Rob's Blog Archive

December 22, 2013

The Nic Effect










It happened for the first time shortly after I moved to Montana.  My friend, Nic, would show up.  I’d see some inadequacy in my living circumstance. I’d then fix it after he left.  I think the first was my needing a decent set of knives. 

Nic was the initial motivator of such things, but he wasn’t the only one.  The largest and most expensive consequence of the “Nic Effect” was finishing the rooms in my lower level along with adding a mud room.  These resulted from my sister, Carol, then first cousin, Robin, taking care of me during the two weeks that followed my hip replacement (THANKS, Again and forever).  Amusingly, neither has seen anything but photographs of the new digs.  One day, they’ll show up.

Over the decade that I’ve now lived in Montana, the consequences of the Nic Effect have typically been within a couple of months of the causal encounter.  That has just changed.  As I prepare to do the drive to Alaska----I did my first winter drive with Nic, the second with my friend, Eric----I’m making an all out effort to avoid some of the difficulties I had with my truck, particularly on the drive with Eric nearly five years ago. 

Eric and I had driven a few hours just to get some miles on and stopped in Shelby----still in Montana.  Normal for that part of the state, it was 0F with a 20 mph wind.  Our first experience feeding my dogs on the road included those conditions as well as dislodging the extensions I attach the lines for my dogs to.  These had frozen in and it took about half an hour in the wind and cold to free them----methanol a.k.a. Heet and a lot of pounding did the trick.  I assured Eric that it would be the “coldest” we’d see on the trip up.  Happily, my prognostication ended up being correct.

The first problem with my truck occurred just two miles down the interstate the next morning---the 4-wheel drive started making a grinding sound.  I tried disengaging then reengaging it several times, but it continued to make loud, disconcerting, sounds.  With this, I drove back to Shelby.  Fortunately, I quickly found a mechanic who appeared to know what he was doing and was willing to take a drive and listen.  What he said was that the chain in the transfer case was slipping and that if I limited my use of the 4-wheel drive, I’d probably be okay.  He figured I’d have at least 100 miles with the 4-wheel drive engaged, and could drive indefinitely with the truck in 2-wheel drive. 

With this, I decided to limp up the Alcan.  In principle, I had four good snow tires.  A heavy fully loaded rear wheel drive with 4 snow tires should still be a pretty good snow vehicle and I could limit my use of the 4-wheel drive.

The good news was he was correct regarding the longevity and I was able to keep the mileage that I had the 4-wheel drive engaged low.  The bad news was that he was wrong regarding what had actually happened.  Evidently, transfer cases like the one I had had a nasty tendency of developing a leak, all in the same spot, and mine had.  The grinding sound was what it made when it had no fluid.  The whole unit subsequently had to be replaced.

I did slide off of the road on the way up---I’d guess that having the 4 wheel drive engaged would have helped there.  We were on black ice at the time.  Eric and I both have great pictures of the tow truck balancing precariously on its rear wheels as it dislodged the unscathed truck from a snow bank. 

The other memory I have from that incident was, when the wrecker said he didn’t take checks or credit cards, I turned to Eric and said in a very audible voice, “You have $300. in cash, don’t you?”  Shock and disbelief passed across his face before he could say, “No,” and then get to mild anger----Eric was way too good of a guy to get more than mildly angry. 

Finally, on the way back, I dealt with a leaky tire.   It was in poor shape and had caught a nail.  Additionally, the stem was somewhat problematic.  In North Pole, just outside of Fairbanks, I had to be towed to a tire shop as I had dislodged the stem in an attempt to get air into the tire.  At that time, I believed the stem was the cause of the slow leak and figured that, with its replacement, my problem would be solved. 

It wasn’t and the tire continued to leak.  By the time I got to Whitehorse, I had found the nail that actually caused the leak and decided to fix it myself.  I’ve found that tire repair plugs generally work well, and went for it.  Moreover, I did it in the evening---I did want to at least make sure that it survived the night before I drove off into the wilderness.

The plug survived the night and several hundred miles before it blew out, about twenty miles out of Watson Lake.  I’m actually pretty good at changing tires, or at least I used to be.  Unfortunately, the nuts on that tire were frozen too hard for me to dislodge even with my tee wrench---earlier life experiences had taught me to have one of these rather than just using the standard tire iron that comes with cars and trucks.

Once again, my luck wasn’t totally bad.  It was only twenty minutes back to Watson Lake and a passerby promised to send a wrecker my way.  It was sunset when the wrecker showed up---I was very relieved.  I did have the stress of driving the rest of the Alcan without a spare tire----Watson Lake didn’t have any in my truck’s size---but that was the last of my truck problems.

The Nic Effect: I decided that I’d like to avoid waiting for a tow truck and/or the advice from a mechanic as I drive the Alcan this time.  With this, I’m doing everything I can to make sure my truck is ready for this trip.  I had had the truck inspected before I drove up with Eric, but clearly not as carefully as it might have been.  Belts, fluids, suspension, u-joints, every possible item that fails--the fuel pump already failed and was replaced last summer, not to mention the transfer case 40,000 miles ago----have all been inspected and/or replaced.  I’ve probably paid too much, but I expect not only to make the drive up and down the Alcan more easily, I hope that I won’t have to do anything other than change tires, oil and lube, for the next couple of years.  All told, it’s not quite as expensive as the work I had done on my house during the fall of 2008, but it’s close. 

Yvonne Chouinard has said, “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.”  I’m about to embark on what should be the grandest adventure of my life.  That said, I’m hoping that Chouinard’s definition doesn’t come into play until I actually get to Alaska. 

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