Monday, August 30, 2021

Major Equipment Failure


I'm back in Colorado Bend State Park this morning. (May 17) 

I know - been here, done that - many times - But in my defense, though fully vaccinated we're being pretty slow, OK - really slow, about coming out of COVID mode, (This was obviously before the June data that showed, despite the Delta variant, excellent news for those that are vaccinated and not so good news for those that aren't.) The Van is already past-due for an oil change which (shudder) will require interacting face-to-face with other people, (This park is only 3 hours away limiting the miles required) and time for squeezing in one last trip before the summer shutdown (due to high heat and the hoards of school-free vacationing families) is running out fast.

As for the weather today - Don't let this sunrise photo fool you.

If I turn around the sky looks a whole lot more foreboding, the high river tells of lot's of recent rain, and the forecast for the day, in fact the whole week, is pretty iffy.

It's definitely a Tilly and not a straw-hat kinda day.

But that just encourages me to hit the trail this morning for the most popular destination in the park.

Because of the crowds it attracts it's been years since I've made it down to Gorman Falls, but with today being a Monday with a near 100% certainty of rain, I'm going to take my chances and see if I can sneak down there while there's a high possibility of solitude.

There is a trailhead only a mile and a half from the falls, but I would actually have to drive The Van to get there and you know me. Instead I leave The Van where she is and set off on foot the long way-around.

Which has some of the local residents asking "What the hell are you doing here?!"

OK, this sort of over-reaction hurts! I mean I know I'm not the prettiest thing out here, but I did brush my teeth this morning so was this really called for?

On my way up the river towards the falls

I do make note of several potential shelters, though visibility is such on my way back that I can't find them again.

But maybe that's not such a bad thing since I'm not really designed to be squashed flat when the ceiling falls in.

Throw in a little sun and it would look kinda idyllic wouldn't it?

But after a lot of recent rain these spiky bad-boys

drape their overladen selves over the trail where they claw at the legs of those foolish hikers.

But with a lot of fancy footwork, and more than a few pain-driven expletives, I make it to this bridge.

Last time I was here a massive chunk of the adjacent oak was laying in the middle of it and I had to sidle my way past. It's obviously been cleaned up now and there is no apparent damage to the structure.

From here I'm only a few tenths of a mile from the falls, but not only is the horizon out there, along with the increasing frequency of distant thunder, fore-telling the accuracy of the forecast,

a couple of those tenths are a bit of a challenge as the trail drops down

 to the lush, junglely base of the falls,

where I encounter another solitude-seeking hopeful already there. (She had passed me earlier on the trail, which isn't surprising considering my generally slow pace.)

I leave her to her solitude and wander off upriver a little ways to locate a decent lunch-spot.

Eventually she has her fill, or maybe the ever-approaching grumble of thunder has something to do with it, and  I'm able to move down to the viewing platform

for my own moment of solitude.

OK, here ends the photos of today's hike, because now the thunder is right on top of me, the rain starts falling, I tuck the camera into a dry-bag and then into the pack, pull the rain-cover over the pack, and don my rain-gear, because I can tell by the leisurely approach of the thunder this morning that this is a slow-moving system and is going to be on top of me for a long time, especially since we are both going downriver.

You remember my rain-gear from a few trips back?

Well I've had this rain-suit for years and it's always done the job well. But shortly after wrestling it on today I notice that the rain is really cold. I mean cold enough that I can feel it slicing right through my rain-jacket and shirt to chill my arms.

But after less than a quarter-mile and some epic thunder-claps I figure out something is seriously wrong here!

My arms are cold, my legs are cold, I can feel the cold running down my socks into my boots and - well damn-it! What the hell is going on?!

I used this rain-gear a few months ago and it worked just fine, now, after just a few minutes in the rain  I am completely soaked!

Granted it is epic, wind-whipped curtains of rain, but still!

One of the reasons I bought this particular rain-suit long ago was that it was made out of recycled milk jugs.

Despite it's origins, the process resulted in a soft, comfortable fabric that is waterproof.

Great stuff!

Up to a point anyway - - -

Turns out that my bio-degrading milk-jug rain-suit went from fully functional to fully sieve-like, in the space of a couple months!

So in the middle of a tempest worthy of Shakespeare I find myself desperately trying to shelter under a tree as I down-pack, drag out my poncho, re-don-pack, and throw poncho over it and me.

Ahh - that's better!

Not me - Just some random guy off the internet

Still wet, but at least I'm not getting any wetter, (if that was even possible by this point) and let's face it, those built-in rain-covers on our packs actually do a pretty crappy job of keeping them dry (hence the need to keep sensitive stuff stored inside waterproof bags) but a proper poncho does a great job at keeping a pack dry. And a lot of other things too that rain-suits can't. (Hummm, I sense another post coming out of that.)

Anyway - now, pretty comfortable despite the wind-driven rain slashing at me while nearby thunder-claps slap at my body, I'm able to complete my hike in near luxury.

And I was even blessed with a spell of afternoon sun to dry out my gear, including that rain-suit, OK non-rain-suit. After all, it was made from recyclable plastic so why shouldn't it be recyclable as well?

OK, according to the guy at the recycling center it's not, so I ended up carrying it around for nothing when I could have just trashed it right there in the camp dumpster.

Oh well, one more case of trying to do the right thing only to get slapped down.

Monday, August 23, 2021

What's Wrong With This Picture ?

 What's wrong with this picture?

I mean other than the lighting is flat, the composition is crap, and it's a little difficult to read. (A photo 'reads' when it's easy to see what it is of or trying to convey. I mean can you tell that's Dad's bench with his hiking stick propped up in it looking out over the pond way over there all alone in the far corner? Probably not!)

Well I'll tell you what's wrong - The Van is missing!

I dropped it off 100 miles away for an oil change, a glaring red Safety Restraint System light, and an emissions recall.

Before doing so I moved some of the stuff I use most every day from The Van to the workbench.

The hand-weights I use for my workouts, the fully loaded pack I carry during my laps around the property, the sunscreen and bug-juice I apply every morning (It's been a really wet summer around here so the bugs are baaadd!) the folder of un-worked sumuko puzzles, and my portable DVD player with a full charge and a fresh - well nearly fresh - disk which is part of the lecture-series entitled What Darwin Didn't Know. The Modern Science of Evolution, Oh, and my go-to-town hat as well.

What I didn't remember was my go-to-town rain-jacket. (Did I mention that it's been a really wet summer around here?)

I dropped The Van off day before yesterday and not only is she not coming home today, I'm still waiting to get the service inspection checklist back from the service advisor. (Last night he promised it by this morning. Well it's already nearly 0630 and I still haven't heard!!)

I feel like I'm missing a limb. Like my balance isn't quite right, like my life is in a sort of limbo.

I know. Pretty pathetic isn't it. But The Van is a big part of my life. It's my man-cave, my bug-out bag, my sanctuary, my partner-in-adventure, and I'm really feeling that hole there beside the barn where she belongs.

There are only 6 thirty minute lectures on that DVD and I'd already watched one of them before this vehicular postpartum started. You don't think they'll keep her more than 5 days do you?!!!


It actually turned out to be 9 days before I was allowed to go bail her out!!! I believe that was due in part to the fact that my service advisor only works 2 out of every three days and I suspect nothing got done on The Van when he wasn't there. But to be fair, the SRS light was a broken wire and I know from lots of experience that those can be a bitch to track down.)

Monday, August 16, 2021

Oh Man! Here We Go Again - - -


The first part of this was originally written April 19

When I get the tool-case and a bucket full of miscellaneous crap out, it's never a good sign.

Four years ago I had to rebuild this hydraulic cylinder on the front-end loader hanging off the tractor.

With my level of mechanical ineptitude it took three consecutive posts to chronicle my misadventures, starting with this one where I went back and forth, and back and forth - and back and forth - between the main barn where all my tools are kept and the tractor barn where the - well - tractor - is kept.

I eventually got the 20 minute job finished up in about three days, but that was just one of four cylinders on the front-end loader.

 Fast forward four years and yep, (big sigh) another one is leaking now.

No - not really leaking so much as gushing like an incontinent old man after a night of playing (badly) beer-pong.

Every time I put pressure into the cylinder a solid stream of fluid the thickness of a pencil-lead gushed forth. Of course I discovered this as we were using the loader to lift a 100 pound window-mount heat-pump onto a cart up on the deck of The Wife's barn so we could roll it inside and replace the old one who's bearings had failed to the point where the fan-motor wouldn't spin at all but rather just groan that dreaded locked-motor groan. (Which was arguably better than the God-awful rattling and clattering when it did spin!)

So it was with great trepidation, and a handy container of additional hydraulic fluid on the foot-board beside me, that I lifted that brand-new, and rather expensive, heat-pump unit seven feet into the air with the leaking loader to reach over the railing of her deck.

We all survived and the wounded tractor festered there beside the deck as we installed the new heat-pump.

I wasn't near as nervous about lifting the old unit off the deck (I just told The Wife to stand well clear and if it fell it fell) and putting it on the trailer so we could drop it off at the county recycling center, (For a $25 fee) but it's a good thing we switched to using environmentally friendly hydraulic fluid some 10 years ago (Even at the best of times this tractor is a bit weepy) because I left trails of the stuff all over the driveway and back down to the tractor barn - where the tractor sat, red-tagged and forlorn, until my new rebuild-kit arrived in the mail.

Which it has, so now procrastination time is over and I could think of no excuse  not to head down to the tractor barn and fix this thing - And I did a lot of thinking! - Not a project I was looking forward to!

This time, harking back to what I learned the first time I did this, (Hey, I'm inept, but not an idiot!) getting the piston shaft out of the cylinder was - oh - about five times faster. But I did still have to use a pipe-wrench instead of a proper wrench to get the gland out of the cylinder because I just don't have a wrench that big.

I also left the cylinder body attached to the loader this time because I was going to have to do that anyway to get the gland loose. At first I was just going to leave the hydraulic lines hooked up to the cylinder,

but even before that thought finished flitting through my mind I realized that if I did that I'd have to pull the piston out against the full resistance of the hydraulic system. Yeah - that wasn't going to happen! So I broke the fittings loose so I could pull against air and not fluid.

With the important bits in hand I grabbed my bucket and tool-kit and headed back up to the main barn where I could perform the real work at my somewhat clean bench.

I was careful to compare the orientation of the old bits and seals and stuff with the new,

 then with a #11 blade, cut the old bits out, (The first time I did this I used a brand new blade, but this time I just used whatever blade was in the handle.)

Though when it came to the gland-nut there wasn't a lot of cutting involved, more like picking out little bits and pieces of the disintegrated rod-wiper and U-cup. No wonder it was leaking so bad!

The new bits are way too hard to bend and stretch and coerce into place at room temp.

I watched several youtubes where experienced mechanics recommend simmering the new bits in 180 degree hydraulic oil to make them pliable.

Um - Yeah - No thanks! I was involved in a hot-oil incident, several hundred gallons worth, (there were flames! Lots of flames! and I was five decks down inside the engine-room.) when I was building Navy ships. I'll stick to plain old hot water thank you very much!

Maybe it was because of my extensive experience - you know - having done this once before - but the new bits-n-bobs went into place a whole lot easier than I remember from last time and it wasn't long before I was off to the tractor barn to put everything all back together again - and top up the severely depleted oil reservoir.

And yes, the tractor is back in service again - - - so now I need to go pick up those four 100 pound boulders The Wife has decided are in her way - - - Wait! Remind me, how is this a good deal for me?!

- - - BONUS - - -

How many of you fell off your chair laughing when you looked at the photo above?

Well of course I put the gland back on the shaft the wrong way around the first time! After all, I have a reputation, a certain expectation, of mechanical idiocy to maintain here!

When this second cylinder failed I tried to buy two of those rebuild kits, after all, after fixing this one there are still two untouched cylinders on that loader and the odds are pretty good that at least one of them will also fail, and soon, but at the time the supplier only had one kit in stock.

I have since been able to get my hands on another and it is on the back of the bench for next time the tractor starts dribbling.

Edit - July 1:

So come mid May I had to use that replacement re-build kit to deal with leaking from the third cylinder. And I turned right around and ordered a fourth kit because - well - even I could see where this was going!

And yes, a few days ago, right on schedule, the inevitable. The fourth cylinder was regurgitating fluid out the wrong orifice.

I very confidently grabbed the necessary tools, headed on down to the tractor barn - and promptly fell flat on my face - success wise.

I'd already done this successfully three times - you know, getting the gland-nut out of the cylinder. Granted, I was doing it with the wrong tool, but the pipe-wrench was the only one in my limited inventory that came close to doing the job.

Only this time, the fourth time when my confidence was at its highest, it didn't work - and my flight-too-close-to-the-sun came crashing back to earth as I chewed the crap out of the aluminum gland trying to get it free.

I filed fresh flats on the gland to improve the wrench's bite. I tried a little bit of heat. I tried a lot of heat. (Damn! Certainly shouldn't have grabbed it there with my bare hand just after setting the torch down!) And I tried 48 hours of soaking in WD40 while peening around the cylinder with a small hammer every couple of hours to encourage the oil to penetrate.

Nope, still not budging.

Finally I resorted to sending an SOS to my mechanic brother.

Following his instructions I drilled a dimple into the gland, (Because of weird lighting the dimple is deeper than it looks here) angled a punch into the dimple, conservatively tapped the punch a few times with no success, then whacked the tar out of the damn thing with my biggest hammer!

After repeating my angry-man-whacking-a-mole a dozen or so times I got the gland backed out far enough to make the rest pretty easy.

A real mech-head would replace the gland at this point. Fortunately for my bank account I'm not a real mech-head, so I just cleaned up the mangled bit, (This photo is pre-cleaning) installed the new O-rings and seals, and reused it.

I'm beginning to think that if I do this three or four times a week for a couple months I will actually gain a level of - well - less suckyness - at performing this job!

Oh - and yes, even though all four cylinders have now been rebuilt I just ordered another rebuild kit just so I have one on the shelf, because I often find that being prepared for a possible event, such as seal-failure, is the best way to prevent said event from happening in the first place.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Going Out With a Bang - OK, More Like a Whimper

 By tonight I will no longer have the campground to myself, but right now (Friday Apr 29) it's still early, just shy of sunrise, so I have time for one more hike before the crowds move in tonight and I clear out tomorrow morning,

so I might as well make it a serious hike.

At just under 7 miles it's not the longest hike of the trip by any means, but since about half of it is up on top of Haynes Ridge, 6 to 7 hundred feet above me, it's no walk in the park.  -  OK, Technically it is a walk in the park, but you know what I mean.

And to make it more of a challenge, by making the hike counter-clockwise I will be coming down the Mildly Terrifying section and I don't know about you, but I've always found going down steep stuff more difficult that going up, both physically as well as mentally, and I don't think I'm alone in that. (The fire department never rescues a cat that got stuck going up a tree, it's always the coming down that gets them!)

For the umpteenth time this trip I set off on foot up the road in order to reach the trailhead about a mile away, only this time, probably because I know I'm on my way up there, the heights of Haynes ridge loom heavy off my left shoulder under the variable clouds.

Once I reach the official trail head that first half mile is pretty straight-forward, though there are a couple dips and swoops in the trail that make mountain-bikers question their sanity.

The end of this first segment is defined by that notch up there. A notch that is always fiercely windy even on calm days because it s the only opening in the divide between the North and South Prong Canyons.

Once you get through that notch, usually twice because you've had to go back and retrieve your hat after the first attempt, the terrain starts to get a little more serious.

Except you don't know serious until you make that sharp left a third of a mile later onto the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.

You see that arrow up there?

If I use all the zoom I have, you can see that's pointing at another trail-marker sitting right where the trail tips over the lip between ridge-top and ridge-face. And it's my job this morning to get from here to there. (and beyond, but we'll worry about that when we get there!)

Ahh yes! Breath deep. Don't you just love the smell of - well - Permian dust and flop-sweat in the morning? (What the hell do I think I'm doing?!!)

But before I can cover that last little bit of flat trail the solitude is broken by the growl of a small engine as this group passes me.

But it wasn't entirely unexpected.

Back at the trailhead I encountered an assortment of vehicles and work-trailers

festooned with the TXCC logo.

And I had already spotted their encampment out there at the nearby backpack camping area.

 Fortunately for me, the side-by-side dropped off a few trail-workers and went back to get the rest while that first batch stayed put and made final preparations for the day.

Also, they were only working on this first steep part of the trail so wouldn't be following me up onto the ridge itself,

so by locating that trail-marker at the base of the climb and quickly slipping on by I was able to get out ahead of them and never saw or heard them again.

( As I start the climb it occurs to me that I have a 40 year old daughter - oh, sorry kid, 39 for another month or so - so technically every one of these conservation corp kids is young enough to be my grandkid.  - - - Again - - - what the hell do I think I'm doing out here?! )

I wonder of this is one of the sections of trail the work-crew will be "fixing" today?

Within a few short steps up the climb the vista of the North Prong Canyon starts to unfold.

And continues to unfold even more

every time I stop on the way up for a breathless look around.

Alright alright - yes - breathless as in the more literal sense of the word rather than the scenically driven figurative sense , but give me a break! It's the equivalent of climbing the steps to the top of a 60 story building - and like The Big Bang Theory, the elevator here is permanently out of order!

but finally there's only a few more steps to go before topping out up on the ridge!

If you check out the topo you will see that the ridge-top is never very expansive so from the trail, precariously tiptoeing along its blunted-knife edge, there are views of the various canyons below

on both sides.

OK, a few days ago it was a seemingly random photo of my boots on the trail that I can't, for the life of me, figure out why I took. So if anyone, anyone at all, can come up with a halfway credible reason why I took a photo of my fingers today I'd really appreciate it, because this apparently pointless randomness is starting to get worrisome!

I believe that this trail up here on the ridge is the only one in the park that is a true trail and not actually a small road.

But then again, these days it would take a helicopter to get a vehicle up here.

I qualified that helicopter statement with "these days" because as you get toward the western end of the ridge there are some areas that, with a little imagination, you can envision being used to graze animals,

and sure enough, there are indications that that's exactly what was going on at some time in the past.

But to be fair, 'sometime in the past' Haynes Ridge (circled in red) wasn't only traversed by this lonely and difficult to reach trail (in yellow) but was connected to the flat and highly accessible high plains on the western end (very top left corner of the image) with a track (green) that was good enough for pack animals to traverse as well as driving livestock along.

Changing land-use, the park boundary, and adjacent private land have long since cut that track off, (though the gate is still there) but it is a reminder that the ridge wasn't always as empty as it is today.

But now, when I get to the trail intersection on the west end of the ridge, marked by this ground-hugging, delicate little fruited cactus about the size of my lens-cap,

I only have a few choices. All of them involving dropping 6 to 7 hundred feet down a steep trail, But only one if those is a route I've never taken  in the downward direction before.

Oh I've been up that Mildly Terrifying route a few times, but never down. You know, because that whole down-is-harder-than-up thing which immediately turns Mildly Terrifying to Significantly Terrifying!

But - well - me being me, i.e. slightly defective when it comes to certain things, including making smart decisions - today I'm going to close the loop and take that trail down into the canyon below.

But hey! I said I was slightly defective, not stupid!

So when I get to the edge, the spikes go on,

because that first step is a doozy!

I wish I could say that I stood up there on the precipice and let out an almighty, and manly, roar before stepping off the edge

and easing myself down, and around, and down, and down some more, to a rather mild, if precarious, traverse,

only to be dumped out into another one of those down situation,

followed by an off-camber traverse on loose rock, followed by more down, and so on and so on.

Yeah, I wish I could claim that defiant roar - but truth is there was no roar. In fact there just might have been the slightest bit of whimpering involved. 

But you can't prove that so I'm not admitting to it!

After a bazillion years of clinging to that "trail" with fingernails and spikes I made it to here.

On the other side of that bowl-shaped hole just left of center is my escape path.

If it wasn't for that airy drop where the other half of the bowl used to be, going this direction isn't as bad as going the other way. Especially since I know that where the trail disappears behind that bush on the far right is where the final decent starts.

And from the top of that decent I can see camp way out there at the far end of the canyon, or at least where my camp is. (You know, old eyes and all.)

That ledge sneaking around behind that Smart-Car sized rock is the one that lures the uninitiated hiker. It's not until you shuffle around that point out there on the now barely boot-wide ledge that you realize that the ledge pinches out on the other side into nothing but air and gravity.

But I know better - now - 

and all I've got to do is negotiate this one last drop before I can stand on the canyon floor with manly, if distressingly grey-haired, chest all puffed out at my accomplishment.

From down here, on the wide, stable ground of the canyon floor, it's tempting to turn around and thumb my nose at that ridge that I've now conquered both ways, but the reality is that ridge couldn't care less if I'd been there or not.

Besides, it's likely I'll be back one day, so it wouldn't do to piss it off!

Can you see that tiny little vertical white streak up there?

That's the mark of a nesting American Kestrel, a member of the falcon family that nests in convenient cavities, preferably ones with a view over their domains.

From here it's an easy stroll back to camp and it's time for me to leave the canyons to their rightful occupants because in the morning I'll be heading to San Angelo, which I already wrote about here.