven weeks anywhere else, we would have needed to pay for lodging on top of it all, and that would have absolutely ruined us financially. We were lucky to be able to stay with Ayana’s mother, Brenda, in her beautiful house in downtown Boulder, which was not only great time spent with family, but also saved us heaps of money.


mom visit


As mentioned above, we were able to visit with many friends and family that we hadn’t seen since the pandemic started. It was that brief, golden window when we were all vaccinated and the delta variant hadn’t yet started its march across the country. We were able to gather with literally hundreds of friends and family during our three months back in Colorado, and it was amazing.


airstream renovation


We had the opportunity to help Brenda renovate one of her airstream trailers that she uses for her Prayerstream work, painting and installing rough-and-ready systems for electricity, water, and music–all the essentials.


forget family fourteener


We climbed a fourteener with Andy’s family, the first for two of them.


issaquah lake


We were able to travel to Washington for Ayana’s cousin’s wedding and see yet more people that we had been apart from for a long time.

And a completely unexpected opportunity fell into our laps, though we aren’t spilling the details on that quite yet. You will have to stay tuned for the next blog post (probably next week) to hear that big announcement.

Again, thank you all so much for reading. We are so lucky to have all of you as friends, family, and readers. It is our joy to share our travels with you. If you would like to help us with that hefty mechanic bill, you can sign up to be one of our patrons on our patreon page, or buy something from our shop.

Thank you so much!

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