Linux's Witness Ministry
I'm here! I made it to beautiful California. But it wasn't easy! After finishing packing my rented truck, I was ready to leave (Cincinnati, Ohio) Thursday afternoon. This truck had a big Ford van front and a box that was 180"x90" and 11' high total. Anymore, I'm nervous driving anything with an internal combustion engine, but driving this monster was less than relaxing. And now I was hauling ALL of my stuff. All of my most valuable tools, photos, clothes, computers, etc. And to top it off, the insurance situation was pretty shakey. Apparently this thing came with all state minimum liability, but any further insurance cost so much that I declined it. Doh!
So off I go. My plan was to head down to the tip of western Kentucky towards Paduchah and then drop down to Memphis. Unfortunately, the Kentucky freeways are made for Kentucky people and apparently not me. I took not one, but two wrong turns! First, I saw the sign for 65 and I thought, oh shit, I thought it was 64. I never was any good at memorizing numbers, so I thought I must have remembered it wrong. Doh! Almost immediately, I relized that I had blown it. Conincidentally, in Loiusville (which is pronounced 'Loo-vull') there is an I-65 AND an I-64. Grrr. So I had to drive 9 miles down that to the first exit to turn around and then 9 miles back. Next I got confused between the Western Kentucky Parkway and the Purchase Parkway - see, I can't get it right with names or numbers. That was another 20 mile round trip.
Finally towards about 1:30 am I got to the border in Tennesse. Some guy pulls up behind me and says, "Ya ain't god no lats in da bag." Oh great. I pull over and sure enough, no tail lights. So I put on the flashers and drive to the next exit and pull into a closed McDonalds. I stood at the payphone in the howling cold wind and called the number painted on the side of the truck.
After 20 minutes on hold featuring New Age music with wind sound effects for added irony, I got to say "Hi, I'm cold and I have no taillights, what should I do about that?" I was thinking that maybe this is common and he'd tell me how to fix it. God knows I had every handtool known to mankind. Hell, I probably could have rebuilt the transmission. He gave me a toll-free number to call and told me that a guy would come out to fix it. I called the number. It was a friendly customer service person, but from an organization that had absolutely nothing to do with fixing trucks. Twenty more minutes on hold and he connected me with the real number directly. Ok, they were sending a guy from back in Kentucky. A guy from deep in western Kentucky who is usually a mechanic, but was then sound asleep.
While I waited on that, I popped open the back and dug around for my electronic tools' toolbox. I got out my mhometer and checked all of the fuses. All good. Hmmm. After some napping in the cab, this guy shows up in an ancient cop car that looks like it has barely survived the filming of the Blues Brothers. He took my word for it that the fuses were good and got out a creeper and started to explore under the truck. That's where my truck-husbandry ends. After a bit of poking around, the lights come on a bit confirming that he's on the right track. But he decides that a certain connector is bad. I suggest that he just cut it out and splice the wires and be done with it. He concurs. But first we need to go to the magical kingdom of Walmart which will sell us the crimp-style connectors at 3:00am.
So I go buy some food while he plays around under the truck. I come out and see how he's getting on. He thinks he's about done. Since I had the key, he didn't get to test it. I suggested that he get back under the truck and play with the wires while the lights are on to see if his repair worked. It didn't. At this point he started getting pretty pissed off. It was freezing cold and there was a ripping wind. I finally got under the truck too on the grubby Walmart tarmack and held my flashlight for him. After much screwing around, I said "What's that?" All this time I thought it was a bad wire. The connector thing was his idea (and I checked it out with the meter after he cut it out and it was fine). Well, there was another connector for the box's wiring harness. He fiddled with that for a bit and blink- there was light, unshakable light. So first rule of computer technician work "Is it plugged in?".....
And off I went. That little incident set me back about 4 hours, but I was doing ok. I made it from "Home of Vice President Al Gore" to "Home of President Bill Clinton" (yes, they have signs that proclaim this). That's where I took a nap break and slept through the morning. In the afternoon, I crossed Arkansas and Oklahoma. By evening, I had made it to Texas. My goal was to get well into New Mexico by my next nap. But shortly after Amarillo which is in the middle of the Texas panhandle, I started to get tired. I figured it was bad karma to drive so sleepy, so I decided to take my nap right there in Texas. I had really wanted to hit New Mexico, but my map didn't show a rest area at the border. It turns out that there was actually a rest stop there and my life would have been a lot nicer had I gone there.
I slept for about 3 hours and woke up fine and ready for progress. It had been drizzling when I stopped, and when I woke up, there was some ice on the windshield. I figured it was a bit of sleet - no big deal. So I pull out of the rest stop and - Oh shit! Bad, bad plan. There was about 1/2" of snow on the freeway! That was definitely not my idea of a good time. I was quite surprised to see so much snow in Texas. I had once lived in Texas for 3 years and never seen any snow. I guess that was a totally different climatic region. So I crawled along at 20 mph until I came to the very next exit a few miles away.
The wind was howling and the snow was blasting in totally horizontal making visibility very, very bad. I rolled down the off ramp and saw a tractor-trailer parked in a parking lot and figured I could park there too. In I went and this time, I got out the down sleeping bag that I had up front with me and took a nap again. I was thinking that by morning, all would be well and I'd be thoroughly rested. Part 2 was right, I was thoroughly rested when I got up, but what I saw when I first sat up and looked out was stunning. SNOW! LOTS of snow. In the night, it had snowed at least 5" though it was difficult to tell since the howling wind made for a lot of drifts of varying depths.
I got out to see where I was and have a look around. Immediately, my jacket was coated in a thick layer of snow. The wind was blasting so hard from the north that I could barely look that direction to see what kind of a parking lot I was in. It was an abandoned truck stop (that is, a former one). There was a place where the restaraunt used to be and a place for the gas pumps, but that was it. Boarded up buildings and a boarded up grain elevator. Nothing else. The freeway had a bridge to go over some obscure county road.
I got back in the truck and considered my options. Hmm. Nothing was moving on the freeway above that I noticed, so any travel was probably not possible. I figured it might be best to just sit tight until better weather came. But then I got to thinking that if it could snow several inches in Texas, maybe it could snow 20' feet. Who knows? This was certainly one of the fiercest blizzards I'd ever seen. I started to get worried that if the parking lot filled with a lot of snow, then I'd be stuck there and since it was such a non-place, that I'd never get dug out. Hell, I figured that they would just skip the freeway ramps here. So I started moving the truck around to try and at least get it pointing out of the parking lot. As I was doing this, a short stream of cars came down the exit ramp and back up the other ramp. I realized that they were trying to avoid the bridge and so in a gap in the traffic, I managed to pull out and that was that. The traffic instantly came to a halt and I was now sitting there in a line of cars. Even though I had only gotten about 20m, this was better to be with a bunch of others that needed rescuing.
And we sat there. And sat there. My shoes were wet and cold from my earlier outing and I was just dying to get at my polar gear, especially my ice-boots. Now that the truck was turned around, the back hatch was in the leeward side. So I got back there and dug out my battle gear from my stuff. That was certainly inconvenient packing at its finest. But I finally got at my stuff and was much happier after that. In fact, I was probably the most prepared guy there for such a freaky situation. Well, actually, there were some tuckers from the North who had tire chains and weren't afraid to use them - that beats polar wear any day.
While I was getting my gear together, I had gotten out a stuff sack to put some stuff in and I had set it down somewhere. The wind was so strong that it sucked it out of the truck and whoosh! gone. So I decided to take a little walk to assess things and look for that.
I climbed up to the freeway. It was semi spagetti. There where about 3 tractor trailers in various states of being stuck or slightly wrecked. Luckily this happened to them at my exit or the cars would never have come down to me and I never would have had a shot at escaping. I walked across the freeway and looked down the embankment - there was my stuffsack. I hopped up on the guardrail and hopped back off the other side into the snow. Whoa! I was totally freaked out to find myself up to my chest in snow! I had jumped into a huge drift. It was funny at first, but then I really had to concentrate to get out and down the hill. Sutffsack recovered (hey, they cost $8).
On the other side of the freeway, I noticed that the ramps were in better shape since they were protected from the wind. I walked up to the front of the line to see what the problem was. There was a Ryder truck just like mine spun out in the ditch that was causing more psycological impediment than anything. The others, just couldn't figure out where the road actually was and some were stuck. A big mess. Surveying the mess, I realized that it was getting worse since the cars and trucks weren't moving. They just sat there. In between the cars, the wind was depositing huge lumps of snow. I knew it was critical to keep moving back and forth to keep the wheels from freezing into a particular rut and to keep the drifts down and passable. So I told a bunch of people this.
Then I did some more sitting around in the truck waiting for nothing. I was listening to the radio and the idiot radio station was doing some promotion where they were encouraging people to come out to this marketing event. They should have lost their FCC license for that. Of course being in the middle of nowhere Texas, the only stations were 2 country stations. Ug.
I got out to go wander around a bit more and see how the trucks on the freeway were getting on. I noticed that every 15 minutes or so, a vehicle would go the other way on the freeway. Also, there was a plow on the other side of the freeway. Great! But he didn't come to our side! Grr. In fact, he plowed the other ramps fine and then under the bridge about 20m from us. I realized that if I could get the 5 cars and 2 trucks in front of me to go that route and back to Amarillo, I could do the same. The truckers would help, but they weren't going that way. Everybody else was thrilled with the plan. I rounded up a tire iron and personally chipped the ice from under the wheels of the cars and pushed them out and onto the cleared road. I had to juggle the trucks' positions, but they helped by breaking up big drifts with their trailers.
Finally, it was my turn and it is a good thing that I had 3000 pounds of tools and steel in the back of that truck. I cranked right over the unplowed stuff (pushing wasn't going to help!) and got on the freeway going back the way I'd come - but I was going!
What a nightmare that was. The visibility was poor and it had just gotten dark. The road was clear of loose snow, but it was about 3inches thick with packed ice. I drove the 40 or so miles back to Amarillo in 2nd and 1st gear. When I got there, the streets were a mess and I had to drive around quite a bit looking for a motel. Unlike the relatively deserted freeway, Amarillo was pretty active with people whose snow driving skills can only be described as horrifying. Finally I got to a motel and I put the truck where I could see it and where I could get out easily.
The next morning I looked out to see if the truck had gotten ripped off in the night (a big worry no matter what the weather was doing). Nope. But all wasn't well in Amarillo. The courtyard that I parked in was slushy at night, but the temperature must have dropped into the teens at night since it was frozen absolutely solid in a big jagged icy mess. And there were a couple of cars trying to get out and quite stuck. I realized that the truck was ok if people had control of their cars, but that in these conditions, its long length presented a big target to smack into. Having not taken that insurance, I got very nervous and decided to go supervise the exodus myself. So I went down there and chipped out ice under the wheels of another 3 cars and got them rolling, then I could move the truck out of the way - it rolled out fine. Then as I was leaving the hotel, I helped another person out of a parking lot somewhere else. These people seem to have no clue about the physics involved with these things.
At first, I was going to take the freeway south to Lubock and then head west. It was bright and sunny and about 40F so I figured that the roads would be clear soon. I got on the southbound freeway and it was icier than the previous night's misadventure. Oh boy. Only now, there were a lot of cars out and about. Great. I took an exit and looked for a cleared parking lot. The only one I could find was a Baptist church. You'd think they could stay at home and pray for safer driving conditions...
I sat there until a Chevy Suburban came flying down the road out of control and jumped over the median and the sidewalk and into the Baptist parking lot (luckily missing everything important). These Texans were driving around like it was an amusement park ride. Idiots. I then drove around until I found a more protected parking lot (not cleared, but I didn't care). I sat there and waited for a couple of hours and the sun was doing good work on the roads.
Eventually, the road was totally melted down to the asphalt. I decided that the freeways must be in the same shape. I got back on I-40, the original road I got stuck on, and headed west again. The road was in horrible condition, but I figured that it would be getting better. Wrong. It had several inches of ice on it too, only now with all the traffic, there were big chunks missing. The traffic was backed up for endless miles. I was actually quite grateful for so much traffic since it forced a very slow pace. The constant ruts and holes in the ice were pummeling the truck. I was thinking - oh great, there'll be nothing left of my stuff but powder when I'm done with this - if the truck even survives. Really, it was the worst road surface I've ever driven on.
This went on for over 60 torturous miles until near the border with New Mexico, it started to open up. Once at the border, not only was there a rest stop, but the pavement was in perfect condition. On the other side of the freeway, there was a line of trucks, two abreast, that stretched for 25 miles waiting to get into Texas. Once in New Mexico, the weather was great, the road was immaculate and we were going 75mph (the speed limit there). Incredible.
I made it to the mountains south of Flagstaff, AZ and took another good nap at over 5000ft. There were warnings everywhere about elk and at 3am, I figured that taking a nap in the nice mountain air would be better than plowing down an elk at 65mph. The next morning, I made it down to Phoenix and then down to I-10 and I-8. >From there it's a straight shot to San Diego. Once I hit San Diego county, I got to see the mountains there from the freeway perspective. I must say that this section of freeway is the most brutal and amazing interstate I've ever seen. Every several hundred meters of the climb, there are pull outs with big tanks labeled "Radiator Water". I had to use 2nd gear the whole way up and I got nervous about whether the truck was going to make it so heavily loaded. These mountains go from well below sea-level to around 6000' in less than 40 miles. The freeway actually gets to 4500'. I was belatedly impressed with myself for having popped over those mountains in one day on a loaded bike. I realize that those 135 miles were some of my finest on the bike.
But I'm here now! Tommy's Tex-Mex, the best
food in the world and a cable modem to use- god
be praised! Today I unloaded everything and none
of it seems too badly beaten up after the
tremendous thrashing of the ice roads of Texas.
All in all, I don't think that:
...the icy roads of Texas beat the service calls of Tennessee.
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|Chris X. Edwards ~ 7 December 1999|