Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Snow Adventure - Part 1

In the past two months I've been to town maybe twice. Most of the time, Quantum and CK go, leaving me behind to watch the dog and keep the new trailer from burning down.

There's a practical reason for this. With all our business gear burned to a crisp in the fire, CK is the only one with an income. Until we can generate money, all three of us are living on his disability check. So it's only right that he gets to do the shopping. Besides, CK likes to shop, loves to talk to people. And since the cold makes the thirty or fourty steps between our two trailers into a miserable hike, he's going stir crazy with nobody but his three cats to talk to.

For a change, Quantum suggested I go with him, and CK said he'd be happy to watch the puppy.  There's a new supermarket in town that just opened up, and I wanted to see it. Yeah, I know - that's the extent of the excitement in this town! "What's the produce look like?" I said. After two months of staring at snow, I was dying to see something fresh, green, vibrant.

It was imperative we make it to town. The yaks were out of hay. Quantum had stopped at RY's place to get more yesterday, but RY had been out. The weatherman is telling us about another storm system coming in, so today's our only good day.

So once the day warmed up, Quantum went out to put the snow chains on. The day before, he and CK had made it to town, and Quantum returned saying how excited he was that they'd finally figured out how to get the chains on and keep them on. This is why people should knock on wood.

It was probably an hour later when he came in and announced that the chains were on. I don't know if they really took that long to put on, or if he was doing other things - talking to CK, talking to the yaks, playing with the windshield wipers? All I know is that the prep-time for leaving on any journey is the time where I have to keep the puppy from howling with loss because Daddy is outside and he can't follow.

Quantum finally makes it back inside. He's muddy, his suede work gloves are soaking wet, he looks like a homeless man in his now-filthy hoodie and sweats. But the day is sunny and relatively warm and we're ready to take off.

If you haven't read the previous stories or just forgot, it's about 2 1/2 miles from our trailer to the nearest real road. Our "driveway" itself is about a half mile long, winding through cedar forest and pasture. Then we get to the dirt road, a menace of ruts and rocks that is challenging even on a good day. Then there's this long hill, which has been the bane of many journeys when the road is even slightly muddy. Finally, after about a mile, you get to the gates of our nearest neighbor (who seems to live here during winter, anyway) and the road finally turns to gravel in front of his estate.

There's a tumbled down shack on the western edge of our land. The rutted drive here has marked the end for many a hopeful journey, but we manage to drive in the channels made by yesterday's tires, and we think we'll be okay. At the crest of the next hill we start slaloming like mad, but we're able to keep going. "We can do this," we say. We make it past the causeway where I'm told there's a pond - maybe in spring, I've never seen it. Then down the valley where the worst ruts live, and on to the Bad Hill.

Two weeks ago, on a bright sunny day with only patches of snow on the ground, RY and his wife came to visit us. An hour or so after they'd left, RY shows up at our door, saying he got stuck and asking Quantum to help him get out. Three hours after that, I started wondering why Quantum wasn't back. I hiked the mile and a half up there, and found RY's truck sideways on the road, nose in the ditch, wheels burried in mud. Quantum had managed to make it up the hill and past RY's truck with our happy little 4wd Blazer, and had driven them home. They had to get a friend with a tow truck to pull him out.

So now that I've named it Bad Hill, trust me that it lives up to its name. The first section isn't so bad, a little flat spot where you can get up some momentum. But then there's a sharp curve to the left and the hill rises at about a 30 degree gradient. Oh and lots of ruts there too.

As we're on the way up, we hear this horrible noise. "I think we just lost one of the chains," Quantum says.

We get about a third of the way up the hill and we're stuck. Quantum hits the gas and tries to get us out, but
the only way out is to back down the hill, all the way to the flat spot.

We get out and go hunting for the chain. Walking through the drifts - about ten inches deep, with another few inches of mud and ice underneath that - is precarious. I go on my ass. The chain is nowhere in sight. I think about it and finally go back to the truck, peek underneath. "I found the chain," I announce. "It's wrapped around the axle."

Quantum manages to wrestle the thing loose and we put it back on. By now we're cold and cursing. Both of us have thin soled boots on, all we've been able to get since the fire. Quantum's gloves were wet when we started, and to manipulate anything, I have to help him pull them off his frozen fingers.

We head up Bad Hill again. An even worse racket! Now the other chain flys off! We make it about 20 feet farther this time before we have to give up and go back down the hill.

The tires themselves aren't snow tires. Just the regular ones we came here from Florida with. We haven't been able to afford snows yet. I've been leaving out a lot about spinning wheels and smoking tires, every time we come to a stuck place. Here and there the snow is black with burnt rubber.

As for the chains, they were a gift from RY, but they were too small, so Quantum had to modify the things to make them fit. So, like everything else we own at the moment, they're rigged and falling apart. The other day when one of them flew off, it mangled the tensioner. So the two of us are standing on the hill trying to pry it into shape with a pair of adjustable wrenches. One of the cross chains has broken in half, but Quantum has a couple chain link fasteners, one of which has bent out of shape, so we pound it till it's flat again, and put the chain back together.

Meanwhile I peer under the wheel well and realize that both the wheel wells are battered out of shape, and pointing toward the tires. "That's what that horrible noise was," I say. "No wonder the chains keep breaking, this thing's digging into them."
"That's been like that from the beginning," Quantum says.
 "It has? I don't remember that. Since we bought it?"
"Since we started using the chains."

"One more try," Quantum says, once we finally get the chain back on. "I really want to get to town today." We lurch up the hill, slipping, sliding, spinning tires, burning rubber. This time we make it another 15 feet past the last place we get stuck, and we're dangerously near the edge of the road towards a deep crevasse. The chain on the drive wheel comes off.

Now this is supposed to be a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but for some reason all 4 wheels aren't driving. The right wheel is doing all the spinning, the other wheels don't seem to be doing a damn thing. We've noticed this problem in the past, but haven't been able to take it to someone to look at it yet.

At last Quantum realizes this trip is not happening. He backs down Bad Hill and looks for a place to turn around. Speaking of things that aren't happening. Both sides of the road here are thick with cedars and rock.

The truck doesn't seem to realize this, however, as it decides to slide around so we're facing the road at a 45 degree angle. I get out and push and we manage to right it and find a better place to turn around - on purpose, this time.

Except that doesn't work either. We end up with the truck facing at a 90 degree angle to the road with trees in front of us, trees  behind us, and the drive wheel spinning in a pile of icy snow.

"We can walk home," I say. "It's not that far. We're getting low on gas too."
"I'm not leaving the truck here. We're almost home." Almost, at this point means about a mile and a half. By now it's probably near three o'clock and the sun has gone into hiding.
"So how do you expect to turn this thing around?
"That's why we've got a winch. I've done this before."
I'm skeptical, but remain silent.

We pick a tree, wrap the hook around it. Quantum attatches the wires to the battery, hangs the winch itself from a hook on the truck's frame. "Okay. I'm going to get in the car and try to move it, and you press this button," he says, handing me the remote control for the winch.

Have I mentioned I'm horribly phobic of power tools and winches and things like this? The next part of the problem was my fault. He's gunning the engine, and I was terrified to tighten the winch too much. The car isn't moving and I'm afraid to put too much tension on the wire. I've got nightmares going through my head about all the stories I've been told about winches breaking and the wire snapping and slicing people's heads off.

The result of it was that the truck managed to wedge itself even further into the snow. Meanwhile the tire with the chain on it was only spinning fitfully. We dug it out, changed the winch to another tree and tried again. Then we tried another tree, then a third. Nothing was working. "We could walk home," I said again.

Finally we got the car facing closer to uphill again and decided to back down. This meant going backwards over one of the hills with the worst ruts. Somehow we managed it, and managed to find a flat place to turn around. For a moment, I thought the truck was going to turn over.

Now we were facing one of the other worst ruts. These two hills are short but steeper even than Bad Hill, and have huge ditches washed out by the spring rains. You have to drive exactly on the two high places on the road that will support a car.

Naturally, we got stuck again. The tires were smoking. I got out and noticed that our drive tire was almost bald. "You know we could walk home. It's only about a mile now."
"I'm not leaving the truck. There are poachers that come around here."
"You've got to be kidding. I haven't seen a single track on this road other than ours in weeks."
"It's buried in snow now, but yesterday CK and I saw motorcycle tracks."

Out came the winch again. The only tree near this stretch of road was not in the mood to have a winch wrapped around it. It had put up plenty of low branches to prevent just this eventuality. Quantum crawled under it, breaking off dead limbs and managed to attatch the winch anyway. By this time I'd gotten over my winch phobia - at least a little - and we managed to get the truck up the hill.
"Keep going!" I yelled. "I'll catch up!"

Instead, Quantum found a flat spot and stopped. "I'm going to put the spare on." He explained that the spare had plenty of tread, but it was the wrong size tire, so if we drove on it for any length of time, we'd harm the axle or the wheel hub or something.

Changing a tire is no fun. Changing a tire while your feet are freezing, your hands are numb and it's getting towards dark is even less fun. The sun decided to come out for a few minutes and cheer us up a little, but of course it was on the wrong side of the car to provide any warmth.

We got back in the car. Cranked the engine. It puttered but wouldn't fire. Out of gas.
"Okay, now we walk," Quantum said.

It was getting dark by the time we were most of the way back, but unlike fiddling with the truck, the walking kept us warm. "You know," I said, "since we moved here, I think this is the first time we've walked our land together."

No comments:

Post a Comment