Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Flirtin' with disaster

"Im travelin down the road,
Im flirtin with disaster.
Ive got the pedal to the floor,
My life is running faster."
Flirtin' With Disaster - Molly Hatchet
That damn song has been stuck in my head since last Thursday... I wonder why?

So, anyway, I figured the best way to do this was to give you the bad news first, so we could all enjoy the good stuff later. This post will be all of the stuff surrounding the trip that was either bad stuff, or not directly related to the NoR conference. The conference and shoot itself will have it's own post up later tonight.

Lets start at the beginning, Thursday morning. I get up at 6am, and I'm expecting an easy day where I can get ready for departure in a leisurely fashion; and let me finish up the last few hundred rounds of ammo I had to load, the guns I had to prep, and to pack the truck.

Yaknow that old saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans"...

Thursday ended up being one shitstorm after another at work, and I didn't get ANYTHING done that day until my last meeting ended at 3pm. Then Kommander, JohnOC and I finished the handloading together, while Mel prepped the truck.

Well... during the prepping process one of the legs of our 10x10 pavilion buckled, and we ended up having to go out and get a new one. Then stuf went missing. I ended up leaving the last 50 rounds of rifle ammo un-loaded (we got our 9mm, and .45 and that was the important stuff).

Well, the truck got packed, animals fed, house locked up etc... at a few minutes past 7, and we went out to dinner to set us up for the road; finally finishing up and hitting the highway at 8:40; about two hours later than we'd wanted, but doin pretty good.

We made great time and reasonable gas mileage all the way through 'til central New Mexico, when the wind started getting ridiculous. We had a big cargo bag strapped to the roof, and between that and the cargo box, the sail area was blowing us all around; and would continue to do so for the next five hundred plus miles until we hit about Odessa. We had to re-tighten the straps on the cargo carrier every stop until the wind died down.

Things calmed down, until somewhere between Midland and Abilene we picked up a small slow leak in the left rear tire. I sealed it, re-inflated it, and we proceeded. The slow leak continued through the whole weekend, with us losing about 10 PSI overnight each night; and I was planning on fixing it before we left.

We lost about a hour with various delays, and the tire, but we cruised into Ft. Worth at 11:40 Arizona time, 12:40pm local, having taken 15 hours to go about 1040 miles; an average of just 70 miles per hour, including the gas stops; or just about 75mph without.

... and this is where the "fun" began...

EVERY damn highway is blocked, gridlocked, or under construction. This is Friday after lunch, not Monday at 8:30am, WTF?

We tried to loop up 820, then over to the 35, and up and around (we were heading to Little Elm, north of Plano)... no go. 30 packed, 35 packed, 635 packed. We finally got off onto city streets, and picked our way over to the 121.

That was god. That was a road that would take us where we wanted to go; only Mel was doing the navigating, and getting more confused and stressed out every second.

So, we go by Texas Stadium, and Mel freaks out, "no, thats wrong, no, we can't be here its in the wrong direction we need to turn around now!" and she sends us off some weird other direction.

At this point I'm kinda irritated, and Mel has worked herself up to the point where she can't see straight. She wasn't reading the whole map, just the next five miles or so; if she HAD been she would have seen that we were fine.

Anyway, I took over the navigational duties, got us back on the RIGHT highway, and around to the other right highways, and then finally to the 289 (which is just a big city street with a lot of traffic lights) in Plano (the George Bush and Dallas Parkways were both parking lots); and it was a straight shot from there.

We finally ended up pulling into her brothers house at 3:40pm AZ time (5:40 local); having taken 4 hours to travel what should have been the 47 miles across from Ft. Worth to Little Elm. It ended up being about 70 miles with our detours and turnarounds.

Final tally, 1117 miles, 19 hours, avg speed 58mph, avg Fuel Economy 15.2mpg (hey, it's a fully loaded expedition with a bag cargo box on the back, and a big cargo bag on the top).

So at this point we're all dead wasted; John and Mel having taken most of the driving because I was working all day with my laptop balanced on my knees and a headset stuck in my ear (Yes, I was working on a day we were driving from Arizona to Texas. Fun eh. ) In fact funnily enough my last meeting for the day ended just as we pulled into her brothers driveway.

Of course we were SUPPOSED to have been there four hours earlier so we could clean up and take a nap etc...

We all took showers, then rushed out to run down to Kim and Connies place (about a half hour drive) to be there for the fun little opening party; and a great time was had by all 'til 10pm when they wisely kicked us all out because we had to get up at 6am to get down to the range for the shoot.

We make it to the range, and, as promised, the place is a mud pit... actually more like a tar pit.

We all get elephant foot within minutes; but things get set up in surprisingly little time considering; and we're off to the races.

Here's some more pics

This is what I mean by "elephant foot" if you aren't familiar with the term. Actually this is an almost non-existent case of it. I had mud clumps a full 3" thick all the way 'round my boots.

"Errr welll... fuck... I hate this shit..."

I'll save the days range report for the next post; except to say that very little bad happened and lots of good; which is what this post is all about.

From my perspective, the only bad things were the heat, the humidity (about 95 degrees and 100%), the mud, and the genius who shot a steel plate from 10 yards with a rapid fire .308; which of course holed the plate, and sent shrapnel flying, cutting two people.

Oh and I managed to break the recoil spring on my commander; a little bit before I expected they usually last me more than the 7000 rounds or so I've got on this one; but it was at the end of the day, and I had a spare, so it didn't really cause me too many problems.

So, the next day dawns bright and clear... and that lasts for about a half hour. The rain starts just as we finish re-packing the car (not long) for the trip to the range; and by the time we get to the highway its coming down so hard we can barely see. Theres lightning EVERYWHERE. We manage to get through Dallas and are heading south on the 45 when we actually see ball lightning.

Seriously. Two lightning bolts hit the ground at most a couple hundred yards away from us, and as the bolts finish, a glowing irregular sphere of lightning inflates up like a balloon from the ground, and then explodes with a crack. It was incredible.

...but it was also a bad sign for the continuation of the shoot.

We call up Combat Controller, who's driving his tricked out 7 series, with his side seater looking at the weather map on his mobile wireless internet (ok, I admit, I would have been too, but my mobile card broke last Wednesday, and they couldnt send me out new gear before the shoot. It was waiting on my door step when I got home). There's solid red cells completely wrapped around us, and will be pounding us for the next couple hours.

Of course by this time we're only a few miles from the range, and we've got a bunch of crap we need to pick up sitting in the storage trailer down there, so we head in, pack up, and head back to Kim and Connies.

While we're unpacking the truck to do some show and tell, and to bring out the cookies Mel baked for the occasion (which were much loved as always), Mel accidentally closed the truck door on my left pinky. My hand was on the B pillar, and the front edge of the door nearly sheared the damn thing off, half popping it out of joint in the process.

Not completely dislocating it, but mostly. Hurt like a son of a bitch. Hurt worse when I popped it back in (I've dislocated it before playing football. I've popped it back in before too. Sucks every time).

I went into the house where everyone asked what took us so long out there, 'pon which I said "Oh, that bloodcurdling scream you heard out there was me screaming and crying like a little girl".

Still hurts like an SOB by the way; and is stiff as hell; but it moves, and it functions, that's all I care about.

Anyway, the rest of the day was great; and the day ended without incident with us going out for a really good steak at Texas Land and Cattle... well without incident except Kommander getting a full tray of cokes and cowboy beans spilled on him.

That's not a disaster, that's comedy gold.

Oh and let me take this aside to recommend Texas Land and Cattle. They serve probably the best steak of any mid-grade chain steak house I've tried. Dinner for four with drinks, two appetizers, and four dry aged steaks was $170 including a decent tip (sounds like a lot unless you think about how much a Ruths Chris would charge for the same meal - about twice as much for maybe a 10% better steak).

So next morning I go to repair the leak, and my brother in laws air compressor just isn't up to the job of re-inflating my tire from dead flat; plus it's a pain to find the leak, and Wal-mart will do the deed for $10.

So we head down to the Wally World, where they take in the truck, and then 25 minutes later page me saying they wont do the repair, because I'd already used sealer on the tire, and their policy is not to repair tires that have already been sealed.

It's a silly policy but at least it's understandable. I just wish they'd told me that BEFORE they wasted a half hour of my time.

Anyway, I had them mark the hole for me (they spray soapy water around the tire until they see blowing bubbles, then use a tire chalk pencil to mark it off). There was only one relatively small hole to plug, so I figured no problem doing it myself, if I had an adequate compressor.

We drove around looking for a place within easy reach that had an air tower, but this neighborhood is one of those "ready built in six months" type places, and there isn't a gas station with an air compressor within 5 miles.

So I grab a new plug kit and some yellow slime (great stuff by the by; it seals just about anything), and head back to the brother in laws house resolving to use my high pressure storage tank, which I brought with me for just such an occasion, and then just use the little compressor to keep topping up the tank.

Anyway, I pull the valve core, slime the tire, plug it, replace the core with a new one (always replace the valve core when you pull one out. They're cheap anyway), and everything is ready for me to re-inflate.

The high pressure tank got the tire up to 25 before pressure in the tank and tire equalized, and then it was down to cycling the compressor up to the tank, refilling the tank to out 80psi) and then adding another 5 psi into the tire; which took for-frikken-ever.

The good news here is the tire was great (and we checked all the other tires and the spare just for good measure), the repair was smooth and easy. The bad news of course is that we'd just lost two hours.

We didn't manage to hit the highway until 11:40 local (9:40AZ - kind of a weird coincidence how all these departure times are on the :40 mark). Then we're almost out of Fort Worth, when we hit something on the shoulder of the road, and start wallowing.

30 seconds later and we're on the rim, crawling down an offramp to get to a safe place to change the tire, which looked like this:

We get the car into a safe position, check out the damage... ooooh boy. At least it looks like the rim is going to be salvageable.

Only one problem, the spare wont crank down. Ford trucks have a little winch with a retainer on it that cranks up to hold the spare in place; and of course cranks DOWN to release the spare.

Only one problem, the spare isn't coming down more than a couple inches. It's loose, but not moving down any further.

Even better, while I'm trying to get the tire down, another SUV (a Jeep Grand Cherokee) pulls up right in front of us with the same problem. Looks like she hit the same thing we did. Only she's having an even worse day than we are. Her father died the day before, then this morning she'd had a hypoglycemic fainting attack fallen down and cracked her eyebrow open. She was driving home from the hospital, with her dead fathers personal effects in her car, when she blows the tire out.

Anyway we help her out as well, Kommander helping her jack up the car; while I calm her down (she's having another attack. Stress and not enough food, bad combo); and we get her tire changed.

Then I wedge myself under the trailer hitch, because the only angle where I can get my arm in under the tire is that wedged position (which hurts like hell by the way), and I get a light up in under the tire to see if I can fix the problem.

There's a hairpin clip that holds the crank to the winch on the spare; and the pin had slipped, so the crank wasn't cranking down. Thankfully the pin was right there, just not engaged with the winch; and I was able to pull it and re-seat it.

Squeezing in and out under the hitch a couple times bruised the hell out of my ribs; but I got the tire out, and the rim back under; and it got us mobile.

We finally pass the Ft. Worth limit at 2pm local; and if all goes well it's going to be 14 hours or so to home.

Thankfully, everything DID go well, except a bit of rain, and skirting some INCREDIBLE thunderstorms.

We also stopped in Sweetwater for Lunch/Dinner at a place called "Bucks Steaks and Barbecue", which was absolutely excellent. Great food at just above the hole in the wall level. Not quite barbecue on paper plates, but the meat was as god as that. The sides weren't as good, but they were all you can eat, with a $9 two meat combo plate.

Oh and Kommander bought a hat. An honest to god black, Rodeo King, double felt, steam shaped C-Crown cowboy hat (a Pro-5x specifically). Personally, I prefer a pinch crown 4" brim crushable felt drovers style (which is why I own one).

Anyway, we lost about an hour and a half getting dinner and the hat; but I think we were all happy with the results.

Of course by the time we get to about an hour outside of El Paso we're all dead knackered, and it's seven hours more to go; so we traded off at two hours each 'cept Kommander who was pretty much dead, and was supposed to go to work at 5am, who tried to get some sleep.

We finally made it home a bit after 5am; Kommander and JohnOC had to call in, and I was dead today. From the time we started out, 'til the time we ended home was almost 20 hours.

I haven't done the total gas numbers yet; but it was about $480 and we averaged a bit above 15mpg. Total mileage was about 2500. Total drive time including local about 42 hours.

I ended the weekend with a dislocated finger, sore knees, and bruised to hell ribs.

Was it worth it? Hell yeah.