Together Again!

Ok…where was I? Right! I didn’t think I’d have much to say about my journey from Fargo to Sturgeon Bay, but as usual, life, the way God makes it, is always full.

First I must say Fargo surprised me. Apart from its standing as a backwards place, full of half crazy mystical characters, the area and the people I visited with were not comedic at all. It was a small but suprisingly metropolitan city in a God awful cold and windy place. That’s all I learned about Fargo this trip. I just stayed the night, got a pizza, and drank a half a can of PBR and talked with a few nice folks!

From Fargo I headed east to Brainerd MN and visited truly a wonderful couple who have a cute cabin also in Polebridge Montana. Bill was and still is a faithful friend and prayer supporter of our son and it’s always a joy to see both he and Kathy. I appreciated thier hospitality, their faith and fellowship. Great people, nice home, super close family. And like all hospitable hosts they fed me well! So typical of good hosts and always a blessing, a good host asks when you’re trying to leave early morning, “Would you like an egg before to leave?” Sure, it’s just an egg you think. Twenty minutes later delicious yummies are produced and always the finest combination of conversation and eating begin. Thanks Bill and Kathy!

Bill and me!
“An egg!”

Around 8 a.m. I’m on the road again and soon after I am traveling around Saint Paul Minnesota, ironically the most dangerous part of my journey so far. The crazies are out at that time of morning. They’ve had too many cups of coffee and are all in a rush to get somewhere important. At least a sane person would think so. The semi trucks and their trailers were flying by me. All were speeding and darting in and out of traffic searching for that slight edge over the other to get where they were going. Besides their speeding, the roads were worn and groved which made the old van bobble and weave. At moments I thought, “This is it! I was going to hit one of these groves and big semi was going to fly by me and suck me into it. Soon after there would be all sorts of antique Metro van parts for sale on Craigslist.” But I survived, barely, and that’s not rhetorical drama, it’s truth, the “barely” part!

Now a while back, before I arrived in Brainerd, I started hearing a pinging sound. For those of you not familar with the mechanical workings of old vehicles; the timing can get out out of wack, and “advanced timing” on an engine can make a pinging sound. It happens when the piston fires late in the engine progression. A well timed engine fires just before “top dead center.” I’ll not bore you with further mechanical details, but that is what my enginge was sounding like. I needed to adjust my timing, so I thought.

So at first the noise was not that loud so I drove on. I had more important objectives I was going to see Jackie, my wife, and make my destination, Stugeon Bay Wisconsin. But gradually the pinging became louder, “the distributer must have loosened, I thought!” I pulled into the next gas station, the Flying J near Hudson Wisconsin. I came prepared! I had a timing light with me and I checked my timing. It was right on, so I something else was wrong. I looked around and could not see anything striking, so I decided to reproduce the sound by opening up the throttle and accelerating the engine. This is where pinging occurs. It’s also sometimes associated with vacuum advance. As I pulled the throttle linkage I noticed the power steering fluid holder shaking. So this was the culprit, not the timing.

Welding the bracket

The bracket had broken at the bend. I suppose a stress fracture. After all the steel is at least 40 years old. We used an old bracket off another vehicle. “Well now what?” I thought. I have about all the tools I need in the van, but I don’t have a welder. I called around and one person recommended another until I finally found an outfit that could weld my bracket bact together. It was Veterans Truck and Trailer Service in Hudson, WI.

Great people worked there. When I pulled up they was like a bunch of girls flocking to a new puppy. “What year is it?” “What engine do you have in it?” “Look he put four wheel drive in in!” The guys were great! Young and enthusiastic diesel mechanics.

They were obviously all proffessionals. Their shop was fantastically outfitted and the were very busy working on several eighteen wheeler’s. I was thankful they had the time to fit me into their busy schedule, I told them I desperately wanted to make Sturgeon Bay by nightfall.

Yhe bracket was not a hard fix and it only took the pros a half hour shop time to remove and weld the break. Fifty bucks and a bunch of fun with the young men and I was rolling again.

Darkness fell and it got cold again, but by seven thirty I made it. My eight hour drive had turned into and eleven hour experience, but I was with my bride. We were together again! It was a well worth it journey. After hugs and kisses, I wanted some Perch and a beer. We stopped into the most typical of northern Wisconsin restaurants, The Greystone Castle in Sturgeon Bay. The place was filled with mounts and stuffed fish, good food, and friendly people.

We will spend a few days together in Sturgeon Bay then begin our retirement journey in earnestand together next week. First stop Madison to see our Son, then a short stop in Wheaton/Glen Ellyn Illinois to see my sister and high school friends. Then on to Kentucky! From there you’ll have to follow to find out!

To Fargo I Go!

On the road again

After my drive through Montana, reading about my trip from Glendive to Fargo could be considered a disappointment. The drive to Fargo is all four lane highway, a very good one in fact. So, after bouncing my way along narrow roads to Glendive Montana I was ready for the freedom to take my eyes of the road now and again.

Four lane Hwy 94 east of Glendive

The first one hundred miles or so is comparably very beautiful. The terrain is similar to South Dakota’s Badlands, but different. It’s almost moonscaped. There is also The Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the west end of Hwy 94 in South Dakota. I did not visit the park, but it looks very interesting. I’ll see it someday for sure!

Outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Eventually I passed through flatter terrain and one of the most productive oil reserves in our country called the Bakken formation. Williston and the Dickinson area produce the most oil and there are billions of barrels left to us by God. Just a little further east several wind farms spring up polluting the skyline. I personally think oil rigs are less visually oppressive. Yet, my libertarian side says, “if both are on private land, I have no say, just opinions.”

One Opinion
Another Opinion

I did get a little sleepy along the route. I took a 5 minute nap and picked up some Mountain dew. See video.

Video

Some have asked how Ania, our 115 lb Polish Tatra dog is doing. I asked her myself, but I got no response. She’s not being rude, she just can’t speak human. My impression is she’s quite happy: With the change of scenery and all the new smells I think she’s reflecting suggestive happiness. On the North Fork, where I live, the land is pristine. A few animals and guests who visit us are all she has to sniff. Conversely, every rest stop has a smorgasbord of droppings and discharges for her inquiry. You asked!

Our hairball!

Well, anyway, my trip across North Dakota was certainly not as exciting as waiting to hear if I froze to death or launched my van into a deep ravine, but based on the great quality of the road itself it was a nice drive. I’m now settled into a pet friendly, Red Roof Inn, resting comfortably. Tomorrow, Brainerd, MN to see great friends who have a cabin a couple miles from us in Polebridge. I’ll skip that post, unless the van slides off a bridge into the mississppi river or someting of the sort. Later…..

Lonesome Highway

Made it to Glendive Montana! This morning the van started with the first turn of the key, it was 22 below. I had two block heaters on the oil pan; one 100 watts the other 200 watts. It was about 7:30 am when I fired up the old gender neutral beast; I have not decided which sex “it” is yet. I think I’ll name it after the trip.

Almost immediatly the roads outside of Great Falls become devoid of inhabitants. I suppose it was the cold. Most rational people are not fond of long journeys bounded by high winds and 22 below zero temps.

Basically, my ride was uneventful except for the bumpy ride, blowing snow, high winds, and below zero temps. The winds were around 20 mph with gusts topping 35 mph. Visibility was not an issue most of the time. Fortunatly for most of the ride the winds were at my back. Later on in the day they became crosswinds and that was daunting. When I added the fourwheel drive it lifted the van about 2 inches and it is now a bit top heavy and its profile is susceptible to wind gusts pushing me around.

In spite of my unusually foolish travel window, Montana is such a beautiful place, and a long ride across this route is highly recommended. There are the dramatic landscapes and a vastness one does not experience in other places. The the savagely harsh windy weather actually helps make the plains gorgeous and a place worth of a visit.

Sure I was nervous about the conditions and the dangers of this journey, but many do it on nicer days and now that I will be hitting the freeway tomorrow I’m sure I’ll miss what I’ve left behind, I already do!

Traveling is often a get in the car and go senerio. But I did this time what I don’t normally do, I stopped, got out of the van, and felt the raging cold winds against my face. I took in the views and felt what it must be like to live winters in such a windy and cold place.

Winnett Montana is such a place. I topped off my gas tanks there. Although I had a 3/4 full tank of gas and was chugging along just fine, when I saw a small sign that said “gas,” I hit my brakes. In lower case lettering, on a weathered board, the sign said nothing more. I remembered seeing Winnett on the map, but it is actually off the Hwy. It is tucked up against some rimrock bluffs about a half mile off Montana 87/200 in the middle of nowhere. I could tell immediatly after I hit my brakes and backed up to make the turn. This little town is not visited much by outsiders I thought. Even in the summer months one would have to ask why anybody would stop here? If my old van got just average miles per gallon I too would have just cruised by. B & D Services, is this gas stations formal business name, it’s nothing like a typical gas station.. There are no lights, no canopies to keep customers from the elements. There were just two pumps sticking out of the ground in a large dirt parking lot. In a big barn near the pumps their was a half light door with a faded sign hanging inside that said, “Open.” I entered and a nice but matter of fact woman asked, “May I hep you? I replied, “I’d like some gas please.” She said, “follow me I’ll show you how the pumps work.” You see credit cards are not accepted in the pump itself it is on a separate pole and the gas pumps were of a style I have not seen since the 1970’s. The lady took my card and inserted it into the payment pier and said, “there you go,” and she walked back to her hideout. I say hideout because inside it had only one set of shelves with oil products on them and that was all the retail business she was doing. No snacks, no drinks, nothing a consumer would buy. There was a bathroom, some furniture, a wood stove, and a back office area where she had been doing paperwork and eating a salad till I showed up. It really was not set up as a business. It was more like a rural man cave where a few of the 186 residents came to visit, stand by the wood stove, and fill up before they drove to Lewistown for groceries, it is the nearest town 54 miles away. As I pulled away I noticed a large old tower. I’m not sure what it was used for way back when, and I’ve seen many similar. In front was a run down shack, and a sign in that fit the town vide perfectly. See below:

Small Town Big Dreams


Like so many rural western towns there has not been any population growth. In Winnett three census cycles have passed and the population has varried by only three residents. Most towns like this have lost most all of their people to dreams vanished. Here, in Winnett it has virtually stayed the same, that’s wierdly good news for this place. I don’t know how it happens, how a small population stays the same for thirty years?

Well, not much else to say and I need some sleep. So I will just post some photos and a short video. They say a lot.

Note: Across the nearly 400 miles I saw about 10 semi trucks and a dozen cars. See, there are others crazy like me!

Zoom in, I pity the Amazon Prime delivery guy.
At Hotel

A Change of Plan…

I was all ready to leave Monday, but the weather forecast changed and I read it is supposed to be -39° in Polebridge tonight with -55 below wind chills. Ouch! So I started to think of alternatives and asking God for the wisdom to make a good decision.

Making America Great Again with Ania, lighten up!

I’ll make this short! With Jackie’s help we found out that some hotels have plug in outlets for vehicles and we found one in Great Falls. It was already 10:30 am, but I thought if I left immediately I could make the 5+ hr trip to Great Falls where it will only be -22 below tonight, and I could plug into their power (being on grid has advantages).

Just outside of West Glacier

Before I could leave or make the reservation I had to get the Van started. Last night it was -22 below at home so this would be a good test for the Great Falls option. After hooking up a second magnetic block heater and connecting my battery charger for an hour I tried to start it. No go! But it turned over slowly. I waited a little longer and tried again, three more times. Finally, it barely started and I was off.

Near Marias Pass

The van ran well. The road was a little sketchy through the lower end of Glacier Park, but I soon hit mostly dry pavement after I got past East Glacier.

In winter the roads heave and I bounced my way all to Great Falls. It’s quite exhausting. Nonetheless, I’m so glad my plans changed. I would never have gotten the van started tomorrow (I may not here either, but I have a shot). Also, I think God knew, and your prayers helped; I would not have made the Glendive objective in one shot, I’m exhausted.

Exhauted because I was cold while driving and all the bouncing on the road. It was between -5 and -15 outside the whole way and the van got as warm as 54° and as cold as 45°. I realized after I got here that I must have bumped the off/on switch for the diesel heater and it clicked off about an hour before I got to Great Falls and that’s when I froze. I thought the inside temperature was a result of falling outside temps. The van also has tiny air leaks that I must get fixed should I do somthing as crazy as this again. For now I just stopped and used duct tape! Always bring duct tape on adventures!

Duct tape on my side door
Meriweather Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame

Well, that’s it for the first leg. I start all over again tomorrow, maybe. If the van does not start I’ll stay another day, I’m retired right! No deadlines! The next leg is the worst, both road and weather wise, gusty winds are forecasted and cold temps again. Goodnight from Great Falls.

The Journey Begins 3.04.19

Well….After a mad flurry of preparations and long hours in my cold garage working on my Metro van, I’m heading out from Polebridge Montana to pick up Jackie, my love, in Wisconsin Monday morning. From Polebridge, our home, to Glendive Montana is 571 miles, the first leg. It’s an absolutely beautiful, but barren drive. In winter it can be also very dangerous and I’m not sure I can still do 11 hour non stop, knuckle busting, road trips. But I think the adrenaline will help.

Ready to go!

This past month we have had unusually cold weather and lots of snow. On the plains and tonight, Saturday March 2nd, in Lewistown Montana (on route) it’s currently -21° below with wind chills of -41°. It is forcasted to get even colder, down to -29° later tonight.

Monday I’ll be too busy trying to say warm and on the road to post pictures; and cell service is spotty. So, today I went on the State of Montana Road Conditions website and copied some photos from their live road cam’s.

The new bridge in Hungry Horse

These photo’s should give you an idea of the terrain and current road conditions I’ll be experiencing Monday. I’m sure I’ll stop and take a few pictures myself and I’ll share them when I have time, but for now these will do, they are pretty good!

Geyser Montana on Hwy 200 3.2.19
Along my route a little bit after Great Falls at sunrise! 3.02.19

Before I say anytimg more, please pray for a safe journey. The old van has only two shorter “summer journey” experiences. I don’t have a clue how it will do in below zero temps and icy, snow covered highways, but I’m optimistic and have faith.

Lewistown Montana the morning of 3.02.19
Lufborough, about 150 miles from Glendive.
Nowheresville!

The same people who constantly threaten us with global warming and can’t get each day’s weather right, are projecting more cold and windy conditions, but a clear and sunny Monday March 4th. I hope they are right on this one! I told my mom, “We Montana’s are adventurous and I’ll just enjoy the ride!”

I’ve pretty much done all I can do to be safe. I’ll be filling my tank with gas at every opportunity and I’m carrying 7 gallons in spare plastic gas cans just in case. Gas stations are few and far in between along Hwy’s 87, 89, and 200 and “conditions” can change quickly.

Towns with populations of twenty are 100 miles apart. You cannot very well break down and walk to the farmers house without freezing to death. I’ve called all the gas stations along the route and I asked about the road and how late they stay open. Some said 8 O’clock others said 10 p.m “maybe”. The longest stretch without gas, if they are open, is 150 miles. I think/hope I’ll get 200 miles out of my van’s tanks and with the extra 7 gallons I should be fine. I only got about 11 mpg this last summer; and fuel efficency goes down in cold winter weather. I’m also bringing extra gas in case I get into a wind whiteout and have to wait it out idling; it doesn’t need to be snowing to get a whiteout. But just in case all fails, I also bought and installed myself a really interesting diesel heater that works independently of my engine. I installed it just last week and tested it. It works great! It’s a Chinese brand. It has a glow plug and a diesel drip pump. It heats the glow plug then drips diesel fuel into a housing with fins.

Chinese Heater in my van

A fire inside the housing produces heat and the fins warm up. A small 12 volt fan kicks on and blows air past the fins and it produces 5kw of heat at full power. The inlet sucks outside air and the outlet vents the diesel air outside the van so no smelly fumes or exhaust dangers. The only issue I see is that it runs off an auxiliary battery. I’ve only tested it for four hours. It worked great for four hours on my old battery until it shut off when the voltage dropped too low (a safety feature). Now, with a brand new AGM auxillary battery, it can be charged by my alternator and protected by a battery isolator when the enginge is off, it has a 105 amp hour capacity. I think the heating unit draws about 30 watts continually and about 400 watts on start up to heat the glow plug. I’m hoping It will run 6 plus hours before having to recharge the battery. I’m hoping because the company did not specify the actual wattage used or how long it will run, those are my numbers based on info I gathered from website bulletins boards. One hint nobody mentioned, for those who may want to buy one of these heaters is, it’s best to start the heater with the engine running and charging the alternate battery. Basically letting the alternator heat up the glow plug. This way the glow plug startup process won’t drain the battery. The start up of one of these heaters can remove as much as 20% of your storage capacity and reducing your run time significantly. So, besides the diesel heater, I have a Buddy Heater and 3 canisters of Propane. This could give me 3+ hours of heat in an emergency. I’ll also have a lightwight synthetic comforter, two fleece blankets, two cheap Kmart 40+ degree sleeping bags, my winter jacket, all my clothes for the long tour, and my 119 lb dog. I hope that’s enough because there is not room in the van for another thing!

Because it is the van’s first big, untested, winter journey I also felt like had to bring a bunch of tools, wrenches, sockets, spare fuel filter, my honda generator, an impact driver, a battery charger, a solar panel, and a goal zero lithium “generator.” They call the Yeti Goal Zero a generator, but it is actually just a battery with a built in inverter. I can use it to power my electronics and it recharges by shore power, 12 volt cig lighter, or solar.

So here is the routine I expect to do at each below zero start up. First I’ll try to stay at a hotel in Glendive if I make it that far. In the morning it’s supposed to be about -14°. So I will bring my generator into the hotel to keep it warm. In the morning I’ll bring the generator out to the van, chain it up, start it, and hook it up to the installed 100 watt block heater I added to the engine. I’ll let that run for about an hour to heat the oil. Many cars can start at below zero temps, and mine probably could too if it did not have a new engine. The enginge is still in the “break in phase” so I had to add Lucus Oil Stabilizer. “It allows motor oils a higher degree of lubricity which reduces oil consumption and operating temperatures.” It is a must for new “older” engines along with a zinc additive. The problem with the Lucus Oil is that the stablizer is really thick and needs at least 5° temps to flow properly, per the manufacturer. Anyway, hopefully the engine will start and I’ll be on my second leg of my journey. From Glendive I’ll head across North Dakota, again in freezing, below zero temps, through Bismarck, through Fargo, and hopefully bed down somewhere near Minneapolis. All this travel will be on interstate so not as much to worry about after Glendive. I can do rest stop breaks and bathroom breaks pretty much at will. From Minneapolis to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, that too should not be very eventful?

So, there you have it! Preparation will meet opportunity Monday morning, but God is always in charge and my wishes are not always His. Wish me through prayer God’s speed and the wisdom to make this a safe journey. Thanks for helping me write by giving me somebody to write to; thanks for letting me share our journey.