Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy 2011!!!

Here is to hoping that 2011 will bring better luck and fortune than some of what 2010had to offer!

All in all 2010 wasn't too bad but I'm holding out hope that 2011 will be exceedingly better. I have made a small amount of progress on the barn in the last few months, like an indoor stall, an oil heater, a man door (don't have to use the 10x10 garage door to get in and out anymore), and a nice start to a home gym on the second floor. I hope to have pictures in the next few weeks.

Happy New Years!


Thursday, May 06, 2010

November until now (Part 7)

When I got in on Thursday, Sandi and Thane were still in Wasilla so I met up with them and we went out for dinner. Sandi said her Yukon heater wasn’t working very well again (three months before it did the same thin and I thought it had a bad thermostat but it ended up being low on coolant) so I checked the coolant level and it was really low. I wasn’t sure what the problem was but I knew it wasn’t good. After I got back to work on Tuesday I called my import mechanic hoping to find the best place to take it to because our GM dealer is terrible to deal with. Luckily the import guys had a mechanic that works on the Vortec engine so I made her an appointment thinking she had a leaking head gasket or worse. They told me it probably wasn’t that bad because these engines are notorious for having leaking manifold gaskets and would probably be an easy fix. I told them I hoped so because my luck with all things mechanical were pretty poor recently. They called the day after Sandi dropped it off and said that it was worse than feared, and even worse than a leaking head gasket. Apparently two of the valve rocker arms broke and there was metal all in the engine and it was cheaper to replace the engine with one they had found that had 50k miles on it than to buy replacement parts for the existing engine. I was just thrilled., an engine and transmission all in one month. The only major component I had left that hadn’t failed was a rear end. Luckily when I paid the bill for the transmission I took it in the rear end so I don’t have to worry about that any more. All I could figure was that I’d better try to stay at work for about eight weeks to get caught up on all of our mechanical catastrophes.

On the bright side I did get a few days of riding in good snow before I headed back to get the truck. Amazingly when I called on Tuesday to see what the status of the truck was they said that they got it done on Sunday like they’d estimated and was sitting in their yard ready for me to pick it up. I wasn’t sure how long it would take them to finish when I booked my ticket so I booked a flex ticket so I could change it without an additional fee if necessary. When I called Alaska Airlines to change my ticket the agent told me that there was an additional $230 fee. I told her I booked a flex ticket so I shouldn’t have to pay a change fee. She said that only my northbound flight was flex and I’d have to pay. I’d say I was hemorrhaging money at this point but I was only hemorrhaging my visa number. The outpouring of actual cash was going to have to wait until I actually had some cash to pour out.

I flew home from work on Monday; I was originally planning to come home on Sunday to spend Thane’s whole spring break week with him but those plans were pretty well shot due to everything going wrong as of late. I did get all day Tuesday at home to go for a two hour ride in almost two feet of fresh snow and hang out with Sandi and Thane until they dropped me at the airport that night for my second flight to Kelowna. Wouldn’t you know that every time I left for either work or to go on this trip we got fresh snow. I wasn’t upset about getting to ride on Tuesday but was really wishing I had the rest of the week to play in then new snow. I’m not sure where but somewhere in there I finished my Stephen King novel and swore I’d never download another one.

I guess since I’d paid $1500 for a ticket to Kelowna Alaska Airlines took pity on me and gave me a first class seat to Seattle. I was happy about that, I like having room to stretch out and sleep especially on a redeye flight. This flight left Anchorage at 12 am instead of the 2:30 flight I had last time. It figured that the guy I sat next to wanted to talk and did, all the way. I got almost no sleep the whole flight so when I got to Seattle I went and found a little piece of floor to sleep on. I prefer the 2:30 flight to the 12:00 because when you get to Seattle before 5 am almost everything is closed. I got a few hours of sleep on the floor then made my Kelowna flight without any issues. When I went through Customs the officer asked me why I was in Canada and I told him I was picking up my truck which broke down on my way through. He said “they still haven’t got that thing done yet?” It was the same Customs Officer I’d had before; I told him that I had been assured it was ready this time. I once again jumped a shuttle to the Greyhound station and then waited for my 2:30 bus to Merritt.

I arrived Merritt a few minutes before 5pm and called the mechanic shop for a ride from the bus station. They sent a driver and had actually washed my truck before I got there. By the time I got all the paperwork taken care of and the trailer hooked up it was a little after 6:00 so all I had to do was top off the fuel tank and start driving. The rest of the trip was long but mostly uneventful with the exception of me cutting the corner too short turning into my friends driveway in Fort St John British Columbia. The trailer caught a snow bank and went off the side of the driveway which in turn broke the drain pipe to the grey water tank and popped out most of the rivets on the running board on the drivers side of the trailer. This just meant a little added maintenance when I got home. I took a long layover to visit as I hadn’t seen Saunderson’s in a few years, and hadn’t been to their farm since Sandi and I drove our ’97 F350 up from Washington in 1999. I left their house at about 6:30 the next morning and pushed fourteen hours to Whitehorse where I grabbed dinner, slept five hours and then made a fifteen hour push for home. I’d left Merritt on Wednesday evening and was home Saturday evening, a day earlier than I thought. Who could complain about that?

I still had a little over a week off so I spent a day skiing in Girdwood and two nights at Clay’s cabin at Honolulu creek riding snowmachines and the rest of it with Sandi and Thane. Then I went back to work for two weeks of recuperation before coming home to do two days of trailer maintenance before driving Sandi and her horse back to Washington…

Saturday, May 01, 2010

November until now (Part 6)

I flew out of Anchorage at 2:30am on the return leg of the ticket Dale set me up with. I arrived Seattle at 5:30 and had plenty of time to have a coffee at Starbucks and some fruit for breakfast while visiting with a friend that was on the same flight into Seattle. The flight to Kelowna was at 9:00 and a little less than two hours flight time. I arrived Kelowna and when I went through Customs the officer asked me what the purpose of my trip was so I told him I was just planning to visit his country for a few days. He wanted a little more information so I gave him the Readers Digest condensed version and said I was headed back to Merritt. He seemed ok with this answer and let me through. When I flew out on Thursday I asked the rental car companies if they offered a one way rental and they all said no so my only real option was Greyhound. I didn't really want to have to fork over another $25 to a cabbie since the Greyhound ticket was only $28 and I got lucky and found a shuttle into Kelowna for $12. The bus was pretty full with people headed home after a weekend of skiing and enjoying Kelowna. Luckily Merritt was the first stop so I had less than a two hour ride. The Greyhound station in Merritt is about 2.5 miles from where I had the trailer parked and there wasn't a local bus to downtown for an hour so I decided to walk. By this time it was pushing 5:00pm so I called the shop to check on my truck and they said they were still working on the transmission and to check back Tuesday afternoon. Not overjoyed I pondered what to do the next day as I walked into town. I got back to the trailer park opened up the trailer and turned up the thermostat on the propane heater that I had come to really like. I relaxed a little, did a little Internet surfing and just as I was thinking about going to sleep early the heater kicked off because I had run out of propane. I went out and tried switching to the other bottle but it was empty as well. There was a guy standing by his trailer across the way drinking a Budweiser so I asked him if he knew the nearest place to get propane and I quickly determined he was French Canadian as I could barely understand him. He wasn't sure if anyone would be open this late was about all I understood. I went back inside and turned on my GPS and looked under services and determined that the nearest gas station with propane was 2.5 miles away. I wasn't really excited about walking 2.5 miles with a propane bottle to find the station closed so I climbed into my sleeping bag fully clothed and went to sleep. I don't know how many times I woke up but I know I was pretty cold for several hours.

The next morning I walked to the coffee shop and had my morning latte and muffin. I called the shop and they weren't too optimistic about anything happening very soon. I decided to try the rental car guy back and he said he had one minivan available but he hadn't had time to wash it yet. He seemed surprised when I said that I didn't care if it was dirty but I really didn't care because all I wanted to do was drive to the gas station to fill my propane tanks and not have to carry them. He met me at the coffee shop and drove me to his office to do the paperwork. Essentially it cost me $168.00 to rent it for twenty four hours. After I filled my propane bottles, I headed over to the shop to check on the progress of the transmission rebuild but they didn't seem to be making much headway for some reason. I went over to the shop where my truck was and talked to the owner about having an additional transmission cooler added when they put the transmission back in to help avoid this situation in the future. I also was able to get my towel, camera and a few other things I hadn't seen since the night I broke down. After that I figured I might as well drive the two hours up to Sicamous to see if my SkiDoo dealer friend was open. Kind of ironic that for something to do I ended up going on a five hour drive.

I'd never actually been into Kamloops so I got to drive through the city, which looked to be a pretty nice place although I didn't stop. The next town was Salmon Arm which is on a series of lakes in what they call the Shuswap and is a very beautiful area. I got to Sicamous around 3:00pm and the dealership was actually closed because they went to the annual SkiDoo meeting in Florida. I'd called several times before leaving Merritt but just got their normal answering machine stating their hours. I wasn't too upset because I at least got to see the area, but I was surprised that they didn't have any snow on the ground. From Sicamous I drove south through Vernon into Kelowna, and headed over the pass back to Merritt. I decided that night I'd go out for dinner, a beer and see if I could watch some of the Olympics. I was really glad that my heater was working when I woke up on Wenesday and there was about two inches of fresh snow on the ground. I drove over to my new favorite coffee shop and had my morning latte and muffin and wasted a few hours doing nothing.
Again I went to the shop and they were still working on the transmission but for some reason weren't done with it. They said it was looking more like the end of the day at this point. I took the minivan back to the rental place and decided to get my things packed and ready so I could start driving early on Thursday morning. I spent a lot of time at the coffee shop. Wednesday evening around 4;30 I walked back over to the shop and there sat my truck, it was a very good feeling to see it sitting there. The mechanic appeared to still be checking some things out and I wasn't getting a warm fuzzy feeling after talking to him. Apparently the truck has an auxiliary pto that is not used but had a gear ring that was damaged when I burned up my transmission. When they priced a replacement drum it was $750 and two days shipping as it was only available out of Ohio. They decided that since there wasn't anything on the auxiliary pto they could remove the damaged gear ring and reinstall the drum. After they put the transmission back in, the trucks computer kept giving two different check engine light codes that ended up being from the sensor that detects the speed of the ring gear that they removed. None of them thought it would be an issue and were trying to save me a little time and money but they didn't think it would have an adverse affect since there wasn't actually anything connected to the pto. At this point it was almost 5:00 on Wednesday night so when they called three different Ford dealerships to talk to a Ford transmission tech they were told everyone went home early to watch the women's USA vs Canada hockey game. Who'd have thought, hockey in Canada would be an excuse to go home early. We decided that we would call them on Thursday morning and see if we could take the truck to a Ford dealership and just have the pto speed sensor programmed out. Until morning there was nothing we could do. That night I went out for dinner and beer again and watched a little Olympic hockey. I had a few too many beers which contributed to me sleeping a little later on Thursday than I would have but I didn't really care as the dealerships didn't open until 9:00 anyway. After my now routine stop at the coffee shop for my latte and muffin I walked back to the shop where they were still waiting to hear back from two different dealerships. When they did finally get the call the news was less than good. Both Ford dealerships said that the transmission had to come back out and they had to replace the old drum with a new one with a new pto drive gear. The mechanic estimated that if we got the new drum ordered it would be two days minimum to get it and probably until Sunday to get the transmission rebuilt and back in. This was with guys working Saturday and Sunday which they normally didn't do. Even if I got the truck on Sunday I had to be back at work Tuesday afternoon so I wouldn't have enough time to make the drive. This meant I had to fly back home so I could make it to work on Tuesday. It also meant that I wasted five vacation days doing nothing. I wasn't happy about any of it and I was even less happy when I booked a ticket for that afternoon out of Kelowna that cost $1200. We hauled my trailer out of the rv park and moved it back into their yard where it would be locked in a fenced yard at night. Then it was back to the Greyhound station for the ride back to Kelowna. At the bus station I couldn't find a shuttle so my only option was a cab but I remembered what the community bus driver said about haggling and just asked the cabbie if he'd take me to the airport for $20. He said yes so I was wishing I'd have said $15 but it was still better than the $25 I paid the first time.

I flew back to Seattle and caught an evening flight home where I picked up my Dad's suburban at the airport in Anchorage and headed home.

One of the many beautiful lakes near Sicamous BC

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

November until now (Part 5)

I can't say that I'd ever thought I'd be so happy to see a short greasy tow truck driver with only four teeth. He showed up at about 3:30am and hooked up to the truck and towed the truck and trailer the mile or so to the top of the pass and pulled out at the brake check pull out. There he loaded the truck on the flatbed of the tow truck and at first didn't think we could tow the trailer at the same time which had me a little stressed out. After I showed him the type of hitch I had, he found an adapter with the right size ball and we were able to haul both truck and trailer in one trip going really slow. The towing service I called has shop where they do both engine and transmission work. The driver called the mechanic at home a little before 6am to see if he could come in a little early. We dropped the trailer in their yard and went and had a cup of coffee at a Tim Horton's donut shop. I was too sick to my stomach to actually eat anything so I just had coffee. The mechanic showed up at the shop at about 6:30 and we tried to figure out a path forward. This was now Wednesday morning, I had originally hoped to be home by Friday or Saturday and was being told that the earliest they could fix it was by Monday. They said there wasn't much option of finding an already built transmission anywhere sooner than that. At this point I didn't really seem have too many options. Their shop was full so they sent the truck over to another shop to have the transmission pulled out and brought back so they could rebuild it. It was going to take a few days to get parts and they thought by the end of Monday I'd be ready to go. I gathered my things out of the truck and put them in the trailer (which was still in their parking lot) and tried to go to sleep. By now I had been up almost twenty four hours but still had a hard time falling asleep. I slept for maybe an hour then got up to figure out what I was going to do for the next five days in Merritt British Columbia. I was supposed to be at work the following Wednesday but it was looking like I'd have to take vacation to make this work. If I could have seen into the future about a week I'd have done things a little different than I did.

When I went back inside the shop they had the idea of towing the trailer over to an RV park about three blocks from downtown. Mind you downtown isn't much in Merritt but it was a better option than staying in their parking lot. Once I got to the RV park I started looking at what my options for the next five days were. There was a guy in town that had a car rental place but when I called him he said he only had about three cars and none were available at the moment. Merritt is located about two hours west of Kelowna which is a nice destination resort type town (which would have been a great place to be stuck) and Kamloops which is about an hour north. The SkiDoo dealer I worked with on getting my snowmachine set up with all my mods was about an hour and a half east of Kamloops but without a car, getting over there was out of the question.

My friend Dale Berg lives in Edmonton so I called him to see about flying up there for a few days and he told me he'd check into tickets and call me back. I told him that the only way I thought things could get much worse was if a big dome came down over Merritt and I couldn't get out. I figured that while I was waiting for Dale to call back I'd walk to the grocery store and stock up on some food and other essentials. Three grocery bags of mostly general staples like bread, cereal and peanut butter, plus one quart pyrex dish for the microwave cost me $140. This was going to be an expensive week.
After I got back from the store, Dale called and said that he checked into flights from both Kamloops and Kelowna to Edmonton and it was over $400 round trip. He said he looked at prices from Kelowna to Seattle and then Edmonton and it was the same for a mileage ticket as from Kelowna to Anchorage so he just booked me a ticket to Anchorage for the next day using his frequent flier miles. I didn't know what to say, I was so appreciative I felt like I was going to cry. Then he said that he'd found a community bus that went from Merritt to Kelowna once a week (which happened to be on Thursday) for only $5 and he'd booked me on it. This meant I could fly home on Thursday for the weekend and then fly back on Monday to pick up the truck. I was ecstatic, and very thankful for Dale Berg and the internet. All I wanted now was to take a shower and go to sleep. The RV park had a bathroom with showers so I dug out some clean clothes but realized I'd left my towel in the truck. I was feeling too good to let this get me down so my hooded sweatshirt would have to make do as a towel.
After a long shower I climbed into my sleeping bag and since the RV park had wireless I had to post a big thanks to Dale on my FaceBook page before going to sleep.

The bus to Kelowna left the library at 8:30 the next morning and I wasn't going to miss it so I woke up at about 6:30 the next morning. I threw my essentials in my backpack and headed for the coffee shop across the street from the library. After a latte and blueberry muffin I paid my $5 and got on the bus. It was only about an eight seater and had all local people going to Kelowna for the day for things like doctors appointments, hospital visits and such. I debated on listening to more "Under the Dome" but decided I was in too good of a mood to start back into the story. I only had about seven hours left and had listened to too much not to finish it but this wasn't the time. I put on some mellow music and relaxed for the trip. When we got to Kelowna the driver dropped the first people off at a doctors office, then one at the hospital, at the next stop I moved up front and told him I needed the nearest stop to the airport. He said to sit down and wait until the last stop. He was a little short so I thought he was upset or something. After he'd let off the last person besides me he explained that he had set stops and wasn't supposed to deviate from them. He couldn't take me to the airport because it was too far out but he said he'd take me to the Greyhound station where I could get a cab. He said to not to pay the cabbie the full fare and to haggle because they always will drop the price. On the way to the bus station we started talking and it turns out that his dad was in the military and when he was a kid he lived for four years in Brunswick Maine. When Sandi was growing up her folks owned a Baskin Robin's in Brunswick and lived in the nearby town of Bowdoinham. It is really a small world sometimes. After he dropped me off I caught a cab but I wasn't in much of a mood to haggle so I just told him I wanted to go to the airport. After about a ten minute ride we arrived at the airport and my fare was $25. I was amazed I could get a two hour bus ride for $5 and had to pay $25 to get the last ten minutes. Guess I should have haggled. My flight from Kelowna to Seattle was going pretty smooth so I decided I'd resume "Under the Dome" but after about fifteen minutes into it we hit a pretty decent patch of turbulence and I decided Stephen King was going to have to wait until I was back on the ground. The fact that there had already been two plane crashes in the story didn't help much. I caught my flight out of Seattle after a short layover which included a nice dinner and a couple of beers. Sandi and Thane met me at the airport in Anchorage that night and we headed for home.

I honestly don't remember anything that happened on Friday except that I picked Thane up from school and on the way home we were listening to NPR and a story came on about Tiger Woods' cheating incident. After it was over Thane said to me (he's only 7 mind you) "Tiger Woods cheated at golf?". I told him "not exactly" and then pondered how I was going to explain this since his next question was "well what did he cheat at then?". I took a deep breath and explained that when a man is single it is ok to have girlfriends but when a man is married, it is not ok to have girlfriends. Then I told him that Tiger was in trouble for cheating because he was married and he also had girlfriends and this wasn't ok. Thane said he understood.

My youngest sister Jana was racing the Irondog and it started on Saturday. The Irondog is a 2000 mile snowmachine race from Big Lake to Nome and then back to Fairbanks. A pretty grueling race in itself, and Jana and her partner Tammy Spain were the only women racing in the Pro class. Sandi had to work Saturday morning but the rest of my family were going to see the start of the race so Thane and I joined them for the ride to Big Lake. I rode with my older sister Rachelle and Thane rode with my parents until we got to the lake where there was an ice road out to the starting line across the lake. We parked Rachelle's car at a parking lot onshore and got in with my parents for the trip across the lake. It was really warm put and the ice was cracking and there was overflow all over. I was very uncomfortable being on the ice with so many other vehicles. Dad found a place to park and as soon as we got out the ice cracked so loud that Rachelle and I thought we were going through the ice for sure but we didn't. We made our way through the crowds and standing water to find a spot to watch at the end of the starting chute. We were far enough down that you couldn't really see or hear anything at the starting line so really all we were doing was sitting there waiting for team 20 to speed by us on their way out to the trail. My niece Sydney had made a bunch of colored signs that she, and Thane, and Jana's three kids held up to cheer Tammy and Jana on as she went by.
The Irondog is the snowmachine race that Todd Palin has won several times and usually Sarah is there to do some announcing and get the race started. I have a strong dislike for Sarah Palin and all of the guys at work give me a hard time about it. Dale actually got me a HUGE wall poster of just her face for Christmas and I find all sorts of Sarah Palin stuff in my office that the guys leave for me. I've never put any of my political thoughts on my blog because that isn't what I want it to be about. I only mention my dislike for Sarah Palin because on our ride back across the lake Rachelle, Thane and I were in the back seat of my parents suburban and Rachelle asked me "So did you see your girlfriend out there?". I hadn't even finished saying no and that I wasn't hoping to see her either when Thane looked at me and remembering our conversation about Tiger Woods said "Dad, you have a girlfriend? Mom is NOT going to like this!". It took a few minutes to talk my way out of that one.

Sunday was much like Friday, I really don't recall doing much of anything except dreading the redeye flight I had that night to get back to Merritt by Monday evening.

Monday, April 26, 2010

November until now (Part 4)

My destination was a farm outside of Ellensberg Washington to pick up a ton and a half of hay. I thought it would be pretty silly to haul an empty trailer all the way to Alaska. I got into Ellensberg a little after 2pm and picked up 33 one hundred pound bales of hay and then headed into town for an early sit down dinner. Until this point I had a really specific plan for where I was going to be and when but I hadn't made anything firm for after I picked up the hay. I was planning on a stop over at a friends in Fort Saint John on my way through central BC but that was still a sixteen to eighteen hour drive from Ellensberg. I took my time and relaxed awhile over dinner, ordered a to go milkshake and then headed north for the border.

The further I drove the more intense things were getting "under the dome". Towns people pitted against one another, people were dying , mobs were rioting for no clear reason. After listening to this story for the last two thousand miles I was pretty into it. I drove by the junction to turn to go to Wenatchee around dark stopping about fifteen minutes later at a small Shell station to get fuel before I got to the border. For some reason I thought I was a lot closer to the border than I really was, I still had three hours to go until I there. I pulled into the station but there weren't any diesel pumps out front so I pulled around back where there was a single diesel pump but it was older and didn't have a credit card swipe option. When I went inside there were about six people in line so I waited until they had all paid and then left my credit card with the clerk and told him I was on the diesel pump and went back out to the pump. I had been very meticulous with each fuel stop making sure to log all of the mileage, figure out my economy, and add fuel additive during each fill up. I put in my additive and then lifted the slide on the pump to turn it on but nothing happened. I turned it off and tried it again but still nothing. I started to go back in when I noticed the clerk looking at me through the glass door. He pushed it open and in a tone you might talk to someone who you think might be about to steal something from you said "Can I HELP you". I said "I hope so I just gave you my credit card" and then his look changed back to relaxed and he said "Oh yea, sorry it has been a weird night" and then went back inside. When I finished fueling up I went back inside grabbed two Red Bull's out of the cooler and went up to pay. At this point I was the only person in the store. As he was ringing me up he said that before he had come outside he had gotten a call from his wife and said that she had gotten a weird text on her phone that said to be safe and make sure to stick close to a friend, so he told her to call the cops right away. I must have had a pretty perplexed look on my face because he said "Well with all that has been happening around here you can't be too cautious". I explained that I was just driving through and hadn't listened to any local news so I was completely in the dark. He told me that just the night before in Wenatchee they had found the body of a young woman that had been missing for a few days on the river bank near town. I recall that he said that her body was naked and that she had a bag over her head and that another girl was now missing also. Apparently the FBI was involved and there were cops everywhere. I guess he was a little worried when his wife called because he didn't know who had sent her the text message. Considering the story I was listening to had one of the main evil characters hanging out in a closet several times a day with two naked girls that he had killed days earlier, my head was starting to spin. Out of the four times I had gotten out of the truck that day this was the second time that my story seemed to somehow follow me outside of the truck. After I paid I got in my truck, locked the doors and was ready to get back on the road without wasting another second. Turning back onto highway 97 I actually cut it a little close and ran the trailer tires in the ditch on the way out. I didn't really care at this point I just wanted to put as much distance between this whole interaction and myself as possible.

I was starting to get pretty tired at this point and was wanting to get some sleep within the next few hours. I thought maybe if I made it to the border there would be a place I could park and sleep. About an hour from the border I passed a guy walking north with a backpack. All I could think about was that I sure wasn't stopping anytime soon now because the guy I just passed may bave been the same guy that had left that girl on the riverbank in Wenatchee. I drove another two hours and finally reached the border and was glad I fueled up where I did because everything in northern Washington seemed to be closed up tight on this Tuesday night. Usually when you get to the border you don't stop and there aren't border guards from the country that you are leaving, only the one you are entering. When I approached the US side of the border there were five US customs officers standing in the middle of the road. I rolled down my window and slowed to a stop and was asked to please turn off my engine. They wanted to know where I was headed, why, what I was carrying, etc. All of the usual questions you get from a Customs Officer but generally not at the country that you are leaving. After I explained everything one of them asked me for the keys to the trailer. I handed him my key ring but the trailed has four different keys for different types of locks which vary depending on the door and lock type. I asked if they wanted me to open it up but was told to remain inside the vehicle. While four Customs Officers looked over the truck and trailer I explained the purpose of my whole trip to the fifth one. After a few minutes I was asked to get out and open up the trailer because they weren't sure which keys went to which locks. At this point I was hoping that they weren't going to want to pull all of the bales of hay out to see that I didn't have anything inside the back of the trailer other than hay. When they opened the door to the midtack I was hoping they didn't want to look inside the toolbox that came with the truck that I had to take out for the trailer and was now residing beneath Sandi's trunk and boxes of stuff from her Mom's garage. Luckily they seemed to believe me and then wanted to look inside the living quarters. I unlocked the door and went in to turn on a light for them but was told to please step outside. They looked through everything and were apparently satisfied with what they found (or didn't find) and told me I could go. The Canadian Customs was a breeze compared to what I had gone through on the American side. I gave her my passport, told her my destination, how much money I had and how long I planned to be in Canada. She seemed satisfied and told me I could go.

I was hoping to find a place to park to get a little sleep but all I found was a restroom with a not so big place to park. I hadn't given it much thought before but I kind of realized that all the American Customs guys must have been there because of the girl that was murdered in Wenatchee and looking for someone trying to get out of the country. Again this was all too weird combined with the audio book I was listening to. Since there was nowhere to park I started driving north hoping to find a pullout. I drove north into Pentiction, BC and after trying to turn into an over crowded Chevron I managed to get out and cross the street to a large parking lot in front of a sports arena. I really wanted to sleep here as there were lots of lights in the parking lot and plenty of room to turn the truck around. From the looks of the movable barricades it looked to me like they closed up the parking lot though. At this point I should have just said screw it and gone to sleep but for some stupid reason I wasn't smart enough to do that. I pulled out of the arena parking lot and somehow ended up in a roundabout, got off of 97 and ended up downtown and not knowing how to get back to the highway. It isn't easy with a long trailer to just take any corner or turn down any street. I finally managed to find my way back on 97 and headed out of town. A few miles out of town I passed another person walking north on the side of the road, alone and now at almost midnight. Like before I decided there was no way I was stopping now without putting as many miles as possible between me and this guy walking. Paranoid? Quite. Strange events and fatigue combined with Stephen King tend to have bad effects on one's mental state. I drove for about half an hour or more until I found a pullout where I stopped and tried to go to sleep. I unrolled my sleeping bag in the back seat, laid down and tried to fall asleep. Between thoughts about the guy who was walking beside the road showing up and peering in my window, and all of the other voices in my head I laid there for about forty five minutes and was still awake.

What do I do when I can't sleep? I drive. So I decided I'd go a little further. I got to the junction for 97 and 97C and took 97C west, and I guess I just didn't study a map hard enough to realize I should have just kept going due north on 97 instead of going west on 97C. Once when I drove from Alaska to Washington I went through Merritt and just figured that would be the way I'd go. What I didn't realize was that 97C from Peachland to Merritt is a high mountain pass with a few really long up hill climbs. I stopped at a chain up pull out and again tried to sleep but still couldn't. I laid there for about thirty minutes and then decided to just push on to Merritt. As I climbed higher into the pass the worse the weather got and and the steeper the pass became. After I started the truck the last time I stopped I forgot to turn off my overdrive and as I was climbing the hill my overdrive light started flashing. I wasn't sure what this meant and tried pushing the button to turn it off but the light continued to flash. I was almost to the top of the hill and decided I'd stop at the top and figure out what the problem was. I hadn't finished this thought when my truck slowed to a stop and started smoking so bad I thought it was on fire. Luckily I was on a divided highway and I was in the right lane, but I was on a hill on a curve. I put my flashers on and dug out my owners manual to try and find out what a flashing overdrive light meant. According to the manual it it a transmission malfunction. To me a malfunction is if say you can't shift into gear, when smoke and oil are puking out of it and your truck won't move that is more of a catastrophe than a malfunction to me. By now it was 1:30 am so I called Sandi and woke her up and asked her to Google me a towing company in Merritt. While I waited for the tow truck I was being passed by logging trucks doing about 40 mph and I was really worried about getting rear ended by a sleepy logging truck driver so I walked a safety reflector way behind the truck and sat it in the middle of the lane. To make matters worse when I tried to set the emergency brake it wouldn't hold so I had to keep my foot on it. My stomach got a knot in it every time I saw another logging truck round the corner in the mirror so it turned out to be a very unpleasant wait for the tow truck. Sleep was the last thing on my mind.

Monday, April 19, 2010

November until now (Part 3)

As I was leaving Arkansas I started listening to the audio book "Under the Dome" by Stephen King. I downloaded this book because a friend of mine couldn't put it down when she was reading it so I figured it would be good road trip material. Little did I know that later on I was going to wish I'd have downloaded something a little less Stephen King'ish, like maybe The Little Mermaid or something.

The scenery that I enjoyed in Arkansas soon turned into flat farmland as soon as I got into Missouri. I drove north to Kansas City turned left and drove ten hours straight west (only turning to get off the freeway for fuel and a Subway sandwich) then turned north and drove two and a half more hours past Denver and into Cheyenne. I arrived at my favorite Mother-In-Law's house at about 10:30 Saturday night and was quite ready for a shower and a little sleep. I have a problem with falling asleep right away after driving long distances because I'm usually too wound up and need to relax a little so my brain can stop before I fall asleep. I was watching Olympic figure skating when I got a text from my friend Dale Berg. He told me that our ConocoPhillips Alaska President Jim Bowles had died that day in an avalanche while snowmachining in the Chugach Mountains south of Anchorage. I didn't personally know him but have been in a few meetings with him and do know he was a genuinely good guy. It's such a shame to lose a guy with such a positive outlook and impact on our company, the city of Anchorage, and the state of Alaska. I think what bothered me most is that he died doing something I do every chance I get, riding in the mountains. He had all the same safety gear that I carry but ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. To hear or read about people you don't know dying in avalanches one thing but to have someone that has a direct impact on your life die doing the same exact thing you do really makes you think about things. I think I fell asleep sometime after 3am.

The next morning I had coffee with Jane (my favorite Mother-In-Law) and then went over to see Sandi's Grandpa Jim's new living arrangements. Since we were there in January he moved from his house of thirty plus years into an apartment in a senior living complex. It isn't assisted living so he still has his independence but has his meals prepared for him and gets to eat and socialize with other people. It is a new building and is a very nice setup. It has a sidewalk all the way around the grounds so he can walk his dog everyday and still not have to get too far from home. I went over there and we had breakfast and then afterwards we went to church and listened to the Valentines Day sermon. Afterwards we went back to his place and watched some more of the Olympics before having lunch. After lunch I got out my list of things I needed for the rest of my trip and we went out to do a little shopping. We were in Lowes for about half an hour or so getting things like a hydraulic jack, tow straps, shovel, etc. and I think Jim had enough of wandering through crowded box stores. I'd already driven almost twenty hours but still hadn't had time to organize the truck yet so I dropped Jim off at home and went back to Jane's to try and get my things organized. A few hours later (and a touch more organized) I went back over to Jim's for dinner and to visit for a few more hours before I had to go and get some sleep. After dinner we watched some more of the Olympics and visited. I left Jim's a little earlier than I wanted but I was planning to leave Cheyenne at 3:30 am and still had things I needed to do.

Jane moved into her new house right about the time Sandi and I met in '96, and since that time she has had a pile of boxes, a 100+ year old wooden trunk, and a medium sized scale in her garage that belong to Sandi. I can't say too much because I still have a bunch of stuff at my parents and they live just over the hill! I got the boxes loaded in the truck and with the help of Jane's friend Larry Brinlee (famous photographer) we got the trunk loaded without a scratch and wrapped in a tarp. I might have been able to do it myself but the leather straps for handles disintegrated years ago. After the truck was loaded I ate pizza with Larry and Jane and we watched some figure skating. My alarm went off at about 3:15am and I think I pulled out of the driveway at about 3:35 or so. I'd topped off the fuel the night before so Stephen King and I headed straight out of town and due west for Boise.

The weeks prior to leaving for the trip I had planned to get into Boise around noon on Monday so I was trying to stick with it. Since it was dark out still I got to try my new driving lights for the first time and once I adjusted them down so they pointed at the road and not up in the trees they worked great. I ran into a little snow on the road in the western corner of the state by Evanston but it turned into rain once I dropped down into Utah. I was so caught up in my audio book that bad roads were nothing compared to what was happening to all of those poor people trapped under the dome. I arrived the trailer sales in Boise at about 2:00 pm Monday afternoon (two hours later than I'd planned) where I looked the trailer over, gave them the check , and had a new brake controller put in the truck. Before I made a final offer on the trailer my friend Tatum who I work with stopped in and looked at the trailer for me and said it was ok so I wasn't walking into it blindly. I had planned to pick up the trailer and stay the night at Tatum and her husband Brian's new house north of Boise. Luckily I asked her if I could get the trailer up their driveway and she said no because of the mud . I left the trailer at the dealers until morning and met Tatum and Brian at a nice little restaurant close to their place for dinner. We headed to their house after dinner and after the first of about ten switchbacks I was really glad that I left the trailer at the dealer. After getting the tour of their beautiful new custom house I saw the guest room and thought maybe I should stay a week or so at least. Their guest room and bathroom was nicer than most four star hotels out there. Had I known what was in store for me over the next few days I'd have stayed longer for sure.

On Tuesday morning I left Brian and Tatum's at about 8:30 am then picked up the trailer and Stephen King and I headed for Washington. By the time I made it to Boise I had been listening to "Under the Dome" for over twenty two hours since leaving Arkansas. There are about thirty two and a half hours total of audio book so I was pretty into the story at this point. I stopped at a rest stop about two hours north of Boise to use the restroom and make sure the trailer was all OK but just before I stopped the audio book was describing some issues the main character had been having dealing with PTSD after a tour in Iraq. When I went into the restroom there were speakers inside tuned to a public radio station and while I was in there I heard a commercial about helping people deal with PTSD after getting out of the military. As I was washing my hands I had to look around and make sure there were actually speakers and I wasn't just hearing voices in my head. It was all a little erie when I thought about it but I just wrote it off to being a weird coincidence. So after a brief stretch of the legs, Stephen and I were on the road again.

It didn't look nearly this long in the pictures...

My four star hotel in Boise

Their view from the back deck!

November until now (Part 2)

After months of planning I was ready to spend January, February, and March putting as many miles on my snowmachine as possible. I scheduled a week of vacation in March just to have extra time to spend at Clay's cabin at Honolulu Creek as well as riding around the house. After waiting until the end of January without so much as a foot of new snow at our house I decided that maybe February was as good of a time as any to drive the truck up. We found a horse trailer in Boise that we liked and were able to talk the dealer into a price we could afford so I figured why not just go get it instead of sitting around the house waiting for snow.

Since the truck was in Dallas and the trailer was in Boise it was just a simple matter of picking up the truck and heading north. I did have one stop that was a touch out of the way but was one of the major reasons I decided to pick the truck up in Dallas. My friend Bill Meredith is from Rogers Arkansas and was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. I've known Bill since I was about 20 when I first started working in Instrumentation at Prudhoe Bay and he had worked with my Dad since the early '80's. Bill had been working with us at Alpine before he was diagnosed cancer and the last time I'd seen him was when he came by the hospital to see my Dad after his aneurysm in 2005. That ended up being the last trip Bill made to Alaska. I called him on a regular basis and kept promising to come see him but was never able to make getting to northwest Arkansas work out logistically on any of my trips. He had a rough spell in December and I decided that I'd better make good on my promise of coming to see him. Heading east into Arkansas is NOT the fastest way to get from Dallas to Alaska but it was well worth the detour.

When I flew home from work in February I had a ticket to Dallas and since it hadn't even thought of snowing at home I was OK with spending 9 days on the road. So after a trip to Costco to get some Zone Bars, beef jerky, and two cases of 5 hour energy (that's over 200 hours of energy by my calculation)I was set to hit the road. I planned to fly into Dallas on a Thursday because Robin King, another one of the guys I work with lives 45 minutes west of where I bought my truck and my plan was to pick up the truck and then spend the night at his place before heading to Arkansas. On the flight into Dallas I sat in the row behind two other guys I know from work and as we descended into Dallas FT Worth Airport we all realized where all the snow I'd been hoping for ended up. The day we landed Dallas recorded over 14 inches of snowfall at the airport. The flight in looked as though we were landing in the Arctic because it was all flat and really white. I had called the Truck Dealer from Seattle and told him I'd be in around noon and he said he would try to pick me up but he had four inches of snow on the ground at his place and wasn't sure if he'd be able to make it. He said I may have to get a hotel for the night but I told him my backup plan was to catch a ride north with Robin from the airport if he didn't make it.

When we got off the plane Robin was on the phone with his wife who told him they had eight inches of snow at home and he was on his own. My backup plan was out the window. Luckily for both of us, it ended up that the Dealer had made it down and Robin caught a ride with us. After we did the paperwork and got squared away with the truck we headed to Robin's place where we could hardly find his driveway under the snow. After dinner Robin stayed up until almost midnight helping me install a set of Lightforce driving lights on the truck. These turned out to be a must have and I owe a thanks to my friend Eric Maxwell for convincing me that they were necessary.

My plans for Friday through Monday were rock solid (in my mind anyhow) and I didn't want to stray from them or the whole trip could run long (little did I know then), so when I was told I might have to get a hotel in Dallas I was pretty stressed that I could be a day behind before I even started. Luckily everything worked out and I was on the road to Arkansas Friday morning as planned although it was a few hours later than I hoped because Robin's guest bed was all too comfortable so I slept in a bit.

Most of the snow had melted off of the road by the time I headed out of Texas and into Oklahoma. Bill has been telling me for years how pretty it is in Arkansas with the Ozark Mountains and lakes. I wasn't convinced that I was near mountains of any type as I was driving across southeastern Oklahoma but as I turned north after I got close to Fort Smith Arkansas the scenery changed drastically. It was a really pretty drive the rest of the way into Rogers, making the last of my six hour drive go rather quickly.

When I saw Bill it didn't seem like it had been over four years since I'd last seen him since we talked so frequently. He looked much better than I had imagined he would after such a long fight with cancer. I finally met Bill's wife Libby after years of talking to her on the phone and that evening we visited, ate takeout from Outback, and watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Bill and I talked at length about work, life, and his fight with cancer. When he was first diagnosed I think the doctors gave him something like a year to live and had no known treatment for his type of cancer, but he kept the most positive attitude possible and took each day as it came. His humor and wit had not diminished at all after all he had been through. The next morning we had coffee and Libby fixed us some breakfast before I had to leave for my next twelve hour leg to Cheyenne. Having the opportunity to visit with Bill made the whole trip. He passed away six days after I left.

There is a driveway out there somewhere.

Welcome to Texas!

And to think I had been craving this for months at home. Life sometimes just doesn't seem fair.

Robin and Allison were nice enough to let me leave the truck in the barn after we finished with the installation of the lights.

Bill and I on Saturday morning before I left Arkansas.