Monday, January 12, 2009

Driver's seat

After expounding all the wisdom I managed to store up from my high school driver's education course while taking a driver safety test Friday, I found myself throwing it all to the wind as I put the pedal to the metal Sunday afternoon in a converted 3/4 Chevy pick-up, racing the Clarion's photographer Scott and some dude wearing a lynx on his head around a quarter mile ice track in Kasilof.
Did I mention Scott and I were getting paid to do that? Oh, ya, we were.
This weekend was all about time spent in the driver's seat, just at very opposite ends of why one would do that.
Friday I put a few new furoughs in my brow racking my brain and taking the state's driver safety test at the DMV.
I need to establish my residency here and the first step in the process is getting a new license and registering to vote. (Yes I did vote this year, absentee in Vt.)
Unfortunately I needed my social security card, which is now in transit, so despite having everything else from a passport to pay stubs, I'll have to wait until later this week.
Enough about the DMV though.
Scott and I are working on a future Peninsula Life on a local group of guys and girls that like to spend their winter Sundays spinning rubber around a frozen lake in Kasilof.
The time spent around the motor heads got me thinking about a time in my life when I too was really into burning gas and kicking ass.

"A moment of shame" Scott called this photo, caught by the flagger on Scott's camera. Scott in the 06 car, spins backwards blowing out part of the berm letting me sneak by in the truck to take the second place seat behind a kid wearing a lynx on his head.

Back in high school, I believed, like an eleventh commandment, "That if thou shall owneth an SUV, than though shall be required to utilize their 4x4 capabilities when ever though is presented with thy opportune trail-eth."
Of course, I didn't actually own a 4x4, but my folks had a GMC 2500 I drove through most of junior year, and Jeep Grand Cherokee I drove later through my senior year.
Both were very capable and relatively rugged off road vehicles given that neither had any modifications.
I, like most car obsessed teenagers, had visions of converting both into tricked out mudding machines, complete with massive spotlights and power winches to extrude them from the stickiest of messes.
Even my friends would note to their amusement that a shiny head turning sports car could purr by without so match as nod from me, but send a muddy looking beast with a light bar across the grill and my head would snap to see in a second.
I never did get to tricking out either vehicle other than installing a bash guard under the jeep's oil pan and transmission I think.
The reason, well, we'll get to that.
Scott appropriately titled this shot, caught by the flagger of me on Scott's camera, "the slow lane."

Off roading came pretty easily.
I had a solid knoledge base of miles worth of trails from mountain biking and hiking. I knew of every problem water bar, rock and tree on every route.
Most often, if I suspected I'd found a new loop, I'd ride it first on two wheels to examine every feature first before bumping along through it on four wheels.
In the early days I'd only use the big truck.
I was limited in my options with the long vehicle as it couldn't handle tight situations or narrow winding trails.
It's lack of weight in the back meant it was less than ideal for greasy mud and corn snow too.
I did pull some forays in deep water, and its high ground clearance let it cruise over obstacles I'd later be challenged with in the smaller jeep.
The jeep on the other hand, was slightly better built for the woods. It was nimble, could be relatively speedy, handled diverse footing much better and had a specific off road drive setting plus the standard 4 high and low.
The jeep went far wider afield and far deeper into the muck.
I found a way to support the habit too, piling friends into the jeep on Friday afternoons before football games and charging $5 a pop for two hours or so of spray launching stream crosses, mud chucking bogging and thud busting rock gardens.
I even scored extra points on a physics project when my group and I photographed the jeep fording a stream to demonstrate a change in velocity over time.
In the spring of my senior year, it all came to pretty much a screeching halt though.
On what was nothing less than a disastrous afternoon of off roading for my friend Chad and I, I flooded the jeeps engine with murky river water when I hit a small pond with too much speed and washed a bow wake over the hood and partially up the windshield.
The cylinders slammed to a stop as they hit water, unbeknownst to me at the time, but terminally weakening a piston rod.
Though the motor regained power after having the oil changed a few times, at 700 something miles after the accident, the rod let go, sending the piston head through the engine block at 2500 rpms, shattering into a million fragments on the pavement below.
The force of the impact was so intense the shop later found bits of molten metal on the undercarriage.
It could have been much worse, but replacing the engine with a used one from another jeep cost a fairly pretty penny.
Chad, on that same dismal afternoon, as though we shouldn't have figured out when to call it a day, sank his truck to its axles in a partially frozen mud pit, requiring him to foot the gas bill for the operation of a massive log skidder needed to pull him out.
While blowing an engine isn't really a part of off roading, just like mountainbiking, once vehicles leave the gentle paved road's their components are subject to far more abuse.
With abuse comes expense, and I quickly realized that replacing the drive train on a bike is about 90% less expensive than replacing even half the drive train on a jeep.
Lesson learned.
I occasionally ventured off road again here and there, but only to access remote trails or pull some jerk off's trash out of the woods.
Sitting in the driver seat of the old racing truck Sunday was a real throw back to the days of old, but I'm happy to be the one paying $5 now for a chance to spin the wheels instead of vice versa.

Hear's (you'll get it in a second) a few photos from this weekend, including a shot or real life actual frostbite, watch out! Friday, after passing my drivers test, I went up to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Soldotna and skied some of their classic tracks. The trails are more old school, occasionally groomed, narrow and humpy. Not necessarily ideal for after work night skis, but a real hoot for a sunny afternoon.

Long shadows from short trees fall across Headquarters Lake

The Kenai Mountains from HQ Lake

On my drive home after skiing I looked at the clock and noticed it said 4:30.
"That can't be right," I thought, "it's still light out."
What proceeded was a series of holy appraisments of excrement extruded with divine oversight from my mouth as I realized, it was in fact, light, very light, at 4:30 in the afternoon. When I pulled into the driveway I snapped this shot of the moon above the river, in daylight, at five minutes to five. While the sun had set long ago, the twighlight now extends much later into the day.
By the end of the week we'll have gained a full hour of light back putting us at six and a half, and a currently picking up three and a half minutes more every day. That gain also increases each day.

Growing tired of the cold (through it at at least warmed back to negative single digits by Friday, I burned almost a tank of gas to go ski the baycrest trails in the banana belt, or Homer. Temps, in the low to mid teens, felt balmy, and I actually waxxed the classic skis too warm for conditions off the start.
Cook Inlet Blue

Across Kachemak Bay

No photoshopping required, just a well placed trail sign!

The baycrest trails have a real touch of Homer to them with some more funky names along with some strange sights alongside the trail for keen observers. Their trail system is also far more expansive and offers real views. They lack however, the same snow coverage, trail maitanance and hardcore dedication to trail grooming found in the Tsalteshi trails.

This is essentially what it takes now, for me to bother taking a picture of an eagle. Not one, shoot I see a few eagles everyday, but an entire tree of eagles, that will catch my attention. Why are all these eagles grouped up here? This was taken on a trail that runs behind the Homer landfill. Nice huh? But the eagles, and the ravens, have to survive the cold too, and with the rivers and lakes frozen, fish is hard to come by.
It's quite a site to see the giant birds flocked up like little chickadees in the trees.

This isn't a display of poor ear hygiene, but it could be a case for needing better protection from the extreme cold while skiing. Last week, included in the damages of the cold snap, was a very small patch (see little dark yellow oval center left) of real life frostbite, not nip, on my right ear. The patch, a long as a fingernail is wide) froze on a long descent last Tuesday. I could actually feel the tissue freezing as the wind cut through my hat. Though I cupped my hands over my ears cutting the wind, I was too late for this little spot.
Though tiny, it now burns almost the second my ears face a stiff wind and I'll have to be extra careful to protect this now vulnerable area in future sub-zero episodes. I was quite happy to get back out on skate skis this bright sunny morning before work and actually shed my shell for just a jersey and wind pants. Temps are likely to climb into the high 20's by mid-week.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for skipping the last names. ... I have a hard-driving reputation to live up to and Google has a mean streak sometimes. Let me know when you're up for the Subaru v. Honda rematch. (The guy with the Tabby on his head stays home for that one.)


Dante said...

I think a rematch is needed, but time trial format only, haha.

Anonymous said...