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.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

November until now (Part 1)

Nothingness might be my feeling of progress on all of my projects but it does not adequately describe what I have been up to since last fall. I may not have had any time or motivation for working on any of my many tasks that are always looming over my head but I seem to have found plenty of places to go and in retrospect have been traveling a lot more than I expected lately.

Last November we spent five days in San Diego so Thane could go to Lego Land, Sea World, and the Wild Animal Park. We started out with the Wild Animal Park the first day, which turned out to be a nice 80 degrees and a great day in the park. The next day we went to Sea World and of course since we got wet on the Atlantis ride the temperature was much cooler than the day before. We watched the Shamu exhibition and Sandi’s favorite Pets Rule Exhibition where all of the trained animals (including dogs, cats, pigs, ducks, and other birds) do a really funny routine, which is amazing considering most of them are adopted strays.

Then after three long awaited days, Thane got his two days at Lego Land. It is really impressive what people can do with unlimited time and unlimited Lego bricks! The re-creations of some of the cities, bridges, and other famous world structures are amazing. Thane got to drive a Lego car on the track and get his Lego Land drivers license and Sandi had to endure far more roller coaster rides than she wanted. After two days of wandering around Lego Land and playing in the hotel pool until late every night we were all ready to get home.

I had to work over Christmas so Sandi and Thane went to Wyoming for a few weeks to visit Sandi’s favorite sister. Around the end of November Sandi’s Grandpa Jim got a little sick and spent about five days in the hospital due to dehydration and lack of eating, which they attributed to mild depression. Since his depression was partially due to lack of company I decided that we should spend a week with him after I got home. We extended Sandi and Thane’s tickets out a week and I booked a ticket to Denver for December 31st.
I flew home from work on the evening of the 29th and got up at 6:00 am to go riding with Clay and Larry at Honolulu Creek before my red-eye flight late Wednesday night. We drove the two hours north and ended up riding for about six hours which consisted more of hacking our way through alder patches than actually riding. I was pretty disappointed that I had just bought a new snowmachine and we didn’t have hardly any snow by the end of December. At least at that point I didn’t know that we wouldn’t get any real amount of snow at home all winter or I might have had a fight with depression myself. After our six hour ride we drove the two hours home where I took a quick shower, packed my bags and then drove two more hours to Anchorage to grab dinner and then catch my flight to Denver.

Our week in Wyoming was nice and quiet. New Years especially; I was in bed by 10:30 on New Years Eve but I guess that’s what happens when you party with a guy who‘s 91. I wasn't complaining however. Sandi’s Dad came over from Maine so Thane got to spend time with both of Sandi’s parents over the holidays. Which was great.

Sandi has for sometime been wanting to take her horse to the Northwest to spend the summer taking riding clinics and eventing, so over the course of our week in Wyoming we decided that this would be a good summer to do it. We started browsing the Internet looking for a horse trailer that had a living quarters big enough for the three of us and would handle all of our gear. Sandi has a friend she met at a clinic in 2009 in Oregon that has a farm on San Juan Island in Washington where we can keep a horse trailer and all of our gear while they do their horse stuff, so we decided this would be where we would base our summer plans out of.

After getting home and heading back to work I started looking for a truck to pull a larger horse trailer as well as a trailer to go with it. I’ve never really bought anything off of Ebay but ended up finding a truck that I liked and making an offer. The problem with living in Alaska is that to buy a truck and especially a horse trailer you usually end up paying premium for them. So I figured I could find a truck anywhere and have it shipped to Washington for cheaper than I could buy it at home and then find a horse trailer in the Northwest later. One limitation was that the only type of truck I was looking for was a Ford F350 with a 7.3 liter Powerstroke diesel engine. Since Ford only made these until 2003 it was a little bit of a challenge finding one in good shape with low miles. I figured with the cost of a new truck these days I could get both a used truck and trailer for the price of a new truck alone. The truck I ended up buying off of Ebay (was located just north of Dallas) is a 2001 F350 crewcab dually and had only 79,000 miles on it. It has an 88 gallon auxiliary fuel tank (which is good to have when driving through Yukon Territory) an auto start and was in really good condition.

By the end of January I had successfully purchased a truck that was waiting to ship to Washington, we were browsing for horse trailers and I was patiently waiting for some snow so I could go play.

Family outing...

A couple of cave creatures

Thane and a momma deer

Feeding nectar to the birds

Thane practicing for a career in zoology

Our young Jedi warrior dueling it out with Darth Vader

Thane's drivers test

Shark food

Getting splashed on the log ride

Thane the camel jockey

Boy these Bionicles are big!

Skippidy doo da...

New York City

One mean dragon

One scary mummy

Riding in the early setting sunlight at Honolulu Creek

The snow dust looks like a fog in the sunshine

Our version of crop circles

My friend Steve Hanson at his remote cabin

Clay on his 2010 Arctic Cat M8 after we got out of the alders