Friday, September 11, 2009

Buffaloes and Cowboys in the Wallowas

I've got a few more days of work left before I leave Corvallis. I finished up with the house and the renters have moved in. I took advantage of the empty house to fix a few things and replace the dishwasher. While I was at it I took the Buffalo to the shop to get a few problems looked at. They found a number of problems (worn out CV joints, holes in the exhaust system) beyond what I was aware of. The input valve for the propane tank had also failed, which resulted in a leak when you tried to fill the tank. Ann was with me when I tried to fill it once. She refused to get in the van when I tried to start it (I don't blame her) for fear of an explosion. I started it up with Ann standing some distance away and drove it down the block and back. Having seen that I hadn't blown myself up I picked up Ann and we proceeded on our way.

The Buffalo's parked at Ann's house until I leave. It's a little less loaded up than El Viaje #1. No ice axe or crampons since I'm not planning on doing anything that involves glaciers. I'll be bringing less clothes too. Clothes are bulky and I learned from El Viaje #1 that the only reason I care about clean clothes is because other people do. I'm also leaving the frying pan since I almost never used it except as a cover for the pot.

After finishing with the house Ann and I took a trip out to the Wallowas in northeastern Oregon. On the way there the Buffalo died suddenly in central Oregon. I got it to restart with the engine cover off and noticed that one of the belts wasn't turning. The belt in question drove the alternator and water pump, both of which are rather important parts. After loosening the belt and trying to turn the water pump and alternator pulley by hand I diagnosed the problem as a seized alternator. It would need to be replaced. Having driven many miles in a 22 year old vehicle I've come to expect these sort of things. The Water Buffalo is a slow, cantankerous, old beast which sometimes refuses to work. It could die at any time, possibly in the middle of nowhere. Half the reason I carry a bike on longer trips is in case I need to abandon the Buffalo at some point. I've learned that, for more than one reason, you shouldn't be in a hurry if you're riding on a buffalo. When these things happen you can get upset, angry, worried, feel sorry for yourself, etc, but it seems like a pointless thing to do. So, I skipped through all of it, pretty much instantaneously in this case. Patience and acceptance are lessons the Buffalo is good at teaching.

Having thus accepted my circumstances, I started thinking about how to remedy the situation. The nearest town was Prineville. We were pretty close, no more than 15 miles. It was mostly flat or downhill. I could coast the downhills, shutting the engine down to keep it from overheating (no water pump) and draining the battery (no alternator). On the flats I'd need to start the engine. If it began to get too hot I'd just stop and let the engine cool. Turning on the heaters could help. If the battery died I could wire the auxiliary battery in parallel. I was confident I could make it back to Prineville without having to call a tow truck. That's when it hit me. I realized I was thinking like I did when I was high school, when I had junky cars and no money. I remembered that I now had auto insurance, and that it covered towing. I had credit cards to pay for stuff. Time seemed more important now. All of this flashed through my mind within the space of a few seconds after having realized what the problem with the Buffalo was.

We had broken down next to a road construction site. I walked over to one of the workers and asked if he had the phone number to a towing service in Prineville. He did. Even better, we still had cell phone coverage. A few hours and a few hundred dollars later we were on our way again.

So much for that. Later I wondered if calling the tow truck was worthwhile. My scheme to get back to Prineville without one seemed like it could work, and may have even taken less time. After some thought I decided that what I should have done was to call the tow truck, but then immediately start working on implementing my scheme. Unless, that is, I felt lazy, which I've now concluded was the real reason I called the tow truck.

On to the Wallowas. The Wallowas are Oregon's second highest mountain range. Unlike the Cascades (the highest range in Oregon), they're not glaciated, nor are they of volcanic origin. I'd been in the Wallowas once before. During that trip it had snowed on July 4th. Supposedly there's some good alpine rock in the Wallowas, but if I were going to drive this far to go climbing I'd go to the North Cascades instead. Our plan was to do a three day, two night tour of an alpine lake basin located in the interior of the range. The distance was 27 miles, plus whatever we added on for short side trips. The hike starts at the end of a glacier carved valley. We headed directly up the main valley before gaining a high plateau, which housed the lakes. All the lakes were idyllic. Pretty scenery, critters of all sizes running around loose, cold streams, and blooming flowers turning meadows into tapestries of color. I couldn't help but go for a dip in a couple of the lakes and shower myself in a waterfall. It was a popular area for backpackers, fishermen, hunters, and horse riders. The lake basin can be reached from many routes.

Just as we were about to arrive at our last camp I met three men on horseback. They were heading out from the lake we were heading towards. Each one had a beer can in their hand. They were a bit lost, but they didn't seem to be too concerned about it. Ann and I helped them figure out how to get to their destination. It turns out they were about to make a wrong turn. They had six horses between the three of them. A couple of the horses had large Igloo coolers mounted on either side of them. They offered us some beers in return for helping them. They were from near by. Two of them were dressed the part of cowboys, with oilskin coats and cowboy hats. The third guy was dressed like a boat captain. He had a sailor hat on and more of a nautical theme to him. All three looked pretty happy. We chatted for a bit. At one point I asked how many beers they had brought with them. Eight cases one guy said. That's about 200 beers. We said our goodbyes, wished each other well, and headed our own ways. Later I wished I had taken a photo of them.

Afterwards I couldn't help thinking that all along I've been doing these trips the wrong way. We say we take fat trips, but that's nothing compared to the kind of trip a pack animal enables. Chris was on to something when he brought up the idea of bringing live chickens on our Sisters trip. I know goats can be trained to carry stuff, and I've always wanted a goat for other reasons. Seems like a good place to get started with pack animals.

That's it for now. Photos from the Wallowas trip are here. The photo at the top is of Glacier Lake. It was the nicest lake we visited.

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