Thursday, October 22, 2015

End of the Road for My SUV!

First light on the colorful aspen at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Canon 5D Mark III)
The day started like any other fall day on the road: the pink over blue Belt of Venus light leading to a  sunrise, golden hour light and calm morning reflections, fall colors, then driving to the next location on the itinerary.  Usually I don't finish the drive in a tow truck, with my SUV on the back!

Let's talk about the good news first.  Sunrise on Jackson Lake was uneventful, with no clouds, but gorgeous nonetheless.  The Belt of Venus color can be fantastic if you know how to coax its color out of the sky and into your camera, and the pastel pink and blue tones on this morning didn't disappoint.

Fortunately the lake was calm, so the colorful light show in the sky was doubled in the water.  As the sun approached on the eastern horizon, the Tetons were bathed in golden light.  So far it was shaping up to be a good day.

Not far away was Oxbow Bend (above), where colorful aspen trees were lighting up in the first rays of the sun.  There was another spot to the east which had a nice stand of colorful aspen in front of Mt. Moran as well.

Schwabacher Landing (LG G4)
A few miles south on the way to Jackson was Schwabacher Landing, which can get really crowded at sunrise, but it wasn't all that crowded by the time I arrived.  The sun was behind me, but with a little bit of waiting and some coordination with people walking by, I was able to get some shots without people or shadows in them.  The Tetons here make a long, narrow subject, perfect for the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of my LG G4 smartphone, but it was out of memory.  It has 32GB of memory, 16GB of that left for photos.  The LG G4 has a microSD slot for memory expansion, but I was using one microSD in my GoPro, and had misplaced my spare.

Fortunately, prior to the trip I had been asked to try out the 32GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick.  It looks like a USB flash drive that you'd plug into computers, but it connects to your smartphone via wi-fi.  Earlier in the trip I had started a complete gallery backup from the LG G4, and not only did that transfer over 4200 existing photos, it also transferred new photos as I took them.  So all I had to do on the smartphone was delete old photos, since they were already backed up.  I also filled my 64GB iPhone 5S with photos on this trip, and I was able to back up files from that as well, then delete them on the phone.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick with iPhone 6S+
Smartphone memory issue solved, it was on to Jackson for breakfast, grocery shopping, then I could move on to the next area to shoot.  In this case, the location change was from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming to Salt Lake City.  I should return home from there to prepare for a workshop in 2 weeks, but "shoulds" are for wimps.  Having invested so much time and so many miles to get that far, I could extend the trip underway to swing through Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and continue on to Colorado to catch fall colors in Aspen, at the Maroon Bells, in Telluride and Ouray before returning home.  I'd still have a week to get ready to go back out.  Or I could wait until next year, but something could come up and it could end up being the year after that.  Heck, I may not live that long.  Life and time are precious; there's no time like the present.

But as the saying goes, life is what happens when we're busy making other plans.

Somewhere between Jackson, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, a few miles south of the small town of Cokeville, in the middle of extensive hay fields, and outside of Verizon's service area, the Explorer made a noise.  An unhappy noise.  A warning noise.  A message in the dashboard was trying to tell me something, but driving into the bright glare of the afternoon sun, I couldn't read the fading light of its aging display.  Then it was gone.  Everything was apparently fine.  Without a warning indicator, the infamous "check engine" message, I couldn't use the engine code reader to give me some clues.

The peace didn't last long.  The light came on again, I was able to read it this time, and "Low Oil Pressure" meant that I needed to pull over ASAP.  The road was elevated with essentially no shoulder.  Just as I spotted a driveway coming up across the road, the engine cut off, so I had to wrestle the now-powerless steering and brakes to cross oncoming traffic and bring the vehicle to a stop.  The stall could have been an engine safety shutdown, but I would need to have it towed to somewhere where a mechanic could assess the failure.  Fortunately Lori Hibbett had flown in to Seattle to join me earlier in the trip, and her AT&T phone had one bar of service, so we could call for a tow.

It was late on a Friday afternoon, so Salt Lake City 150 miles to the south would be the best option for finding a mechanic working on a Saturday.  Thank goodness for premium roadside assistance plans covering tows up to 200 miles!  Not being able to look up shops or do a lot of calling to identify a shop open Saturdays, we had the SUV towed to the Courtyard Marriott at the airport so we'd be able to catch a shuttle to the airport and rent a car to get around.  When we arrived, I called every mobile mechanic in town, so see if one would come out late on a Friday or early Saturday.  No one called me back Friday, even the places which supposedly worked 24 x 7, but Saturday morning I did get a single call back, and the mechanic was there less than an hour later.  At first he was optimistic that the oil pressure sensor may have failed, since it had clearly been worked on, but he eventually tried to turn the engine with a large wrench, and it was seized.  The oil was topped off and there was no coolant mixed in from a broken gasket, so the mode of failure most likely had to do with the oil pump itself, possibly the timing chain which drives it.

Although I had kept the vehicle in immaculate shape to get me in and out of remote places, and I had recently put another $1000 into it to hopefully get another 100,000 miles out of it, the book value was only $2000 and a rebuilt engine would cost more, so it was a total loss.

One shuttle to the airport and one rental minivan later, we were leaving at noon for the 8-hour drive home.  Of course the minivan had weather stripping on both sides of the windshield that whistled loudly over 50 MPH, at what sounded like the exact frequency of my SUV's warning beep!  A couple of stops and a few feet of gaffer's tape, and the whistling minivan was silenced.

The following day I was able to locate a place that would buy my vehicle using its pink slip in Reno, but pick it up in Salt Lake City a couple of days later.  Done, except for the fact that I lost the vehicle and its $2000 value, plus expenses associated with the breakdown.  I guess that I need to come up with my next project, and include a new vehicle in the budget for it.

After the trip, I bought an Apple iPhone 6S+ using the Apple Upgrade Plan, and the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick worked like a charm with that as well.  Although the USB connection is mainly to keep the Wireless Stick charged, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I plugged it into my laptop, it worked like a USB drive as well, and I was able to copy photos from all three smartphones directly to the laptop.

Although we think of hard drives as being a weak link in our photography toolkit (right behind vehicles), smartphones also fail, often by being dropped in water, so I'm glad to have to have an easy backup solution for the photos on mine.  If you think that you might want to pick up a SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick for storage expansion, backup, or wireless transfer of files among your wi-fi capable devices, SanDisk has given me a coupon code to offer you 30% off: https://goo.gl/1HRPrF

It handles a lot more than smartphones and photos, you can stream music or HD movies to up to 3 devices at once.  Learn about the product here: https://goo.gl/Gp0mBm or watch a product video: 
https://goo.gl/SfTNNc 


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SanDisk . The opinions and text are all mine.