Sunday, December 17, 2006

News flash!

I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcast for this bulletin. The plan was to finish the tale of riding in the big storm that just passed through. That was an adventure all its own as I rode around to check on family. I'd never been hit by a flying roof shingle before while riding. Can't say that anymore. There's more but it will have to wait a day or two.

As I write this I'm in Kirkland, Washington. Home is now 286 miles South of me. We have a big meeting at headquarters first thing in the morning. It will last until around 4 PM. Which means I would have had to get up at about 3 AM, travel for hours, sit in a meeting for hours, then travel home for hours. The worst part is commuter traffic up here. I-405 between I-5 and Kirkland is horrendous. The last time I was up here I left at 1 PM. Three hours later I'd travelled the great total of 53 miles. This time I thought I'd come up the night before. There's a Comfort Inn about two miles from the office. Good thinking, huh?

Maybe, maybe not. I'd planned to leave home about 2 PM. That would allow for a somewhat leisurely trip up with time for a bite of supper and all that good stuff. When I got up this morning everything was frozen solid. Some people were coming to look at the Oldsmobile which is for sale. At 9 AM I was scraping ice off the windows and trying to thaw out the door locks. The folks ended up buying the car. Later on the sun came out. It was still pretty darn cold but it doesn't seem so bad when the sun's smiling on us. The sunshine led me to what might be my big mistake.

With my understanding of the weather forecast, it looked like it would be cold and clear for the next couple of days. Since this was just a trip up and back for the meeting, I figured I'd ride. It's only natural, right? After all, it's who I am, it's what I do. Cold weather is easily handled by my Widder electric vest and an extra layer or two. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

The trip started out real nice. It seems so easy to deal with freeway traffic when you're riding during a somewhat sunny afternoon. It was actually pretty awesome. No rush, no hurry, no worries. Until the sun started going down. I reached down to turn on the vest. Widder makes this really neat thermostat that's really more of a rheostat. You can turn the knob to get exactly the temperature you want. Unlike the other thermostat they sell. That one works like your home furnace. It gets hotter than you want then turns off. After it gets colder than you want, the vest kicks in. The average is supposed to keep you comfortable. That doesn't work for me. I like the precision available with this particular thermostat. Noticing that there was a handy hook and loop strip on the leg of my Roadcrafter pants, I put a corresponding piece on the back of the rheostat. Presto! I have only to reach down to my thigh to adjust the temperature. Today the temperature didn't adjust. It didn't do anything at all.

Checking connections as best as I could while riding, I was pretty sure I was wired properly. Just no action. So for a while I played stoic and dealt with the cold. I'm a tough guy, right? Still, there was a perfectly good vest under my jacket. This little voice in my head kept telling me that I actually could be more comfortable if I stopped and messed with the thing. So we ended up in a rest area for some troubleshooting. It's not real easy to take the body work off Sophie that accesses the battery. After a little struggle made worse by the cold, I found a blown fuse on the connector. Having the foresight to carry a spare I figured my problems were over. Not.

There was still no heating action. I know it seems weird, but I carry a little multimeter with me. The rheostat isn't doing anything at all. It's broken somehow. Oh well, I'll just deal with it. Riding in the dark, freezing my "you-know-whats" off, and dealing with heavy freeway traffic is altogether a different experience than in sunshine. It was hard to get off the bike when we got here. I managed without falling off. That's when I experienced a different kind of fallout from this storm.

As soon as I stepped into the hotel lobby the clerk told me they were sold out. I told him he better have my reservation or I would sleep in the lobby. Turns out they had a room for me. The place is full of refugees. I'd seen a lot of evidence of downed trees on my journey North. Some places looked like they'd been logged. The freeway was covered in evergreen shrubbery. Up here a lot of people are still without electricity. It's been long enough that quite a few are holing up in hotels. This particular hotel is nice without being too spendy. I'm on the bottom floor. There's about five rooms on this end of the hall that are inhabitable. The rest are hanging open with carpet ripped out. Seems this storm brought some heavy flooding down here.

There's other things to deal with, as well. I put my stuff in the room then went out to find food and fuel. The Shell station across the way has a sign that says they're out of gas. The Chevron has about half the pumps working. The lines are long and people are not patient. Some woman in a brown Volkswagon micro-bus pulled into the pump ahead of me. Which means she squeezed around the bike. Then she proceeds to back up. She's within about 18 inches of the front of the bike and still coming. I let go of the pump trigger and literally banged on her back door. Then she had the audacity to be mad at me for hitting her van. I stayed calm, finished my fueling, and just got out of there. By the way, I like Washington's self-serve. Oregon is one of two states left in the nation that doesn't have it. Just insert card, pump gas, take receipt, and go!

Next on the agenda was food. I didn't want a sit-down meal out. My search for a Subway or fast food yielded nothing in a couple mile radius. So I tried the Denney's next door. They were packed like cargo in a shipping container. The Pizza Hut next to Denney's said they stopped taking orders because they were 30 pizzas behind. So it is back to the room. I have some Gatorade, some Bar-B-Q jerkey, some nuts, and some dried banana chips. It's going to have to do. Was it Thoreau that said:

"I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet couch"?

I feel for all those hit by the storm. We got some of it. Our power was out for about 36 hours. I saw a lot of devestation. To still be without the electricity we've become so dependent on after all this time has to be tough on everyone still affected. It feels like somewhat of a madhouse up here. It actually feels good to take refuge in this little room.

Now the guy on the radio is saying there's a small chance of rain. Temperatures are supposed to dip into the low 20's. The high tomorrow is something like 34 or 36 degrees (f). I can always hike to the office from here. Who knows what it will be like going home tomorrow night? Does the weather forecast mean there will be freezing rain or ice? I always claim to crave adventure. One should be careful what they ask for!

Now it's time to see what this Hunter S. Thompson is all about. Gary's got me curious. I'll crack open "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" until I fall asleep.

Miles and smiles,


Combatscoot said...

Sounds like your rheostat has shorted-out. Not a convenient time for that to happen, but when is it ever? Sounds like you have the makings of an adventure. I really hope you get home safely. It's funny to think of folks in the Northwest dealing with the effects of a hurricane, normally reserved for us Gulf Coast luddites. This world's gettin' STRANGE.

Dru_ said...

To quote my favorite line in the Hitchhiker's Guide movie. 'Best laid plans of mice & men', huh well I don't think men had anything to do with it :-).

Have a safe ride home!

Steve Williams said...

You are definitely one tough, dogged rider to push on through these sorts of weather events. Reading your post I find myself torn between feeling happy I am warm and cozy in front of the computer and disappointed that I am not engaged in more challenging rides.

I hope you find a way to get heat and keep the tires stuck to the road. Be careful out there on the riding field!


Bill Sommers said...

I've read Hunter S. Thompson, but frankly, as long as you keep pushing the envelope, I'll read Musings of an Intrepid Commuter.

Whenever I feel like I'm putting my head in the lions mouth, I come across another soul that has gone in already, and knocked the lions teeth out.

I'm inspired.


dan_durham said...

I've now officially seen a street sign get leveled like it was a toothpick, just like on those live CNN hurricane reports. It was bad all over - I heard down south got it really bad and from your post here I know that's true.


irondad said...

You're probably right about the rheostat giving up the ghost. I'll check it later. The weather guys said the wind on the coast was high enough to qualify as a class 2 hurricane. Weird, indeed.

You have to wonder, don't you?

Tough or crazy?

Glad I can inspire. Although it might be one of those cases where I inspire people to avoid doing the weird things I do!

We all got it bad. It would have been interesting to see that street sign.