Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Adventures in the Snow

Yesterday, Dave left to retrieve the travel trailer, aka spare bedroom, for the upcoming Holidays. We're expecting our kids plus one for both Thanksgiving and for Christmas. We have a 3 bedroom house - one for us, one for wool, one for exercise equipment. There is a loft bed in the exercise room that no one likes and a hideabed that is serviceable. The trailer makes it much nicer for guests, especially for a couple. :-)

Snow and cold weather was predicted some time ago, so we knew it was coming. ...right.

Sunday evening, the kitchen sink drain started leaking - a lot. One of the fittings on the P trap broke and let the connection come apart. Well, an "easy" fix, right?

The ground was white on Monday morning, but bare and wet on the roads with a "forecast" to stay above freezing for most of the daylight hours.

We live on a hill. It's not just any hill, it's a pretty steep haul from the valley floor to where we are, plus we're in a cooler micro-climate than the valley, often with frost, ice and snow when the valley is just wet. Sometimes, it only takes going the half mile to the main road to get out of the slippery stuff. There are 6 semi-direct ways to get up here from the Auburn-Sumner area, one major state highway (hwy 410), two main multi lane arterials, and 3 windy (windey?) local roads. All are steep and long to get up the 300' or so to where we live.

So, I asked Dave to phone me about the conditions of the road when he got to the valley floor. He did. "It's just wet", he says. "Go for it", he says. "It's easy", he says.

Well, I had to take the sink apart, let the dogs go potty, find the car keys... FIND the car keys. The Honda keys were a.w.o.l. That left the pickup (which was a good thing in the end). The pickup that was still attached to the horse trailer, parked on a slope where I was going to dump the bedding.

Sooooo, I managed to pull the trailer and pickup up into the upper driveway with a minimal amount of sliding, but no go on backing up to park the trailer. It wouldn't move even a foot backwards. Well, I figured on trying it again from a better angle, so pulled it around into the middle driveway and up the slope at a faster pace, sliding around the curve. Yes! It went up the steep part of the slope, but again wouldn't back up the lesser slope to its parking spot. Yet again a third time I tried, this time going toward the garage to back it up going down the slight incline. However, this time I couldn't even get up to the upper driveway. Plan C - back up and park the trailer next to the Honda in front of the house. That worked.

Time is ticking away. The roads are still wet, but it's now almost 4, and snowing lightly. Still, Lowe's is only 10 minutes away, should be plenty of time to get there, get the parts, and come home. I was even going to the bank along the way.

Driving down the hill was uneventful, people were driving up and down with no obvious trouble, though I noticed someone had slid into the deep ditch some time earlier. At the bottom of the hill - about 2 miles from home - it was completely different. The roads were slick, the snow was coming down hard, and it was blowing. What???!! I kept to my plan to get to Lowe's and get the part, but dropped going to the bank. I did NOT want to spend the next 2 days without a kitchen sink!

My truck is 2WD, has regular tires, and is light in the rear (pickup trucks are rear wheel drive). I slid where others didn't. It was tricky getting going from a stop, so I ran a few yellow-to-red lights. Got to Lowe's, got help, and the parts! I held old and new up side by side and carefully compared. They looked like a good match. (Remember the puzzle with 2 drawings and you get to find the differences? I usually find all but one - pretty good, I thought.)

It took about 30 minutes from when I left the house to heading back. That 30 minutes made a huge difference in the road conditions and the traffic. The road leading up to our hill was packed with snow and ice. The vehicles going slower than I could walk. As I crept along in line with everyone else, I wondered whether people were actually getting up the hill, or were turning around and coming down, wondered whether I could even get turned around if my truck lost traction on the hill.

Finally, at the very last option for turning around before the hill started, I did. I was going to walk home. I parked at Game Farm Park, only a couple miles from home and ordinarily an easy walk.

Of course, I took my cell phone and the sink parts - I wasn't going to leave those fateful parts. At least I could wash dishes and fill water buckets for the animals in the kitchen sink!

Then, Dave talked me out of walking. It was getting dark, the hill has no sidewalks and little shoulder to speak of. I was wearing a light colored coat, but had no flashlight. Les Schwab was still open and not far away. I went back to get chains. They were busy, but happy to sell me chains, and to install them in the now blizzard like conditions.

The change in the truck's handling was immediately obvious. The truck no longer fishtailed when starting to move, and I was sure I could stop. Now I would be able to turn around and come back if the roads were blocked.

I knew the shortist route was already choked, but I checked anyhow. Right enough, it was at a standstill a half mile away from the start of the hill. I turned around again, and tried for option 2, another wind-y local road. It took a long time to get there. Everyone was more or less sanely creeping along.

At the turnoff for option 2, it looked like a few people might be getting through, but more were sliding and effectively blocking the road - and this route started with a small hill - the steep sections were out of sight!

Option 3, further down the road, was closed off with flares. People were parking on the ample shoulder and walking. A few brave(?) souls were going up anyhow. They disappeared into the blackness and I couldn't tell if they actually made it up, or slid and parked. I still had options, so continued south, winding along the bottom of the hill.

No one was even trying to get up Option 4. It is the steepest and most winding of all the ways up the hill.

Options 5 and 6 come together at the East end of Sumner. I got to the turn at Option 5 (multilane arterial), just to see the police blocking it off, and routing traffic around.

I turned, as directed, and went into a mini-mart just past hwy 410. What a mess! Cars were everywhere. No one seemed to care which lane they were in, whether they were going forward or backward, or who was in the way.

Highway 410 (option 6) was going to be my drop dead backup plan. It is the least steep, but most out of the way, route up the hill to HOME. I could hear tires spinning and above me, I could see all the cars on my last hope route stop and go creeping... mostly stopped. Somehow I was going to get HOME. I needed to be there for the dogs and the sheep.

Okay, I thought, I'll go back to Option 3, park, and walk the 5-ish miles home.

As I started through the intersection leading to the closed Option 5, the police were gone and several cars ahead of me drove around the barricades and up the hill. Why not?, I thought, I don't have much to lose besides a long walk in the snow. The chains were working well, I could stop and start again, turn around if needed, and there was no one stuck, blocking the road that I could see.

Driving in the oncoming lane wasn't comfortable, and I expected to see flashing red lights in my mirror or oncoming traffic any second. A couple hundred yards later, there was a train of about 7 vehicles successfully heading up the hill! The leader kept the pace to a steady 15 mph and the rest of us followed.

It's about 1.5 miles to the top of the hill. There were several abandoned cars, mostly off to the side of the road, tire tracks testifying to their futile struggles to stay on the road. Then, we made it all the way up and past the barricades closing the downhill lanes! Only about 5 miles to go, and now mostly on flat roads!!

At about 8:30 pm, I arrived back at home, safe and mostly sound, "only" 4 hours after I started out on the 30 minute trip.

The first thing I did was test fit the plumbing pieces. ...and test them again. ...and turn them upside down, swapped them, and tested again. ONE thing was different. Remember the puzzle? One end was female threaded, and so was my exit pipe. After all that, the dishes are now soaking in the bathtub.

Tomorrow, they say, it's supposed to thaw.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tracking Dog!

About three weeks ago, October 24th, Dave and Winnie, Clifford and I competed in the Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association's AKC Tracking Dog test. The grounds were beautiful and allowed good viewing for spectators, and for videotaping the runs. Both dogs passed their tests! Winnie for her first title - Winroc Winsome Winifred, TD, and Clifford to become -

Ch. Briarbanc Brych Red Dog, TD, RE, AX, OAJ, OF, JH, CGC.

Clifford's video is on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pztay-55xHw

(I was having "issues" getting the video into the blog itself.)

It rained during his track, and you can hear and see it on the video. He did a terrific job - after he got through his first turn. Watch on the video. We overshot the corner by about 15 to 20 yards before he worked back and committed to the turn away from the camera. On the last leg, Clifford is coming toward the camera and gallery. It is a view one seldom gets to see of a tracking dog. Watch how hard Clifford is concentrating on the track. He doesn't even notice the gallery until they start cheering after he finds the glove.

Good dogs, Clifford and Winnie!

- Franna

PS. For those of you who aren't familiar with AKC tracking tests - the dogs have to follow a course which was plotted by two judges the previous day, then walked by a stranger to the dog 30 minutes to 2 hours prior to the dog attempting to follow the course. The start is marked by a stake with one more stake 30 yards out along the first leg of the course. In the Tracking Dog (entry) level, there are 3 to 5 turns, both left and right, each leg of the course is at least 50 yards long, and the total length is between 440 and 500 yards. There is an article belonging to the tracklayer at the start, and one at the end, typically a glove. The dog must follow the course by scenting, and find the end article. Most dogs take 6 months to a year in training before they're capable of passing the test. They only have to pass once to earn their Tracking Dog title. Tracking tests are in such demand that dogs have to be "certified" as ready by a tracking judge before they can even enter a test!