2220 miles

Earlier this month, half the family traveled north to Santarém by airplane and half the family by car. Many people asked how we decided who went with dad and who went with mom. It was very interesting to watch the Brazilians as I explained the decision making (because my portugues is not up to par, they really have to intently listen and usually can’t tell if I am kidding or not until the very end). I told them it was quite simple. Everyone had to take the test. The exam was to drink some water and then sit on the couch for 3 hours. If you could sit there for 3 hours without having to go to the bathroom….you could go in the car with dad!

The week before leaving I realized we couldn’t fit all our “stuff” in the car and pickup so after much prayer and searching, we purchased a small trailer that we could use to move and then sell it once we arrive in Northern Brazil, where stuff like trailers, are more scarce. Since it was going to be rough trip (200+ miles of dirt roads—washed out and rutted from semi-trucks) I took it to be completely checked out. Well…the mechanic decided I needed a new axle and leaf springs (Praise the Lord–we wouldn’t have made it with the old).

After getting that fixed, I was backing it into my friend’s yard to keep it safe for a few days before we left (if you leave stuff out or parked on the street, sometimes it is not there when you wake up in the morning). While I was backing it into his fenced yard, I learned that the hitches they put on pick-ups here in Brazil are not as strong as the ones in the US. After getting that welded, my friend, Scott Blunier, spent the morning getting the lights fixed and the afternoon packing it for our 5 day journey. We put all the suitcases and totes in garbage bags and then covered everything with a tarp.

On Wed afternoon, I took Janelle, Jaelah and Sierra to the airport. They left at 3pm to arrive in Santarém at midnight. Then the landlord did a walkthrough of the apartment and 5am on Thursday we took off. We drove 11 hours the first day and learned, again, that hitches in Brazil are not the same as hitches in the US. But, thankfully we were staying at the Asas de Socorro (Mission Aviation Fellowship- Brazil) hanger in Anápolis and they have equipment. So the next morning while I met with Asas leadership to discuss my future as a pilot / mechanic, Scott fixed the hitch–again. And we were off– about 4 hrs behind schedule. Saturday night we stayed with a pastor who had moved to Sinop to start a church. He had lived in Santarém for many years and so his family knew Scott well. The next day- Sunday- we also stayed with a pastor from the PAZ church.

We arrived Sunday afternoon and I noticed that when we stopped at the church to get directions, a tire on the trailer was low. By the time we got to the pastor’s house, it was so flat we had to take it off to get it fixed. But….even though it was Sunday afternoon, the tire fixer place was still open (his house was attached to his “shop”). We got that fixed and went back to relax before church. When the pastor left for church, he came back inside and said, “looks like you’ve got a low tire on the car”. Sure enough, it was going down, but we drove it back to the guy and got it fixed.

We got up early Monday (the last day) and took off. It was raining, dark, and we were still on dirt—mud— roads. Well, the truck was using gas pretty fast because I was pulling a trailer. Scott had warned me that gas stations were few and far between.. and sometimes when you arrive they are out– and might not be getting any until next week. So we had filled up 2 – 5 liter water jugs– just in case. In my excitement to get going early and checking the other tires, etc, I forgot about the gas. We drove about an hour and I realized I only had 1/4 of a tank. So I stopped and told Scott, “Hey, I’m going to need gas”. He just looked at me, “What do you want me to do?” Ends up that when we left that morning he had been flashing his lights trying to get me to stop — but I didn’t see him.

We drove on, and when my fuel light came on I stopped to ask how much farther? The lady said, “Oh, I think about 50 more miles”. So we went a little farther and I stopped to use up my spare fuel. While we were filling it, Scott looked down and said, “Hey, you got a flat tire on the truck”. So, we changed that one too. We saw lots of animals on the road…even one of these:

Things were pretty uneventful until noon. After lunch, Scott started driving the truck. We went about 5 miles and he stopped. I pulled up beside him and he said, “somethings wrong with the transmission”. So we sat and talked and prayed. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. About 40 miles from the next big town. On the dirt roads we were averaging about 20 miles per hour. Earlier, I had noticed the trailer axle was starting to bend and one of the shock absorbers had completely broken off.

I decided that we would try to pull the truck with the car. Scott got in the truck, turned the key on, and out of habit pushed in the clutch. When he did that, the truck started. So he flagged me down and said, “It’s stuck in gear–4th gear”. Well…you can’t drive up and down dirt rutted roads pulling a trailer with a bent axle and broken shock absorber in 4th gear. So, we decided to keep going, he would pull me with the car, and if we were going fast enough I would help him by letting the clutch out. But, if we went too slow, I had to push the clutch in or it would kill the engine (not enough RPMs). Things were going well until we came to our first bridge. He was trying to go fast because after each bridge is a hill and we needed speed to make it up the hills. As we bounced across the bridge, I noticed that some of the boards were being shoved in front of me. The trailer hitch had caught a long board and started to drag/push it at the same moment the front tire of the truck was on the board. I couldn’t steer and the board couldn’t go off to the side because of the weight of the truck. I started flagging him down again. We got stopped just across the bridge and a semi had to wait while we accessed the situation and resolved it.

After an hour or so with no issues, we started to ponder how we were going to finish the trip. About 80 miles before Santarém, the road turns to asphalt and on that road is a police check point. Neither one of us was too excited about pulling the truck through there. So, our solution was to call ahead and have someone start towards us with Scott’s pickup. If we hooked the trailer up to his Toyota, then I thought on a good asphalt road without the trailer, I could drive in 4th gear. We called about 4pm and figured we should meet up with him in about 2 hours. With that plan, we continued on our way. We still had about 2 hours of dirt left. However, now the trailer axle is in a really bad way and I am concerned that it is not going to make it.

So, we took a break and moved most of the bags and boxes into the back of the truck. At the start, I had everything under the tarp of the truck bed, so we took the tarp off and started stacking. At the same time, we decided to try and go a little slower to save the axle. However, on the first hill, we didn’t have enough speed and we literally got halfway up and couldn’t move. We stopped, prayed and tried again. nothing. The car kept spinning out and the hill was too steep for me to use 4th gear. “Well, I said, let me back down the hill (coasting– cuz I didn’t have reverse) and let’s try again”. This time, the Lord pushed us up and over. We continued on…just keeping up speed when we got to a hill. Finally we reached the asphalt and we could go faster-60 mph or so. We’re moving along pretty good, but I had broken the rope a few times so it was pretty short (I was really close to his bumper going 60 mph) and it was getting dark. We stopped and accessed the situation again. I told Scott that if he pulled me to the top of a hill, I think I could get enough momentum going to down to keep going and he wouldn’t have to pull me. So we did that. Now it is dark and it has been 3 hours since we called for his truck. Where could it be? It’s pitch black and the guy is supposed to be looking for a car pulling a truck pulling a trailer, but now were not doing that and we are moving along pretty good. I’ve got to keep up my speed or I can’t make it up the hills by myself.

We are looking and looking and then I see a truck stalled along the road. I can’t stop or I won’t be able to start again so I fly by and keep going till I get to a hill and stop at the top. Meanwhile Scott turns around to talk to his friend and I wait. After 20 minutes of so here comes Scott in the car, but no Toyota. The truck had gotten hot and cracked the head. We pray and access the situation and he decides “Well Matt, you are going good without me, I think I’ll go back and pull my truck with your car and at least get it closer to Santarém. If you come to a hill that you can’t get up, I’ll be behind you and see you and then I’ll just stop, hook up the rope and pull you up”. Well, I took off….and the “hill” I thought I was on wasn’t big enough. I couldn’t make it. So he came up, hooked up the rope and pulled me to a bigger one. They gave me a push and off we went. Did I mention that now I have Luke and Mariah with me in this little truck? They are sharing the front bucket seat. We go 4.6 km and Luke says “I have to go to the bathroom”. I know we have at least an hour to Santarém. I can’t believe it. I can’t stop. But…we pray and we look for another BIG hill. Praise the Lord we find one, Luke does his business, and off we go.

We fly….kind of… pass the police check point and head into Santarém. Now, I’ve been to Santarém before, but I haven’t usually paid much attention because someone else has always been driving. I think I know where Scott’s house is, but between it and us are at least 2 stoplights. With much prayer and some stoplight planning, we coast through and Praise the Lord we arrive–10pm on Monday. Turns out the Brazilian that was “driving” Scott’s toyota didn’t want to go through the police checkpoint being pulled. So, they left the truck on the other side and arrived with my car about 11pm. Scott asked if I would go back with him to get it– the checkpoint is pretty dead on a monday night around midnight. We went back, pulled it back to town and were in bed before 1am!

The next day I got the truck fixed for $30 (just a connection that got jiggled loose). When I took the axle off the trailer, it broke in half– God was definitely holding that together the last few miles. For now, we still unpacking boxes and getting settled. I went to the hangar today to evaluate the planes and am planning to meet with other pilot tomorrow to see what is first on the priority list (neither plane is running right now).

thank you all for your prayers.


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