We approached the cow cautiously, half expecting it to stand up with a moo or two and charge one of us. As we neared, the vultures relinquished their prize and joined a dozen or so others circling a few hundred yards above. The thousands of flies however, kept up their work, buzzing around the carcass.
"What do you think happened?" I asked, holding my t-shirt over my nose like bandana.
"Holly shit, see that calf?!?"
"Is that what that is poking out of its ass err I mean vagina..?"
Walking around towards the cow's back, I noticed the hoofs and nose of a baby calf sticking part of the way out of cow's vagina. My stomach contracted as I caught a small whiff of the what would surely be the first battle of a war of stench.
"Fuck.. it must have died giving birth."
"I wonder how long it's been here?"
Looking up at the sun, I squinted my eyes, "Ehh maybe a day, maybe less. It hasn't been ripped apart yet."
"No way to really know I guess. Can we go now? This is creeping me out."
"Yah, this shit is weird."
We walked back towards the idling van in silence, still analyzing the cow and her still-born calf behind us.
"That's something you see in a movie. Remember when they killed that cow in Apocalypse Now? Well that's how fucked up that cow is. Same level."
"I've never seen anything like that in my life. It's trapped in suspended agony. Could you imagine being there when it died?"
"I'd rather not. Let's get the fuck out of here. This shit's bad juju."
Nodding in agreement, I opened the door and climbed back into the Syncro. Releasing the emergency break, we rolled forward.
"That's something you'll never forget."
Revving up to the top end of first gear, I shifted to second and we headed south towards I-40 on the Forest Service road.
Seeing that cow marked a turning point in our trip to the Four Corners region. Later that day in a wind storm on I-40, the strap of my Thule surf rack gave and we lost a surfboard. Tim and I heard nothing and didn't realize the board was missing until we stopped to get gas a few hours later. Futily, we backtracked an hour hoping to see the board laying on the shoulder. No luck. In a separate but related incident a pair of jeans that I had drying in the cargo rack blew off. Hopefully a Navajo found both the surfboard and the jeans on the side of the road and is enjoying them.
Annoyed with the losses but happy that it was just a pair of jeans and a beat up surfboard, Tim and I continued our travels west, back towards southern California, where both could be easily replaced.
I downshifted from fourth to third on a two lane highway out of a valley in northeastern Arizona. Cutting through open range, the occasional cow dotted the otherwise unremarkable landscape. The van shook subtly twice in the low RPM's and then continued its whining acceleration up the hill.
"Did you feel that?"
"No, what do you mean?"
"I think she misfired or, we ran over a snake the size of four by four..."
"Ohh yah, I thought we ran over something in the road."
"Nope we didn't hit a thing...She's never done that before. Thats not good.."
"Maybe it's the altitude.." Tim suggested in earnest.
Matching Tim's optimism with a healthy portion of my own wishful thinking, I accepted this answer as a plausible cause and continued west. The knocks disappeared.
Hanging at the watering hole.
You Shall Not Pass.
Tim has a photo blog called Cairn Culture.
Wild Horses in New Mexico.
Craftsmanship in Chaco Canyon.
By the Nevada Arizona border, the knocks and misfires had grown from the occasional sputter on a steep hill to a voilent convulsion every time I accelerated. In low RPM's, the shakes were hair raising. To avoid this, I kept revs high. As the knocks continued, my hopes of limping the Syncro back to Los Angeles evaporated. In vain, I tried a fuel injection cleaner at a gas station. For half an hour, the convulsions disappeared, only to return with vengeance.
"We aren't going to make it to LA," I said to Tim with a solemn face following a particularly long series of misfires.
"I know we aren't..." He said as if he'd known for longer than I had. "What do we do?"
"Well, you have AAA dont you? Lets get off the interstate and take side roads back as close as we can. The other option is that we call it quits here and try to find a shop in Bullhead City or Havasu City to work on the van on Monday."
"Fuck that. Those towns are hell holes."
"My thoughts exactly. Let's push for LA."
Turning off the music, we continued towards the setting sun, reviving high in third gear.
On a linear progression, the knocks continued until the van stalled, contributing her last bit of forward motion. Turning on the hazard lights I rolled to the side of Route 66 a stone's throw from the California border.
"Well, that's that."
"At least we are in a pretty place," Tim said glancing towards the setting sun.
I sheepishly smiled in agreement.
"Do you want to make the call or should I? We're 284 miles from LA. We're going to have to use both of our AAA accounts," I said to Tim as I checked Google Maps on my iPhone. Wrestled my wallet from my back right pocket, I flipped through expired New York Transit cards, reciepts and other old reminders of yesteryear. Eventually, I found my AAA card.
"We are so fucking lucky we have cell reception here."
"What's the deal, I'll make the first call, then we wait an hour and then we get towed 100 miles and then you make another call and get towed another 100 miles."
"Yup, thats about right."
"Shit. It's going to be a long night. What I would do for a beer," Tim laughed.
"The Road Giveth and The Road Taketh," I agreed.
Here are some more links,