Joe Versus the Volcano … of Road Trips

Standard

Let me get this out there … I should have driven another 0.4 miles.

Let me get this out there too … I am Tired!!!

The drive today was not as long as yesterday, not as far, and pretty uneventful in comparison.  779.8 miles today took twelve and a half hours to get done today.  It was a simple run down I-70 from Dayton, through Indianapolis, through East St Louis (is there any other St Louis?), and Breaking South on I-35 in Kansas City for the run to Wichita.

The total mileage from my parking spot in Dorchester to the hotel in Wichita:  1599.6 Miles … yeah, should have taken the long route to the hotel, right?

The plan is to shut it down for a week, kinda.  I have work to do here in Wichita during the week – so I am in town until Saturday morning.  The pup and I are hanging at the hotel with a bar, if that tells you anything, and earning a paycheck.  After that, we wrap this thing up with the last 1400 miles over next weekend.

I feel alright, somewhat energized from the long run, but feeling the ache of early mornings, the stress of staying alert for hours, and (no I am not kidding) the intensity that comes from a pretty awesome audiobook.  I get pretty poetic during those runs and wrote and re-wrote this blog a hundred times over hundreds of miles.  All I got is one topic – a good one – but just the one.

It’s my ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ of road trips.  See, I love the 80’s movie Joe Versus the Volcano – sure the story is clunky, some of the plot points are forced, and some of the acting could have used a good editor/director; but there are brilliant moments in there.  Anyone who actually knows the movie, may remember all the bad stuff – it was generally a flop with critics and box office.  But I name you my top 5 favorite movies, Joe v. Volcano is there.

At around mile 575, I got a call from Jeremy Phillips, and was pretty dogged.  He teased me about the road ahead of me, because I was facing the stretch of I-35 through the Flint Hills, pointing out it was likely going to be the worst part of the drive.  I disagreed, madly disagreed.  After snow blowing over the only mountain range I got to see and instead was left with hours and hours of … well .. Ohio-Indiana-Illinois-Missouri; the Flint Hills were going to be nice.  In FACT, I’ve always loved the Flint Hills.  Sure it’s flat treeless landscape, but it is wide rolling hills with little rocky buttes of flat treeless landscape.  When I thought about how many people don’t like the Flint Hills, I realized … well … you get it .. Joe Versus the Volcano.

So in my tired state let me give you this:

Mitch’s Top 5 Stretch of Roads in the USA:

#5 – I-35 in Kansas thru the Flint Hills – Joe v. Volcano
#4 – Parks Highway North of the Talkeetna Junction in Alaska – running along the south side of the Alaskan Mountain Range complete with (on a good day) Denali staring right back at you.
#3 –  I-70 Colorado – West of Eisenhower Tunnel – winding your way through the Rocky Mountain Canyons
#2 – I-76/ Pennsylvania Turnpike from Murrysville (Pittsburgh Exit) to Breezeville (Gettysburg Exit) — and then the run down the Lincoln Highway (US30) to Gettysburg … but that is more for sentimental reason.
#1 – Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm Heading South of Anchorage, AK.  I dare you to think of something that can beat Turnagain Arm. You try I will throw back something more awesome in return, from glaciers to mountains, from ghost towns to whales.  I DARE YOU!

Alright, I am getting room service and going to bed.

Days of Road Trips Past

Standard

I pulled into my hotel today in Huber Heights, Ohio as my odometer showed I covered 819.4 miles.  The pup and I left the house at 6:45am and it was 9:00pm when we rolled to a stop.    There was snow for most the first 150 miles, but with a major reroute that took me straight out of Mass to follow I-90 across New York I basically saved an additional 100 miles of snow. The snow wasn’t too bad – light & wet – so overall the conditions were good for the drive today.  About the only moment of concern was when I was crossing the Berkshire Mountains in Western Mass, crossed a high river bridge, and felt a crosswind question if the road froze over under my tires.  From there on out, it was a safe trip.

That being said, it was probably the hardest, longest day drive I have done in at least 10 years.  That’s really saying alot for me. I’ve loved the ‘Road Trip’, the longer the better.  Not so much the driving, or more to the point, the hard driving – but the fact that you get to see so much of the world go by.  I enjoy flying, but it always seems kinda goofy that I start a day in one place, and after spending hours in a can, you show up somewhere else.  With a road trip, you see it all.  The towns, the cities, the rivers, the canals, the big plants, the burnt out buildings, the purple mountains majesty, the amber waves of grains.  It’s all there to see, even if they go by at 65 miles per hour.

One of the ironies of this trip is the newness of the roads I am traveling – or more specifically, the lack of newness.  As long as there is not another major reroute, there are two portions of this trip that is on road that I HAVEN’T driven on; and I won’t see those until next weekend.  Today’s drive was smothered in past trips.  With them came memories of those trips.  It was like what kept me on the road was the remembrance of days long gone:

– I driving along the Mass Turnpike in an early morning after a Drum Corps season finale in Boston with (among others) Mary (Tracy) Glerum.  We were carrying a chest full of live lobsters – and as the rest of the van slept, I was kept awake by the ‘click click click’ of the Lobsters fighting their rubber bands.

– I remember being in a bus full of MTU Huskie Pep Band idiots, hung over from a weekend at the Div II Womens Final Four; and we standing out in a cold service center outside of Albany getting ready for overnight bus ride through Canada.

– There’s the time I ditched a vacation to Buffalo and instead drove across the NY Turnpike to visit Lake Placid, Vermont, and Maine for the first time.

– How when Rusty Johnson and I had an audit to do in Buffalo, and we fought lake effect snow to be in … the city that shall not be named (here’s a hint, their river catches fire).

– Or when I used to run hard from Milwaukee to Gettysburg over a weekend to save myself, and I would wake up in a travel plaza in Ohio to my most memorable sunrises ever.

In someways, this day was a let down.  The mountainous views that really get my travelling blood pumping were non-existant, in part because the only real range was the Berkshires and they were clouded in snow this morning.  Instead I was reminded how long it takes to cross New York, how just when you think you crossed it, they throw a 55 mph speed limit, and the countryside east of Buffalo is one continuous paintball arena.  Yet I remembered the days gone by, the people I rode this road with, and that made the trip go all that more smoothly.

Speaking of which, the pup survived the first day as well.  He was concerned most the morning, even nervous & shaking.  Truthfully, he has been off the last couple of days.  I metioned earlier today, I don’t know if I should be worried for him, or impressed that he figured out something big was happening.  He ended up being my armrest for long periods of time, and napped most the afternoon in the backseat.  Now he is happy to be in the hotel, excited for all the new people in the halls, and giving me the look that says ‘lets go to bed daddy’.  So that’s what we’ll do.

Tomorrow is another long day – 730 miles – but probably an hour or more shorter thanks to more reasonable speed limits.  We end in Wichita, down roads I drove nearly continuously for 10 years.  Weather looks good, wind will be at our back, and then we will have a week to shake the road off our coats.  But that’s tomorrow.

The Drive – The Plan

Standard

Well, I am sitting in Dorchester just a scant 15 hours before the pup and I hit the road for a pretty crazy next two weeks followed by some interesting months ahead.  Before I head to bed, I want to have the car packed up to have as little to do in the morning.  That means that between now and bed time, I need to finish laundry, pack three suitcases (two for me, one for the pup .. no, its for his food, you jackass), pack a couple of laptops, finish printing off seven audit checklists for work, get the trash out, the dishes washed, and the house as ready to be locked down as possible.  OH … and I have to do my taxes too.  I’ve spent some time planning the route, trying to be smart while respecting the distance I need to cover.  With that, here is the plan:

Tomorrow is a heavy drive day, usually not a good thing for a first day, but I am racing the weather too.  My goal is to be up at 5am, shower, feed the pup, and be on the road by 6am.  Which means I can accept getting out by 7am, which really means I won’t be on the road until 8 or 9.  The route will take me straight west out of Boston on I-90, before hopping on I-84.  I’ll be on that for a while: thru Connecticut past Hartford, a short cut across southern New York, and to Scranton.  I catch I-81 there but only long enough to find I-80 and the LONG run across Pennsylvania.  No sooner do I get to Ohio, then I move to I-76 in Youngstown, hop onto I-71 south of the C word, then find I-70 in Columbus.  End of Day 1 – a scheduled 13 hours later – is in Dayton, OH.  If I can get to Pennsylvania by Noon, I think I will be doing pretty good, but there is nothing easy about the day.

Sunday then is a little less grueling, but not by much.  It’s a 12 hour drive.  After getting onto I-70 in Columbus, I will stay on it until Kansas City – that’s including Indiana (around Indianapolis), Illinois (thru Vandalia, which the last time I visited there I replaced the battery in the same car I am driving on this trip), and St. Louis (by which I mean, East St Louis).  Then its down the old flint hills road on I-35 until I reach Wichita.

I am working in Wichita all next week, something I had planned to do anyway, just planned on flying there and flying back before this plan came up.  So you could say it is my down time too.

We hit the road again the following Saturday to work through the last two days of a drive.  That part is going to be a bit easier – and pretty straight forward.  9+hours to Albuquerque along US-54 (which is as interstate-y as highways get), then 10 hours into LA.

Yes it’s a lot of driving, yes its insane, but as my inspiration for all things stupid (Jeremy Phillips) once said (then said all the time) … It’s Time to Take Stupid to a Whole New Level.

Where Do You Live These Days?

Standard

When someone asks me “Where do you live these days?”

My current answer is: “Good Question, I don’t know.”

In the last three months, I’ve been away from the condo that I own A LOT.  Ok, maybe you haven’t noticed … I’ve STUNK at keeping up with the blog recently and I know it.  Not that things in my life haven’t been ‘blog worthy’.  Some things have been, but the trouble is that it’s been traveling ALOT, and when I get home, I really don’t want to do anything.  I mean, did you really want me to update you every time snow made it impossible to get around in Boston?  Or for that matter, every time I stuck in Connecticut?  Or clocking time back in Wichita (Ok, that really was Blog Worthy since it was the first time being there since I moved out – and even started this blog two and a half years ago, but we’ll get to that).  The problem was, I was short of any kind of ‘down time’.  I could be writing the blog, but there is just times you want to shut the brain down for a while – and I have had lots of those times.  The problem also was — I just wasn’t home.  I was traveling alot.

As it turns all, all that travel is going to stop, immediately.  No, I’m not kidding.  I am going to spend the forseeable future supporting one plant …

Just one plant …

(Here Comes the Punchline)

… in Los Angeles.

Sometime this weekend, the pup and I will climb into the car and head west.  We are going to stop off for a few days in Wichita to get some work done, the continue on to the LA Basin.  There, we will be housed temporarily until the plant I am supporting fills at least one if not up to three positions we recently lost.

I actually just found out about the move an hour or two ago, and I have reached the ‘this is so insane it is funny’ point.  I had just got done with a good conversation with my boss on Monday how I was hoping that I could slow down my time away from home – and he thought that meant he would have to convince me to go.  It’s a need, it’s the right thing to do, and … it’s a road trip.  Two actually.

And the pup comes with!
— On a professional point, if you know someone interested in a Quality Manager or Metallurgist Position in the LA Area (or General Manager, we have a spots open there too) let me know.

Bear Feed Call For Help – Anchorage Curling Club

Standard

Dear Bear Feeders, I come to you asking for to help out a long-standing part of this blog.  Many of you know that a fairly big part of my Alaskan life spun out of the game of curling.  From just a few months after I arrived in Alaska right up until the last month I was in town I was a curler, sliding those rocks up and down the ice with a broom in one hand and a beer in the other.  The whole of which, I did as a member of the Anchorage Curling Club, an organization that existed five years before Alaska had statehood.  Our clubhouse has a long history as well, last seeing a major renovation to repair it after the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964.

But Right Now – The Anchorage Curling Club needs our help!

The game can be simplified as a game of rocks and ice … yes, and brooms and beers, but you can curl without brooms and you I hear you can curl sober.  While rocks are rocks, ice isn’t always ice. In October, just as the season was kicking off the cooling system in club had a major leak.  As a result, there has been no curling in Anchorage since that day; and the 160 members have no place local to curl.

Before you ask, no they can’t just open the doors and let the arctic air freeze water – curling ice requires precise cooling controls.  Temperatures need to be maintained consistently over the entire length or the stones will not act predictably.  The game could be played on lake ice, that is how the game was invented of course, but not when you are playing at a high level in modern curling — and especially when the junior program is developing some of the best young curlers America.

In order to fix the cooling system, the ACC is looking at two options – one is a mat system that will lay over the current rink.  This option would allow for them to use the system if they ever moved out of the current club to a nicer place.  There is a repair option using an epoxy system into the existing cooling tubes – the benefit of which is that once the money is there the job can be done in a week.   Either option is going to cost around $70,000.

Since the leak occurred, they created a GoFundMe site.  A link to that site is here:
GoFundME Anchorage Curling Club
The ACC has also set-up a non-profit organization (Anchorage Curling Foundation), so any donation is tax deductible.

So let’s get down to the guts of this post.  I am asking you to help support the fundraising to help fix the club.  While I know I am not there any longer, my time at ACC will live with me for the rest of my life and fostered some of the best of times in and out of the club.  Part of which is this blog.  If you took any joy from reading this blog, or any specific joy in the curling posts over the years – then I ask you give back to what started it.  Give anything — $5, $10, $69, or one dollar for every game I won in my curling career ($2).  Anything & Everything helps.

You know I love you guys, now please show a little love in return to a place I love as well.

The Answer’s Probably No, So Quit Asking

Standard

I tried my hardest to avoid writing a fifth straight blog post about the weather, but y’all just kept asking me questions.  The problem is that my answer is most likely No … and then thru gritted teeth.  For those of you keeping track (or ready to poke at me that you are somewhere where the weather isn’t that bad), Boston was first hit by Winter Storm Juno last week then had a suckerpunch that showed up Monday of this week.  Suckerpunch … yeah … the storm was supposed to drop 6-12 inches, but Boston’s Logan Airport reported 15.9 inches.

This means in a 7 day period, Boston has had 40.2 inches.  The most in any 7 day period in Bostonian history.

If you are not sure how much snow that may be – here’s a good way to think of it:  ITS ALOT!

We’re not talking about piles 3-1/2 feet high, we are talking an average coverage of 3-1/2 feet – so to pile up snow, you are looking at piles six to seven feet high.

So, people say to me  — this must be common for you, since you lived in Alaska.  WRONG!  The two years I lived in Alaska, Anchorage got around 60-70 inches during the whole year.  That would mean we would have had two-thirds that snowfall in just 7 days. The biggest snowfall I saw when I was up there was about 10 inches, which is nothing to sneeze at – but it is a half a foot shorter than the LESSER of the two storms we go.

Plus I had a garage in Alaska.

Plus the plows could make it down our streets.

Plus there were places to put the snow.  Talking to one of the city workers the other day, that’s the biggest problem, on the main roads they can bring in dump trucks and front end loaders to move the snow – but on most the 800 miles of Boston roads, they can only fit a small plow and push it around a bit..

Now granted, where I went to college in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we got a lot of snow – around 200 inches a year — but when you get that much, you are prepared for that much.  I swear, the whole city of Houghton was designed to funnel snow on the roads down to a point where they can haul it off by 6am everyday.

This mess is nothing short of frustrating.  It takes forever to get out of any parking, just because you are constantly digging, and wedging yourself in and out, and shifting around your spot.  It takes forever to get anywhere, with most the roads .losing a lane or two from snow drifts or pedestrians because sidewalks aren’t cleared.

And then I got y’all saying things like .. You must be used to it!!

Yeah — like Floridians are used to hurricanes.

Holes in the Piles

Standard

While standing around a plant in Worcester yesterday, one of my co-workers grabbed a tape measure and looked like he was randomly playing with it.  Until he held in a way that one end touched the floor and the other came to just above my hips.  He then said “that’s the snow we got this week”.

The winter storm from earlier in the week remains the hot topic in and around Boston; quite simply because you can’t avoid the impact.  Boston was hit with over two feet of snow earlier this week – notching up the 6th largest snowfall in a storm in Boston’s recorded history, and the largest for a January storm.  Worcester, where I was visiting yesterday and where I will be all week, they got their largest snowfall in recorded history — 34.5″.

I got home to Dorchester on Thursday morning to a new level of frozen hell I wasn’t at all prepared for.  Yes I have lived in places where we have seen a lot of snow, yes I should be used to shoveling, you don’t have to pile that on … but what I wasn’t ready to face is ‘where the heck was I going to park?’

Seriously!

My condo didn’t come with parking (the building as a whole has a driveway for two cars, but one each is given to the other two units – and I get the backyard for the pup).  So I am relegated to street parking, which as long as I knew people who live in Boston is as long as I knew that street parking is an adventure.  My street, Edison Green, isn’t big enough for all the people who want to park,.so many of us park ‘kinda illegally’ in a space where two streets merge creating an open road triangle.  Typically, this isn’t a problem because you can fit a lot of cars in there without blocking the road, and there always seems to be enough spaces for everyone.

The storm changed things, A LOT!  Boston has over 800 miles of streets, and while they have a massive fleet of snow removal vehicles, snow removal is a misnomer right now.  Plows can move down the streets, but the snow has to go somewhere – and right now, they can’t get the big shovels or dump trucks in to move the snow.  Even if they did, they would be focusing on the big roads that are still slowly digging out as well.  For Edison Green, this means that snow is piled up on both sides of the street up to five to six feet high.  Digging those cars out must that were here during the storm must have been a massive task.  Not just from the sense that someone had to move feet of snow off of the car, but you have to put it somewhere – meaning you have to get it on top of that five foot pile, with your five foot pile.  Then when you clear the snow, you have to maneuver your car, which is tight enough on Boston streets when there is no snow.  For the cars that were here during the storm that have been dug out, they leave these huge holes in the mass of snow surrounding the patch of curb.

With that much work, the biggest fear would be that after you cleared that massive hole for your car that when you get home – someone else is parked there.  So, each hole is blocked off with either a street cone, or a lawn chair, or a box, or something to mark it as saved.  The city actually allows this. An ordinance saying you can do that for up to 48 hours.

When I came home, I noticed the situation and started to sweat it immediately.  Literally, panicking that I wouldn’t find a spot – and if I did, it would be a ticking timebomb of waiting to get towed.  I actually got really lucky – at first coming across a big big spot cleared completely with no one putting up something to save it.  In fact it was too big.  The entrance had room only for one car, but the space was wide enough for a second if one allowed itself to be blocked in.  There wasn’t a doubt that I was free to take it for when I got home, but there was also no doubt that taking it would be a real ‘dick move’.  My plan B wasn’t that bad.  This space made for two with one car entrance … well, I could make a second entrance.  It mean taking a hole just big enough for someone to walk through and breaking it open for a car to fit.  It’s still nasty difficult to get in and out.  If someone is parked across the street from me, I usually have to do what I call a “Nascar turn”; in other words, turn into the snow drift so my car bounces off of it and whips around.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are trying to maintain the finish on your car – but I don’t see why anyone would bring a nice car down the streets of Dorchester for this exact reason.

Another storm arrives tomorrow, and we will see how much worse this becomes.  Maybe we will see if the overall snow removal plan is to “let it melt” or actually clear things.