Friday, February 27, 2015

Made it out as far as the mail box.

The dogs and I set off down the trail today, to go the mail box.  It was warm, and we thought some of the snow might have melted off, but it hadn't.

The pine trees are all covered with wet snow, and the limbs bend down into the trail. Plenty of them had broken off and I threw them off to the side as we went. Fortunately, not a single big tree fell across the way down.

This is a foot path that branches off my Jeep trail and goes towards the water fall.  I don't think anyone will be traipsing down that for a bit.

To the left here is a steep canyon, with a big stream in the bottom of it. In summer, the dogs go down there , where there are deep, slow flowing pools, and they swim.  In winter they tend to be less willing to make the trip down.

Although you probably can't tell it from the photo, this is a steep uphill slope on the way out, it's part of the old forest service road.  Someone had been down it recently in a Wrangler, and I envied them. When I had mine, I used to go out and drive all over the woods after a snow.

The stone pillar with my guard gargoyle.  The snow just about buries him on top of it sometimes, but he just got a bit between his wings this go around. This is where my trail up the mountain runs into the old forest service road.  The steel gate keeps me from getting tourists and sightseers on the mountain top.

Belle found out this was snow that was frozen hard.  I thought I was going to have to pull her up onto the road but she scrabbled up on her own in the end.

At the top of this hill starts a really steep slope down, which ends at the hard surface county road. I once tried to come down it when it was covered in ice.  Couldn't stop, and at the bottom of the slope some old guy was driving his tractor around in circles, having a great time. I  locked on the horn and just before I crashed into him he saw me and skittered out of the way.  This was one of the times I proved that four wheel drive does not mean you can drive on ice.

Looking down the slope. You can't tell it but it is really steep. Even walking up and down it when it's slick is tough.  The dogs have no problem but it gets chancy for me, especially as a fall is harder to get over than it was when I was younger. You don't bounce very well on ice or frozen snow.

Nice day though. Didn't get anything done but I really didn't need to.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Elvis is dead, and I don't feel so good myself" Lewis Grizzard

But I feel better.  Like I used to feel after running the 3 mile physical fitness test run
in boots, in the Marine Corps. You know it's going to get better if you can just catch your breath.

It has been a tough week.  I believe the last time I could have gotten out of here was last Sunday. Since then, it would have been in the too hard category, both because of the ice and because physically I wasn't up to the hike. It's just as well I didn't need to leave the mountain top.

More snow again last night, on top of all the ice that was already covering everything. It's supposed to warm up some this weekend, so I should be able to hike out to the main road soon. When I'll be able to get a vehicle up here is another matter altogether.

Taking care of the animals was the primary difficulty this time around with the weather. It was really cold outside, so they needed frequent feeding and watering, and I was keeping the dogs inside at night. So, periodically, I had to get up, bundle up, and go do that. It really doesn't matter how well you feel or don't, some things have to be done to keep everything balanced and on track.

Right now, the woods are virtually impassable. The snow is covering that layer of ice. Trying to walk on that, through the brush, would be a real chore.  It's dangerous, as well. A lot of the pine trees are loaded with heavy, wet snow and you can never tell when one of them will just go over.

So far, the power at my place hasn't failed during the whole series of "winter events." That's the first time the grid here has withstood ice successfully that I can remember. Of course, this little niche in the map is the only place that can say that, so it was really luck. We didn't get nearly the amount of ice most of the mountains got.

Well, this was just a short post to let everyone know I yet live.  I was considering drafting a "Harry croaked" message there for awhile, for the wife to transmit just in case. I have always been whiny about being sick though. Most things I can handle with aplomb but I don't do "ill" very well.  We all have our flaws.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I'm not feeling so hot.

The cold weather has kind of beat me down and I'm feeling a bit ill. So I'm not doing much on the computer right now. I have lots of good comments on the last post and I want to respond, and will here pretty soon. We had lots more snow, have more coming in, and I'll be back on the blog soon.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Exercise in Ice.

This has been a very long week.  Starting with last Sunday, the weather has been far colder than anything commonly seen here, and we have been inundated with snow, sleet, and freezing rain. There are people in the county who lost power on Monday, and they are still operating without it.  Even in the more populous "flat land" counties to the South, the ice hit hard and power companies are still working to restore the grid. It has been particularly difficult since the states which normally send crews and equipment to help us in serious situations were themselves the recipients of ice storms, so they can't send assistance our way til they have their own locations under control. Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and sometimes South Carolina are part of a reciprocal agreement with Georgia whereby we all send emergency services, fire fighters and fire equipment, road crews and equipment, power crews and their gear, and even National Guard troops to neighbors under emergency conditions. However, in a case like this where the damage has been wide spread everybody has to take care of the home front first.  No help from out of state for awhile.

On the face of it, the little amount of snow visible does't seem too dire. But snow isn't the problem. Underneath the snow is a layer of ice, half an inch thick in some places. Because we have been having subzero weather at night, and temperatures are not getting anywhere near above freezing during the day, that stuff is just staying there. Then last night along came more snow, and the roads became impassable again, after all the work the state did to salt, cinder and put down brine.

The truck is parked on it's pad, and it will be there awhile. There's no way on God's Green Earth it will make it down the trail until a full melt, because the way out of here is far too steep, and covered in sheet ice. The Jeep is down on the hard surface road, which means we can at least get out but there's no guarantee we can make it into town, and the walk from the house to the Jeep is almost three miles. Consequently we are just staying home. Supplies of everything are adequate and sightseeing is not motivation enough to go out, as it was when we were younger. I've already got a terrible case of bronchitis from being out in the mornings at plus 1 or plus 4 temps, filling the water tanks for the animals with boiling water. You suck air that cold in and it has a negative impact on you sooner or later.

I went up behind the shop and apartment earlier in the week, just as the sun was coming out. There were gargantuan bear tracks coming down out of the woods, across the meadow, and off down towards the stream. I don't know why a bear would be out in the middle of winter, but he must have felt he needed a drink. The stream is not frozen over completely, so that would be the place to go for fresh water.

I have been breaking ice sickles off the roof with a hoe. If you leave them, they get heavy and cause a ripple effect in the metal, which then lets the wind under. That's a great way to have your metal sheets peeled right off in gusty winds, and we have had plenty of those this week.

It's actually quite bleak up here.  Tonight we have more freezing rain, then tomorrow a warm, wet air mass is coming up from the gulf. It's supposed to raise temperatures, melt off all the ice. It is also going to cause some minor flooding along the river and the creeks, but that won't effect me as I have way up the mountain.

Our equipment has held up well. In Atlanta there were mob scenes at the big box stores as people tried to buy kerosene heaters, generators, extension cords, and the normal paraphernalia of going without grid power. I watched the evening news on an Atlanta station, and they had a lot of folks from the city and surrounding suburbs calling in raising hell because they were living in houses with indoor temperatures below freezing. No grid, no heat.  Most of these people lived in pretty nice neighborhoods, so I know they were not ill prepared due to lack of funds. Just lack of planning and imagination.

Here in my county, plenty are still without power because the power company can't get crews into their areas. The constant snow, sleet and ice has really crippled the network of small paved or graveled roads most live on here.  Most of them have alternate heat sources, but if they didn't drain the pipes before the sub zero weather, they will probably have broken pipes once the temperature gets above freezing.

None of my local CB contacts are back on the air yet, but I am keeping abreast of developments by listening to the frequencies for the Sheriff's Department, for Fire and Rescue, and for the county government.

Our power up here has not failed. Ice is like artillery fire. It falls here and not there, and this time we did not get really hammered so that trees fell on our power lines. Yet 15 miles from here, the ice utterly destroyed the power grid and vehicles still can't get into the small town up there. It's all luck.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Freezing Rain

As predicted, the storm started out here with light snow.  The ground was very cold, so it stuck, but it was not unmanageable. A few hours ago, it changed over to sleet, and that shortly changed over to freezing rain.

Freezing rain is the worst.  It weighs down the trees, and they either fall on the power lines, or their branches sag, touch the lines, and short them out. If this keeps up for any length of time, we'll have no power anywhere in the county. That's bad news for me, because we are the very last to have power restored in an outage. Our priority is low because none of the county potentates live out here, and very very few people live here at all. I can run the generator, and it's tested and ready to go, but I don't enjoy doing so. It has to be refueled, and it makes a terrific noise.

Temperatures for Wednesday and Thursday are forecast to have lows at or below zero. Tomorrow the temps won't rise enough to melt anything on the roads, so things will be tough. I have the Jeep down on the hard surface road. The truck is not designed for slippery road conditions so it is just parked on the pad under the trees for the duration of this "weather event."

Tomorrow around dusk I will put the outside cats and the dogs in the glass house, with the heater running. I'll move the silkies into their cage, and put that in one of the bathrooms. We should all make it through the night, whether the power goes out or not.

This is not at all fun.  I feel sorry for the county fire department and Sheriff's department. The mentally challenged are working overtime. I listened to a conversation I couldn't believe  this morning. Some dim wit went around the road barriers, and around the "road closed" signs, and took his Bronco up on one of the worst ridges in the county. Then he couldn't get down because of ice. He called 911 to be "rescued."  The dispatcher told a Deputy to take a four wheel drive and go up and get him. That's a hell of a road at the best of times, and very dangerous in snow, let alone ice. I'd let the moron rot up there before I risked my life to go get him.

A few year ago a bunch of people drove up to the top of one of our highest mountains in the full knowledge a storm was coming. Then they got trapped and had to be lifted out by helo. I felt for that pilot. Flying a helicopter in snow flurries, in the mountains? To hell with that.  I'd do it to rescue people who were there because they had to be, and who had some claim on me because we all relied on one another. But a bunch of idiots on a joyride? Not happening.

So far, this is just an inconvenience for me. I wait with some interest to see what develops, especially over the next few days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Big Storm coming

Looks like we are in for some bad weather in spades this week, starting tonight and running through Tuesday. I expect the power to go once the ice starts, so I'll see everyone on the other side of "Neptune". When the power goes, the internet goes down in town and it won't come back on until they get around to fixing the "stations" that extend the DSL out into the hinterland here.

Temperatures near zero ( or below if you count wind chill) starting tonight. Up to six inches of snow by late Sunday night or early Monday morning.  Not much compared to the feet of snow up North but enough given our paucity of snow clearing equipment and way below freezing temperatures.

I'm about ready for it. All I have left to do is move the vehicles to the church on the hard surface road a few miles from here. Then we'll see how it goes.

Friday, February 13, 2015

T-28 Trojan

From 1973 through 1995,  I did a good bit of flying. Some of it was military, some of it was civilian. Some of it was a lot of fun, and some, not so much so.  After I left the Marine Corps in 1986, I kept my civilian pilots license until I failed the physical for the medical certificate it required.  By then, the CAP squadron I was flying with had lost their T-141 due to Air Force budget cuts, and I couldn't afford to pay the price of a rental aircraft, so it seemed like it was time to wrap that part of life up and put it on the shelf.

I flew a lot of different aircraft, from the UH-1 Huey to the little Piper Tomahawk along the way. I think my favorite aircraft was the T-28, which I flew in the mid 1970's in VT-6 out of NAS Whiting, down in Florida.

The T-28 was the closest thing you could find to a world war II radial engined fighter in those days. It was a great aircraft, and a joy to fly.  This particular Trojan is displayed in the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida today.  I flew 8326 on a number of occasions during my time with VT-6, and it's strange to think that now most of the Trojans are gone, burned in crash crew training, and this old aircraft is a museum piece.

This is a friend of mine , John Cowan, who later went on to fly the CH-46 medium lift helicopter. When I took this picture, he and I had just come back from a surreptitious encounter over the pine forests, which we arranged to do a little unauthorized dog fighting.  Neither of us was Eric Hartman, but it was fun and had the added savour of risk since we'd have received a severe dressing down had anyone seen and reported us.  Ah, to be young again.

My youngest brother came down to Whiting while he was on leave.  He was a combat engineer officer. I showed him around the base and later on visited him when he was stationed at Camp Geiger . Overall, I preferred the Wing Wiper lifestyle to that of the ground guys.

This picture was taken just after I got back from a hop over the Gulf of Mexico.  The Florida pan handle is hot in summer, and the T-28 had some vent air but no air conditioning. When you pulled yourself out of the aircraft after a couple of hours in that, you were completely soaked in sweat. Encumbered with all the equipment for flying over water, sometimes it was difficult to get yourself out of the cockpit , especially after an aerobatic hop, and the Navy ground crew would have to help pull you out.  They were a good bunch, and it was there at VT-6 where I learned the ground crews really determined how strong a squadron was. The best pilots in the world are useless if the aircraft are not ready to fly.

VT-6 rarely flew on weekends.  That was a good time to find someone who wanted to go on a short cross country.  One of the favorites was Homestead Air Force Base down towards southern Florida. One guy in the front, one in the back, gear in the baggage compartment, and you were off for a great weekend, no transportation costs!

This was a flight where two of us went up.  I can tell because while I am checking the magneto switch is off, someone else is going around taking off the chains.  Pre-flights went faster when there were two of you, and sometimes, if you knew the guy you were flying with, it was fun.  I liked the solo hops the best though.

The T-28 soldiered on for a few years after they were replaced in U.S. Navy service by the newer, turboprop Mentor.  Lots of them were lost in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war, as the Air Force deployed them with host nations like South Vietnam and Cambodia. There's a great book about flying the T-28 in Laos by an Air Force pilot, it's called "My Secret War." Hard to find these days.

The French used them in Algeria against Islamic terrorists, and they were popular in the Third World because they were easy to fly and easy to maintain.  I think they are all long gone now, except for a few in museums and a very few in private hands that you may glimpse at air shows. I look at flying the T-28 the same way I look at being on the U.S.S. New Jersey off Lebanon in 1983.  I did something no one else will ever be able to do again, and my life was richer for it.  For the most part, if you want to see a T-28 now, you have to look in a book.

Doing a load of laundry at one in the morning.

It never got above freezing here today.  About three in the afternoon,  the cold front passed through and we had several hours of building shaking wind. Lots of branches down, some shakes torn off the building roofs, but nothing serious.  Then the wind went, but the cold stayed. By dark it was 20 and now it's 12 degrees outside.

I just finished checking all the buildings, particularly the glass house where the new chickens are living. It's holding the heat well, and the electric heater, set on high, is keeping the space at about 58, even in these temperatures.

I'm also running a load of laundry. Not because a couple of blankets and some miscellaneous towels and dish cloths couldn't have waited til morning. It's to keep water moving through the pipes between the house and the well.  The well is down slope, about 300 feet from the main house and even further from the other buildings I pipe water to. So I need to keep the pump turning over and water flowing through the lines in weather like this, at least every six to eight hours. Running the washing machine is as good a way as any to do this in the main house.

Got a catalog in the mail today, one I enjoy reading.   They sell canned freeze dried food, water storage and filtration gear, and all the nuts and bolts you need to put a largely self sufficient homestead together. I buy number ten can lids and canned ammunition for long term storage, among other things.

I had to walk all the way down to the mailbox and then all the way back up the mountain, but it's part of my plan to get in shape for the great expedition this spring. I usually exercise on the eliptical in the family room now, but it doesn't do me any harm to get out of the house.

It will stay cold tomorrow, then Saturday night start snowing.  Sunday and Monday are "snow days" as well, though I don't yet know how much to really expect.  It's going to be a long weekend.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Survivalist Magazines, good catalogs, and the end of a visit.

My daughter left to go back north this afternoon.  We had a good visit.  I worked on her car some, just minor things. When she came back to the U.S. from Canada, she and her brother had no vehicles. My wife and I  got him a Jeep Liberty, and her a Jeep Commander.  Both stout vehicles, not new but in good shape. My kids are proficient in basic vehicle maintenance but there were some other things on the Commander that needed attention and this was a good opportunity to address those.

We sent her back loaded with dried fruit, country ham, honey, and other things we store here that are either expensive or hard to find up there. It always makes us feel more secure to think they have at least the nucleus of a good food storage system, something to tide them over til we could get them out of the city, or they GOOD (get out of Dodge)  on their own.

The Silkies are doing well in their new home and seem to be settling in, so that apparently is going to work out alright. They aren't much trouble, and they are good layers so what little extra maintenance this little group of chickens require is requited in that respect.

The new Off Grid is out.   Given the season, and all the bad weather again this year, it's not surprising that it focuses on cold weather survival.  I actually enjoy the adds, and the articles on off road vehicles and gear, as much as anything else.  It's a good, high quality magazine, which is just as well considering it costs so much.

  Popular Mechanics had a good article on surviving tight situations, so I bought that.  It didn't cost much. I had largely assumed that my outdoors days were pretty well over, but I am planning a camping expedition this coming spring with some people I know, so it'll be time to drag out all the field gear so carefully stored away, once it warms up some. We are due for snow and temperatures in the teens at the end of the week, so it's a bit premature to be thinking about that. Still, I've committed to the trip so I might as well get ready , slowly but surely. I have everything I'll need, from a tent on down. I will unpack it all, and make sure it's still serviceable. Sometimes when something has been stored a long time, and you open it up, you get unpleasant surprises. I hope I make out better with the camping gear than I did with the seeds I stored, most of which were devoured by a mouse.

The Sportsman's Guide surplus catalog showed up in the mailbox earlier this week. It's coming was timely indeed, as I buy a lot of surplus gear from them.  There are other good outfits I buy from as well, but none are as conscientious about sending me catalogs as these guys are.

I often see equipment in the expensive survivalist magazines, which is beyond my reach. At least, I'm too cheap to pay for it because the price is excessive in my opinion. I can frequently get equipment that offers the same function from surplus dealers, though. It might not be as flashy, or have a trendy name embroidered on it, but it does the job and that's all I care about.

The last few days have been busy. My daughter stays up a lot later than I do, and it has been hard keeping up with her as she had lots of places around here she wanted to see again, and some "to do's" that needed attention.  It's been a good visit, and I look forward to a longer one in April.  Now it's time for me to catch up on my rest.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Log entry on a cold and starry night.

It's cold out there tonight.  Lots of stars out though, which is some compensation for the chilly weather.

I have not been using wood heat this winter. I have the fieldstone fireplace and the two wood burning stoves, but I elected to heat primarily with the propane heaters. I can set them, and they maintain a constant temperature. No getting up in the night to put wood on the fire, and no chimney fire concerns.  Of course, it's a bit more expensive.  A long bed truck of stacked and split oak costs me $60.00 if I pick it up at the wood yard. I burn about one load every one and a half to two weeks in really cold weather.  In terms of propane,  I have burned about 400 gallons in 120 days.  That comes out to roughly $10.00 a day, or $1200 in propane costs for four months.  Propane, unlike every other fuel I track, has not dropped any in price since oil costs per barrel fell, so I am still paying the same rates I paid last winter. This is largely because the local propane dealerships fix the price among themselves, which is common practice up here even though it's illegal. Wood would have run me less for the same time period.  I think that wood will remain a backup, and I'll keep supplies otn hand, but it's a lot less work to use the propane heaters.

My daughter has come down to visit for a week, and she brought the Silky chickens. Very strange looking creatures, you wouldn't know they were chickens if you just looked at them. But they seem to be good laying hens, and we have converted a portion of the glass house for their living quarters. Even if they could stand the cold, the regular chickens would kill them if I let them outside. Now I have another space to heat, though, and that will be with electric heat. My electric bill has been running about $250 a month, because of the constant extreme cold, but it beats damaged supplies and equipment, or busted pipes, in the outbuildings.

Another building to heat means more kerosene to store and another kerosene heater to buy, as backups . When the power goes out, as it frequently does for varying lengths of time here, I still have to be able to heat those spaces and I do it with kerosene shop heaters. At $4.00 a gallon for kerosene, I don't do that unless I have to.  Still cheaper than broken pipes or lost supplies, though.  I now have to drive to an adjacent county to buy kerosene. The last station that sold it in my own just went out of business. The economy may indeed be recovering as the Great Golfer in Chief and his toadies claim, but you sure can't tell it from life up here in the Smokey Mountains.

This weekend is shaping up to be enjoyable, but the cold is due back mid week and I'm not looking forward to that overly much. Still, there's always work to be done inside, and I'll not have any problem staying busy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Post Apocalyptic Fiction by Deborah Moore

 Deborah Moore has been a "prepper" for quite awhile. She's  been associated with for a long time, and is a friend of Jim Cobb,  a noted author of  useful prepper books .  Ms. Moore lived in the deep forest, completely off grid, for many years and her experience shows in the realism of her story line.

The Journal: Cracked Earth traces events in a small town after the New Madrid Fault becomes active, causing serious disruptions throughout the country, and a temporary breakdown of the social infrastructure.

The book is written entirely from the perspective of the female protagonist,  a rural woman who lives by herself and takes care of herself, but is plagued by loneliness and the difficulties of managing her largely self sufficient compound single handed.

Bearing in mind that these books started out as serialized fiction on a blog, and were intended to be training aids, her writing is actually very good and the story retains a readers attention.  The books tend to deal more with the issues women are concerned with, so there are no barbarian hordes swarming across the countryside, and far less of the violent action that most novels for men feature.  Rather, it's a kind of how to do story, featuring a lot of recipes for meals I could have done without, and a great deal of introspective reflection by the main character on men, relationships, security of the family, et al.  All of these are important, but they don't make for exciting reading. Even so, the story is good enough to keep you reading and an individual  who pays attention can't help but come away with some valuable information. I've had chickens for 16 years and I still learned a few things about chickens and egg production from Moore's story line.

Ash Fall picks up where Cracked Earth ended.  It details the further adventures of the primary character in the first novel, as well as the ancillary characters who appeared as the story developed.

The books are both concerned with tectonic shifting and the havoc earthquake and volcanoes consequently inflict on the North American continent.  A third book is in the wings, and I'm looking forward to reading that.

These novels have been published in both print and kindle editions. The reviews from those who purchased the first two novels have been overwhelmingly favorable, and I tend to lean that way myself.  With the advent of self publishing at virtually no cost via Kindle style books, there's a lot of post apocalyptic fiction out there and most of it is pretty terrible. These two works were written by a person who knows her topic intimately, and the editing is excellent, which prevents those aggravating errors that so detract from an otherwise good story.

Neither the Kindle edition nor the print edition are particularly cheap, but you're getting two things for your money. One is a good, entertaining read.  Women will particularly enjoy the books because they were basically written by a woman for women.  The other is some very specialized knowledge that will come in handy for anyone of the survivalist or prepper mind set.  In reading these two books, the protagonist reminded me of several women I've met through blogging over the years, and somehow that made the story even more credible.  They're worth the money.