Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ashfall and Air Travel...

When you depend on air travel as much as most Alaskans do, a volcano can really interrupt your travel plans as well as your daily life. Although I only have to fly a few times a month it is still a pain wondering if I'm going to make it to work or have to make the four hour round trip to the airport to try again tomorrow. Or after my two week shift I have to wonder how many days it will take to get home.

Sandi flew to Seattle yesterday and made it by the skin of her teeth. As they were boarding the airplane the gate agent came onto the ramp and told everyone that the volcano just went off and if anyone wanted to make it to Seattle then they better hurry up and get seated. She said that people were yelling at each other to hurry up and sit down. The volcano erupted at 1:50 and her flight made it out a little before 2:30. Sometime around 3:00 they shut the airport down completely until 3:00 this afternoon. One of my friends has been trying to get out of here since Friday and I think he made it into Anchorage around 5:30 tonight.

My niece Sydney had her 15th birthday yesterday and was really bummed that the bowling alley and all of the theaters and malls closed because of yesterdays three eruptions. I told her she should be happy because not everyone has a volcano erupt to celebrate their birthday.

In 1989-90 Redoubt erupted 20 times over a six month period. Since last week when Redoubt started erupting again it has erupted something like 17 times! This could make for an interesting summer. My only hope is that after our cold summer last year that we aren't stuck under a dark ash cloud all of this coming summer.

For anyone interested here is the link to the Alaska Volcano Observatory site. It is a great site despite what Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal thinks.

I haven't posted in the last week because I forgot my laptop at home the morning I headed to work and haven't had much time. My last time home I got a lot of good riding in with minimal work required on things around the house (a rare thing), and we had a ton of sunshine. The last weekend I was off we went back up to Clay's Honolulu Creek cabin for two nights of fun and adventure.

On Friday Ryan, Clay and I rode as far as we could up Honolulu Creek until the canyon got too narrow and the water got deeper than any of us cared to sink a sled into. Also, since I am still waiting for my machine's to get the motor rebuilt I had to borrow a machine from a buddy so I surely didn't want to sink it in the creek.

Clay taking some video. The red rocks reminded me of Colorado, this was a magnificent spot.

Ryan coming up the canyon.

Clay taking a break and a little video in the canyon.

Taking a break after digging me out. Yep, I got stuck again...

Clay heading up a hill on the trail on our Saturday ride.

Our friend Stubby (his real name is James Shannon Sullivan but we have been calling him Stubby for so long I wouldn't feel right calling him anything else) who is disabled went to the cabin with us and after much prodding Clay got him to come out on a ride with us. Stubby rode on front with Clay like Thane does when he goes with me and was so happy that he went. It was a little extra work for Clay but it was worth it to see Stubby so happy. We rode down the Chulitna and up the Ohio Creek valley. It is a beautiful canyon and worth seeing.

Ryan as we were making our way through a patch of alder.

Clay on top of a stepped ridge with Denali in the clouds in the background.

Denali is hiding in the clouds but it is center left. This was yet another amazingly beautiful day.

We ran across this cabin and it looked worthy of checking out. We all had to check it out as it is such a great thing to find this far out in the middle of what seems to be nowhere. After Clay read the sign above the door, it turns out that it's a mining claim and belongs to a guy I know from Talkeetna.

Riding up the Ohio Creek Valley.

The Ski Doo XP that Luke let me use.

Ryan after helping me get out.

Proof yet again that it doesn't matter what I am riding I can get stuck on the downhill as well as the uphill.

There wasn't a lot of room for error.
Negotiating the last Canyon on Ohio Creek.

A break before we turned around.

Heading up the valley. This is where we turned around as it was getting late and this was also the park boundary. Hard to believe that the valley on the left runs up to a glacier that comes right off Denali.

Clay and Ryan coming through the last canyon we encountered on Ohio Creek.

A shot of the cabin and where we melted out the summer fire pit.

Ryan buried his machine coming over this beaver dam. I think he was trying to show me up on being the best at getting buried.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thank goodness for warranties...

If it's new and it's mechanical and I've bought it this year then chances are pretty good that it has failed. 2009 isn't looking so good for me when it comes to anything mechanical...

Last week my brand new snowmachine burnt up a piston with just 600 miles on it and about 45 miles from home. I have a great dealer so they had me going a day and a half later and due to some unresolved issues that Polaris is having on their 800 motors I got another 200 miles on it and had the same thing happen riding in the same valley and exactly seven days later. I know my dealer will fix it asap but the pistons are on backorder from the factory and we have a three day ride planned for Thursday through Saturday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

My other major mechanical failure was the compressor on my heat pump for my geo system. I was gone and Sandi smelled something electrical and noticed that the unit wasn't starting like it should so she shut it off until I got home (luckily we have the oil fired furnace for backup). So last week I worked with my mechanical contractor and we put in the new compressor and our Geothermal system is back up and running after about four weeks of down time.

Luckily both of these issues are covered by the manufacturers warranty. I haven't really been a big fan of extended warranties but after the last two months I think they might be worth it.

Today as I was doing laundry my washer door lock mechanism broke so I had to tear apart the washer to see what needed to be replaced. Unfortunately this one is out of warranty but isn't too hard to fix. I am however afraid to touch anything without fear of it breaking. Yesterday after Thane and I got back from a short snowmachine ride I was taking off my new snowpants and the zipper on the leg broke. And last night I took the snowblower off of the tractor and put the bucket back on. I thought I should grease all the joints on the bucket arms and the first one I did the zirc (grease) fitting broke off when I took the grease gun off. See what I mean, it's like everything I touch is falling apart.

Oh well, maybe I've got it all out of my system by now. Let's hope!

Anyway I thought I'd post some more pictures of the last few rides I took. Again the snow was fantastic and the sun was big and bright. Since the time change we have light from 7am to 930 pm so plenty of daylight already. To get to the last valley we ride in we have to cross three steep mountain passes and it's about an hours ride from the house. After a couple of feet of fresh snow any of the valleys are great to ride in but it has been about two weeks since we've had fresh snow and most of it has been ridden on by all of the people that come out from town. The nice thing is that most people don't carry enough gas to get to where we go so we always get the last valley to ourselves.

On Friday I rode with Colton Conner and his friend Nate and we were the first ones into the head of Peters Creek valley and had the whole place to ourselves without a single track on it. The snow wasn't quite as good as it was the week before with Clay and Larry but it was hard to complain about as it was still untracked and powder on top.

Saturday it was just Clay and I and we went all the way to the last valley as Peters Creek had seen a lot more riders than just Nate, Colton, and I on Friday. I had a few issues with my machine on the way in but it ran good the whole time we were back there so I was happy. It didn't start making those not so good noises until on the way home.

What a way to start a Friday morning!

First tracks down the second pass. I really like this picture.

Colton on our way up the valley.

My favorite thing to do is carve turns while going downhill. The only problem is that the more tired you get the harder it is to do. Well at this point my precious Dragon went left and I pretty much kept going straight. The divot on the left of the picture is where I took a header.

Our three tracks were the first ones on the fresh snow on Friday.

Nate on our way home.

Hard to see but the two dark specs on the top of the knoll are Colton and Nate.

Clay on our way in on Saturday.

This was right as we got to this high mountain lake. I took two passes at the hill in the background, one low and one higher. I want to break over the top of that one and into the next valley but the snow gets really thin on top and you really have to watch for rocks.

Clay playing on a high mountain lake.

Five guys followed our tracks over the last pass and this guy tried to climb this face and as you can see he didn't quite make it. He was camped out up there trying to get unstuck without his sled rolling all the way to the bottom of the hill. It took him probably thirty to forty minutes to get out. We did see another guy do exactally that on our way out. He climbed to the top turned out, jumped off and watched his sled roll about 200 times to the bottom. Fun to watch as long as it isn't your sled.

Looking down into the last valley we ride into. The valley in the center right is where Ryan and I caused the avalanche in February. Clay and I stayed out of that one due to Avy danger.

So, if you notice my track coming down this face you might say to yourself "why didn't he go a little more to the right" well that is exactally what I was saying as I came careening down into that dark spot in the center left of the picture. I have to say this is the first time ever that I just bailed off and watched my sled continue on it's own.

A little better close up of my tracks and where I bailed off (right above the shaded spot) I was pretty sure the machine was going to endo and I didn't really want to be on it. So I bailed, sled endo'd, then I climbed down to it, rolled it back over and off we went. Thank goodness for deep snow.

I never get tired of just sitting and looking at these peaks...

I had to jump off at this point so my sled would crest this hill. Otherwise I'd be in almost as bad of shape as the guy that was stuck in the middle of the hill above the lake.

The trench getting up there. This hill is a little steeper than it looks.

I'm so good at getting stuck that I have even mastered it on the downhill.
Note that there is plenty of snow up there.
I knew this was going to be a good picture...

Clay on our way our of the valley. Notice Denali (Mt McKinley) is the peak furthest in the distance center left. I love looking at that mountain!

Clay and my Dragon on a quest for untracked powder.

Clay jumping a snow drift.

Saturday afternoon powder turns. These machines carve just like a pair of skis or a snowboard. the only bad thing is at about 500 pounds it hurts a lot more than skis when it lands on you.

Thane on our way to find the group on Sunday. We didn't go with them earlier because I knew my sled was sick but I figured it would live to make a trip out and back later in the day.

Thane, my sister Jana (behind Thane) and Bernie about 25 minutes from the house. Thane and I went to try and catch up to these guys only to find Bernie (who has the exact same sled as me) on the way out because Bernie had lost compression in one cylinder. Mine was on it's way out but as long as I kept it out of the 5500 to 7000 rpm range it was fairly happy.

A pan up and down the last valley we ride in.

Clay after he fell off his sled and it went down the hill without him.

A view of the landscape, my finger covered part of the lens though...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What started out as such a perfect day...

My two favorite months of the year are March and June. Last year I was in Africa for the whole month of March so I decided to take four extra days off of work to try and make up for missing last year. Getting home half a week early, I figured I'd have lots of nice sunny days to go riding. Our first day out started out to be what could have been my best day of riding all year. My friends Clay and Larry (whom I have been getting into trouble with since the first grade) showed up about 11am Saturday morning and we headed up the pass to the valley Ryan and I were in last week. I don't think we could have asked for a more beautiful day to be outside. We worked our way up to Dogsled Pass and dropped over into a valley with tons of fresh snow. This valley was really nice but sees a little more people than the valley we were headed for so I wanted to keep moving. With all of the fresh snow, the trail that Ryan and I rode out on the week before was gone leaving us to break trail. It was the first time I have had to break trail over any of these passes and didn't realize how steep a few of these passes actually are. It makes a lot of difference when you don't have a hard packed trail under you. After we made it to the top of the pass at the top of Purchase Creek we stopped for a few minutes and I took a few pictures. My first picture of the day was from almost the same spot as my last picture of the day posted on February 24th (this one was actually taken from the rock outcropping on the right in that photo).

We made it into the valley we had set out for but about an hour after getting there my machine started running really bad. I could have cried! The snow was perfect and so far my machine had been running awesome all day. I'm not sure what happened but it became very ill and I knew it was time to start heading for home. The shortest way home was the way we came in but my machine wouldn't build enough rpm's to make it up either of the passes. The only option was to head down the creek and out the trail at the bottom. It took a little time since I couldn't go too fast but the ride down the valley was pretty nice. We saw the same herd of moose that Ryan and I had ridden by on our last ride. I usually go way around any moose I see because I hate to make them run through the snow. I figure they have enough to worry about without me riding on their heels, or I guess hooves would be more appropriate. Saturday however, I didn't have enough power to ride up the hill on the side of the valley to avoid them and found myself riding about 25 feet from a herd of about ten moose galloping through the snow down the valley. The Budweiser Clydesdale's haven't got anything on these guys. It was such a cool scene. I really wanted to stop and get my camera and video it but wasn't too excited about stopping in the middle of all of these guys. We saw more moose on the way down the valley than Ryan and I saw two weeks before. It was really impressive. After awhile I made it to the trail and beat my kidneys out riding the trail the rest of the way home. After getting home I took my machine to the Polaris shop and they confirmed that I had no compression in one of my cylinders. This is the same exact thing that happened to Clay on our way up the Yetna. So now I have to wait until Wednesday for my motor to be rebuilt. Thank goodness for warranties! Bummer to miss out on a few days of good riding but I guess I'll live. Maybe I'll take Thane to Alyeska for a day of skiing...

Clay taking in the view. This is the same pass that I took the final shot of the day from on my Feb 24th post.

Larry enjoying a break in the action...

Look how deep that trench is!

I don't recommend parking directly behind the guy who's stuck...

Looking back up the valley. We were the first tracks of the day and had the whole valley to ourselves.

I got stuck on the way up this hill and had to dig a huge pit to get myself out

Clay stopped to give me a hand

Looking back up the way we came. An amazing sight. I can't help thinking that this sun is the same one that was beating down on me last March as I was sandboarding in the Sahara Desert.

My lone tracks across the valley. The bowl across the valley is where my machine decided to get sick. It was unfortunate timing as the snow was perfect and all the slopes were untracked...

Hmmm. I didn't quite make this little ravine. It didn't look that big but I guess I should have gone around since I was running on only one cylinder at this point. Time to start digging...