Journal: December 19th, 2010

It started snowing last night, so I moved the car about a 3rd of the way back down the dirt road, past the worst bits where I got stuck last time. Later in the evening, a warm front moved in, and the snow turned to rain, accompanied by strong gusty winds. The storm kept me up for a while, as the winds rattled the loose Tyvek on the extension roof. Rain, sleet and hail peppered the south-facing wall and windows. Out in the woods, you can hear wind approaching from a mile away, like an oncoming freight train. The sounds –which travel faster than the wind itself– of air rushing by trees, move ahead of the actual pressure wave, and as I lay in the dark hut, under my blankets, could do nothing but to cringe as wave after wave of air tore through the woods and crashed upon my untested cabin. Hut 2.1, with its broad and high wall that faces prevailing winds, has a high wind profile, and that’s always been a concern to me, especially since the structure isn’t anchored to the ground. Fortunately, the hut withstood each assault with barely a shudder. Eventually, I drifted off, as I gained confidence in my dwelling, and the rattling of the Tyvek, and the pattering of the rain, and the roaring of the wind lost that threatening edge, turning instead to a calming lullaby, just another soundtrack of a life in a cabin in the woods. My last thoughts before falling asleep were “Man, if I had a wind generator, they’d be cranking out mad Amps right about now…”

Then, I almost got myself killed on the way out today. It had started snowing heavily just as I was leaving. Though the temperature was a few degrees above freezing, the heavy sticky snow accumulated quickly, and by the time I made it a few miles down the paved county road, the pavement was covered in half an inch of slush. Coming out of a gentle right-hand turn, I felt the car sliding as I tried to straighten out. I turned the wheel farther to the left, then suddenly the tires caught traction, catapulting me into the opposing lane and towards the hillside. With the car’s slip indicator beeping rapidly and franticly –as if I didn’t notice what was happening– I gave full right rudder, as the car straightened out with the left wheels rumbling on the gravel shoulder off the opposing lane. I slid, straight, half on and half off the pavement, as the side half-off the pavement tried to pull me farther off to the left, while the front wheels tried desperately and futilely to pull me back on to the right. After what seemed like minutes, but probably no more than 3 seconds, the car finally shuddered to a halt. I quickly scooted back to my side of the road, and pulled over on the shoulder with the emergency lights blinking. It was a close call. I’d scraped a bush off the side of the road, and my laptop had flown off the passenger side seat where it had been charging contentedly, but there was no discernible damage to car, contents, or person.

As I got back on the road, I reflected on what had happened. In my rush to get out before the snow got worse, I’d failed to notice the rapidly changing surface conditions — which had been wet, but not snowy, just a few minutes and a couple of miles prior. I was going way too fast for the conditions. The treads on my front tire are also worn down almost to nothing (need to get new tires, or at least rotate the back tires forward). I’d also braked too hard, though I’m not sure what the car’s fancy electronic safety systems were doing during that whole ordeal. I was also fortunate there was no oncoming traffic — that could’ve ended catastrophically.

Conditions got better as I got down into the valley, with the snow turning to sleet, then rain. But to get out of the area, I still had to go over a mountain pass at 4300ft elevation. There was at least an inch or two of accumulation on the road surface, with heavy snow falling steadily. I thought about waiting for a plough to come through and following it, but it was 3pm –an hour before sunset– with the thermometer showing 34F. That close to dusk, it’d get colder soon, and then icy. I decided to just take it slowly. Fortunately I made it up over the pass and back down to less snowy conditions without having to pull out my chains.

Normally, I’d just wait out a storm, since I have plenty of supplies, and usually, nowhere to be. But, I’m heading out of town in a few days to go spend the holidays with my parents, so I was actually on a schedule for once. It looks like I got out just in the nick of time, other than that brief sledding adventure.

So, that’s it from Serenity Valley for 2010. I’ll be back in January, but rest assured, I have blog posts lined up for the interim period as well. I also have a big-ish announcement possibly coming up, so stay tuned for that as well.

Update: After posting this, I realized that, while it’s just past midnight in Serenity Valley Time, and therefore the 19th, it’s actually December 18th local time. Thought I’d add an explanation in case anyone was wondering why the post is from the future…

7 thoughts on “Journal: December 19th, 2010

  1. about the wind: you want an electric scooter motor for use as a generator?

    Model # my1016 sealed permanent magnet motor. First ones free as I have a bunch and am profiting from observing your tribulations.

  2. Don’t rotate your rear tires forward if the fronts are balding. You will lose more stability in turns and the rear will be more inclined to come around on you.

    • Hm… The thing is, my car is a front wheel drive (when not in 4WD), so if I lose traction on my front tires, I’m screwed. If I lose my rear wheels, as long as I still have my front wheels, shouldn’t I be able to get back in control?

  3. Yes, #1 new tires every fall ( don’t bother rotating ) we need fresh tread, will help with ice too– You have chains for all four as well?

    There’s also the two car strategy–get a beater 4×4 with some clearance tricked out for heavy snow and mud ( mud can become more of a challenge than snow-sometimes you have to wait for the mud to freeze to get in and out ) , leave the nice car “in town” or further down the road or elevation– kinda like you’re doing now


  4. Is this your 1s time w/front wheel drive in snow? They handle totally different than rear wheel drive. I highly recommend taking your car out to a nice clear parking lot when it snows/ices up and teach yourself how the car handles in bad conditions. Its good practice, and also lots of fun 🙂

    On a different note, a friend of mine sent me this info on rocket stove construction:

    It looks like they are using clay for thermal mass, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use large rocks, bottles of water or water heaters instead.

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