Uhhh…that should really be Maybe it’s all a matter of altitude. Let me make a short story, long.
Michele’s sister, Claudia, was going to the family cabin at Squaw Valley and she graciously agreed to give me a ride – pretty far out of her immediate way – to get the Range Rover which was now back in Minden at Hollar’s 4×4.
As an aside, I had meant to post that on Monday but got the date backwards and told WordPress to post it on 06/05/2013 rather than 05/06/2013. I really left on Monday and got back on Wednesday. End aside.
Because Claudia was in Napa, the easiest way to meet her was to take the ferry to Vallejo. Michele dropped me off and I started my trip at the Ferry Building which has been remodeled – in 2003, under the Willie Brown administration – into a foodie paradise featuring local purveyors.
In the back, the Ferry to Vallejo loads at a new pier.
I said Goodbye to San Francisco and about an hour later said Hello to Vallejo which is still devastated from the Navy pulling out (I think as a way for the Pentagon to punish California’s anti-war liberal Congress-members).
Claudia picked me up and we headed to Minden under a darkening sky that turned to rain in the foothills and snow – with big flakes that didn’t stick to the road – as we got higher (passing blooming dogwoods in between).
When I picked the Rover up at Hollar’s 4×4 and drove to Squaw Valley without the low coolant light going off even once, I felt very hopeful. Not hopeful enough to drive to Gerlach, but hopeful enough to think I would get home. Claudia and I spent the next day driving to Gerlach in her truck and, on Wednesday, I started home early so I could be home to let Precious Mae out (she had been locked in all night because Michele was now in Napa) .
When I fired up the Rover, in the cabin’s driveway, the low coolant level light started flashing immediately. This changed my chances of getting home, but I decided to give it a try anyway. I figured that there were two main obstacles: Donner Pass at 7,056 feet which I could go over slowly by taking the old road and Emigrant Gap at about 5,200 feet where I didn’t think there would be an old road to bypass the freeway.
After getting gas and a supply of anti-freeze, I drove around Donner Lake with Donner Pass looming, ominously, in the background.
Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after the infamous Donner Party (duh!, OK, probably only infamous in California). I figured, no matter what, my trip would be considerably easier than that experienced by the Donner Party in 1846. Considerably easier than working on the First Transcontinental Railroad when – primarily – Chinese workers labored to get tracks through this solid rock landscape (today, it is hard to believe that all this work was done by hand, lots of hands).
After taking a couple of hurried pictures from the side of the road near the summit, I turned back towards the car. Coolant was running out from under the engine. Not dripping, gushing. All I could think of as I ran back to the car was If I can just get over the summit, I can coast to a place to park where AAA can pick it up. I jumped in and started driving.
As soon as I got over the summit, I turned off the engine and started to coast. Ahead was a a little uphill section and then it looked like a long downhill and I was calming down, so I fired up the engine, and – watching the temperature gauge – got over the next bump. That pretty much went on until I got to Emigrant Gap where I stopped, let the Rover cool, and then poured almost a gallon of coolant into the reservoir tank. I called Michele and told her that I was not going to make it and I would keep her posted.
I went over Emigrant Gap at about 45 and coasted – off and on – to the Rest Stop at Gold Run. I stopped, washed my hands and sweating face, and decompressed. I was about 145 miles from San Francisco and our towing covers 100 miles so I thought I would see if I could get under the limit. This went on for a couple of hours, coasting downhill, crawling uphill at 45 until I finally got to the Great Central Valley. The I pulled off the freeway at a Park and Ride to add more coolant. It turned out that I parked next to the Placer Buddhist Church and I took that as a good sign. So I walked over to the Church while the Rover cooled. The Church was closed but the Koi in a pond- infront of the Church – were calming.
I filled the coolant reservoir and it only took about a quarter gallon and I was off to see if I could get within 85 miles of San Francisco to give myself some breathing room on the towing distance. Then a funny thing happened: the Rover stopped spewing coolant. I checked in Vacaville even though there were no flashing lights, everything seemed fine and I kept going (at 45 on the Freeway!). I didn’t bother to check before I went over the Bay Bridge. I didn’t even bother to check this morning when I fired up the Rover to go to the market. Still no flashing lights.
Michele’s theory, which I am completely buying into, is that the Rover problem is only bad at high elevations. This is because the pressure cap releases fluid at about 15 psi – pounds per square inch – and that is the differential pressure between the atmospheric pressure – outside the Rover radiator – and the pressure inside the Rover cooling system. I have no idea what the pressure should be inside the radiator, but let’s say it is 25 psi now. At sea level, the outside pressure is about 14.7 psi. That plus the 15 psi pressure cap is almost 30 psi at sea level, well over the inside pressure of 25 psi. Going over Donner, the atmospheric pressure is about 40% of sea level or 5.88 psi and that is not enough to keep the cap from releasing massive amounts of coolant.
Of course, the whole point of the Range Rover, for us, is to go to the mountains; to go over Donner Pass or, more importantly, Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet where the pressure is under 4 psi. But, if I stay at sea level until I do a restoration on the Range Rover, I may be OK. Or, maybe, it’ll be OK for the next week. We’ll see.