Thursday, February 18, 2010

Frozen Water & Frozen Buffalo

After saying goodbye to everybody in Texas I left for Denver. Originally I was going to head due north until Kansas then head west, but it seemed like the makings of a boring drive (all interstate). So, I headed through Dallas before cutting northwest towards Amarillo. I drove a fair bit my first day. The weather didn't look good all day and it got worse. At first it was raining then it started snowing a bit. About 90 miles before Amarillo I stopped at a rest stop for the night. Note to self: Texas has the best rest stops I've ever seen anywhere, hands down. The rest stops are big, with plenty of amenities. The building at the rest stop is open all night, and is heated (I assume in the summer it's air conditioned). It's equipped with free WiFi, well stocked vending machines, plus all the tourist and local history information you'd ever want to know. The rest stop I was at had some kind of highly engineered sewage and water system. I don't remember the details, but I understood that it's water and sewage system were off grid. A set of diagrams explained how it all worked. I didn't see any signs that said you couldn't spend the night at the rest stop, but given what I know about the Texas character I assume the local law enforcement agency doesn't care as long as you don't cause any trouble (which in Texas is best that you don't).

I woke up early the next morning. Since I couldn't sleep anymore I decided to get going. Unfortunately the Buffalo wasn't cooperating. The engine wouldn't turn over. Fortunately, I had parked near the top of a hill. I pushed the Buffalo to the point where it started rolling by itself, jumped in, popped the clutch, and the engine started right up. On the drive up to Amarillo I turned the engine off and then tried to crank it while going downhill (so that I could restart by popping the clutch if I needed to). Still no cranking. I was going to be forced to stop in Amarillo to gas up. Luckily the Buffalo restarted after the forced stop in Amarillo. It had been very cold that morning, but by the time I got to Amarillo it had warmed up. I chalked up the problem to the cold (aren't water buffalos tropical animals?), and kept driving. I cut across the NE corner of New Mexico in a snow storm before gaining the main north-south interstate through Colorado. The weather cleared up some and even got sunny as I arrived in Denver. I spent the first night with the family of a high school friend. The next morning the Buffalo wouldn't start again until it got warm out. Since the NavUnit and Tim were flying in soon and we were planning on going into the mountains I figured I'd better get the Buffalo looked over. I took it to a shop my friend had recommend which was just a couple of blocks from his house. They diagnosed the problem as a loose power cable. They fixed it (for a very reasonable price) and I haven't had any problems since.

My first full day in Denver was consumed by finding, configuring, and restoring a new laptop for the bakery. The old one was, at best, in intensive care. All of the bakery's critical customer and order data was on it. I did what I could in the time I had before overnighting the new laptop to Nina. (Thanks T.O. & family for the help.)

On a Friday I picked up Tim and the NavUnit at the airport. I wasn't exactly sure what we were going to do, but we were equipped for ice, rock, alpine climbing, snow backpacking and snow camping. The NavUnit was using the latest in navigational equipment to make sure we wouldn't get lost. It seemed we could pretty much go anywhere we wanted to go. First stop was Boulder Canyon, a place we had visited on a previous climbing trip. We climbed a couple of flows near the road before leaving for the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The next day we drove into the park and snowshoed to a basin at 11,000 feet. Our goal was to climb the nearby Grace Falls. It took more time than we anticipated to reach the basin. The snow was deep in places and we had to break trail, which is very exhausting and time consuming. We found a camp site near the falls and after dinner bedded down for the night. I think we all slightly regretted having eaten most of the Girl Scout cookies (purchased from T.O.'s oldest daughter) the night before.

The weather hadn't looked good all day. It was snowing on the hike in, and our camp site was pretty windy. The fact that we were above tree line made things worse. We all slept in the NavUnit's tent. In order to fit three people in the tent the person in the middle (me) had to lay down in the opposite direction of the other two. A snow storm raged most of the night and continued into the morning, dropping about a foot of snow. It got pretty cold out. I'm guessing it was significantly below zero, and far below zero with the wind chill. A local later told us it was the worst storm to hit the park so far this winter. As our luck would have it, we had spent the night out in it. We all managed to stay mostly warm, but the weather still looked bad the next morning so we decided to head back down without having climbed anything. On our way down the weather got better and eventually cleared completely. We found an ice flow to climb that afternoon. The next day (also a clear, sunny day) we found another ice flow, which turned out to be the best one of the trip. The following morning I dropped the boys off at the airport.

By our standards (which are quite low) it had been a good trip. The right mix of suffering, fear, and foolishness had been achieved. I for one was pretty wiped out. Heading back towards Denver after our last climb I admitted to the NavUnit that I was having trouble lifting my right foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. I realized only later that maybe I shouldn't have told him this while we were heading down the Front Range of the Rockies.

After dropping off the boys I headed back to a friend's house in Denver. I had left some of my belongings with him while I was out with the boys. My friend and his wife were pretty interested in our outing. I told them what we did and showed them some photos. After packing up my stuff I said goodbye and continued with my trip.

I wound up taking what I thought was the fastest route back to Oregon. I headed north into Wyoming before turning west, crossing Wyoming, cutting through northeastern Utah, crossing Idaho, then finally crossing most of Oregon before arriving in Corvallis. The weather hadn't been nice for most of the leg from Denver, but I didn't encounter any significant storms. The Buffalo didn't like the cold high hills of Wyoming. It seemed to lose power for an instant at irregular intervals. I started wondering how challenging it would be to get a 23 year old VW fixed in Wyoming. The Buffalo pulled through though. Once I'd crossed the Rockies and descended it ran normally. The remainder of the trip was uneventful. The best weather I encountered on the entire trip was in the Willamette Valley, where Corvallis is located.

I'm back in Corvallis now, still expecting to start work on March 1. Nina reports that she had a busy weekend over Valentine's day. The new laptop arrived and after some struggle the customer and order records were successfully transferred to the new machine. The Buffalo seems to have survived the trip pretty well. Some external weather stripping is falling off. I think I'll glue it back in place. The faucet for the sink is working again, probably because the water inside it is no longer frozen solid. The potable water level sensor seems to be non-functional, but that's a pretty minor problem. Ann's in the last several hours of her six month exercise challenge. Her fat cat is still fat, and her mean cat is still mean. Weather here is great!

Photos from the trip are here. The photo at the top is of the NavUnit on our last ice climb.

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