Posts Tagged ‘sam’

Salty view

August 26th, 2011 3 comments

I had seen in my mind’s eye the photograph that I wanted: Sam on the white Bonneville Salt Flats with the Silver Island Mountains in the background.  I had not imagined the lady screaming at me in Spanish.

If you take the most direct freeway routes, you can get from Salt Lake City, UT to Boise, ID in a bit over five hours. The drawback to that route is that you miss one of Utah’s most impressive natural features: the enormous salt flats to the west of Great Salt Lake.  I decided to take the slightly more scenic route, which would bring me through the salt flats in general and the Bonneville Salt Flats in particular.  The only drawback would be an extra 100 miles added to my journey for the day, pushing the time behind the wheel to around seven hours. I knew it would be worth it to get that photo.

There were a variety of ways to get from the pavement of Interstate 80 onto the salt itself.  The simplest approach would have been to simply drive off the freeway and onto the salt; there were no fences, the salt was about 10 feet from the road, and the only thing between the tarmac and the salt was the gravel of the shoulder.  However, there was a lot of debris along the road, and it wasn’t clear how solid the shoulder gravel really was.  That, and it wasn’t clear if pulling off the freeway like that would have been legal.

Another alternative was to go to the Bonneville Salt Flats State Park, but that was a bit off the freeway, and I didn’t want to pay any admission fees (I later found out there weren’t any).

Thus, the third alternative: the rest area.  There was a little rest area alongside the freeway just east of the Nevada-Utah border.  It had hundreds of feet of frontage on the beautifully white salt of the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Better still, it had low (~2″) curbs along the border of the parking lot.  The kicker was that there were no signs saying not to drive over the curb and onto the salt, so… well, you can guess what I did.

Sam on the Bonneville Salt Flats, with the Silver Island Mountains in the background

The photo session went well, and I was just about to drive back over the curb the other way when a middle-aged woman came running at me, screaming in Spanish.  My escape was foiled.

Luckily, I’ve become so relaxed on this trip that encounters with such people do nothing to break my cool demeanor.  I let her ramble on in excited Spanish for a while before telling her that I had no idea what the hell she was saying.  Pro tip: don’t use profanity to tell an angry person that she is incomprehensible.  More agitated Spanish spewed forth, this time with arm waving.

Eventually, I ascertained that the lady was in charge of keeping the rest area clean, and she was pissed that Sam’s salty feet were going to spoil her supposedly salt-free curb… or something. There was salt everywhere already, not to mention dozens of tire tracks attesting to the fact that I was not a pioneer in driving over the curb.  In fact, I chose that spot to drive from the parking lot to the salt in part because there were so many salty tire tracks already there.

I like how the clouds and mountains lead to a gap to frame Sam

I figured it wasn’t going to do much good to point out the lack of signs at the rest area, the existing tracks to and from the salt, or the fact that she didn’t have the authority to stop me.  Instead, I lo siento‘ed and shoulder shrugged my way into a compromise: I would drive Sam over a section of curb about three feet to the side of my original route, and in return, she would not get run over.

I felt a bit bad for her as I sped away.  The view was great at that rest stop, but it would be a miserable spot to have to work all day, every day.  However, if she didn’t want people doing what I and many, many others before me had done, a sign would have been sufficient.

Sam kills a bird

August 23rd, 2011 2 comments

On countless occasions, I’ve seen birds flying on collision courses with cars.  Yet somehow, they always seem to swoop out of the way at the last second.  I wondered if it was even possible for a small bird to strike a car mid-flight or if perhaps the air flowing around the car would prevent that from happening.

Today I learned that birds can indeed hit cars.

I was driving Sam along I-80 in Wyoming, idly listening to Chiddy Bang’s The Preview, when I noticed a small bird flying somewhat out of control towards the freeway.  I was doing about 85 mph (er, I mean 75, natch), so the bird was closing in fast.  It seemed like it was going to move out of the way at the last second, just like all of those previous times, but then…


It seems that Sam jumped up and head-butted the poor little bird.

Bird feathers and bird grease on Sam's forehead after a high-speed encounter

Look closely at that photo: those aren’t bird droppings, they’re bird feathers.  There’s some white stuff, too, which I can only describe as “bird grease.”  Keep in mind that this photo was taken a few miles down the road, so what’s present endured at least a few minutes of high-velocity wind. Clearly, there was solid contact.

I admit that I didn’t confirm the kill, but I doubt a little bird could survive a collision like that.

Tags: , ,

The Tire

July 4th, 2011 Comments off

I was speeding up the Alaska Highway from Fort Saint John towards Fort Nelson when it happened.  I think I was admiring how similar that part of British Columbia looks to the river valleys of Indiana and central Minnesota: rolling hills, farms, deciduous trees, and so on.  The only major difference was the occasional appearance of chemical facilities alongside the road.

One in particular caught my eye, and my gaze drifted from the road to the plant’s sign. “Sour gas processing? I wonder what sour…”


My eyes immediately jerked back to the road, then up to the rear view mirror to see what I had hit.  Rapidly receding into the distance was an enormous pothole.  I had seen countless potholes already in the short time I had been traveling on the Alaska highway, and although the earlier ones had been large and deep, they were easy enough to avoid.  Easy enough, that is, when watching the road.

Poor Sam.  Just a day earlier, I had been in a Walmart parking lot repairing his windshield from a rock chip.  The pothole encounter threatened to be far worse.

With my heart thumping, I turned off the radio and felt and listened for any sign of mechanical distress.  Any new noises?  Any vibrations? I concentrated intensely.  After several seconds, I became satisfied that nothing was amiss, turned the radio back up, and sped up to about 100 mph to pass a truck.

In hindsight, that was stupid.

A couple hours later, I stopped to stretch my legs.  While I was out of the car, I happened to glance at Sam’s driver’s-rear tire.  What I saw made my heart sink: a huge bulge in the sidewall.

That's going to be expensive...

Sidewall bulges are bad news because they can cause blowouts.   They can’t be repaired; the tire must be replaced.  Based on the mark on the rim (which thankfully was not bent), I figure the impact with the pothole snapped some of the tire’s cords, causing the bulge.  Sam had a spare tire, but it was just a temporary, and those aren’t good to use for long distances.   And a long distance was exactly what I faced.

I was about 60 miles before Fort Nelson at the time I noticed the bulge, so I decided to press on.  I arrived at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday; most everything was closed.  Fortunately, one of the two tire shops in town, Kal Tire, happened to be open, so I pulled in there and talked with one of the guys.  Unfortunately, they had only a single tire of the right size in stock, and it’s bad practice to replace only a single tire in an all-wheel drive car.  I weighed the risk of a blowout against the potential damage to Sam’s differential.  I also considered the high cost of the tire, which would have been around $200.

Complicating matters was the fact that I was in an extremely remote part of the country.  There wasn’t much between Fort Nelson and Whitehorse.  Not even cell service, for the most part (though I could have fallen back to the satellite phone).

In the end, I decided to press on the 600 miles to Whitehorse.  I knew that the tire could fail at any time, but if it did, it would probably not mean a loss of control since the tire was in the rear.  The presence of the spare increased my comfort with the risk.

The next day, I began the drive.  It was the slowest 600 miles I have ever driven: at no time did I exceed 60 mph.  That limited the stress on the bad tire and reduced the chances of loss of control should a failure occur.

Along the way, I encountered numerous large animals on and near the road: dozens of black bears, a few moose, some elk, some caribou, a few goats, some big-horned sheep, and a couple of herds of bison. Yes, bison.  I didn’t think that their range extended so far north, but there they were.  I was thankful that I had hit a pothole instead of a large mammal.

Bison along the Alaska Highway. Don't want to hit one of those.

It was a beautiful road, one of the most scenic that I have driven.  It was also, fortunately, an uneventful trip.  I reached Whitehorse without any difficulties.

The search for replacement tires in Whitehorse was not so simple.  Very few tires of the requisite 225/60R17 size were to be had in Whitehorse.  Canadian Tire had a few in stock, but none of them were very good (according to the Tire Rack reviews), and at any rate they were at least 50% more costly than in the States.

Since Sam’s other three tires were still in good shape, I wanted to replace only the bad tire.  As I mentioned earlier, that’s normally ill-advised with an all-wheel drive car due to the stress on the differentials, but after reading about the subject for a while, I decided that replacing a single tire was still the most economic course of action.  If the circumferences of the tires were similar (within 1/4″ or so), the stress wouldn’t be too great. I conveniently ignored the potential differences in level of grip.

Given the high cost of new tires in Canada, I decided to go the used route.  I found a guy named Art advertising used tires on Kijiji and gave him a call.   As luck would have it, he had some tires of the right size in stock!  I drove over to his place, a couple miles from downtown Whitehorse, to give them a look.

Art was working on a Hummer H3 when I pulled up to his house and workshop.  He was a husky fellow, with blonde hair and a jovial personality.  All around his workshop were piles of tires. Some were sorted and labeled, while others — the new arrivals, I would learn — were simply in piles.

Tires, tires everywhere

I took a look at the tires he had mentioned and found them to be a matched set of four in great condition.  However, I needed only one tire, and Art was understandably reluctant to break the set.

We talked for a little while, and I described my trip to him.  It turned out that he had moved to the Yukon from Winnipeg, and that he and his wife spent winters in the Philippines.  After a little while, he suggested another option to me: I could look through the unsorted tires and see if I could find a single tire of the right size.  So I did.

After about 15 minutes of digging through mounds of tires, I struck gold: a 225/60R17 with 8/32″ of tread left, the same amount remaining on Sam’s existing tires.  It was a different brand, Bridgestone instead of Continental, but beggars can’t be too choosey.  Art dug around too, and he found another tire of the same size, a Goodyear.  That gave me not one but two options.

Amazed at my good luck, I chose the Goodyear, and soon the old Conti was in the pile headed for the dump.

The old tire

Everything turned out fine. Sam got his game face back on.

Sam on the Alaska Highway


July 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Now that the trip is finishing its second week, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about my horse car, Sam.

Sam as a new car, June 2010

Sam has been a trouper on the journey so far.  About 10% of the total miles for the trip have been covered, and he has done it with aplomb.  He just keeps going and going.

One of the major expenses for the trip is gasoline.  Sam’s EPA rating for highway mileage is about 25 MPG, but thus far on the trip he has far surpassed that.  With the AC going pretty much all the time, and at 70+ MPH speeds on cruise control, he has been averaging about 28 MPG.

He laughs at hills.  He blows by other cars when passing.  He handles well, even with the 150 pounds of cargo box and hockey gear sitting on his hitch.

Sam on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper NP

The only problem so far occurred just outside of Dawson Creek, BC when a mean ol’ Nissan kicked up a rock that put a star in Sam’s windshield.  Given the nature of the chip, I knew that it would evolve into a large crack if not promptly treated, so I stopped at the first store that I knew would both be open on a holiday (Canada Day) and stock the necessary salve: Walmart.

I got the repair kit, found some shade in the parking lot in the shadow of an RV, and set to work.  Things might have gone better if the syringe hadn’t had a crack in it, if the RV had stayed parked, or if the adhesive donut applicator thing hadn’t failed under pressure (spewing resin all over the place), but I think the repair was mostly successful.  The chip is still visible, but the star pattern is mostly gone.  Sam will be getting a new windshield soon anyway due to a crack that’s mostly concealed by my Minnesota State Parks sticker, but I’m trying to delay that as long as possible due to the hassle of finding a replacement on the road.

Sam has surgery after taking a rock to the forehead

What Sam needs now is a good bath.  He looks like a good Subaru — that is, muddy — but I don’t think the numerous bugs are good for his paint.  I’ve sprayed him down a few times along the way, but I really need to spend an hour or so to give him a long soaking and maybe a new coat of wax.  Wouldn’t hurt to vacuum his interior, too.

So yes, on the car front, everything has been great.  I’ll do my best not to make you hit a moose, Sam!

Tags: , ,