Escaping Idaho: The Horrifying Conclusion

Last time, I began the epic saga of the horrors of Idaho.  While the trip south for Christmas turned out alright, we had only hit the tip of the iceberg.  It was about to get much much worse.  Herein lies the crazy conclusion…

Returning to Mountain Home

After spending a wonderful Christmas with my family, it was time to return home and retrieve my car from the evil clutches of Idaho. We pressed hard and as clear roads would have it, we were back in Mountain Home by that same night (Saturday). We picked up my car outside the shop (the mechanic hid the key where we could find it after hours, the bill settled over the phone).

Now, while roads were clear when we dropped the car off a week prior, the ground was now afresh with a good foot or so of snow, even more so in the mostly untouched parking lot of the shop. This was, of course, the year when our hometown saw a week of epic snow while Colorado saw none (which, in itself is a tragedy, as I love snow.. but I digress….).

A wintery highway in Idaho under cloudy skies

So it wouldn’t be Idaho unless my car got stuck.

Escaping the parking lot

We pushed and rocked and revved and gunned, but we simply couldn’t get it out of the parking lot. We eventually broke it free with the help of some passers-by…. But in the process of the extra mechanical exertion, the original problem reared its ugly head. It chugged and died, had difficulties restarting.. essentially, it barely ran. We hoped that with the cold weather (mind you, it was about 9pm by this time) and a near-empty tank, a simple fill-up would help. After all, we already got the darn thing fixed!

We dropped off the rental and filled my tank, also discovering I had a flat tire (great). A Fix-a-Flat didn’t do much to help this, so we resigned to being stuck until at least the next morning. We didn’t want to wait until Monday, and the car was supposed to be fixed, so we’d call the same mechanic the next day (he had given us his home number), as he was already familiar with the problem.

The Thunderbird Motel

We somehow managed to barely limp my car up the street a few blocks (flat tire and all) to the nearest inn, the luxurious Thunderbird Motel.

This…. was by far the worst excuse for a motel we’d ever seen.

We entered the dated lobby and rang the bell.  The wizened proprietor – someone who looked vaguely like a Mexican Yoda – drowsily hobbled from a small back storeroom that somehow served as an office (and evidently sleeping quarters).

“How many hours?”

We should have run right then. Risked the hypothermia and slept in my busted car.

“… Um… the entire night?”

A low cloud obscuring the highway in Idaho as snow blows across the road

The whole place just felt dirty, and the sheets had questionable stains.  Furthermore, our room was downright frozen.  It probably hadn’t been heated – or used, for that matter – in months.

In an effort to thaw while we waited for the ancient heater to make the space survivable, we opted for a hot bath.  At least we should be able to get hot water rather quickly. That seemed like a good idea until we saw the bathtub was sprinkled with wasps (this was December…. what time of year are bees around again?). When had anyone last been in this room?

Hot cocoa

We squeaked out some semblance of sleep that night, walked to a little breakfast place next door, then called the mechanic.

Of course, the car was stuck again (after a night of more snow), and this little armpit of a place sure as heck wasn’t going to plow. Therefore, we called AAA again for a tow to the shop (the mechanic agreed to take another look, but it had to wait until after church – this was Sunday, after all).

Having nowhere else to go, we chilled in the little diner for a while, explaining to them we were stuck and waiting for a tow. They were so kind, letting us stay there, then not charging us for our hot cocoa and tea (again, was Idaho trying desperately to get back into our good graces?).

I decided to go back to the car early and see if I could somehow get it to start and move. After about 20 minutes of frustration, it decided to (somewhat) behave. More headaches, more struggling, another call to the tow truck to cancel for the second time, more pushing and revving, and Aaron flagging down some guys to help unstick the car… and we finally managed to get it out to the street and down to the shop.

Was this nightmare over yet?


Repairs: take two

After several more hours of poking around under the hood, the mechanic finally came to the conclusion that the TDC sensor (the part that was suspected broken) was NOT located inside the distributor (the part that was replaced). Instead, it was something completely different.. something way in the underbelly of the engine compartment. Great.

This meant tearing apart the entire car to replace another part. This, of course, meant another part had to be overnighted from Phoenix (gee! We’ll be set if we ever break down in Phoenix!). Unfortunately, nothing was open on Sunday, so we had to wait until Monday, just to order the part, with Tuesday being the earliest we could hope to escape.

Our mechanic offered to give us a ride to a hotel where we could wait it out.

“You didn’t stay at the Thunderbird, did you? That place is a dump!” Oh, really? Thanks for the heads-up…


At this point, we were well beyond our PTO, and we had to call our bosses to let them know we were stranded. Here we were, no car, nothing to do, and only an Arby’s, a Subway, and a corny grill for food.

All we wanted to do was go home.

Fortunately, the hotel did have internet, and we did have a laptop. As I could remote into work, I could still perform most of my job duties. Aaron, on the other hand… well, we only had one computer, and he couldn’t as easily telecommute.

We also had some of our Christmas gifts, namely, DVDs. Therefore, between off-and-on working throughout the day, and movies and tv in the evening, we were moderately able to keep ourselves occupied. Aaron got a head start on his New Year’s resolutions by working out at their little gym.


We suffered through the first day, just to find out the necessary part had to be routed through Boise. This meant an overnight to Boise, then another overnight to Mountain Home. Now we were looking at Wednesday – New Year’s Eve. We hashed around the idea of somehow driving up to Boise ourselves to retrieve the part (if we could find a ride/car), as it was only 40 miles away. However, UPS wouldn’t allow that. So we updated our respective places of employment and waited until Wednesday.

More spotty wifi, working out, Christmas movies.

We got very sick of eating Arby’s and Subway.

A snowy hillside and a highway in Idaho

Waiting… and waiting…

We were told UPS overnight had to deliver by 10am. So when 10:30 on Wednesday rolled around, we called the shop to see what was up… no part.

We waited a little longer, and called again around noon… no part. They told us the latest should be by 1:30pm.

Meanwhile, we were past our check-out time, but we had nowhere to go. We couldn’t afford to keep tossing money at a spendy hotel, so we really didn’t want to pay for another night. Fortunately, they were ok with us sticking around for another hour or so. They gave us until 3pm.

We got a call around 2:30pm.

Happy Holidays

“I feel so sick to my stomach that I have to tell you this.  After all you’ve already been through…  UPS likes to take all the holidays they can… including New Year’s Eve.”

Yup.  We had been anxiously waiting all day only to discover they weren’t even open that day.  Our part was likewise stranded – a mere 40 miles away – and we couldn’t get to it.

This meant UPS would also be closed for New Year’s Day, so we wouldn’t even see the blasted part until Friday.

At this point, we couldn’t keep putting off work.

“Where are you?”

“Still stranded in Idaho!!”

We had to get back.

A truck on the highway in Idaho as wind blows snow across the road

You can check out, but you can never leave

The car rental in town was already closed for the day. Of course.  It was New Year’s Eve, after all.

We considered towing my car back to Portland, but that would require not only a trailer rental, but also a useless truck to tow it – it just wasn’t practical. Besides, no one had any available trailers in the area.

We even looked at flights out of Boise. If we could somehow get up to Boise, we could take a direct flight. These were looking like ~$200 a piece, not at all feasible for our broke butts at the time.

However, this sparked another option. If we could somehow get a ride to the airport, they should have car rentals. We could rent a car to at least get home, then come back for my car later.

Bumming a ride to Boise

As luck would have it, one of the other mechanics at the shop lived in Boise and could give us a ride.. especially since they all felt bad that events turned out the way they did for us. We piled all our necessaries into his huge truck, and rode with him for the 40 miles, while he waxed poetic about coyote hunting.

We were thankfully able to get a rental car, but this was Idaho.. nothing would be so simple. They didn’t allow one-way trips. Of course not. We’d have to pay for the car the entire week back home, whether we needed it or not.

Whatever.  We just didn’t care anymore.

A snowy landscape with thin blue clouds in the sky

On the road again

Finally on the road again, we crossed that blessed border into our beloved Oregon.  We stopped in Ontario and kissed the ground.  Yes.  Literally.

With such a late start, it was already long dark by then.  But we didn’t even bother to stop for another night.  Home or BUST!

Over snowy mountain passes and through an icy Gorge, miles and miles passed… with exhausted and traumatized minds. We dragged our zombie brains and bodies through construction zones in the pitch dark. I was certain we’d hit something… As we passed through The Dalles, we saw the New Year’s fireworks overhead.

Happy New Year. We much preferred the ones (and the situation surrounding them) in San Francisco.

Home at last

I was never so happy to see the Portland skyline.  We crawled into bed a little after 1am.

We returned a week later to retrieve my car and pay the massive bill (including extra work they never had me authorize).. I guess that’s what I get for calling a mechanic out on Sunday.  Some friends came with us as insurance, and they legitimately wanted a winter road trip to Idaho.  I’ll never understand some people.

Fortunately, the return trip was uneventful; I was glad to have the nightmare – IdaNO – behind us.


A week later, Aaron’s car – our only other vehicle – broke down.  It was fortunately in-town, but calculating the miles we came to one hilariously tragic realization: regardless who’s car we took, we would have broken down – in Idaho!

So I’m sorry Idahoans… You seem to be really nice people, but I hate that state with a loathing that burns in my soul. Just seeing Idaho plates makes me cringe, and potatoes send a shiver down my spine… If we never see it again, I will be the happiest person alive.

Needless to say, we fly now.

What is your road trip nightmare story?

Psst… do you love reading about travel horror stories?  You might also enjoy these:


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