Things to read...

If time is short, I'd suggest reading at LEAST The Prologue and Legend of The Pinto Bean Posts!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Solo Flight...

A few of you may already know, but for those who don’t, I’m a man of many talents. Most of them are useless, such as being able to remember completely irrelevant facts, and some are at least fun. One of those talents is my ability to fly. Not with my underwear outside my blue jeans and a cape, but in large hunks of aluminum known as aircraft. Ok the underwear thing may have been attempted after enough tasty adult beverages, but that’s not what this story is about. See not only do I fly helicopters; I also hold a fixed wing rating, which means I’m cleared to terrorize the friendly skies in Cessnas. I attained this rating while hanging out at the hospital in Texas. At the time I had the idea that I would pay to get my own airplane license to keep up my aviation skills, that way when the Army was ready to let me fly again, I’d still be sharp. Great idea, bad results… Anyhow this is my “solo story”.

Almost every pilot has a “solo story”. Generally this is a story about how they executed some amazing feat that pilots far beyond their skill level can barely manage. Ok actually it’s usually a story about how they nearly killed themselves due to incompetence. Mine is one of those. Before I get too far in, allow me to clarify a few things. Flying an airplane is everything that flying a helicopter isn’t. In a word; easy. An airplane WANTS to fly, to soar gracefully through the skies, to mingle with the great eagles which man has always desired to be. An airplane pilot is a happy guy, confident that his bird will not fail him, that she will always deliver him gently to the ground, gliding in like the raptor of which she was modeled. The helicopter, on the other hand, does not want to fly. Most airplane pilots are relatively certain that the helicopter violates one or more laws of physics merely by existing. I’ve best heard it described as “a million parts all working in opposition to each other, doing their best to fail at the most inopportune moment.” There is nothing graceful about the helicopter. Left to its’ own devices it will immediately plummet to the earth as a ball of angrily whirling wreckage. The helicopter pilot is a neurotic man, constantly wondering if the noise he just heard was a crucial part failing, ceaselessly scanning the ground for the softest place to crash when the helicopter realizes it is in fact incapable of flight. I say all this to convey the point that airplanes are easy to fly. I’m sure that the airplane pilots will attempt to disagree with all this. They’ll cite that the Chair Force likes for their pilots to have advanced mathematical degrees, yet the Army trains high school grads to fly helicopters. They’ll surely mention that senior airline pilots make six figures, whilst senior helo pilots are lucky to pay the bills on one job alone. The reason for this? Image. What looks better? The happy go lucky airline pilot, cap tilted jauntily, maybe a scarf and a big smile as he programs the auto pilot to do the entire flight, or the half crazed chain smoking manic depressive helicopter pilot who spends most of his time mumbling something about “Murphy’s Law” and continuously asking “where are we going to land when the engine fails?” Right. The airline pilot. The reality though, there’s a reason NASA used chimps in the space program…. Trust me, I’ve flown both, and crashed one. So onto the story…

My flight training was pretty easy, especially compared to rotary wing flight. My very first takeoff and landing were accomplished with the instructor pilot talking me through it, never touching the controls. In a helicopter this would have been catastrophic. Sure some of it was likely his recognizing my amazing aviator skills and trusting in me to safely take off and alight unhelped. More likely it’s because one must try hard to crash a Cessna. Not impossible to do, but hard. I waited until solo day to give it my best shot. When you solo, you have to do a certain number of hours of local and cross country flight to meet the FAA minimums. The point is to build confidence that the instructor pilot is not a necessary item for a successful flight. This is done by allowing the fledgling student to go out and attempt to fly, finally returning with much more bravado and confidence. This is initiated when the IP feels the student can fly “safely” without doing irreparable damage to the aircraft. During this process most students begin to feel confident, and then get themselves into a minor predicament which they safely overcome, and everyone drinks a beer at the end of the day, that much wiser. Usually.

On the day of my cross country solo flight, the weather was what is known in the field as “crappy.” This is a highly technical term used to describe cloudy, windy, and rainy days where one would be much better off sitting in ops and drinking coffee. Instead I was outside preflighting and watching the IFR beacon to see if it was turned off. Turning off the beacon indicates that the minimum weather to fly has been achieved. That doesn’t mean you SHOULD be flying, but I paid no heed to this, I was gonna get some air time. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d checked the enroute and forecast weather, and it was all supposed to be improving, at least according to the guy who was sitting at a radar screen and drinking coffee in BFE. Well with minimum and improving weather, I felt confident in my abilities, and fired up the little Cessna 172 and called tower. They gave me permission for a southern departure with a westward turn out to Uvalde, the airport I’d planned on going out and practicing at some seventy miles away.

Well I took off and immediately things started rolling downhill. Apparently Murphy was on this flight, too. As I was climbing to altitude I looked inside the cockpit to check my heading and instruments, and then looked back out into the great white nothing that is the inner workings of a cloud. I was at 800 feet. The clouds were supposed to be at 2000. Thanks weather guy. Well I then did what most pilots do in this situation, a maneuver commonly known as “the wrong thing to do.” I tried to get back UNDER the clouds. This can be fatal if the clouds happen to become “ground fog”. I quickly weighed trying to fly instruments (hard when planned… REAAAALY hard when unplanned) to get back to San Antonio versus diving and decided I’d be safer that way. Luckily I was able to get back under them, and leveled out at 700 feet. Legally I’m supposed to be at 500 feet below the clouds, but that would have me driving down the highway in morning traffic. I advised tower of the situation and they told me they were unable to get me back in at that time, and to continue flying south. Finally they came back and cleared me to Uvalde with assurances of better weather that direction.

Again, the weather sucked, and I flew out to Uvalde at about 1000 feet where the air was nice and bumpy. The bumpiness was due to a straight 15 knot headwind. Finally Uvalde came into sight, and I called the traffic there to let them know my intentions. Had I been wise I simply would have said “Skyhawk 27J Solo inbound from the east for attempted landing to the south, resulting in probable crash and burn, ready the fire trucks”. I finally turned base and lined up with the runway and tried to ready myself to land. This was made hard by the strong right crosswind blowing me everywhere but in line with the runway. Now here’s an excellent time to clarify a few more differences between helicopters and airplanes. At low speeds, airplanes require big inputs to get the control you want. This is because the wing relies on the wind speed across it to work. In a helicopter, it’s the opposite. The slower you go the less input you put in. This caused me the most problems in the airplane transition because as I slowed down I never wanted to make big inputs out of fear of that whole “crashing” thing. Read the hover story for more…. The other major difference is in the helicopter you “neutralize” the controls at touchdown to alleviate stress on the system. This is accomplished by centering the cyclic and listening to the accolades of the admiring public about your amazing pilot abilities. In an airplane you continue to “fly” all the way until you shut down the engines. You’ll see why soon…

Well as I was on final I was trying hard to stay in line with the runway, and the wind was trying harder to get me back to San Antonio. This is done by lowering the wing in the direction of the wind and turning the nose into it until you are flying straight. Essentially I looked a lot like a drunkard on a DUI stop. Finally I touched the wheels of the little Cessna down and waited for the nose to touch. As soon as the nose touched I did my typical helicopter move and centered the controls and silently congratulated myself on my sheer amazingness since there was no public present aside from one man mowing the lawn adjacent to the strip. What happened next was the wind got up under the right wing and blew me up onto the left wheel. I was now about .00005 seconds away from a ground loop. This is when the airplane spins on one wheel. At about 45 mph. The results are not pretty, and usually results in damage to the plane and cool points being spilled all over the runway. Well as the right wing continued upwards and I had visions of crashing yet another vehicle, I realized I needed to act. I “steered” the wing into the wind and got the wheel back down. The only big problem left was I was now pointed towards the edge of the runway and still rolling too fast to stop. At this point the man mowing the lawn had stopped to watch the winged tragedy finish out. The only option I saw now was to go full throttle and try to take back off.

Well I pushed the throttle full forward and started praying. I needed about 55 knots (60.5 mph) to be able to take off, and I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it. If you try to take off too early, you’ll break ground, stall, and crash on the nose. This is generally known as “bad.” As the ground loomed closer and the airspeed needle seemed to hang at 50, I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain crashing on the side of the runway. Finally I was up to about 53 knots or so and the wheel were about to go off the edge, I opted to pull up and take off. I managed to get about two feet off the ground and level off at about two feet high to build more speed as I dragged the wheels through the grass that hadn’t been mowed yet. The man on the mower could only sit and stare. Finally I had enough speed to take off and off I went. At this point I ignored all rules about taking off and pointed my nose straight for San Antonio. I made my final call to Uvalde and said “27J Solo is departing at this time and will not be returning.” As far as I was concerned if I was going to crash and burn, I was gonna do it at an airport that was close to a hospital! Ultimately the rest of the flight was uneventful except for a fair amount of cussing. By the time I reached San Antonio the weather was beautiful, and I executed a textbook landing. Upon touchdown I congratulated myself on my amazing abilities for being the skillful aviator I was, and called it a day. Some people never learn….

Well I hope you have enjoyed this story. Next post should cover Big Bend and Central Texas. I’m hoping that now that I’ll e out of the desert there will be more to write about! The pics I’m including here are just some random pics I like that I’ve posted for your viewing pleasure. On Wednesday I’m heading towards New Orleans, so stay posted for more updates!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My posts fall further behind but this time it’s not my fault! I finally got into my site tonight and started getting the truck ready for the night. This took a few minutes because of the way RTD chooses to eat his food. Unlike a normal dog and eating his food out of the bowl, he instead takes a mouthful and spits it out on the floor and munches the kibbles one at a time. Well tonight I set his food out as always, clipped him up, and threw all the kibbles out of the back of the truck. After that I gathered up the garbage and took Rockstar on a walk to the dumpster to toss out my detritus. After figuring how to work the apparently bearproof and hookproof door on the dumpster, RTD and I headed back to the truck. As we rounded the back of the truck, the night took a turn that I hadn’t anticipated.

See, I use a headlamp to see what I’m doing after sundown, so I can only see about four feet ahead of my feet. Fortunately I have RTD to warn me of any danger that may be out ahead of this. As long as this danger is a cat. Or bird. Apparently RTD’s keen senses aren’t tuned to the frequency of harder to detect animals such as lizards, tiny rodents, and oh yeah, skunks. Yup, less than four feet from RTD and I was Pepe Le Pew himself, in all his white striped glory. Apparently a skunk found RTD’s food in the 42 seconds it took us to toss the garbage. Anyhow I spotted the skunk before RTD and acted accordingly. Years of military training had prepared me for just such an event. I reached deep down inside, planted my feet and screamed like a little girl. RTD still had not noticed the gas bag that was busily turning around to bring his weapon to bear, and I was envisioning anal gland goodness the likes of which I’d never experienced. Finally I managed to utter the magic words that unfroze my body and slowed time enough to make a get away. Basically, I yelled “OH S**T! SKUUUUUUUUNK!!” As I furiously backpedaled away and tried to drag RTD away from the now discovered skunk. Luckily my force in the reverse direction was stronger than RTD’s in the skunk’s direction, and we got away. Unfortunately that just left Pepe to munch on RTD’s food. Eventually I managed to scare him off the food long enough to scoop up the food. What I forgotten however, was the food I’d thrown behind the truck. Because of this we spent the next hour or so standing a safe distance away as Pepe had his way with the Bean. RTD tried hard to get away, angry that I was withholding him from playing with such an obviously fun filled friend. My explanations did no good… Oh well, on the upside, no animals or vehicles were sprayed in the making of this story!

Anyhow, how did I come to be where I was? Well… lots of driving! Like I’d said before, I’d made it to Las Cruzes, NM from Phoenix without incident, though I did drive through a number of huge sandstorms. I also paid a visit to the Pima Air Museum which is a few hundred acres of airplane fun. While there RTD managed to rub up against as many cacti as possible, and my fingers paid the price! We wandered the grounds of the museum looking at planes and a few helicopters. I reflected back on my experience in the fixed wing world that I used to kill time while I was at Fort Sam Houston waiting for the Army to decide what they were going to do. Finally RTD and I headed back out on the open road to NM, where the duststorms were the order of the day! The desert pretty much looks the same from Nevada on out thru Texas, though the farther east you go, the greener it becomes. The biggest difference were the cacti… In Arizona large Saguaro cacti are present everywhere but are all but gone by the time you get to New Mexico.

After the night in Las Cruces we headed up to White Sands National Monument at the suggestion of some of the readers. We got there relatively early and the brightness of the sand dunes was striking in contrast to the bleak brown of the surrounding desert. When you first enter the park the dunes have a lot of vegetation poking through, but once you get to the heart of the dunes, they stand as unblemished white waves as far as the eye can see. RTD and I got out to play here, which made for a bit of fun. I threw Rocky’s Frisbee ring several times, and before long he had a frothy/sandy white beard hanging off of his face. I gave him water, and the we just repeated the game… After that we headed to Texas where I found the best barbecue ever!

Rudy’s. If you are EVER in Texas, this is a requirement. I had just crossed into El Paso when I saw the sign for Rudy’s. I nearly crashed the Bean making the exit. Amazing barbecue was only a few minutes away. Rudy’s started out in San Antonio, and it violates all my rules for good barbecue. My experience has taught me that truly good barbecue must have these elements: Non-vinegar based sauce. Pork, pulled or shredded, not sliced. Made and served by a large black man, preferably in a really dingy building in the heart of a ghetto. I’m not saying this sarcastically! Truly the best BBQ I manage to find almost always comes from joints where most people are double checking their door locks as they speed by. Rudy’s on the other hand specializes in beef brisket. When you order it, you actually see the guy pull it off a fire and saw off charred slices that crumble when touched with your fork. Barbecue nirvana is to be found here. The most amazing part is it’s a CHAIN!! If you have money to buy into a franchise, buy Rudy’s and I promise you’ll die rich! Mmmmmmmm Rudy’s….

Anyhow my next installment will take me through the park at Big Bend an on to Fredericksburg, TX. Hopefully I’ll get that solo story there, too… Until then!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Out of the ashes....

I learned a new thing yesterday... RTD is actually a duck in a boxer body. The family who hosted me in Phoenix had a pool and a bunch of dogs, and given that RTD was cranky from munching on corncobs the night before, I was a bit worried about going over there. Don't get me wrong, I didn't FEED him the cobs. he took it upon himself to dig the out of the trash and make a quick meal of them. Unfortunately for him, he lacks the four stomachs of a cow and subsequently couldn't digest them. This caused him to have an upset stomach, and with that came the Rockstar patented bad attitude. Fortunately by the time I got to the hosts' house he was in better spirits and ready for an afternoon of water and Butthumper!

Once we were there and all the introductions were made, we got down to the pool and I went in for a dip. I tried to get RTD in the pool, but he wasn't really feeling it. I then went and got his favorite toy, and his feeling it level began to increase. I tried throwing it in the pool and RTD just ran circles around the pool and whined. Finally I got into the pool and tried to entice him in. No dice. When that failed I gave him his toy and began playing tug. It only took one good pull and RTD was in the water! Success! Which came at the price of claw marks all over my chest.

Back out of the water I gave RTD the toy again and started the tug game. This time he wised up a bit and let go before I could pull him in. This went on for several tries and still RTD managed to keep all four brain cells focused on not getting pulled in. Rebuked, I hopped out of the pool and threw his toy in again. More circles. More whining. Finally I grabbed him by his handy dandy blue all purpose RTD carrying handle and tossed him in.... Surprise!!! He swam out and got his toy, then swam around confused as to how to get out. Eventually he found the submerged ledge and got out. I threw the toy back in, and threw him in shortly after. This was fun! Finally RTD got the hint that he could jump in the pool, and the fun went on for quite a while. That was until RTD's hormone level began to escalate and he decided he was gonna mount the retriever come h*ll or high water. Well being the Phoenix was hot, and he was in a deep pool, the stars seemed aligned and RTD went for broke. The only problem was she wouldn't stop swimming long enough for PePe La Rocky to make his advance. So he tried to mount her. While swimming. At this point one of the other dogs succumbed to eating rocks and became lethargic and just layed on her side. RTD went over and licked and nuzzled her. We were amazed at his sensitivity to her plight. Then he went for the mount. No one ever saw him slip her the roofie, but he musta got it in somehow. That's my dog, the drunken frat boy trying to get a little no matter how bad off she is... After we dragged him off and the other dog went to the vet, he went back to attempting the watermount, which never really worked out for him.

Today I awoke to RTD's whines to go play with the other dogs. I let him out and began getting ready when Rocky decided he was gonna try to be the Alpha dog, and it all fell apart from there. We managed to keep the peace with a few choke slams to get RTD's attention, so luckily no blood was shed. After a bit I had the Bean loaded, and we set out for parts unknown. I was supposed to stop and pick up a bunch of Wounded Warrior stuff, but my tiny brain forgot all about it and I rolled out of Phoenix empty handed... Sorry about that! From there we made our way to Tucson and the Pima Air museum which was well worth the stop! Tomorrow I'm gonna write up what that was like and whatnot, but for now I need to get to bed...

Today I'm in Las Cruces, NM and will be heading into TX tomorrow. I'll be in central TX sometime after that and will actually spend a few days there! Stay tuned for more adventures, and another funny story about a solo flight I took where I attempted my best to crash, and luckily failed!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Has anyone seen a coyote with an anvil? He just ran this way...

Well I made it through the Grand Canyon yesterday and I must say it was quite the experience. This is not just some ditch in thr ground, it's a BIG ditch! Some might even call it Grand... I legt out of my hole in the woods early, and passed several other weary travelers who'd chosen to just drive off into the woods and sleep. Either that or I have discovered where people go when they go missing. I drove up to the canyon, and too HWY 64 east along the south rim. About every three miles or so there are pull offs so everyone can stop and gawk at the greatness that is the canyon. The first one I pulled into gave a limited view of the canyon, and I was mildly impressed. The next one I went to gave a better view of the canyon and I was more impressed. I believe it was at about the third stop that I found a little placard that pointed out how far away the various peaks and mesas were and I got a lot more impressed. As I mentioned I was on the south rim, and the north rim was clearly visible across the valley. I estimated it to be about 1-2 miles across, and consulted the placard to see how close I was. Apparently my aviator senses were on full disconnect when I'm standing on the ground, as the canyon is nearly TEN MILES across. To put this into scale, on a clear day on flat land you can see about 6-7 miles away. At the canyon you can see just short of forever.

From the rim that canyon isn't quite like what you see in the movies. You wouldn't just fall straight to the bottom as in the movies. The walls steeply stairstep down to a large flat valley, which is then further cut by another canyon known as the inner gorge, which i swhere the lower half of the canyon lies. The inner gorge finally ends at the Colorado river which flows both quietly and violently depending on whereupon the river you are. From the top to bottom, the canyon is over a mile deep, though without anything to give you a sense of scale, one has a hard time determining this. The walls of the canyon themselves appear as many layers of a book, representing different eras of geologic time of the last several million or several thousand years, depending on which side of the "where we come from" fence you fall on. The different layers are clearly seen as various reds, oranges and browns, accented with grays of all shades. The river provides a wonderful light green contrast and anchors the bottom of the canyon. Scrub trees and cedar poke out where ever they can find room, but for the most part there is very little green in the canyon itself.

Back from the edge, the rim hosts all manner of small cedars and desert wildlife. Most prominent are the huge crows which managed to hold RTD's rapt attention for longer than most any toy I've ever given him. I fully expected he'd chase one right off the cliff in an attempt to drool on yet another animal if I gave him the chance, so I made sure to keep his leash short. I also saw signs warning of large cats but never came across any. If the size of the crows is any indication, one had better bring fancy feast in five gallon drums if they don't want to be dinner themselves.

After my trip to the canyon, I headed down to Phoenix to visit my extended family there, and tour the Apache factory. It was great to get to see where the bird I flew is made, and meet the people who turn the wrenches to make it happen. I muse express my gratitude that they build such a survivable aircraft because that death thing really would have slowed me down a bit. Unfortunately due to all the secret squirrel stuff the goes on there, I couldn't take any pictures but it was still cool as can be! Now I'm getting ready to head East tomorrow, so stay tuned for more stories from the road!!

Leaaaaaaaaaaaavin' Las Vegas!

Well I've been out in the cell phone netherlands so I've had no cell access so I'm a day or two behind. Last I blogged I'd just made it to Vegas and had yet to do much. Well after that I headed for the KOA down at Circus Circus, but first detoured to In-N-Out Burger. For those not familiar, here's my description. Tasty goodness meets paradise all while in dreamland. Seriously the burgers there could be no better if cows came from fields of gold. $100.00 Kobe beef burgers would fall faster than France to a Girl Scout invasion if they went up against these burgers. The menu is simple enough even RTD could figure it out if he had to. Your options are Burger, Burger w/ cheese, Double Double, fries, drink. No yardbird, no fake mexican Enchiladoriburritas, no gimmicky burger the size of a book of matches, just pure amazement. Personally I went for the DoubleDouble which is two patties and two real cheese slices. The only other name this burger could have is tastebud crack. If you ever go to Cali/Nevada, forgo the Bunny Ranch and spend that money at In-N-Out. Your tastebuds and VD report will thank you!

Satiated, I continued on to Dante's KOA. Let me dispell a little myth for you real quick. The desert does NOT get cold at night. All those stories of 115 degree days and 30 degree nights were obviously propagated by the Bureau of Tourism somewhere. I checked in at 9:30 pm and it was a balmy 96 degrees. I grabbed a cold shower and met up with a kind lady named Shannon who took me out to see the lights of Vegas and then drink frosty beverages. Finally I headed back to the 7th level of heKOAll and tried to turn in for the night. I ended up leaving the fan running all night and still slept fitfully thanks to RTD. Super Retarded Dog started the night breathing heavily enough that I started to wonder if HE made it to the bunny ranch. Finally sometime around 2 am I awaken because I'm getting kicked in the face. See, I sleep on a twin size mattress in the back of the Bean. Well there's about a 10-12 inch gap between the matress and tirewell when I'm back there. Apparently Rocky The Destroyer managed to somehow roll over onto his back and then inch his way up into that gap. And get stuck. His answer was to occasionally kick me in the face, and the snore some more. I responded by smacking his ribcage which caused occasional gyrating, more face kicking, and no progress whatsoever. Finally I grabbed his doggy harness and tossed him back into his spot in the Bean. Aside from a grunt or two, I don't think RTD ever stirred.

The next morning I woke up to a beautiful day on the surface of the sun. I went ahead and packed the sleeping bag away in the storage bin, and rolled up the mat etc to get ready to go. I then headed to a local Firestone to get the Bean fixed. Once there they explained that they weren't affiliated with that other Firestone, so my "nationwide warranty" was no good there. I asked where the nearest one was that I could use, and apparently it was the one I'd recently left. Great. Anyhow I had them check it out and they found the other place had put the brake springs in backwards, and forgot to tighten the trim cap on the wheel. Thanks Firestone of Sacramento, glad I'm not dead now! Well I paid them for their services and started my trip to Phoenix. Fortuitously, I thought to call ahead to my family here, who inquired as to why I was skipping the Grand Canyon. I then ended my trip to Phoenix and rerouted to canyon country.

The only place I hit along the way was Hoover Dam, which was different than expected. The water level is waaaaaaaaaaaay lower than in the pictures I've seen, so it looked much taller on the lake side. I couldn't get to much of it b/c apparently dogs aren't allowed there for whatever reasons. Probably homeland security. I'll have to remember not to let RTD wear his turban and sandals next time. The drive out of the dam follows the rolling dry hills of the Lake Mead area, and the view is still pretty spectacular. All variety of craggy hills and mountains come and go, never relinquishing their reign to trees or other foliage. Only after you've driven a few hundred miles and gone up a few thousand feet do the scrubby little pines make their debut.

As I continued on, I decided to run the A/C for RTD's benefit, and enjoy the musical selection of NPR talk radio. Yes, that's right, I'm a talk radio nerd. I'm really glad my phone doesn't have the letters on the keypad for me to be able to dial the 1-800 NPR number, or I'd quickly become that Talk Radio Ranter we all hate so much. I can only angrily yell at my radio . For now... After a bit I went to roll down the window to check the outside temp, and it didn't budge. I looked at the voltmeter, which was redder than the desert I was in, and I knew I was in trouble. I asked the Garminator where there nearest Autozone was, and it let me know it was conveniently only 32 miles away. I mean OUT of the way... Of course... I knew that the alternator had gone bad, b/c it was about the only thing I hadn't yet replaced. I'd hoped to save a few hundred bucks... C'est la vi... I called ahead to make sure the zone had the part, and then limped there. I've learned that if you don't call ahead, they are required by unwritten law to not have the part you need.

Amazingly, the alternator was an easy fix, which is a rarity in the breakdown world. I just barely had made it to Chino, as the battery was too dead to even crank the Bean when it was finally fixed! While I was there I had an interesting chat with an Apache medicine man. We talked about my journey, and how in the end it's a journey to find myself. He told me to think less with my head and more with my heart, and to be nicer to RTD. Before I left he gave me a few dollars for fuel which I tried to refuse. The advice was donation enough, and on top of that he gave me a well worn stone he had in his pocket. He explained that whenever I needed direction or was worried, to rub the stone and think with my heart, and I'd find my answer and solace. Humbling, to say the least. A man who told me he sold scrap metal to make ends meet willing to part with a few hard earned dollars to help what is essentially a college kid on break get around. I only hope that my journeys bring credit to men like this.

With a new alternator in the Bean, I hauled arse up towards Grand Canyon to camp for the night. There was no one at the KOA office when I got there, so I pulled out and headed closer to the park. After a bit I realized I was in a national forest, and I could camp for free! Not wanting to waste money, I immediately pulled off and into the wilderness. Once I was a good distance away I set up shop and tried to stop sweating. Stupid desert. After I realized my phones wasn't gonna connect to the net, I went ahead and hit the hay. I opted to leave the tailgate down as it was so hot...

Ok so maybe the desert DOES get cold at night! Apparently this is in the higher elevations only, though! About 1:30 I awoke to a chilling sound on a chilly night! All around the Bean, within a 1/2 mile or so were coyotes calling to each other. Every so often one group would do their increasing yip-yiiippp-yiiiiiiiippppppppp to the other, and I'd nervously wonder if leaving the tailgate down was a great idea. I occasionally looked over at my fearless companion, who was twitching one paw as he chased some rabbit or Pimp Hand Strong off in dreamland. This is the same animal who goes rabid at the sight of a crow hopping by. The same dog who explodes at the sound of a mouse fart. Great protection ya got their, Lou. Anyhow, finally the coyotes found their Acme box or whatever and calmed down. I then broke down and fumbled the sleeping bag BACK out of the storage box where I'd banished it only that morning, and managed to get some decent sleep for a change.

Next, The Grand Canyon!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Nickel Ride...

Almost everyone has the same sort of experience on their first flight while learning to fly a helicopter. This is mine… A few things before we get started, just to remove a few questions. Every helicopter has three basic flight controls. They are: the cyclic- the stick between your legs, responsible for going in the direction you want to go, at least once you learn how to fly. The collective- the stick on your left side the controls going up or down, or adding power for forward flight. The pedals- seemingly the most simple, yet your bitter enemy to the end. At a hover they are responsible for spinning the helicopter left or right. In forward flight they are used to keep the helicopter straight by pointing the nose in such a way to compensate for the wind (crabbing). The only other control available, and one I didn’t have to worry about in the kinds of helicopters I flew, is the throttle. For us it was “set it and forget it.” Finally the last issue; size. Size matters. The smaller the helicopter, the slower it is and the harder it is to fly. We learn on relatively small ones…

The first flight you take in flight school is commonly known as the “Nickel Flight”. This is because it is ungraded, reminiscent of the little nickel rides in front of a grocery store, and a way for underpaid instructor pilots to make a little money on the side. That first day we met our instructor pilots, mostly a crusty bunch of ex-Vietnam guys who have more time preflighting than I had years on earth. My guy however was a mid thirties former Blackhawk pilot named Jim (we used his last name, but I’m leaving that out.) Jim was a laid back guy with a good healthy perverted sense of humor, and I knew we’d get along just fine. Also along was my “stick buddy” who is the person you learn to fly with. The helicopter we learned on was the TH-67 Bell Jet ranger, painted in bright orange colors to let all who gaze upon you know that you are a danger in the skies, and to avoid you at all costs.

The day starts with some classroom time, and Jim takes a bit to ask us some questions about the helicopter and its’ emergency procedures. We’d spent the last two weeks learning all there was to know about the working of this bird and I knew there was nothing I could be caught off guard about. The one thing they didn’t teach me that I quickly mastered was “the blank stare” which I gave a lot those first few days. Apparently there was a lot I didn’t know or remember… After a while Jim got tired of asking Amy and I random questions about such complicated things as “how does the helicopter fly” only to be greeted with said blank stare, so we headed out to the flight line. The helicopters are parked all over the airfield in nice neat lines, and the most junior pilots get the ones farthest away, so we got the keys and logs and headed to our steed.

Once at the helicopter, we bumbled through our preflight that we learned, and Jim followed us around to play “point and tell”, a game where he pointed at various things and we were supposed to tell what it was. More blank stares ensue, and our tiny sponge like brains tried to absorb what they could. The reality was we were so psyched at finally getting to fly we wouldn’t have properly identified our names if they were painted on the side of the helicopter. After a few more of this we donned our helmets and hopped in. I drew the short straw and ended up in back and had to fly second. Jim wisely didn’t let us start the helicopter, and after a bit we were airborne enroute to the stage field where I’d be dropped off whilst Amy went to soar with the eagles. There at the field we were supposed to study and prep for flight, but mostly we stood around and bragged about how we were gonna have this sucker licked in a day. Type A personalities at their best…

After an hour passed, Jim and Amy returned and I made my way out to the bird. I briefly noted that Amy looked a bit flustered, but whatever, we can’t all get it right for the first time. I hopped in, kicking the cyclic as I did, and started the flight with a stern lecture about not letting my big clodhoppers hit the cyclic no matter what. Finally Jim took off and we climbed to a safe altitude for teaching young students how to fly, also known as “low earth orbit.” Now when you learn, you don’t just get all the controls at once, you get eased into it. At altitude you really only need the cyclic to keep going, and the goal was go in a straight line and stay at the same altitude. I immediately began porpoising up and down above the altitude but eventually settled down to a nice level height. Jim then took a moment to point out we were now going 90 degrees away from where we started. Oops. Next I made a series of “S-turns” which are supposed to look like a huge S if viewed from above. A more apt term would have been scribble turns, but after a bit I managed to do something that resembled more of the English alphabet and less of the Chinese alphabet. Finally Jim took the controls and took us back to the field to learn to hover. Finally, some slow flight, at least this will be easier…

Once at the field, Jim came to a hover about 15 feet above the ground and pointed the nose at a huge tree off in the distance, and explained that hovering required coordinated use of all three controls at once, but in reality was really easy. I watched with envy as he took one hand off the collective, and used just his finger on the cyclic to hold us at a perfect hover. I knew this was going to be easy. Next Jim gave me control of the pedals and told me to keep the nose pointed at the tree. No problem… The nose tried to wander a bit, but I used my fancy footwork to keep it expertly pointed at the tree. I wondered if the other students could see me demonstrating how it was done. I noticed out of the corner of my eye other helicopters in all sorts of unusual attitudes (attitude being the relative position of the helicopter relative to the ground.) Whatever. Amateurs. Obviously they had not yet tapped into their birdlike instinct to fly like I had. I silently thanked the Creator for making me naturally so great. Next Jim gave me the collective, too…

Now things began to get a bit more interesting. The nose wandered a little, and I expertly corrected, but now the helicopter sank a little when I did. I added a little power via the collective and brought the helicopter back to the height I started and looked back out at the tree which had now somehow moved to the left side of the helicopter. I corrected again as a single bead of sweat ran down my nose. My instincts were apparently a little rusty but I wasn’t worried. I knew I’d have this licked as soon as I got ahold of the cyclic. Finally I managed some semblance of holding the aircraft in one spot, and immediately started talking smack to Jim about my amazing abilities. Jim looked oddly unimpressed. Jim then gave me the cyclic. Jim then wished he’d taken out more life insurance.

About the first five seconds of hovering went really well, and I started congratulating myself on my shear awesomeness, but then it started to drift left. I added a little right cyclic but was confounded when it kept going left. I added more right cyclic and it started to come back, but now the nose was turning. I went ahead and pushed the pedal to get the nose back as the helicopter went sailing past the starting spot as it drifted a hard right, and began to go backwards a bit, too. More sweat down my nose, and a little at each temple. Still unworried, I worked at taming the beast. Jim just sat and stared at me with a little smirk.

Now I added left forward cyclic, and was again confused as the helicopter kept going back and right. And down. Figuring more is better I added more left forward cyclic and the helicopter began to respond. At this point I’d pretty much given up on the pedals and was trying to make the bird stay in one spot. I now realized that obviously there was obviously something wrong with the flight controls, and voiced this to Jim, who continued just to sit and stare. Well now the helicopter had begun to balloon up and pick up some left forward speed. Knowing this would result in taking off, I went ahead and corrected by adding a hefty dose of aft cyclic to get the bird back in control, and made a feeble attempt to use the pedals to get the nose straight again. At this point the helicopter made and abrupt change in direction as a result of my aft cyclic maneuver. I found myself about forty feet up, nose pointed precariously downwards as I attempted to touch the moon with the tail. I looked over at Jim and he simply responded with “well, fix it”. Apparently he wasn’t aware of the problem with the flight controls and I continued trying to tell him until he finally took the controls and I sat back to await the imminent crash as he was gonna have to wrestle it to the ground.

Five seconds later Jim was again hovering with one finger, and I was wringing out my shirt and trying to figure out how a hose got lose in a sealed cockpit. Jim then went on to explain to me what the problem was. See, helicopters are subject to a lot of important sounding technical terms like “gyroscopic precession” and “phase lag” as well as a bunch of others. Essentially this means that flying a helicopter is an exercise in forecasting the future by about three seconds. The input you put in doesn’t immediately take effect. You have to put in the input, then neutralize the controls and it will come back on its’ own. In theory. Also, helicopters naturally want to spin to the right because the main rotor goes left. As you add power, it increases this tendency to spin, and also will climb if you don’t add pedal. The final straw is the tendency of the helicopter to naturally drift in the direction the tail rotor thrusts. This all equates to a handful for the fledgling pilot. Apparently the questions we’d been asked that morning were to test our knowledge of this stuff, which was making a lot more sense now. I realized that they were all lies, and flying was actually impossible except for the select few who’d been blessed with the ability. I left the helicopter that day humbled, and wondering how much it would cost to break my lease when I was sent home after failing miserably at flight school. What could I say, it’s for the birds.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vegas baby yeah!

Well the Bean lives on another day.... Last time I blogged I was limping the bean to Sacramento. Well I made it there and treated myself to a hotel, mostly to end a frustrating day on a high note. While there I managed to attract an audience willing to listen to me go on and on about the fuel situation, so I was happy. If there's one thing I love, it's people willing to listen to me rant and appear interested at the same time. After the pool/podium I headed to the shower for a refreshing few minutes. While in there the phone started ringing, and I jumped out all panicked and managed to answer it. I could see on my cell I'd just missed a call from Brittany so now I was really worried. Upon answering the front desk says "Hi, is everything all right?" Great... now I'm really panicked and RTD is trying to lick water off my legs... I tell them everythings great and ask what the problem is while trying to kick Rocky who was deftly staying out of range. They tell me everythings fine they were just checking, and my heart rate drops back down to normal and I hang up. I had barely finished towelling off when there is a pounding at the door. I look at and see a hotel clerk. Seriously, did they not beliebe the phone call?? Well I open it and she asks if I have time to talk, and I briefly contemplated walking outside in my nekkid glory before deciding against it and telling her to give me a few to get dressed.

Once dressed I stepped outside and confront her and another guest. It turned out that he was an old vet who had paid for my room and just wanted to talk for a few so I didn't mind trhe interuptions, but I had started to wonder if maybe the hotel had taken checking on their guests just a little too far. Finally all was settled and I plopped down to watch TV before drifting off to sleep...

Sunday morning found me heading to the Firestone dealer to get the brakes checked. Once in there they got the Bean in relatively quick and RTD and I sat in the waiting room awaiting the verdict. After a bit they told me there was just a minor adjustment issue and the drums were a bit warped and needed to be fixed. I gave them the go-ahead and sat back to wait. After a bit another customer came in, and RTD immediately set about making friends. Then he layed down on the guys feet and looked at me like a stranger. After about three hours I'd started to wonder if maybe there was a strike or if perhaps there was some sort of tiddlywinks tournament preventing any work from getting done. The shop finally told me the Bean was A-ok and I picked Benedict Arnold up off the poor guys feet and we got a move on to the cabin in the hills.

Once off the interstate and heading back up into the smoke filled and golden hills of middle California I realized the Bean was now worse than it began. Apparently my $120 in repairs netted me absolutely nothing... I stoppesd to look the Bean over and take some pics, too. The valleys here are all wine and fruit country. The fierce heat gives way as you pass the huge orchards, but picks right back up as the vineyards dominate again. As I approached the Sierra Nevada mountains, the smoke gave way to reveal the dry strawcolored hills punctuated with blotches of green that were the small scrub trees. I saw quite a few deer, dodged a number of suicidal ground squirrels, and even saw a large bobcat running through the grass. I tried to watch the wildlife while keeping an eye on the temp gauge of the Bean, as it seemed to rise just like hills which I was clombing. Every time I thought I'd have to pull over I'd hit a downhill stretch and trhe temps would drop. Finally I made it up to the cabin so graciously offered by one of the readers here, and RTD and I got set for the night.
The cabin was up over 600o ft, so the air was nice and cool, and RTD was loving being in the forest without a leash for the first time in his life. Allen explained to me about the local wildlife, so I tried to keep Rocky in sight as he furiously tried to mark all the trees out in the darkness. In the morning I was able to see the fruits of his labor... more on that in a moment. Anyhow, we settled in and had steaks and beer, and finally knocked off for the night. Overall, a decent end to a long day...

This morning I finally dragged myself out of bed about 9 or so, and debated if I was going to stay another day or not. The lack on internet crack convinced me I should press on, so I got to work. I decided to pull the thermostat out of the Bean so it would run cooler as I crossed the Death Valley today. I wisely had packed a set of tools, so I got them out and tried to figure out which tool was missing since I knew it would be the one I needed. Amazingly, I had all I needed, so I set to work. Meanwhile RTD continued his marking... I drained the antifreeze and got it out of RTD's way because the stuff tastes like deadly Kool-Aid. Then I pulled the thermostat and started breaking stuff. I think it is physically impossible for me to work on a vehicle with breaking SOMETHING. Just makes it more fun! This time it was some plastic vacuum lines, which I capped off and now the Bean runs a little funny... Adds character! I then reassembled everything sans thermostat and sat back to see if it would actually work. Surprisingly it did! Who knew.... Still, never trust the one armed mechanic. I then turned to see the minefield Rocky was busily making. See, RTD recently has learned how to scratch the ground to mark his spots. now he does it furiously. Tornados in Kansas lack the ferocity with which RTD plows the earth. He uses both front and rear legs all at once, and looks a lot like a four wheel drive truck trying to do a burnout in the dust. All through the forest about every five feet were tore up areas of dirt where RTD had marked them as his own. Somewhere today a mountain lion is probably roaming that area, confused as to what monster passed that way...

Well today we headed out across the aptly named Death Valley enroute to Vegas. As far as the eye could see, the largest growing thing one could see were Joshua Trees. I would have run a few down but apparently it's illegal to harm a U2 album in the state of California... Pity. I must admit that the browns and reds of the desert do have a beauty of their own, but it is one enjoyed for a few minutes, and then it gets a little old. The farther into the valley we went the hotter it became, and the more I worried about the Bean. Eventually we had to climb out of the first valley, and the Bean wasn't liking it. The temp gauge finally pegged in the red just as we crested the hill, and it slowly came back down, but not without an odd smell. Fortunately I ignored the smell long enough and it went away, so it must not have been a big problem. We reached the bottom of the valley, and the temperature approached that of the sun. I stuck my hand out the window and the wind felt like jetblast as it blistered my hand. Rocky paced the back, panting furiously so I pulled over often for him to get water. A few times I soaked him, but he didn't much care for that...

We finally made it out of the valley, and I rolled up the windows and turned on the A/C so RTD didn't lose his tiny little mind and start trying to do something stypid, like play Butthumper with the back of my head. The downside to this was the gas mileage dropped to about 14-15 mpg from the usual 18-20. I guess I better get used to this to keep the hero back there cool and happy! We kept the A/C going as I continued the trip to Vegas, and RTD eventually stopped sounding like a freight train. Now we are in Vegas where I intend to do no gambling... I may post why tomorrow, but it's not that entertaining. I may stay in Vegas if anyone here has any ideas as to what to do, or can show RTD and I around. From here we're heading to Phoenix where I will definitely be for a day or three. I've been offered a lot in Phoenix, so I may try to organize a meet and greet, so keep a watch here to see!!

Now for something a little bit different....

I fear my writing might be becoming boring, but it's so hard for me to tell. Having "lived it" it never seems as good to write it as it was to do it, but here's an attempt. I wrote this about my first day in basic, so I'll post it here for everyones critique. Please take a minute to read it and let me know what ya think. Next up I am gonna try to write about my first flight in the Army, which might be a bit more entertaining!! So without further ado, Basic.

I enlisted in the Infantry, and started basic/inprocessing on Oct 03 1995. I arrived at Fort Benning just after the passage of a hurricane which had made the flight in more like a ride on the Vomit Comet than a passenger plane. My first few days were spent at inprocessing with no power, and a bunch of bored drill sergeants trying not to have too much fun with us. Each day a group would be taken and given all their immunizations and shots and also would get their initial issue of uniforms. Upon their return to the building, they would immediately put on their uniforms and transition into Viet Nam veterans. The groups would then split into uniformed and non-uniformed, with the former trying to pass on their expertise to the new guys, who’d been in the Army about six minutes less than them. All in all it wasn’t too bad, and just a few push-ups were doled out at any one time. I knew I was gonna like this whole Basic Training thing. Then came the day we actually went to our training units…
The units were known as “Starships” for their huge layout and this was where the “real training” would commence. We sat anxiously on our duffle bags at the replacement unit, waiting to get loaded on the cattle cars and sent off to the starships. Finally my turn came and off I went, a little saddened that I was riding on a bus instead of the cooler looking cattle cars. Finally we stopped in front of our new home, and unlike the movies, the gentleman who stepped onto the bus wasn’t yelling at all. He was the unit’s executive officer, and he gave us some encouraging words about the training we were going to face, and then explained that soon we’d get to meet the cadre of Drill Sergeants where we’d all be formally introduced and the training could begin. This wasn’t bad at all! I sat there on the bus wondering if maybe there’d be some snacks at this formal introduction, and barely noticed the less friendly looking man who had now stepped onto the bus. After getting our attention he informed us we had no longer than 30 seconds to unass the bus, then stood there in the middle of the doorway counting. Now how were we supposed to get off the bus if he was in the way? Maybe he didn’t understand our plight, as he just stood there calmly counting. At the end of the thirty seconds, he expressed his displeasure at our inability to listen very well, and now things started to go downhill.
The DS stepped off the bus, and out of thin air about twenty more materialized. I think maybe they’d been hiding in the bushes, or perhaps they utilized some Army magic we’d not yet learned to appear to us, but either way they were here and not happy. They jerked open the back door of the bus and started jerking privates out of the bus. Finally I made it off the bus unscathed and took my bag and beelined for the assembly area. DS’s were grabbing guys left and right and assisting them with carrying their bags in all kinds of new and interesting ways. Personally I couldn’t understand how crawling on your hand and knees with two duffle bags on your back was an easier way, yet this seemed to be choice method. I, being me, continued hand carrying my bags trying to ignore the advice of the kind gentlemen surrounding me and instructing me otherwise. Finally one suggested I just stop and start doing push-ups to help clear my hearing, so I dropped down and happily obliged. Eventually we all made it to the formation area and lined up in a ragtag attempt at a platoon formation, then continued with all manner of physical fitness maneuvers designed to distress your mind and refocus that stress around one’s body. A particular favorite was “The Mule Kick.” This involved locking your fingers behind your head, putting both feet together, then jumping as high as you can while attempting to kick your own rear end with your heels. I guess if they couldn’t do it to us, they could help us to do it for them. Autoarsekicking at its’ finest!
After a few hours of this, I was beginning to think maybe there wasn’t going to be much in the way of refreshments at this meet-and-greet. After we were done with the greeting we headed upstairs to our platoon bays where we would be assigned our battle buddy, as well as learn the art and science of making a bed and setting up a wall locker. How hard could it be? This was when we met the first non-screaming DS who then sat us down and calmly walked us through the steps to properly make our bunks. 45 degree corners on all four sides, and the dustcover over the pillow is ¼ the length of the bed. How bad could that be? Well he left us alone with ten minutes to get all our bunks squared away, and we all set about busily measuring and folding. This was when I learned another very important lesson. Apparently Drill Sergeants have trouble telling time. He specifically told us we had ten minutes, yet he was back in only four and very displeased at our lack of bed making progress. I knew he wasn’t happy because I found myself doing push-ups with my legs elevated on the bunk I’d worked in vain to make. Finally he told us to get up and remake the bunks and he’d be back in ten minutes to see our progress.
Three minutes later I found myself learning a new maneuver called the “over and under”. We’d crawl under one bunk and over the next as we made laps around the bay. I was seriously beginning to question if we’d ever get to finish anything given the propensity for the DS to arrive and undo all of our hard work. We ended up repeating this game for several more cycles before we were deemed unfixable and we just left our bunks sloppily made (which I must admit looked a lot like the way they were the whole time I was in basic, but hey this was day 1 and they were the experts. We then went on to play a similar game involving the wall lockers and fitness training. The basic sequence was: calmly explain how to do it right and then leave us to do it. Show up at some arbitrary and unrealistic time later to inspect. Smoke young privates while berating us about our inefficiency. Rinse. Repeat. I later learned that the Army continues to use this model of inefficiency throughout the service for certain things.
The only other real agenda we had for that day was to meet our battle buddy, who was the guy sleeping in the bunk next to you. He was the guy who was supposed to help and motivate you, while the two of you learned together. You were supposed to do everything but wash each other’s cracks in the shower with your battle buddy. If your battle buddy screwed up, you both paid the price. My battle buddy was a fat guy who was also a pathological liar. This made basic much more fun for me over the duration. No matter what the story, he’d always done something better. Turns out he had almost won the professional bull riding championships before deciding to join the army. I often wondered if he’d meant to say the competitive eating championships, but mixed up his words. Anyhow, every basic training unit has “this guy” and I just happened to be partnered up with him. Some guys get all the luck. After these introductions were made, we finally were released to get ready for the next day, and it was close to midnight before I got under the sheets for my first night as a trainee. It wouldn’t be until later I learned not to sleep under the sheets…

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The brakes on the Bean may be bad, but I could still see the headlights!

Just a short update... Today didn't go as planned at all. I decided the shoreline highway might be a bit hard on the Bean, as the brakes started acting funny so I headed inland. I then got an invite to come up to lake Berryessa to hang out and drink beer with nubile women (there words, not mine) and some ex-army guys, so how could I refuse! As I trekked up even curvier roads to get to the lake I noticed the Bean was shaking worse than RTD's ears when I hit the brakes, and it was getting worse. I decided that after the lake I'd go have that looked at. Well from there it went all downhill....

Once at the lake, I couldn't get in touch with the inviters, so I drove around and finally parked with the idea of swimming with RTD for a bit. I walked him all over kingdom come, and he did whatever bidness he had in him so we headed to the beach. As we walked down the road RTD was tapdancing all over the place b/c of how hot the road was, and no matter how much I pushed him into the grass, he was right back in the road. I used to do something like this when I was about six years old, but that was because traffic looked like so much fun! Some things never change. Finally we made it across the beach and RTD was on good behavior. That should have tipped me off it was about to change...

We ended up walking in fron of the girls who were tanning and dozing, and Rockstar chose now to strike. No, he didn't run up and scare them, instead he stopped no less than four feet in from of them and dropped a huge Rockstar signature load. this was about the time they woke up... Well at first we all just kinda stared, then the girls lost it. They started yelling for me to get my d**n dog out of there, and expressing their inner feelings that I am in fact a freak. I think their words were "HEY FREAK! GET YOU AND YOUR D**NED DOG AWAY FROM US!" I was somewhat unamused, and had it not been for the fact that someones pitbull mixbreed decided now would be a great time to run up and sniff RTD, I might have replied.

Well now here I am, hunkered over trying to scrape up feces one handed with a huge garbage bag, and RTD is busily trying to start the butthumper game with a dog that was much bigger than he was. Fortunately the dog was also friendly, and just tried to play before his owners got him back... Another disaster narrowly averted. After that we got a spot to swim, and I took the leash off and let RTD do his swim/drown mix dance. After a bit I threw a big rock about 50 feet out, and RTD swam out looking for it. Once there he started snapping at the water where his paws were frothing it up, and generally doing his best to drown. I started to go out to get him when he wisely turned around and came back in. I decided this was a great opportunity to leave, but the fun wasn't yet over!

As we walked out, a little mini pinscher/chihuahua looking dog named "Chocolate" came over and started sniffing at RTD again. he'd done this the 1st time by, and RTD had ignored him. Allowing his Napolean complex to get the best of him, Chocolate decided to snap at Rocky, which was just what I didn't need. The little rodent snapping at RTD alerted him to his minuscule presence, and Rocky decided to see if Chocolate was true to his name. Now as RTD was snapping back, large Mexican men were coming to the aid of their little buddy, and I had visions of myself disappearing off the face of the earth. Finally I dragged RTD away from the little Hershey's Kiss and imminent danger, and we started out towards Yosemite.

It was along the way that the back left brake started locking up. I replaced EVERYTHING in the brakes about 4 months ago, so I'm guessing it's an adjustment issue. Deciding I didn't want to turn the Bean into the Black Eyed Pea by slamming into someones rear end, I stopped in Fairfield to get it looked at. After sitting there for over an hour watching four mechanics work really hard standing around staring the each other, one finally came and told me they were too busy to get to it today. Thanks.... With that great news I loaded up and angrily headed to Sacramento where I decided I'd rent a room and sleep well. We freaks need our beauty rest, apparently... It was along the way here that I finally had something many people have asked about happen. I saw my first pair-o-boobies! A lady was so kind as to display them on their way by, with her hubby laughing hysterically in the drivers seat... At least my day improved a little! The funny thing was as I was filling the Bean up 30 miles later, the hubby pulls into the gas station at the very next pump. We chatted a bit as his wife was off getting food, and they both thought it was a hilarious thing to do... I agreed wholeheartedly. Finally I headed out, but not before following him over to where he had to pick up his wife to give my best Wolf-Whistle for her (his idea). I'm now happily in a hotel, and hope to get the bean fixed tomorrow. From here i'm heading to Vegas, and might make it tomorrow or Monday, so stay tuned!! Sorry there are no pics for today.....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A recurrent theme...

Good day everybody! Currently I'm in a tiny town called Sebastopol, CA. I've made my way out of the towering Redwoods and down some of the twistiest roads I've ever seen. I must say these rival US129 aka The Dragon down south of Knoxville, and they just go for miles! I took HWY 101 to HWY1 which follows the pacific coast down California. The turns are hard in the SportsBean, but i'm making my way through them well. RTD isn't to happy about my choice of route, and spends much of his time attempting to avoid stuff that isn't tied down from bouncing off him as I squeal the bean through yet another 180 degree turn. When I'm on the coast side of the ridge, the weather is a balmy 65 degrees, and then on the valley side it's about 110 and I start having Kandahar flashbacks. While the road is particularly twisty, the earth is usually some shade of parched brown, but the ocean stretching out toi the right makes it all worth it! Also I managed to find the tree with a tunnel cut through it, and the Bean even fit! By fit I mean the mirrors were folded in and the CB antenna down but whatever. I have to wonder HOW there came to be a tunnel through the tree. I suspect it involved a fair amount of alcohol, at least at the start! This seems like the kind of thing that results from a conversation that included "you know what would be totally amazing? A tunnel.... THROUGH a TREE! Pass me another beer and I'll go get the chainsaw!"

Anyhow, something that has come up quite a bit from people has been the issue of gas prices, and the remedies that people have heard of. Global warming has reared its' head a bit, too. I reference it a bit in jest, because last year was the coldest year ever recorded globally, which seems kind of interesting given this whole "warming" scam. I hate to turn this into a rant, so I'll try to keep it entertaining at the least. We all have noticed that the prices at the pump have been going up, and if ya haven't that probably means you are a politician and have a driver who fills your car up for you. Everyone seems to have some very misguided ideas at what the answer is, and I'm amazed at how little people know about an issue seem so passionate about.

First off, ethanol. Seriously? How in the world have we sold ourselves this BRILLIANT idea? "I know! Let's take our FOOD, and turn it into GAS!" By the way, this is a fuel that is significantly less efficient than petroleum, so as a side benefit of higher food prices, you also get to enjoy lower mpg and power in your car. In the end, to save a few cents per gallon of gas, you get to pay several cents more for all of your food, AND get worse mpg, meaning you buy MORE gas! This is like giving someone $1000 dollars and then they give you $800 cash back, and you get excited at your "windfall". Now some people might argue that it's only corn that has gone up, but again that's not true. Given the increased demand for corn, farmers have stopped planting other crops to meet the demand, so now wheat, barley (BEER!) and other cash crops have fallen to the wayside in lieu of the new Corngod. Personally I think this is a bad idea. Kinda like much of the stuff that I do... Again many people point to Brazil and their cheap fuel, but what people don't realize is ethanol is a byproduct of their sugar industry, so it's a win win situation there. Not here.

That being said, electricity MUST be the answer! We can get Enron involved in this idea, too... While electric cars SOUND great, we need to think about a few things. First off this doesn't get us OFF of fossil fuel, it merely removes it to a place you don't see to make the energy for your eco-car. Your friendly power plant! So picture this, and electric car in every other driveway, and the power plants attempting to meet the need of the increased demand for electricity. There was another industry that had a sudden increase in demand... It was the petroleum industry... So now you get to pay more for power for your car, and your air conditioner, and your TV, and computer, etc etc etc. Also, many cities can barely meet demand for power just for houses. Now add to that the demand for cars, too. Coal burning power plants are gonna go into overdrive to make that power. I say coal because the majority of the power in the USA still comes from coal. Last I checked that stuff has some nasty emmissions...

Now that you have you electric car, you have a big battery, which will die every 6-10 years with current technology. So what to do with the HIGHLY TOXIC and LARGE lithium battery? Can't put it anywhere it will get wet, because then it will react violently and go boom. Can't put it in a landfill because it will eventially leak, causing a HUGE disaster to the local environment. What about nickel? That's great, except for it too is toxic in concentrated amounts, plus it currently is mined in the North Americas, shipped to Japan (via fuel burning boats) turned into a battery and shipped back (more gas!). So with current battery technology, this MIGHT just be a bad idea...

So then what? Hydrogen, right? Yayyyyy.... Has anyone here heard of "The Hindenburg"? Granted the hydrogen cells will be well built, but eventually one WILL rupture in a bad enough crash, and then the it might spark off, since crashed often involve sparks. I can barely wait to see the lawsuits that roll into the courts when THAT happens. Pluse, where do we get the hydrogen? From water right? But how, Daniel? Well you get it by shooting a busload of electricity through it, resulting in electolysis and H gas and O gas. Where does the electricty come from? The friendly little cave dwelling electricity gnomes? Nope.... back to the power plant. So I think driving a hydrogen car might be a bit of a gamble at best.

So what is the answer? Well there are engines in Europe that get 47-53 MPG, AND make good useable power. They are called "common rail diesel engines" and already in widespread use there. Why not here? The EPA won't allow them because the sulfonated fuel doesn't meet out emissions standards. Nevermind the fact that they are highly efficient, and emit way less emissions at highway speeds, we can't have that sulfur can we. Or can we? We have to ask ourselves what tradeoff are we willing to make. Do we protect the ultra rare blue ringed snotty tree slug while millions of Americans lose their houses, families, jobs, and lives because they can't afford to eat or buy gas? Or do we find a LONG TERM solution to the problem? I vote long term. As for electricity, I think that wind and solar may be good solutions. I know South Dakota had constant 20-30 mph winds all day, and a LOT of unused space that would be great for windmills! However, given current battery technology, THAT isn't yet the answer. The only other suggestion I have is possibly a car that is like a train engine. A diesel that is highly efficient which drives a small generator to power the elctric motors in the car, and only runs on demand. Not sure how well this would work, but it beats having everything die off from the lithium leached into the soil from the battery it replaced.
Anyhow, I hope to be in Vegas tomorrow and Monday, then on through the Southwest. Expects somre pivcs of me keeping RTD from walking over the edge of the Grand Canyon... I hope to get to meet some people in Vegas, so e-mail if you are interested! Maybe another meet and greet a la Portland, Oregon. Enjoy the pictures of the Pacific Sunset I've posted!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Deep lakes and big trees...

Yesterday and today have taken me through the rest of Oregon and into California... The scenery has been ever changing from scrubby plains to deep gorges. From Portland I pointed the Bean southward and headed through Salem on my way to Crater Lake. I've seen enough pictures of this place to know I had to go there. The back road I took was worth the extra time as I climbed like Jack up the Pinto Bean Stalk to elevations of almost a mile high at points. The forest itself was an expansive dark green swath bordered occassionally by the kind of clear lakes you find miles from human habitation. Finally the road straightened and the vegetation became more scrubby, and I contemplated settling in for a nap, butthe exit for the north entrance to Crater Lake was fast approaching. As I prepared to turn, I noticed all the signs saying that the Crater Lake exit was still 30+ miles away. Odd, the Garminator say it's here now. Well knowing that the GPS would never lead me astray, at least as long as there was no ghetto readily available, I went ahead and exited and continued on. A short while later I saw a sign advertising the the North Entrance was still closed due to snow. Seriously? Has anyone notified the global warming people that there are still several FEET of snow on the ground just days before summer?? Well I through a quick U-turn and sailed the SS Bean back the ay I'd come and started looking for that next exit, 32 miles away. The Garminator continued in vain to take me down every dirt road that passed by, and when that didn't work, it just started making up roads that weren't even there. I need to find the patch to download to fix the "screw up Daniel" program the GPS came loaded with...

After about an hour, I finally made it to the front entrance to the park, where there were several park rangers, and ambulance, and several asian girls with their arms behing their backs. It appeared as though they were handcuffed, and I wondered just how strict the rangers were with that "No Flash Photography" rule. As I sat there waiting for homeland security to come load the up and take them to Gitmo, I saw one stretch, and realized they were just standing that way of their own accord. Oh well, I guess the terrorist photographers have won. Once in the park I followed the herd of Great White Elephants known as RV's to the top of the rim where I could finally gaze upon the deepest lake in North America. I had planned to go take a quick dip in the icy waters, or at least throw Rockstar in for laughs, but much to my chagrin, this whole "lake in a crater" thing means steep walls and no lake access. Everyone else I told this to apparently knew this, and therefore looked at me like maybe I was a little slow. Either that or they noticed that I was wearing my underwear outside of my pants. Again.

The lake itself is as I mentioned, kind of deep and it checks in at a lung busting 1949 feet at its' deepest. The water is supposedly crystal clear if you get close enough, but I was only able to enjoy the side benefit of seeing the bluest water imaginable. It was a brilliant royal blue as far as the eye could see, contrasting starkly with the ashen colored walls of the caldera as they sloped down to greet each other at the edge. There were random pines scattered along the edges at the flatter parts, snd several feet of snow still blanked much of the area. This seemed a bit odd as I comfortably stood there in my short sleeve shirt, trying to keep Rocky The Destroyer from terrorizing two elderly chinese ladies who were trying to avoid RTD and a heart attack while simultaneously enjoying the view. Since I wasn't able to get to the water, my time there was short, and I was back on the open road to Grant's Pass in under an hour.

Once out of the park the road to Medford was akin to driving through a thirty mile long tree formed tunnel. After a bit the snow relenquished its' grip on the ground and the green forest undergrowth resumed its' reign of the forest floor. The thermometer also steadily changed from blue to red faster than a politician on election year, and by the time I was out on the highway again, I was starting to sweat and RTD was panting heavily in my ear. Thanks, bud. Grant's Pass was firmly in the grip of the more arid climate, but the foilage was still green so therefor I was still happy. After grabbing some Mexican food with a local engineer who was kind enough to treat me, I bid her farewell and set up camp for the night.

Camping was sadly uneventful but at least I slept well! I woke early so I could talk with the 98 Rock guys in Baltimore to update them on my trip, and then I got ready to go. RTD was in a better mood, so I think I'll be able to pass on the vet. I finally set my route to take me to the Redwood National Forest and away I went!

As I neared the forest I drove along treelined roads, craning my neck for the first glimpse one of the giant redwoods. I saw some large trees, but was still relatively unimpressed. Then I actually entered the park, and my perspective changed. I have to say that the height is impressive, but is hard to appreciate when every tree is the same height. The trunks on the other hand are unimaginably huge. The biggest trunks are from the Giant Sequoias, which are slightly shorter than the Redwood, but much broader at the base. I hoped to see the one I've heard of with a tunnel through the trunk, but I never did. After a bit I stopped and walked out amongst the groves, eager to see these goliaths up close. I started to wonder if maybe I should be on the lookout for a Velociraptor, as the whole scene was prehistoric. There were clover with leaves as broad as my hand, and I searched in vain for one with four leaves, but to no avail. The trunks were the size of small houses and I think even RTD was a bit too intimidated to pee on them. I took a minute to demonstrate for him, and he caught on... Ahhh the great outdoors! We walked for a bit among the towers, inhaling the musty scent of the forest mixed with the salty sea air just a few miles away. Rocky ran around and crawled up on some of the bases, and I kept a watch out for Park Rangers who might be eager to handcuff me for bringing my dog in the park. That's a tazin' bro. After lots of pictures we eventually loaded back up and headed for the coast.
As I rounded a curve I saw the fog blanketed Pacific stretching out away from the woods, and I pulled into a turnoff to take some pictures. As I got out I was greeted by a couple of young ladies who'd been attemptiung to bash in their car window after locking the keys in it. They asked if I knew how to break into a car, or break the window. At first I contemplated the fun of seeing if I could punch the hook through a car window without fear of repercussion, but instead asked if they'd called anyone about it. After explaining they were on a road trip and their cell phone had no reception I offered mine after checking that it could make a call. AAA finally agreed to come unlock their door, and I stayed and chatted with them about politics and the state of affairs of the world. It was refreshing to meet people younger than me who seemed to be up to date on politics in the world, and not just obsessed with the image of any certain politician. I also wasn't too keen on leaving two attractive young girls on the side of the road in a huge forest. Sounds a lot like the start of a B-rated horror movie. Besides, The Fugitive has taught me that people will obsessively search for the One-Armed Man if a relative of theirs has been wronged. Thanks Hollywood!
Well after that I headed into Eureka, where here I sit like a moder Alchimides (not naked, or in a water) trying to decide what to do next. I believe I will head down the Pacific Coast Highway in an attempt to get near San Francisco, and then tomorrow start out towards Vegas, and maybe get there on Monday. Anyhow, if anyone has any steak and beer they want to part with, as always you are freee to message me!