Happy Surprise (But Maybe Not)

I had a happy surprise yesterday morning when I turned on the Jeep's radio and it worked!

Those of you who have been paying attention the way you should might recall that about a month ago we received a tiny bit of rain up here in the desert where I live, about 1/8" or 2-3mm of the stuff. It was just enough to spot the Jeep's dashboard but not enough to even form a shallow pool in the useless depression built into the top of the dashboard, the one that looks like it would hold something until the first time you turn the Jeep either left or right and have to pick it up from under your feet or dig it back out from the passenger footwell or out from under the front seats.

It would seem, though, that minor as it appeared, that little rain was enough to kill the radio. Oh, not entirely, it still turned on and displayed the time, which it even does when it's off, and would even display the icon for a CD being in the drive, but, no, it wouldn't produce any sound.

So, as far as I was concerned, it didn't work.

I tried pushing all the buttons I normally use and then some I never do. None of them did anything, but I was able to eject the CD that was in the drive. It did that a couple times, mostly as a test.

Since it displayed the time, I figured it hadn't blown a fuse and was getting electricity okay, but since it always displays the time, I couldn't tell if it was off or on, and I spent a lot of time pushing the on-off button and also the the one that selects AM or FM, in countless vain attempts to see if it would help bring it back to life, but it never did.

It took about an hour for me to resign myself to having no sounds in my Jeep, but I've had two or three cars with no radio in my life and it's the sort of thing I get used to. It's easier where I am now because there's only a few stations, anyway, and none of them are KROQ.

It's easy for me to skip the oldie stations because they pretty much only play songs I never really liked when they were popular. About half the time I can play my CDs if I really want to listen to anything, but I can only do that on good roads (otherwise I bounce around so much, every time I listen to one it skips and gets dinged).

I spend a fair amount of time re-burning CDs.

A couple days after the radio died, I was still hitting the buttons every fifteen minutes or so, and the radio was still doing nothing. I thought some about buying a new one but mostly told myself that it was just another example of the "Life of Deprivation" I live up here. There's too many other things I need to spend money on a radio.

But I looked, anyway. I used to get replacement radios at car radio stores, but there's only one of those up where I live and it's all high powered stuff. Walmart, as it turned out, carries a little cheap  one that would serve me okay, but I'd have to install it myself and it's smaller in size than the one that comes with Rama.

The installation kits, which they didn't have in stock, anyway, would make buying it even more out of reach, but I wasn't about to try that in any case. The electrical connections didn't worry me, but one thing I've learned about the desert is that the only thing it has less use for than standing water is plastic, and Rama's dashboard is pretty much all plastic.

While I used to be halfway decent at working on engines and the like, bodywork was always a closed book to me. All those little clips and knowing where to pry things apart were never in my book of knowledge. When I considered that it would be at best a 50-50 chance that I could get out the old one without destroying the dashboard, I gave up even thinking about putting in a new one.

Plus, since the new one was smaller, it would leave an unsightly hole even if I could get the old one out and put the new one in.

So I decided to keep practicing my favorite way of fixing things, which begins and ends with seeing if it fixes itself.

I think I'm a patient man, so the waiting part is right up my alley and that's just what I did. Oh, sure, I'd hit the on-off button and some of the other ones, but I'd pretty much given up hope when yesterday the radio surprised me by working!

You can imagine my delight when instead of just continuing to show the time, the display changed to say "Volume 9." Eureka! I turned it up to fifteen or so so I could hear what it was doing and, lo and behold, it was playing! I got to drive to the dog park listening to the show I liked (and had missed) and when we got nearby, slipped in the CD with the Bananrama songs I liked to have playing while I entered the park.

Now it's been a day and I'm happy to report the radio still works and still gets both AM and FM stations, can switch between them, and can play any CD I slip into the drive. Just like it used to! It's like it never died at all!

The only thing giving me pause is the knowledge that I did nothing to fix it. It fixed itself, sure, but that just reinforces this idea I have that things will do that and give me even more reason to not do anything.

Those clothes aren't going to put themselves away and the dishes aren't about to wash themselves no matter how much time I give them. So, instead of doing anything about them, I'm writing about how things take care of themselves if  you give them enough time.

Up the N202 Trail

After a few false starts trying it on my own, I found some friends from the dog park who were willing to take the back road up to Big Bear, one of whom knew exactly how to get there.

Where I live is in the Morongo Basin which, as the name implies, is like a dinner plate up three thousand feet (1km) in the mountains and is surrounded on all sides by higher mountains. Near the top of one of those mountains, to the west, is the ski and resort town of Big Bear, which also features a lake. Actually, there are two lakes, one a reservoir, but because of the drought, it's dried up.

There are, of course, a couple highways up there from various directions, and they are all nice mountain routes with all the curves and trees you'd expect. But there's also a well known trail from the SW part of the basin to the summit, N202. I'm not sure exactly, but it may be a fire break or fire trail, or just an offroad trail and until the 1950s was the only way to get to Pioneer Town. There's now a nice paved road to get there from Yucca Valley, the biggest town in the basin and only several miles farther SW of Pioneer Town.

So, if you don't feel like driving around to the north or south of the mountain range that's topped by Big Bear mountain and have something that can make the twenty mile climb, you can take the direct route up N202.

I'm told that one woman used to make the trip twice a day to get to work in her Chevy Nova, but I think you'd be more comfortable doing it in something with some ground clearance, something like a Jeep.

We all have Jeeps, but the guy who knew the route chose to ride shotgun in the Jeep owned by the other guy, a much newer and nicer Jeep than mine, I might add, and also a few models up the scale from my vanilla one.

After we assembled in Pioneer Town, we headed off to Rimrock, a small community a couple miles north, and the end of paved roads and the start of trail N202. In the distance we could see the mountains we were to tackle, and I patted Rama's dashboard and scratched my pups' ears, wishing us all luck.

We turned left, got to the end of the pavement, and began the journey.

As you can see, the trail starts off easy enough, just a dirt road, really, and stays like that for several miles as it passes by the occasional home or ranch.

There is some traffic, though, but no bad ruts or anything that threatens your suspension. The trail gets slowly, but progressively, rockier the farther up it you go, but neither of us needed to use 4WD on any part of the trip. There were no soft patches, and half the trip was no worse than maybe a poorly maintained dirt road. We kept climbing, but not too high for Joshua Trees to flourish.

Thee scenery out the driver's window, when I tired of looking at "White Leader' (as I called him on my walkie-talkie) looked like this. They usually referred to me as "Yellow Tail," by the way. I figured any eavesdropping militia types might enjoy hearing calls to White Leader, and this area seemed to me like the kind of place they might set  up a compound.

Beyond the limits of the Joshua Trees, we stopped to look around and let the dogs explore. The part of the world that we stopped at looks like this, and here you can also see the guys I traveled with. Eric, the one in the hat, was the one who'd taken this trail in the past and was our guide.

I think one of Tte main reasons Eric had picked this spot for us to look around was because of unusual rock formation in its vicinity

Refreshed after our short stop and anxious to see what else we could discover up the trail, we all got back in our Jeeps and continued climbing.

After some more climbing and probably a stop or two to make sure our kidneys and bladders were still working, we came to the only part of the journey that scared me: an old, abandoned copper mine. The only thing that scared me about it was that my tiny, little pup Sami would want to investigate. If you look closely enough to see her, you'll see she was excited as could be about it. I was worried all the time we were at that spot that she'd get inside and go beyond some boards set up just inside the entrance to keep anything larger than a five pound (3kg) pup out. None of us could get on the other side of the blockade to rescue her, and there were lots of nooks and crannies for her to get stuck or trapped in. Even in the best of times, she's not real good about coming when I call her, but she never ventured more than a couple feet (1m) inside. When not worrying about her, we humans tried to figure out why whoever dug this mine out decided to do it at that particular spot and not a few feet to either side.

Outside the entrance to the mine were some animal tracks. I thought they might be goat, but was corrected and told they were deer tracks. I never saw anything larger than a bunny during the trip, but I'm not much of a wildlife expert or spotter.

Onward and upward! About a third of the route was over patches of fist-sized rocks, which gave me my only concern. I didn't worry about Rama being able to get over them or anything, but that's the kind of thing that can rip a tire to shreds if you're not careful. Over those parts we drove like a pair of little old ladies. Also, as you can see if  you examine the pictures, were many skull sized rocks that we tried our best to drive around. This one, sitting out all by its lonesome, was easy to see and avoid.

Near the end of the trip was the only hazard, only it isn't a hazard at all any more. Before they set up this concrete bridge, there was a gully to traverse, which was especially nasty when it was filled with flowing water. Now it's just another spot to stop and let the dogs out.

After crossing the bridge, we kept climbing, but once again near some private property, some of which showed signs of one of the other things Southern California is famous for that isn't celebrities

On the top of a ravine, I was able to grab a quick shot down toward where I live. Landers and the rest of the basin is on the other side of those mountains in the back, but it looked a lot prettier than the picture shows! This happens a lot when I take a photograph.

We finally near the end of the drive, the outskirts of Big Bear, and what remains of the Baldwin Lake reservoir after ten years of drought. You can't see them here, but around the "shoreline" are lots of homes that I'm sure people paid a pretty penny for. I felt sad for them, but with any luck the water will return and they'll once again have a use for their docks.

After over three hours of driving, exploring, and climbing another three to four thousand feet (1km), we got our first view of Big Bear Lake. In the foreground you can see an elevated walkway that now looks pretty useless since there's no water under it. Big Bear is resort spot, filled with shops and eateries and is quite a bit cooler than the desert down below. We stopped at the informative Discovery Center (I bought an atlas) and looked at exhibits of stuffed birds, bears, and other animals, and I learned (but shouldn't have been so surprised) that the underlying mountains and land were all just part of the same desert where I live before being lifted up by activity along the San Andreas fault.

Okay, after suffering through all of that, here's some pics of my pups. It's never very easy to get a good shot of Sami because she's quick and runs around a lot, but she was there with Vinko, who takes his time, looking around to see if anyone's dropped some beef jerky or a steak, and does his best to look like a dog. She tries to blend in with the landscape.

And, after all that, they thought it best to rest up for our next adventure!

Who Knows?

This morning on the way to fill up the Jeep with gas that annoying engine warning light wasn't lit up, which may or may not actually mean anything.

Maybe it burned out.

While I can't rule out the problem fixed itself, I sincerely doubt that any of my efforts fixed anything, either. All I did was poke around under Rama for a moment looking for some obvious problem and found nothing, but who knows? Maybe he (or she) just wanted a little attention. Stranger things have happened.

When the light first came on I looked up the error code (P0456) on, of all places, the Internet and as should be expected got several thousand results. I didn't check them all, but one I did visit had some guy talking about it, with what may turn out to be an interesting symptom.

The problem, generally, has to do with a tiny leak in the gasoline vapor recovery system. It might just be a California thing (because of our history with smog we're pretty much aware of emission problems), but over the last forty years or so great strides have been made about cleaning up the air. In addition to efforts to clean up what leaves through the exhaust system, I take it the whole fuel system is now sealed as tight as a walrus' butt hole. So, instead of the gas in the gas tank evaporating into the air the way it used to, now that vapor is collected and sent to the engine to be mixed with and burned with the regular air when the pistons fire.

So far, so good.

Unless, of course, some sensor that's looking after the integrity of that system decides it has a leak somewhere (in my case, a "very small" one). It might even be that all the hoses and things are fine, but the sensor is faulty.

Anyway, that guy I mentioned earlier said that he got that error, but never when his tank was full of gas. It only showed up after driving around awhile, when some of the gas had been used and the tank was, I guess, filling up with air.

I should mention that for my Jeep, those engine warning lights will go off if the problem isn't there any more and the engine has been started three times without triggering whatever caused the light in the first place. All of which means the engineers also recognize that anything can happen once, but it also means that if the problem comes and goes, it's maybe not as easy for the Jeep to be checked out when it's in an error condition.

This has happened to me once before, and I choose not to describe the steps I went through to have the error show up at the same time I had my earlier Jeep scheduled for service when it decided not to light up the instrument panel the way motion sensitive lights illuminate someone at night messing around on the Hollywood sign.

Getting back to the present, the light had been on for four or five days, annoying me all the time. Since I didn't think it was a big deal, not like if the error was "timing belt missing" or "crankshaft melted away," I figured I'd do my best to ignore it and see what I could do or have it fixed when I felt a little better about things.

Then, this morning after I decided the dogs needed to go to the dog park and the hell with the light, we all got in Rama and the light was off. I was so happy we took the longer shortcut through the desert on one of the many trails instead of sticking to paved roads, and Rama never complained but, in fact, performed flawlessly (I should mention that other than that damn light, I never noticed anything wrong with the Jeep, even when the light was on).

After going to the park, the light was still off, and it stayed off even after filling the tank with the precious commodity known as "gas."

The light first went on when the tank was about three-quarters full and was off this morning when it was closer to one-fourth full. Now, I'll see if it comes back on. I'd like to think it's gone for good, but will be expecting it to show up after I've burned off some gas and will then decide if it's something I'll learn to live with for half a tank of gas or so.

I should also check back to see if I can find that guy's post again and see what he did.

Annoyance Trumps Misery, I Guess

It's been a rough couple weeks for me lately, probably because I've spent too much time thinking about myself and not enough time doing things.

I suppose its a mark of some sort of progress, though, that I've gone from being unhappy and discouraged to my current state, which is one of nearly complete annoyance.

I'm annoyed with my Jeep, my television (and sometimes the things it shows me), my home, the weather, my computer stuff, and even with the games I play on it. I'm trying to keep my annoyance directed at the things in my life, but my unhappiness with myself keeps poking its head up and I don't really have much of a defense against that.

All my problems with the things in my life are pretty much my fault, but not all.

When I get my computer to work and connect to the internet (which I still feel like capitalizing even though it's recently been downgraded by AP), my annoyance changes to be directed at what I see on there. Of course, part of that's my doing because I go mostly to sites where people share their thoughts on things, and those can annoy me no end.

While the internet opens up the world so we can all see what's going on everywhere, what I've seen lately is massive numbers of people who use it to display their selfishness, their ugly natures, and their total lack of compassion and even the most meager attempts to understand other people.

It's not much of a relief from what I'm trying to escape at the moment, but I'll get better.

¡Jose Down!

The other day I loaded up my dogs and drove down to Los Angeles to go to an event, and all of us except Jose, my Jeep, are back here safe and sound. He’s, um, taking a few days off to get drivable again.

Yes, I know, he just had his front end worked on to get rid of that annoying death wobble, but this time it’s his rear that’s causing problems, mostly due to a Jeep Grand Cherokee running into him and busting it up.

After seeing my old teacher and friend, Rob Roberge, talk about his latest book, a memoir (Liar), at a Barnes and Noble, I thought I’d stop at Tito’s Tacos to pick up a couple delicious beef and cheese burritos to bring back with me to the desert, where Tito’s, sadly, doesn’t exist. I even considered swinging by one of the places I lived in when I was still in LA, my place in Playa del Rey just across from the beach, to snap a quick picture and see if it had changed before heading back home.

Just as the restaurant came into view, my plans and a few other things besides, changed rather drastically.

Incredibly, Jose suffered no damage to his bodywork, not even a scratch. The other driver managed to hit only the right rear (passenger side) wheel, giving the tire a walnut-sized hole but pretty much destroying the rear end. I haven’t gotten the official word yet, but the drive shaft got knocked off and I’m guessing the rear axle and differential are history, along with the suspension elements.

Unlike Jose, most of the front end of the rented Grand Cherokee broke off and lay all over the place. None of that weight saving plastic seems to hold up very well in accidents, and one of the pieces slammed into (and broke) my windshield. That scared the crap out of me, and I’d guess the dogs, too, when it hit.

While Jose’s engine ran just fine, he wouldn’t budge an inch. I didn’t know about the drive shaft or anything at the time, but when I tried to move him it was as if I had a transmission full of neutral. After meeting with some of Culver City’s finest, none of whom obliged my request to just shoot me and let me done with it, I was given some paperwork and one of the officers told me what he would do.

He suggested I walk up to Sepulveda boulevard, a few hundred yards away, and look for a place to stay the night. There are a few motels right there, and then, the next morning I could think about getting the Jeep fixed. He made it sound so simple, but I was a mental mess, probably in a little shock, and my mind was racing with all sorts of dire thoughts. I was on the verge of tears and couldn’t find my insurance information and kept borrowing their flash lights as I dug through the place where it should be.

(I should point out that I typically wear a flash light on my belt when I go out at night, but that’s part of an entry that I wanted to write last week. I kept thinking I wish I’d done that)

Thanks to the part of my brain that was still working, I decided to try putting the Jeep in four wheel drive and see if the front end could pull Jose out of the middle of the intersection. Dragging the stricken rear end along the pavement didn’t sound very good, but it turned it we could move. A little later, the cops stopped the traffic so I could complete my turn and park it on the side of the road where I’d get a ticket the next morning, but he said he’d call something in and see if I could get a pass. Nice of him to do that for me. He also said it would be okay for me to sleep in the Jeep overnight if I had to, but greeted that idea with the dismay and revulsion most normal people would.

It didn’t sound good at all, but it made it.

I then stuffed what I could into the bag I take with me to the dog park, which I’d brought along, and the pups and I then began checking out the nearby places to spend the night. My worries about how much it would cost ended up being a waste of time and energy since none of the places that had vacancies allowed pets. So, around eleven or so at night we all piled back in the Jeep to spend the night.

I thought the front two seats wouldn’t be very comfortable and was (as always) worried about them getting out and running away to get hit by a car or something, so I just stuck their leashes to the seat belts for the rear seat, which is still sitting in my front room. I figured that would give them room to maneuver around and get comfortable, but they were having none of that and after several minutes of frustration I realized there just wasn’t room in the back. It’s small, anyway.

As soon as I got into the front, being dogs, they both climbed between the seats to get up to where I was, and it must have taken close to a half hour before we settled on me sitting in the passenger seat with my legs where the driver’s legs go, Vinko in the driver’s seat, and Sami sitting on top of me. After an hour or so of resting that way, I moved to the driver’s seat with my leg where the passenger’s feet go, and tried all night long to sleep.

One of my favorite things about the Jeep is how tiny and maneuverable it is, but its size does present drawbacks when you’re trying to sleep in it with two dogs. Of the three of us, only Sami could ever get comfortable. I don’t know if it was the novelty of the situation or what, but even when I could wedge myself into an acceptable position between avoiding the sharp metal center console, the steering wheel and pedals, and just the overall discomfort of trying to sleep in a car, every time I looked at Vinko, he was sitting up.

Quite often he will lay his head on the padded part of the console and rest, but not tonight, not when I wanted him to. I kept trying to push or pull him into what I thought would be a more comfortable position with him (not easy with a dog his size), but he never got the message. Eventually he’d get into a position where I thought he could sleep, but then I’d move (trying to make myself more comfortable), and he’d get up and the whole process would start all over again.

In short, all night long, the three of us kept moving around, trying to get comfortable and constantly failing.

One thing that kept bothering me was that I had to find a tow company, a place to get the Jeep fixed, and a rental car place. I had my mobile cell phone with me, but it’s not a smart phone and had resorted to having to ask strangers for help in locating any of those. Since the Internet has replaced telephone books, I felt very much alone and isolated and both helpless and worthless.

At some point in the night, a tow truck began collecting some other car, and I walked over to talk to the driver to get their name and number or see if he had a business card. He didn’t have one of those, but pointed to the phone number painted on the side of his truck and even told me there was a (good) car repair place just on a nearby corner!

I went back to the Jeep thinking I could call his place in the morning and have Jose taken up the street and felt a whole lot better. Two problems -- solved!

I next started wondering if I could save myself the tow charges by driving the Jeep up to the fixit place. It could possibly make it the few hundred yards (meters) but it would be a painfully slow drive and I’d get in the way of and be a nuisance to the morning traffic. Still, I thought it would be worth a shot and thought it might be easier if I put the spare tire on to at least avoid peeling off the flat one and then possibly grinding down the wheel.

I jacked the Jeep up and one of the heavy duty springs that keeps the body up, fell away. I put it in the back of the Jeep, just because. I got all the lug nuts off, but the wheel was stuck on one of the bolts no matter how hard I tried to get it off. It was dark, of course, so I gave up, put all but the locking nut back on, and went back inside to sleep, figuring it was damaged and I’d have to have it towed.

So, without worrying about being a slowly moving traffic obstruction in the morning, I tried, again, to get some sleep and tackle things in the morning.

Around six in the morning I decided the time was ripe to get started. The restroom at the gas station on the corner (which was across the street from the car repair place, as it turned out), was still locked up for the night and wouldn’t open until seven or eight, so I took a leak in an alley.

I went back to the Jeep to walk the dogs so they could join me in bladder relief and rewarded them with some handfuls of kibble and cookies that I’d wisely added to the dog park bag. We were all sort of okay and I downed the coffee I’d bought at the gas station, and decided the first thing I should do, even when local businesses were still shut, was to do my legal, civic, and decent duty and call my insurance company.

At some point when the police were still around I’d managed to find my insurance card, but in the ensuing few hours, I’d lost it again. Not only didn’t I have my policy number, I didn’t even have their phone number, but the cop had assured me I didn’t need the number but that they could find it for me. I called what used to be information (411) but is now some private company, and they gave me the number and connected me. Yes, there’s a charge for the service, but I’d even skimmed through a Spanish language free newspaper that was filled with ads, but none for Progressive Insurance, the one I used.

I got through to someone at Progressive, and I have to say, my whole life changed.

My connection wasn’t the greatest and I was right next to street that was growing busier by the moment with traffic so I had to ask the woman to repeat nearly everything she said once or twice, which embarrassed me, but she stayed friendly, patient, and accommodating all during the call.

Best of all, though, was what she told me. In California, at least, all drivers are required to have insurance for damage that they cause to people or property, and I knew I was good with that. All other insurance is optional and, since it costs more, that was all I thought I had, so you can imagine my surprise and joy to learn that I had collision insurance that covered damage to my own vehicle! All night long I’d worried how much it would cost me to fix Jose (or if it was even possible) and if I’d do it.

I love that little Jeep, and couldn’t imagine either being able to pay to get him fixed or buying another car. But, somehow, at some point, I’d gotten insurance to pay to repair my own car and the most it would cost me was one thousand dollars! Sure, that’s a lot of  money and I’d normally and habitually blanch at the thought of spending that much, but if that’s all it would cost me to get Jose back on his feet and good again, I’d do it in a heartbeat!

Also, equally surprising, my insurance would also pay for a rental car. And towing. And the sweet, sweet woman on the other end of the phone call would take care of everything for me. As they say, “sign me up!” but it seems I’d already done that.

I truthfully could not and cannot remember signing up for any for that. I’m not at all sure if I was at one point wise, feeling unexpectedly generous, or if at some point it was added to my policy like one of those browser toolbars that get loaded onto your system when you install something else, but all of my problems went away in the first two or three minutes of talking to her.

The phone call(s) took about an hour or so what with all my asking her to repeat things and me walking around to get away from a using leaf blowers to clean up the sidewalk, the arrival of some road crew to block off the lane the Jeep was in for repairs or something, and my struggles to find a place I could make out what she was saying. At one point we got disconnected, which I used to check the phone’s battery and how many more minutes I could still talk before paying for more, but it did get resolved and the tow truck showed up just as we were trying to the car rental people to come pick me up.

In the end, not only did the guy from Enterprise rent a car show up to take me and the long suffering pups to go get my rental car, he was also in a Jeep! I have no idea what the odds would be that all three vehicles involved in this incident would be Jeep products (his was also an SUV or ute), but I could have paid for everything had I made a bet on that beforehand.

The amount my insurance company was willing to pay for a rental vehicle just so happened to cover the entire cost of what they had for me to rent so I through caution to the wind and paid, myself, for the extra and best insurance Enterprise offered. Not only had my recent car experiences scared me, but I once worked with a Greatful Dead fan who used to say they all called “Deadhead insurance” that let you return the burned and twisted VIN tag and have the insurance company say “thank you.”

And, after all that, they rented me a pickup truck.

I have no idea how that worked or what went into their decision, but a shiny new full sized white Nissan pickup brought me, Vinko, and Sami eventually back to our desert home after fulfilling a requested appointment to visit my doctor at a time when I was feeling decidedly ugly and spent.

I’d spent a day and night wearing the same clothes, which I’d tried to sleep in inside a Jeep with two dogs, had survived a car accident, gone way over twelve hours without eating a thing and surviving on a few swallows of water (out of the dog’s traveling jug), one cup of coffee, and for the first time in years, an actual, honest-to-goodness Coca-Cola with sugar and caffeine to keep me alert for the last fifty miles of the drive back home.

I was dazed, spent, and had managed to collect a bruise on my forehead that neither the cops nor the doctor commented on, but after visiting her, we were all back home!

And, I decided to tell you all about it.

Road to Nowhere, and Back

Although both can be scary, getting lost in an officially designated wilderness area is nothing at all like getting lost in a city.

This morning, after a couple times trying and not even being able to find the back route up the mountain to get to Big Bear, I set off once again with water and my dogs. This time I may have even found the illusive county route N202, or I may have just ventured deeper into the desert and the official San Bernardino wilderness.

I’d done a bit more checking and found directions to the start of the route, so I had that going for me. Years of desert rats had deemed the trail too much for 2W pickups, but since I don’t have one of those, I figured I was good to go with my Jeep.

Which I was, at least as far as I made it.

I took off this morning thinking I might go all the way to the top but more likely I’d just go and check out part of the trail to see what it was like. The portion of it I travelled wasn’t bad at all, but I still managed to get lost.

I didn’t expect the trail would be marked, but I also didn’t expect what a few decades of those previously mentioned desert rats could do to the route. You’re not allowed to travel off road in that part of the world but at least 100 minor trails branch off the main trail and since this is the desert, any way ever taken looks the same as main road. No vegetation creeps onto the trail no matter how recently or long ago it was created.

Like I said, I didn’t expect trail markers, but I was completely unprepared for all the side trails and how much they looked just like the main road. I was doing pretty good for what I guess was a fifth or a quarter of the route, but somehow managed to lose track of where I wanted to be or thought I should be and had no idea of where I was or how I’d get back.

It was a bit unsettling, especially when the Jeep decided to overheat.

I wasn’t in fear of losing my life, but more of being uncomfortable for a prolonged length of time. By the time I admitted I was lost, I’d driven around enough to lose track of when I’d left those tire tracks and which way I’d been going. You see, maybe I’d been going in circles for half an hour or so, and a lot of the trail was bare rock, which doesn’t hold tire tracks worth a damn.

Since you’re reading this, it’s obvious that I made it back, though I can’t say how, exactly. And of course I’ll try again, and maybe next time I’ll do a bit better. In the end, it was a nice Sunday drive, other than the rising feeling of panic and hating myself.

A Possible Solution!

Here's how clever I am: I may be able to fix my Jeep's "death wobble."

Yes, it still happens in spite of having the alignment fixed and the tires balanced. It shows up around 45mph and seems to be more frequent or more violent under braking so I only need to be careful in fourth gear for what that's worth.

According to the how-to-fix-it website, I'm now down to suspension elements. One of the advantages of a four wheel drive vehicle is that they're easier to get under than a passenger car, but I still think my friend Rudi had the best idea back in the day when he was thinking of digging a pit so he could work on the underside of his Volkswagens. And, now that I think of it, I could make one of those easily enough if I rented a little ditch digger, but I may save that up for later.

Instead, I was going to run to Home Depot and pick up some bricks to drive up onto to make it even easier, but today I remembered I already have some that I plan to use for that shed I never get around to building. I could drive the front of the Jeep onto those and  -- voila! -- plenty of room to mess around with suspension or even make it worse!

The bigger sticking point is most of the next things to check need two people: one to sit in the Jeep and wiggle the steering wheel back and forth and another to "observe" how the steering components work.


I originally considered teaching my dog, Vinko, how to wiggle the steering wheel, but on second thought I discounted that plan. While it would be great for this purpose, the more I thought about it the less I considered it one of my better ideas. Sure, it may help here and now when I need to fix the Jeep, but what if he decides he'd like to enjoy a treat while I'm driving and grabs the wheel while I'm cruising along at highway speeds? That may not work out so well.

But, and here's where the clever part comes into play, my camera takes movies! If I can set it all up, I can aim the camera at the component I should be checking, begin making a video, and hustle into the Jeep sitting on the bricks and wiggle the steering wheel myself! Then, after a bit of that, get out of the Jeep, shut off the camera, and view the movie all without bothering another person.

What could possibly go wrong?