When Moving Goes Wrong

Photo credit: Daniel Ramirez, CC BY 2.0.

After seven years of calling Central California my home, my husband and I decided it was time for a big move. It was 2013, and we were — literally and figuratively — searching for greener pastures. The state’s epic drought, a lack of good jobs, bad air, and my parents’ residency in East Tennessee propelled us on a reverse Oregon Trail.

By the time we made it to Tennessee, we were just glad no one had died of diphtheria or drowned while crossing a river. What should have been an uneventful trip turned into a series of unfortunate events, instigated by our own missteps.

We plotted, we saved, and I thought we had all our ducks in a row. Somewhere in there, I forgot that my husband is an artist, a dreamer, and not a lover of detailed planning. Why he was the one who looked up the U-Haul estimate, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s because I was still exhausted from tending to our infant son, or maybe in the year that we’d been married, I hadn’t yet learned who should be doing what in the relationship. He convinced me it would be less expensive for him to build an enclosed trailer and haul it with his 1997 light purple pickup truck with no air conditioning. We’d stay with friends and family along the way to save on expenses.

I had my doubts as I watched him construct a trailer out of the back end of an old delivery truck. He’s a welder and metal fabricator, so it’s not as if he wasn’t up to the task.

We’d discover later that it wasn’t my husband who couldn’t pull his weight, it was his truck.

Day 1

Because we both had older children in elementary school, we left at the beginning of June. In some parts of the country, this is a lovely time of year. In Central California and the Southwest, it’s mid-summer. Remember how our truck had no AC?

One of the few things we did right for this move was sending the older two kids ahead of us by plane with my sister-in-law, using Southwest points from our credit card. But we had a 6-month-old baby, a dog, and two cats crammed into the truck. A few hours in, I had serious concerns about the heat’s impact on all of us. We had a fan on the baby, but it was still torture as the mercury soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

We were pulling as many of our possessions as possible in the trailer, which I had packed like it was a Tetris game. The truck could barely hit 50 mph as it creeped over the rolling hills of California’s desert towards the Arizona border. We were supposed to stop that night at my cousin’s, in Buckeye, Arizona, but our slow speed made us stop at a motel in Needles before heading out again the next morning.

Days 2–9

We almost made it. About a mile from my cousin’s house, a trailer tire blew out and part of the trailer crumpled under its weight. Thankfully, her boyfriend had a heavy-duty jack and helped change the tire, and we limped on to her home. They even had a welding shop where my husband was able to repair the trailer — which we had to unload for repairs and reload again. We parted with a lot of furniture to lighten the haul. All this work turned a two-night stay into a week-long one.

It was 113 degrees in Buckeye, which is near Phoenix. The men were hot and tired, but it was finally done… or so we thought. We didn’t make it out of the long drive. Turns out, the truck had bigger problems than the trailer did. A local mechanic told us it wasn’t built to pull the kind of weight we’d put on it, and the suspension was ruined.

We left my husband’s frankentrailer behind and rented a U-Haul. We were more than 500 miles closer to Tennessee than when we started, but the price to rent the truck was considerably lower than the initial quote my husband had looked up when we first started planning. I don’t know what information he originally used to get that first quote, but I would have never agreed to the home-built trailer, no-AC vehicle trip if I’d seen the relatively cheap cost of getting from Buckeye to Tennessee.

We unloaded the trailer again and haphazardly conducted our third reload, this time into the U-Haul. We rented a vehicle trailer, so we could tow the pick-up to Tennessee. We called U-Haul because it seemed odd that the back wheels of the truck hung almost completely off the trailer, but we were assured that it was OK.

Day 10

It was not OK.

After we hit the highway in Phoenix, we fishtailed twice when the wind from passing traffic jerked the unstable pick-up truck on its tow. We feared for our lives and I was bawling as the truck continued to violently swerve against our will. We pulled over, wondering if this trip might be totally doomed. What kind of omen is it when you’re on your third try to get out of a city and can’t?

If we’d been anywhere greener and cooler than Phoenix, I might have just stayed. Instead, we called my cousin’s boyfriend and he hauled the truck off with his dually.

That was the end of our vehicle troubles, but Phoenix just couldn’t let us go. While the men were unhooking the trailer, our dog was snoozing under a nearby tree.

We were 20 minutes down the road when it hit my husband that his faithful companion was not in the cab. We worried he’d be gone by the time we got back, searching for us. For the first time on this trip, Arizona’s hellish summer temperatures saved the day. The heat was so intense that the dog was still sleeping, right where we left him, none the wiser.

Days 10–15

After that, it was smooth sailing. We visited a lot of friends and relatives, and my husband sampled fast-food chains he’d never tried, like Whataburger and Waffle House. I, a native Texan, proudly introduced him to his first taste of Blue Bell ice cream.

We finally arrived safely at my parents’ house, and unloaded our possessions into a storage unit. A month later, we loaded up again to move into our own house, this time with no troubles.

We managed to sell the trailer in Arizona, which offset some of the cost of fixing the truck and having it shipped to Tennessee. Our efforts to save a few bucks on the move had failed miserably.

Sure, I lost a lot of material possessions on the way, but I gained wisdom and experience. My husband and I bonded in our frustration and fear, and we didn’t lose patience or fight in the face of daunting circumstances. Sometimes, it really is the journey that counts more than the destination.

But seriously, triple-check that U-Haul quote.

Hillary S. Meeks Tune was a 10-year veteran of newspaper journalism before taking a turn into content marketing, and is now writing freelance. She resides in Knoxville, Tennessee, but will always be a Texan at heart.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Moving Series.

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