Friday, December 21, 2007

Julia is my hero! (or how the adventures started early...)

So, Tuesday was my last day at work at Microsoft... Wednesday, I were to get into my car and start driving down to San Diego, hopefully leaving around noon, reaching San Francisco Wednesday night, and leisurely doing the rest on Thursday. That was the plan anyway... Instead, errands took longer than expected, so I left around 4PM on Wednesday, which of course left me stuck in traffic all the way from downtown Seattle to Olympia, so I was already way behind schedule, but I thought I still had a good shot of, at least, crossing the California border around 1 in the morning, then stopping for the night a couple of hours later. The driving rain was a little annoying, but, hey, I've been in Seattle for 8 years, I can drive in the rain!

And then, I ran into something disturbing - about 100 miles North of the California border, there was a sign saying "Chains required - 70 miles away". The sign and I had a brief conversation.

me: what do you mean chains required? I don't own any f*!$ing chains, and this car is a convertible, so it's allergic to snow!

the Sign: Chains required - 70 miles away

me: Isn't there some way around this?

the Sign: <disturbing silence>

me: Just you watch - I'll figure out a way around this!

the Sign: inaudible laughter/annoyed grunt

Ths smug sign and I never really got along... So I kept driving, trying to think of ways how this could work... maybe there's a detour, that doesn't require chains? Maybe it's 70 miles in a different direction? Maybe it'll just all go away if I simply ignore it!? Ignoring it worked fabulously for 50 miles... and then:

Revenge of the sign: "Chains required - 20 miles"

me: Uhmmm...

10 miles later

Sign, the 3rd: "Chains required - 10 miles"

me: I guess I have to deal with this... This isn't going to help with getting to San Francisco!

So, I take the next exit, and the friendly gas station attendent shows me the Oregon DOT map, which does, in fact, confirm that without chains, and without four wheel drive, I'm out of luck when it comes to crossing the pass that divides Oregon and California. So, I invest $50 in a set of chains and get a brief lecture on installation - sounds fairly straightforward (and yet, I've heard all these bad stories about it?...)

Back on the highway, a couple of miles later, everybody is off putting chains on... I pass a truck with a 'Chain Service' sign and scoff at the idea of spending more money on this enterprise! Pull over and start putting chains on - they go on, I have no idea if it's correct or not, but they're on! Let's try driving... The chains make a horrible racket, but the traction does feel, uhm, different? Drieve for a little while - all of a sudden the left side chain stops making noise... what happened? did it just align itself better? I wonder... Maybe I should check... A little more procrastination and I stop to discover... that the chain on the left tire isn't making any noise because it's gone! Well, I wasn't going very fast, or all that long, I'm sure I can find it - and 15 minutes later, I do! Now that I've got both chains back, it's probably time to admit that they weren't installed properly - let's try taking the other one off - unfasten the outside hook, jiggle the chain a little, still can't reach the inside hook... Maybe if I move the car (and spin the wheels) forward a little? That's a little better, now back a little? Try a couple more times... Houston - we have a problem! The inside hook is still fastened, but the chain is now wrapped around the rear axle! You know what would help with this? A jack and a flashlight - I have both! Unfortunately, the flashlight is packed somewhere with all my stuff, while the jack is underneath all the afore-mentioned stuff at the bottom of the trunk! (As an aside - any car designers out there, bottom of the trunk? Really? Do I really have to empty the entire trunk every time I need to use the jack?). It is now approaching 2:30 in the morning, and I'm feeling rather inclined to give up... so it's time to walk back and look for the Chain Service truck I had scoffed at earlier and see if they can help...

This is where it finally gets better! Because I finally meet Julia (who is my hero, by the way) and her husband, who are helping people put chains on. I explain my predicament and she agrees to come with me to take a look (taking a pair of wire cutters just in case we can't rescue the chain...). The weather gets worse once we get back to the car - now 35 degrees and a lot more wind/rain/snow/ice mixture! Julia, however, is undeterred and after 15 minutes of struggling with the elements, the chain is free! I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel - she can put chains on (correctly) and I can drive off, and maybe still get to Claifornia somehow... A brief detour to warm up with some coffee and by about 3:30, I've got chains! All this for a low-low price of $25... I paid $40, since I was quite grateful, but the chains are now running almost $100...

At this point it gets less exciting - I drive off into the winter wonderland... Am greeted with a very Central Asian-style police checkpoint (but minus the clearly visible AK-47's) and these guys are actually just making sure I've got chains - I do, so I go through. There is quite a bit of snow on the ground, and more coming down... Eventually, it cleats out, and you can see a beautiful, star-filled, night sky! The temperature drops as low as 29 degrees. I am curious how the car would have done withtout chains? I think the 5% grade descent at the end might have been a problem... By 4:30 I'm into California - hooray! Chain removal process is still more complex than I want to deal with at this time of day (and weather), but eventually, the car's free again, and by 5 I finally have a room in scenic Yreka, CA... Where I am informed that there are more mountain passes along the way south, and it remains to be seen whether or not I'll have to put on chains for those too tomorrow! I don't really care - off to bed... $75 for all of 5 hours of sleep is a rip-off, oh well...

Lessons learned (pertinent to, say, driving a rickshaw across India)
- I'm clearly not capable of doing even fairly simple mechanical repairs... this is a bad thing!
- I am capable of rallying help to work around the problem if need be!

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