Sunday, July 6, 2014

Never underestimate the value of a nap in the problem-solving process

I bought this four-wheeler in 1995. That makes it about 19 years old.  After I had paid for it and loaded it into my truck, I walked into the dealer's shop area and asked for the manager. When he came over I told him I had just bought the four-wheeler, it was paid for and now I wanted an honest answer. What can go wrong with this machine, what breaks, what spare parts do you think I should carry?
The map shows waypoints recorded and transmitted from my SPOT locater.
Waypoint 1 at the right is the cabin and Waypoint 8 at left is the trail head.
That's the Talkeetna River winding across the top. Talkeetna is to the west
(left) past the edge of the map.

He looked at me and said, "Nothing, they always come back. Get a tire repair kit and you’re good." So far he's been right, I haven't even needed the tire-repair kit, but that run almost ended yesterday at least in my own mind.

Let me explain a little of the mechanics involved first. You can't start this four-wheeler if it is in gear. I imagine that's a safety feature on most of  them.  There are three indicator lights: one red if the engine oil is overheated, another red one tells you you are in reverse gear and one lights green if the machine is in neutral. That green light has to be on or the engine won't start. There is no other indicator to let you know what gear you are using. To shift gears there is a kick shifter, one down for reverse after you hold in a mechanical button and four up for forward gears. Occasionally if I leave it in reverse when I turn it off, it will be difficult to shift out of that gear to start it.

With that said, over the July 4 weekend at the East Pole, I pulled a heavy load of firewood up the hill to the cabin, some of what I left at the bottom in March. Next to the cabin I had to stop on a steep bit of trail, I was backing up, but had to stop and I locked in the parking brake and shut the machine off. Then I unloaded the firewood, unhitched the trailer and moved it out of the way and went to start the four-wheeler to set up for the next run down the hill.

No green light. I kept kicking the shifter upward and still no green light, I figured it might somehow be jammed tight against something and I tried to relieve that pressure by pushing it forward a little. Wouldn't budge; I’d try to kick the shifter up out of reverse but still no green light. The red reverse light wasn't on either but I couldn't remember if that came on when the engine wasn't running.

To keep this post at a reasonable length I'll tell you I wrestled with that machine for more than an hour, even involving the come-along using it to pull the machine into different positions on the hill to try to relieve that tension so I could start it. When I finally gave up it was 50 feet down the hill from the cabin and still silent. By that time I had been thinking of possibilities. In addition to a number of mechanical experiments I could have tried, I also started thinking about leaving it there and walking out to the trailhead, about seven miles of hilly, muddy trail and me not exactly in the best shape of my life. I wasn't going to do it in 2 hours and 20 minutes. I also realized I hadn't eaten in a while and maybe wasn't thinking clearly.

So, I left it and hiked up the cabin and made myself  a hamburger. Of course, what follows a filling lunch? A nap, of course. This is the Bush after all. I laid down for a while, hoping to sleep and maybe wake up with a solution. But there wasn't going to be any sleep; my mind just kept churning. On one side I was figuring out the logistics of hiking out, what I was going to have to leave there, how I could get the four-wheeler under the porch to protect it. The other half was thinking through the difficulty with the four-wheeler looking for an answer.

After maybe 20 minutes of no sleep and a lot of thought, I started thinking through reasons why that machine would not shift out of reverse. As I thought about it, all the shifting I had tried was up, up toward the forward gears. At times it felt like it had shifted but the green light did not come on and the machine wouldn't start. As I thought further, I realized when I had moved it downhill it had gone fairly easily, but kind of chugged with that sound an engine makes when the spark plugs aren't firing. Why would it go forward if it was in reverse? It occurred to me I had been so convinced the transmission was stuck in reverse, the idea it might be in another gear never even came to mind.

It slowly dawned on me that I might have been shifting it into forward gears and that's why it refused to start. My last thought before attempting to fall asleep was I should try downshifting one gear at a time and see if at one point the green light shined on.

Of course. with the simplest of all solutions burning in my brain I wasn't about to fall asleep any time soon. Eventually, giving up, I put on my clothes and boots and headed downhill. I kept thinking it can't be this simple. Still halfway planning my walk out, I sat in the seat and  carefully kicked the shifter down one. It felt like it had shifted gears, but no green light. I kicked it a second time and again it felt like it shifted but no green. I kicked it again, turned the key and, voila!  A green light. I hit the starter button and the engine fired right up. The darned thing had been in third gear, not reverse. I raised my arms and gave a victory shout to the fans watching from the woods. That was when the wave of stupid washed over me.

In a previous post, I mentioned one of the benefits of living alone in the Bush is when you make stupid mistakes no one has to know about it unless you want them to. This was one of those, but all in all it's pretty funny too, so, I can take the ribbing. I'm just glad I didn't have to test myself on that trail. Of course, there is some satisfaction in keeping the 19-year  performance record intact, despite the spates of pilot error.

Incidentally while I was out there, we had enjoyed three beautiful hot days. By hot, I mean you couldn't even hold onto the door knob for any length of time.  The next day, I drove out, loaded everything on the trailer and headed for home. A couple of miles on the highway and I stopped for a snack. When I emerged from the store, I felt the first drops of rain. I drove the rest of the way home in a downpour. If I had hiked, I figured I would have been about halfway along the trail to the trailhead when the rain started.  I'll take it. Plus now there is at least a winter's worth of firewood under the cabin. Only four more­ years to go.

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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

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