[Note, the following was written for a miata.net post, and I didn't feel like editing for this audience, it's close enough.]
After celebrating the new year with a new alternator, I picked up a friend and set out from Texas for the Outerbanks of North Carolina. Having never been there before, and not being a fan of places with lots of people, January seemed a fun time to go. As you all know, the weather in North Carolina was... well, cold at best. By the time I started across NC all of the snow had been plowed and it didn't seem likely more would fall. There were plenty of patches of ice, however, so it was slow going whenever I thought ice might be possible.
We started our exploration of the outerbanks from the North, and then proceeded southward. This turned out to be a good choice as I was less than impressed with the likes of Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. While not unpleasant, they struck me as very much like other beach towns I'd been in. We stopped at Jockey's Ridge state park, and were quite impressed with the beauty. I've not seen such an expanse of sand dunes before. There was a harsh, crisp wind, and we never saw another person in the park. On south, we stopped at the Hatteras lighthouse, which while an impressive landmark (and even more impressive that it was moved a few thousand feet), was unfortunately closed. I would have loved to see the view from the top.
Took the free ferry to Ocracoke Island, and was amazed at the contrast. Ocracoke struck me as being the epitome of quaint. We stayed at an inn on the harbor which was fairly inexpensive given the season. We were the sole patrons of the restauraunt at which we ate that night. As best I could tell, there was only one other non-local car on the island while we were there. Ocracoke was an amzingly peaceful place, and I would have liked to have stayed longer. I'm sure it's awfully crowded in the summer though.
The morning we left Ocracoke, we took the 10am ferry to Cedar Island. I decided to head to try to spend the night in the vicinity of Deal's Gap as I'd never seen it in the winter and the my traveling companion hadn't seen much of the mountains at all. This was probably a silly idea given the weather, but... I'm a silly guy.
Well... It took FOREVER to get there as the roads weren't in the best of conditions. Furthermore, I was getting really tired. Unfortunately, I didn't have my tent, so I hoped to be able to stay at either Tapoco or the Crossroads of Time. Much to my surprise, I arrived at the Crossroads of Time only to discover that it was no longer the Crossroads of Time and in addition being "Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort" or some such, it was also quite closed. So, I headed for Tapoco, only to discover it was very much closed as well. By now the dew on the road was starting to freeze, and a four wheel drift was becoming far too common for the speed I was driving on some of the curves... I wasn't too happy about all the sliding about, and didn't really want to donate any Miata parts to the tree. By now it was close to 10pm, and I was getting very tired. So I parked at what was the crossroads of time and slept.
Or tried to. It wasn't terribly cold as I had the hard top on, and there was the body heat of two people. But I found it quite difficult sleep bolt upright in a miata seat. I found that by placing some clothes I could sort of sleep on the console, with head on the dashboard and feet folded on the rear deck. That worked until I woke up feeling very sore and cold... Moved back to the seat and slept a few more hours.... All in all, I got enough sleep that I wasn't too tired driving to Memphis the next day.
Nothing else exciting happened until somewhere in northeast texas I started hearing this clacking sounds which sounded very much like very bad valve noises. I pulled over, couldn't see anything wrong. Checked the oil, it was toward the L mark, so I added some. My '91 Miata with 153,000 miles was drinking about 1/4 quart of oil every couple days, (Mobil1 5W-30 synthetic when I could find it... when I couldn't and added penzoil 10w-30, not much more oil has dissapeared) so it's not like this was surprising. My car doesn't leak any oil that I can see, so I guess it burns it. No smoke though, so I'm not really worried.
Anyway, not knowing what else to do, I just kept driving. About 5 minutes later I heard a really weird sounding thump from under the engine and the charge light came on. And it all made sense. I sighed with relief realizing that the alternator belt had just broken and that the noise was a disentigrating belt, not a valve at all. I started wondering if I should drive to a well lit gas station as I remembered that the alternator belt also drives the waterpump. I quickly decided I shoudln't drive very much further at all, and glanced down to find out that the temp guage was pointing at the 3/4 position and was visibly moving upward... all in just a few seconds from the time the belt broke. Geeeeze! I killed the engine and coasted to a stop on the side of the road.
And then grinned at my genious for the presence of mind to stash an old alternator belt behind fuel line protector panel in the trunk. And then slapped myself for forgetting to stick the flashlight back in my trunk after using it a couple weeks ago.
Changing an alternator belt is not the easiest thing to do in the dark, but I managed anyway... Took me over an hour for what should be a 15 minute job in the day with all the right tools.
All in all a good trip, and I've managed to drive 8,000 miles in the past 3 weeks... Luckily, the new Toyo's still have plenty of tread of left. As soft as they feel, I was worried they would wear out in no time at all.