Thursday, March 8, 2012

Midas Touch in Reverse

You remember the story of King Midas of Greek mythology?  Everything he touched turned to gold.  Well yesterday, I everything I touched turned to the stuff I scoop out of the kennel every morning and evening.  It wasn't until late evening that the day turned around and it actually ended on a very bright note.

First thing after coffee I called the heater repairman about the heater in the handler's cabin.  He said he would come out to the house to replace the heat sensor in the cabinet, the only possible cause he could conceive of for the issue with that device.   Then I fielded a call from a black powder customer who wanted to come out and pick up a pretty good sized order for a buddy who lives off the road system.  He said he'd be here around early afternoon. 

Next, I got a phone call from my new dog handler.  He was in the process of trying to dig out his firmly stuck pickup truck, a little two-wheel drive barely legal beater that is barely getting him around.  It was not coming out of the snow without some serious work, so I decided rather than wait I'd just do the morning chores myself.  He has a good handle on the routine so I'm not overly concerned about it.  

After digging out the pen gates in the kennel and feeding all of the dogs I decided to fire up the tractor and start moving some of the new snow that had fallen overnight.  By then (after I shot the photo yesterday morning) we had received another two or three inches, so there was now a good 14 inches or so on top of the dog truck.  I moved the truck out of the way, and started working on removal.

I had just gotten a pretty good start and the project when the fan belt on the tractor broke, shutting down that operation.  I thought perhaps a local equipment rental shop, which has a similar tractor in their inventory, might have a spare to sell me, but couldn't leave the property until after the heater repairman arrived.

While waiting, since the truck was now parked in an area I hadn't yet cleaned, I decided to shovel all the snow off the top of the dog box.  It was a high priority task as was expecting to need it to handle for Kyle Belleque during the Two Rivers 200 race this weekend.  That took more time than one might expect, just because there was so much to shovel, and there are a lot of tight places from which it needed to be removed.

Shortly after finishing that project the proprietor of Total Toyo arrived.  He inspected the installation to ensure it really was done properly (it was), and replaced the heat sensor, telling me it was the first he's ever had to replace, but is the only thing he can think of that might be causing the recurrent EE-12 failure of the device.  He wrote up the bill, and headed on his way.

At that point I really wanted to go chase down a belt for the tractor, but was still waiting for my "early afternoon" black powder customer.  Impatience finally won out, so I posted a note on the door telling the customer of my errand and dashed off to the equipment rental shop.  Unfortunately it was a wasted trip, as they didn't have a spare belt in their shop.  I returned to the house and checked on the cabin heater, what was happily once again showing the EE-12 failure.  I called Dave, the repairman, who was already tied up on another job.  The only solution is to remove the stove and take it to his shop where he can sort it out at leisure (it takes a lot of expensive time for the thing to malfunction).

So, I removed the stove in preparation of that delivery.  My black powder customer still hadn't arrived, so I started doing some work in the kennel, digging out the active dog houses so they remain useable.  That was another high priority task, as the photo below illustrates.

All 18 active dogs houses had to be dug out to remain usable.
I was just getting tools together to do that job when my handler pulled into my driveway, getting stuck while trying to get his little truck turned around for an eventual escape.  I helped push his truck out of the way, and learned he had spent over 8 hours shoveling just to get out of his own driveway.  He had missed one important appointment, and still needed to be in town for a mid-term exam for a class he is taking at UAF.  At that point I had a flash of brilliance, and asked if he could pick up the tractor part and bring it by on his way home from school.  He agreed to that, so at least one worry could be set aside for a while.

Jeff headed out, and started digging out gates and dog houses.  Finally, at 4:00 my "early afternoon" black powder customer arrived, paid for his purchase, and headed back to town.  I finished digging out as best I could with hand tools, fed the dogs and scooped the yard, and got a call from a friend who had gotten her car stuck in her own driveway.  I headed over their to help out, but it is buried way too deep for us to just dig it out.  I'll go by later today with the heavy dog truck and try to extricate her rig.

Back at the house, I finally got around to cooking and eating my supper.  I was tired and grumpy, and half angry that everything I had tried to do all day long had either been for naught or had required twice as much time and effort that I would have expected.

I  had just given the plate to the house dog to clean up when I every dog in the yard started barking and carrying on.  I figured Jeff was back from town with the tractor part, but my phone rang.  That was Jeff, telling me he was just leaving Fairbanks for the drive to Two Rivers.  I looked out the window to see who the heck was making all the noise in my driveway, and was amazed to see a huge Caterpillar 966 loader hard at work moving snow.  That machine is similar to the one in the photo below:

I donned shoes and walked out to discover who was giving me such a wonderful gift.  It turns out the operator got my driveway confused with someone else's, and had no idea that he was working for free.  He did a wonderful job of clearing the driveway and moving the snow piles back to make room for me to dump snow I may have to move later in the season. 

Jeff arrived with the new fan belt for the tractor about 10 minutes later, and when he departed I decided it was time to go to bed, hoping that today will be a little easier to handle.  Just as I was starting to drift off, I got a phone call from Mike Green, to learn that the Two Rivers 200 has been postponed until next week.  Trail breaking crews just weren't able to get the job done in time to hold the race.

On the Iditarod Trail...

Out on the trail Mitch Seavey was first out of Takotna, being slightly ahead of Aliy Zirkle due to the starting time differential.  Aliy was followed by Dallas Seavey, Jeff King, John Baker and Sonny Lindner.  Having completed their mandatory lay-overs, these are currently our official front runners, even though Martin and Rohn Buser and Jim Lanier are shown further ahead on the leader board.  Greg Medred's analysis of a Seavey vs Zirkle shoot-out can be read on the Alaska Dispatch.  There is also a well written analysis by long distance musher Zach Steer in the same publication.

Currently most of the pundits seem to be favoring the father and son, Mitch and Dallas Seavey and Aliy Zirkle as probably winners of the race.  I my opinion it's a bit too early to be discounting any of the front-running teams.  All are well proven mushers with well proven teams, and this one is likely to be a very close race all the way to the end.

Back at the Home Place.

As for me, I still have tasks to accomplish before I can consider getting the team out on the trail.  I have GOT to get that damned heater to the repair shop today, and I also need to buy some groceries to get through the weekend.  I had been planning to be eating 'out' during the race, and that isn't going to happen.  I need to help Trish get her car unstuck and kind of need to 'regroup' based on the postponement of the TR-200.  I'm not sure how the day is likely to progress, but I'd bet dollars against donuts it is much easier to manage than was yesterday.

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