January 31, 2010

Slip Slidin' Away...

...through Texas. Well, once again, God found a way to make an unbearably dull week some what interesting. He never lets me down, though I'm sure there are quite a number of folks across the country that feel differently about this weeks ice storm. Don't know why I'm so weird, but to me, natural disasters and freak weather have always gotten me excited rather than worried or upset. While everyone else is trying to find a way around it or out of it, I'm ready to rush into the middle of it all!

We loaded up our feather meal in Mount Pleasant, TX on Thursday morning. It was going to be a very long weekend! Four days to cover the miles we can do in just over 24 hours. I was bored just thinking about it.

We new there was a storm brewing. We'd seen the weather reports on TV and online. We always do that this time of year to determine what the best route will be, or at least to know what we're headed into. We debated going 100 miles out of route and taking I-10 instead of I-40, but we figured this storm couldn't throw anything at us that we haven't driven in before. The only hitch might be that these southern drivers weren't as used to it as we were, but we'd just be a little more cautious around them.

So off we roll, cruising north of Dallas well before the evening rush hour. We stopped in Denton to eat brunch at Waffle House. It was drizzling rain, but before we left it turned into a pretty good drencher. Onward we go, through the puddles ambling our way towards Amarillo where we'd pick up the interstate and head west toward California. But a kink got thrown into the plan, a little twist we hadn't counted on, or even considered, though we should have.

Trucks heading south began to show up with ice on their hoods and trailers. Not a good sign, but we'd expected ice. It was in the weather reports. But when we got to Wichita Falls, still in the rain, there were signs posted on the highway informing northbound traffic that I-40 was closed at Amarillo to the New Mexico state line. Hadn't counted on them closing the road. Major oversight on our part.

We were still at least 250 miles from Amarillo, but here's the thing. Remember discussing parking issues a few weeks ago back before Christmas? Well when they shut down a road like that, parking quickly becomes a major ordeal. Its pretty much every man for himself, and it quickly becomes a situation where you have to "invent" parking places, and its really unpleasant! We figured we'd stop while the getting was good, and pulled into a Flying J in Wichita Falls where we had a shower credit and food near by. Within the hour I was sitting listening to sleet pinging off the roof.

Thursday morning we woke up to discover a slightly icy world, but over all not bad. The truck had ice on it, but the bulk of the parking lot was fine. Just a few slippery spots. The interstate was still closed though, so we drove across town to Walmart, did some shopping, and ate lunch at Cracker Barrel. By that time, they had reopened the roads, so we headed north again.

This part of Texas is relatively flat. There are vast open areas, and there are miles of thick brush that looks impenetrable. Just glancing around, it was hard to believe that just north of us was a snowy, icy disaster.

Its mostly crop land here, not so many cows, though I know when we all hear Texas we think giant cattle ranches and Lonesome Dove. Those exist in Texas too, just not so much in this part. Texas may be one of the most diverse states in the country, due in part to its size. It is one of our favorite states, and Malcolm has said on more than one occasion that if he moved he'd like to go to Texas. I'm inclined to agree. It is in my top 5 for places I'd move to. There's just something about it there.

Just a little ways north of Wichita Falls, it became a different world.
The roads didn't look too bad, but if you just turned your attention a few inches past the white line on the shoulder, you knew something went down here the night before...
...and that something was ice! Lots of ice!

Lots and Lots and Lots of ice!

And though the roads didn't look too bad, a number of people had found out earlier that it doesn't take much ice to cause "issues."
I've made the observation a number of times that dangerous things are also beautiful. Wonder why that is? Storms are beautiful, but dangerous. Many predators (leopards, snakes, poisonous frogs) are beautiful, but obviously dangerous. And ice...probably one of the most beautiful acts of nature...and oh so very dangerous. There is also oil here, as there is in much of Texas. Truth be told, I think you'd be surprised how many states have oil. I know I was surprised at how many places we see these wells being pumped. I know we think Texas and Alaska when we hear American oil, but its in a lot of other places. In fact, my original Montana hometown of Baker is an oil town. That's where the town money is, not in the cattle ranches. Oil is everywhere!
Got a little off track there...sorry!
Here's another little point of interest in Texas.
We have made the observation that every town in Texas has a Dairy Queen, some of them two. And when I say every town, I mean every town. We've been through numerous "dead" towns in Texas where all the little shops are closed and things are falling apart, with only one or two little businesses in operation...and one of them is a Dairy Queen. Maybe that's another reason I like Texas so much. They obviously LOVE their ice cream, and since its one of my biggest weaknesses, I fit right in! The Texas Dairy Queens even have a separate website .
OK, away from ice cream and back to just ice. The further north we went, the worse it got, until we hit the snow line, and now we were combating snow on top of ice. Always nice, though it does give you a little more traction, except where its been driven over again and again and compacted into just thick white ice.
Go? Easier said than done in some circumstances!

I love the overpasses in Amarillo! I love that they used cowboy boots (or are they cowgirl boots? maybe?) as the "L's" in the name. Texas has a lot of pride. You see it on every corner, from government buildings to private residences sporting the lone star on their porch. Yards, parks, streets...its everywhere. Texans LOVE Texas.

We pulled into a strip mall parking lot in Amarillo and walked a couple blocks to a Texas Roadhouse. Its one of Malcolm's favorite places and he was craving a steak. Chatted with the waiter there for a bit about the weather as we watched a solid line of trucks creep eastward behind a line of snow plows. I wasn't aware that snow was common down here, at least not enough to warrant having snow plows. But they had enough equipment that it was obvious they do deal with the white stuff some. Waiter boy said they have a few small snows a year, but this was the worst storm they've had in a long long time. Everything had been closed on Thursday, including the Roadhouse, and the roads really weren't much worth anything even after the work they'd been doing on them for the past 24 hours. They even had the road graders working on the ice right along with the snow plows. It was pretty bad.

After dinner we pulled out and headed west cause we didn't feel comfortable parking at the shopping center all night. We hoped to go just west of town and park, but turns out, even though the roads were opened, trucks weren't leaving. So we had to go almost all the way to Santa Rosa, NM before we found a place to park. And even then it was on an off ramp, which was quiet and peaceful, but not always smiled upon by the highway patrol. They didn't bother us though, so we had a nice quiet night without the rumbling of a neighbors truck or refer unit.

Today, Sunday, we're on into California. Crossed the line this morning. I talked to Dad and Mom earlier and even in Chattanooga, they got 4 inches of snow mixed with ice. That's like the storm of the decade for them! Had it been during the week, they'd have canceled school and everything else for days on end. As it was, they did dismiss school early on Friday, so Mom got an almost three day weekend.

I know this storm effected a huge chunk of the country, and a lot of the trouble was ice. I'm have lots of blogging friends that were in this storms path. My sister in Nashville, Small Farm Girl in Kentucky, and several others. How about you, Jim, at A Rancher's View down in Texas? Were you in all this ice and how did your calves come out of it? Just curious, how many of you were effected by it?

January 25, 2010

Crossing the Tehachapi

Last week...what can I say. We ran almost 4300 miles, which is good, but the two trips we've run since Wednesday morning had abundant time on them. So even with the good miles, we've just about gone batty with the slow pace. Its one of those situations where we complain b/c we're run ragged, and then we get a break, and we complain b/c we're bored. You just can't make people happy can you?

So the mood in the truck has been a bit glum. Malcolm and I are ready for some serious home time, but we're already scheduled for the next week. So the two of us are kind of crabby. Ella's crabby too. Its reached that time of year again when she has to wear panties. The situation put her in a great mood, and then I went and put her in panties and so you can imagine how cheerful she is lately.

Her bad mood has put Carlie Jean in a snit because Ella won't play with her, and also because she just picks up on the bad vibes. So she's been snarly at everyone for the past week, which is oh so pleasant to listen to. She seems to be taking most of it out on Paris for some reason.

And speaking of sweet Paris...she is, for once, the only one of us that is happy. In fact, she seems happier than she's been in a long time. I think its the warm weather.

She's also been very snuggly lately which I'm loving. She spends a good amount of time in my lap, or laying in the heat and looking out "her window" which is actually supposed to be used to see cars driving next to us on the passenger side of the truck, but has always just been assumed to be the girls window.This last trip was a long treck, 1800 miles, from Mount Pleasant, TX to Helm, CA, across some highways and byways of Texas to Amarillo and then I-40 into California.Reaching Barstow, we hop off the 40 and take CA58 across the desert and into the Tehachapi Mountains, dropping down into the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Here we jump onto CA99 and head north, almost to Frenso, then cut cross country to Helm.

Crossing the Tehachapi is a pretty drive. I enjoy watching the geography change so dramatically. It can also be an adventure as you often come up out of the desert and encounter thick fog, rain, even snow and ice. In fact this past weeks storms dumped some snow on the passes and made it tricky going for a while. Fortunately by the time we left Texas, the storms were over and by the time we got to the affected areas, the roads had been cleaned and dried. Lucky we are, for there were drivers in Flagstaff with tales of being stuck for 3-4 days! So perhaps our slow going week was a blessing. Slow though it was, we were at least going!

Approaching the Tehachapi Mtns, as you cross the desert. They are only about 6000 feet, but when you consider the rest of California is near sea level, that makes them pretty tall! And you wouldn't guess, looking around at the surroundings, but this pass is only about 30-40 miles south of the Sequoia National Forest. One day I might get to go there...maybe. Its on my list.

As you begin to climb, the landscape begins to change drastically. Here, the desert plant life goes right up to the snow line.

There are often high winds in this area and wind generators are a prominent sight on the eastern slopes of these mountains.

Eventually the larger desert plants thin out, and small shrubs and grasses begin to fill in.

In the summer time, when the trees are leafed out, its a beautiful scene. For now its green, but in a couple months all this grass will turn golden brown. It makes the green trees very dramatic looking. The further in you go, the more dramatic the vistas.

CA58 and the railroad crisscross paths a number of times through the mountains.

As you reach the western side of the mountains and begin the decent into Bakersfield, the trees begin to thin, and eventually give out all together.

And then you round a curve, and the San Joaquin Valley is spread out before you. Normally you can't see much because of the haze, but on lucky days when there has been rain or wind, you get a good view of the patchwork of fields that fill the valley.

Here is the cornucopia of America. At the southern end of the valley citrus groves abound. Also grown here are almonds and other nuts, grapes, carrots, and much more. There are also a number of dairy's. You see names such as Sunmaid, Blue Diamond, Kraft, Bolthouse, and more.

Looking south, more mountains. I-5 crosses these and drops down into the Los Angelas area.

Moving up the valley through Fresno and north, every square inch of space is planted. Orchards, groves, and vineyards go clear up to nearly the front door of houses. Yards are kept to a minimum, because farmland is a premium commodity here. Further north they grow cherries, apples, pears, and pomegranates, and north of Sacramento the land is used in wheat and rice fields.

As the sun begins to set, we are nearing our stopping point, Traver. Looking east you see fields that run up to the western slopes of the mountains.

A night of rest, a restless night. Neither of us slept good and Malcolm even gave up around midnight and got up to chat with Brandon who was driving all night through Missiouri. We delivered this morning. What did we bring from Texas? A trailer load of feather meal. This is the truck that unloaded the same product while we waited our turn. This is ground up and cooked chicken feathers. Commonly used in....cattle feed....but also a good fertilizer, which is what I believe its being used for here.

Obviously after all the rain, this place has turned into a soup hole. We were lucky enough to unload in the warehouse located at the end of the pavement they are installing. But just beyond, everyone was driving in about 4 inches of soupy mud.

We're heading back to Traver. The broker called and informed us that our reload doesn't pickup till tomorrow morning. Lovely. One whole day to go 74 miles. Looks like more unneeded rest. It goes in cycles you know? When it rains it pours, but its never evenly distributed. We're headed back to Texas, on the same route, and when there we'll reload at the same place in Mount Pleasant, more feather meal, and come back here to Helm, along the same route. But there is much more of that driveworth sharing , than just crossing the Tehapachi, so I'll be back with more to share. After all, I have two more rounds or opportunities to photograph things worth seeing.

January 24, 2010

Prayers for a Fellow Blogger

One of my new blogging friends is in need of our prayers.

Willow Witch at Stitchin in the Willows had a house fire this past Monday. They lost part of the house and now her and her kids are going to be displaced for 6-8 months while the rest of the house is salvaged and repaired.

I can't imagine being in her shoes right now. Its has to be so very over-whelming. Please keep her and her kids in your prayers as they pick up the pieces and getting settled somewhere while they wait till they can return home.

I've slacked on my blogging this past week. It wasn't from lack of time. I'm ashamed to say it was from lack of inspiration. I seem to hit a lot of blogging ruts lately. Now that the inspiration and motivation is returning, we're entering what is shaping up to be a rush and hurry week! So I might not by popping up on your screen much for the next week either. But I have my camera sitting next to me, and plan to try and do a post with pictures in the next day or so. Then after this week, we're going to be working our way home for a week off (maybe more?) and you know I always have lots to share after that happens.

Till later!

January 20, 2010

Running the Weather Gauntlet

Hit snow coming out of California on Monday afternoon and had to throw on the snow chains to get over Donner's Pass into Nevada.

We drove through freezing fog in Nebraska all day yesterday, and apparently over night while we slept, it rained and froze cause everything was coated in ice this morning. Walking across the parking lot to get a bite to eat was not my idea of getting my morning exercise.

We're headed to Texas tonight, hopefully coming in behind the storms that have producd tornado watches from Dallas, east...which is exactly the route we're taking.

And then tomorrow we reload and we're off to deliver in Central California Monday morning traveling along I-40 through NM and AZ, playing a game of "chicken" with the storms coming out of California over the weekend. It will be interesting to see where we meet them and what we get.

Looks like we get to see it all this week!!! And just when we thought we'd escaped California in time to miss the big show!

Oh well! At least...things should be interesting! Right?

I'm holding this picture in my mind. Days of more peaceful weather. A soft spring rain, cool damp breezes, and clouds clearing away. Surely we will see days like this again before long!

January 18, 2010

Bloggers Make Me Smile

The blogs I read make me smile! Today is a glum day, with rain, and snow and cold, and both Malcolm and myself are feeling down and disgusted with the way things are going lately. We're tired of what we're doing, and I know everyone goes through this, but its frustrating just the same!

And then I go to my laptop to kill some time, drown some boredom, and all that, and after reading just three of the blogs I follow, with Malcolm looking in for one of them, we've both smiled, both laughed, and I'm feeling a little brighter.

One of those blogs I just started reading recently, well before Christmas, and I just have to say that every time I go to her blog, I come away with a grin....and serious farm critter envy! Between her two goats, three llamas, and her newly acquired donkey, Chester, I get a laugh every time I read her blog. Check out On the Way to Critter Farm when you get some time.

All of the blogs on my blog list uplift me when I read them, and many of them read my blog too. And so I'd like to take this opportunity to tell all of you, again, how much your blogs mean to me, and how much I enjoy the interaction between us in swapping comments and such. Living on the road the majority of the time as we do is lonely, a burden that seems to be growing heavier on my shoulders lately. Loneliness, I think, is one of the biggest problems in this industry. Your friendship makes my days so much brighter, and even if I never see your faces in person, my life will have been touched in a special way through my relationships with all of you.

Thank you for the time you give to your blogs, and thank you for taking the time to read mine. I can't begin to express to you how much you brighten my day!

Chillaxin' in Ripon and Having a Pillow Fight

After delivering our load of wheat in Oakland, CA on Saturday morning, we drove the 70 miles to Ripon to park for the weekend. Mark, our broker, hadn't been able to find anything and told us to park it for the weekend. We figured if we were going to be stuck, we might as well be stuck somewhere where we knew about good food and felt safe. Oakland doesn't exactly provide an ideal environment for trucks. Its very difficult to find extended parking there.

Ripon is one of our favorite places to be sitting, if we have to sit. There is a Love's truck stop and across the street is our favorite Mexican restaurant, Esmirelda's. They have room behind the place for three trucks to park, and we've stopped there enough now that the owner and several of the wait staff, whom I believe are all family, recognize us and greet us with joy. It makes you feel good, plus the food is wonderful!

Also within walking distance of the truck stop are a Sonic (for dessert), and three other fast food joints should we tire of Esmirelda's, which never happens, not to mention a Starbucks. So we are pretty well set in Ripon.

Saturday afternoon we went to sleep for a "nap" and woke up 14 hours later on Sunday morning. After driving 5400 miles last week, we were tuckered out and needed that sleep. Sunday we lounged around, watched three movies, and tried to control the fidgets which set in late that afternoon pretty bad. We were both ready to go do something, anything!

Got a load finally this morning, and we're driving to Winnemucca, NV to load. We're feeling thankful for the load, because freight was down in CA, but to get there we have to drive over Donner's Pass empty, and it just so happens they are getting 3-6 feet of snow up there today. Chains are required and we are nearing the stopping point, oh joy! We're just grateful to get out of CA before all hell breaks loose. Their weather report looks extremely soggy, and not the kind of weather we want to be hanging around in.

For the past weeks I've been waking up with neck and shoulders aching. I've come to the conclusion that I need a new pillow. I think mine's shot. I continue to be perplexed though as to how to go about pillow shopping. Its not like I can buy one and if it doesn't work out then return it. At least I hope you can't do that with a pillow b/c that would be gross!

But how are you supposed to find the pillow that's right for you by standing and looking at them in the store, maybe squeezing them for firmness. How do you know what you need? How do you pick? Help me out here please? Any tips? Cause I'm really tired of having this neck ache!

January 14, 2010

Mom's Quilt

Now that Christmas is over, and I presented the gift to Mom, I can now finally post a picture of it. This is me, bragging on myself, something I normally don't do, but this time, I'm gonna.

I started this last January, taking a square at a time with me in the truck. I had so much fun with this quilt, picking out the colors, using my pattern to create the pitchers with just the right floral design, and doing the hand applique which I had not done before. Aside from having my mother-in-law show me how to do the hand stitching, this is the first quilt I have done completely by myself, start to finish. (except I took it to a quilter in Billings to be quilted, and let her do the binding too)

It turned out so beautiful, and I think Mom liked it. It made her cry, so I think she might have liked it some. I hope it brings lots of pleasure to her and she is reminded how much I love her every time she sees it.

Love you Mom!

January 12, 2010

A Few Shots

Coming through South Dakota last week was the worst driving conditions we have ever been in! It was dark, so I couldn't take any pictures, but I did get a few the next morning as the storm was finally moving out. This is on US212 in South Dakota, just before entering Wyoming.

At this point, it was not bad at all, and nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to winter driving out here.

A few miles down the road and it all cleared up and turned into a beautiful day. At home the sun was shining, the wind was not blowing (for once), and we had 8 beautiful inches of undisturbed snow in our yard. Even the deer hadn't been through like usual.

Thursday dawned another beautiful, but miserable, day with a starting temperature of -34 degrees. I spent the day thanking God that the wind wasn't blowing still! We had an uncommon 4 days with hardly a breath of air moving.

Thursday night, Malcolm and Brandon decided to take the snowmobile for a spin around the pasture. They got all bundled up and went bouncing out the door like two kids.

About 5 minutes later they returned, stripping off their hats and gloves as they came through the door, mumbling curses under their breath, and rushing over to the stove. They said they were going to put wheels on the snowmobile and ride it this summer. Things are so different as an adult. Why does cold get colder, and hurts more painful? Its just not fair!