Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mission: Expedition Extraction

Posted by: Rick

We had a master plan that we failed to execute in time:

  1. Place the Ford Expedition at the state line. It does not have chains, but is a reliable vehicle that we can use to go into town and back. 
  2. Place the Suburban, which has tire chains, at the "top of the hill" on our neighbor's property. 
  3. Use the Ranger to get to either the Suburban or Expedition, depending on the road conditions to the state line. If they are "good", meaning we can get there with the Suburban, with or without chains, then we take the Suburban to the state line. If we don't have chains on, then maybe keep going all the way into town with the Suburban. But, if we do have chains on her, then rather than take them off for the trip to town and put them back on to get home, we'd just switch to the Expedition. If the roads are closed, even to the Suburban with chains, then take the Ranger all the way to the state line and switch to the Expedition. 


(By the way, when we say we put a vehicle at the "state line", we don't literally park it on the road at the border. There are a couple of people who have properties at or near the state line, but always near plowed roads, that will let us park a vehicle on their property. We have the Suburban parked at "Mr. H's", who is a great guy and keeps an eye on her for us.)

We got caught in a recent storm with the Suburban parked at the neighbors, but the Expedition still parked at the cabin. And, the storm closed the roads for a couple of weeks, so we had no way to get out of Sand Creek Park and into town. Sure, we have the Ranger which will go pretty much anywhere, anytime. But, we can't drive it all the way to Laramie. Without a vehicle at the state line, we were truly snowed in.

The Expedition parked at the cabin. Going nowhere.

If you follow the blog, you've seen the posts about opening the road and moving the Suburban to the state line. So, a modified plan is in place. We can always take the Ranger the 6 or so miles to the Suburban. But, I wanted to try to get back to the original plan. So, our neighbor and I hatched a scheme where we'd use a loaned Kubota tractor with a blade on the back and a bucket on the front to plow out our driveway and Hidden Meadows Lane. Then, we'd drive the truck over the prairie where the wind has blown the snow away, and eventually get it on the road to town. We'd then swap the Expedition and the Suburban, and be back to the original plan.

We failed.

This is Hidden Meadows Lane from the top of our driveway. I can drive the Ranger of this fine, but the snow is actually anywhere from 12" to 3' deep along this stretch.

Here is the video from which the above image was taken. I'm driving the Ranger down Hidden Meadows Lane and back just to show how much snow there is:

We hatched a plan to use a borrowed Kubota tractor that has a blade on the back and a bucket on the front to clear Hidden Meadows Lane and the top of our driveway. Then, we'd be able to drive the Expedition to the intersection of Hidden Meadows Lane and Wapiti Way, and then follow a trail we've cut through the prairie where the wind tends to blow the snow clear. We'd need to do some more digging at the top, but with a little effort and the help of the tractor, we thought we'd get the Expedition to a road where we could drive it to the state line and implement the original plan.

We had to use the Ranger to tow the tractor over the prairie and to the bottom of the hill. We should have known then that we could not get the truck back up the same way.

Pulling the tractor down the hill to get it through deep snow.

Once the tractor was positioned at the bottom of Hidden Meadows Lane, it was tough to get traction to scoop up snow. But, by clearing snow down to the dirt, the tractor was able to get traction. It was then just a matter of backing up, lowering the scoop, driving forward to fill the scoop with snow, backing up, driving off to the leeward side of the road, dumping the scoop, backing up onto the road again, and repeating the process. Over, and over, and over.

Slowly but surely, eating through the snow.

Yes! A full scoop!

Success! Driveway and Hidden Meadows Lane are clear! And Destin shows his appreciation for a vertical surface to mark.

We got the truck out of the driveway and down the very narrow Hidden Meadows Lane. Now all we had to do was drive the truck up the prairie road.

Our destination is at the top of this hill!

We did not make it. Within 3 feet, the truck was stuck. We tried hooking it up to the Ranger to pull it up the hill (after all we got the tractor down and back up the hill that way), but the snow was just too deep.

So, with effort, we backed the Expedition back into its parking place at the cabin. We'll regroup and try again later, I'm sure. Or, maybe we just live with it the way it is, knowing we still can get to the Suburban with the Ranger and that we have a way out when needed. And, chalk this all up to a lesson learned for next year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Trip Into Town

Posted by: Rick

Yes, you heard me right. After more than two weeks since we'd been into town together, we finally got a chance to do some shopping and run other errands in town yesterday. We returned overdue library books; stocked up on food for several weeks (although we still have our emergency stash that could last a month or more); got much needed gasoline for the snow blower and Ranger; got some wine and whiskey; dropped by the hardware store; bought a new project at the yarn store (that you'll hear more about later); got dog and cat food; and I don't remember what else. It was liberating.

Okay, scraping away at the snow with the Ranger and a snow blower just was not going to get the job done. There was just too much snow on the road. So, we hired a snow plow to come and open the road.

Crashing through the snow.

The results are shown in the next series of photos. That's a lot of snow.




Now, to anyone experienced with our weather, you realize that this is a very temporary solution. All the "tunnels" created by plowing will completely fill in (from left to right in these photos), the first time we have any wind. Theoretically, we should be able to now use snow blowers to open them back up since the snow should be all light and cute and fluffy (not the frozen, compacted stuff from before). But, one never knows, and that is a lot of work still.

The big benefit of having the road open is that we can now park the Suburban at the state line and use the Ranger to gain access to it in almost any kind of situation. Sure, if we get 3 feet of snow and the wind is blowing 50 mph, we probably won't want to take the Ranger out for a 45 minute drive to the state line. But, we can always wait a few days, let things settle some and then get out.

So, again in theory only, we can no longer get "snowed in". At least not for more than a few days. (Our neighbors are chuckling at my naiveté.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ranger Workout

Posted by: Rick

It has been a couple of very busy days for us, and we've really put the Polaris Ranger to work. The cause of all the work is snow.

Early morning view of our improvised road to the cabin site.

It started with a scratchy phone call from one of the three couples that are living up here year 'round. They've been here for 8 or 9 years and know the seasons and the struggles well. And, even they have been caught off guard by the weather. The amount of snow, along with some freezing rain, and no chinook winds have really made a mess of the roads. They had been out with their Ranger and got stuck. They had not yet put the tracks on, and ended up in deep snow on the county road. They were able to walk to their house that day, and the next day hiked back to dig out. But, things did not go well and the Ranger ended up buried in a drainage ditch.

That can happen easily enough. A tire, usually a rear tire, drops off the side of the road, even an inch or two, and efforts to get back on the road surface just spin wheels and pull you further into the low spot. Pretty soon, gravity gets you and pulls you to the lowest spot.

Anyway, I was able to figure out where they were and that they needed help, so fired up our Ranger and took off. Lynne and I drove out Wapiti to County Road 89 and then south a bit to find them. Yup, they were buried and weren't going anywhere without help. They had done a great job of digging all the snow from around the vehicle, so all we needed to do was pull them out. I turned our Ranger around and used the winch. It worked great and pretty soon they were back on solid ground. But, the amount of snow meant they'd just get stuck again trying to drive home. So, I turned around, hooked up a tow rope, and then assisted them home. They could have driven most of it unaided, but when they did start to slip or get stuck, my constant pulling kept them moving.

The next day, our neighbor and I decided to try to open up the county road going north toward the state line. Usually, the wind has blown most of the road dry and there are just 2 or 3 places that need to have drifts removed. Not the story this time. There was enough snow in places that the truck could get stuck. If the snow gets deep enough that it starts to scrape the bottom of the truck, or gets up to the running boards, then not even snow chains are going to keep you moving for long.

Snow blower on a trailer, stuck in deep snow. You can see that I'm plowing a path to it.

We used a combination of the snow plow on the Ranger, and a snow blower to clear the road. We'd do sections of 100 yards or so. First, I make a run with the plow, staying as far as I dare to the leeward side of the road, piling the snow on the opposite side of the prevalent wind direction so that the pile does not create a "snow fence" and just make things worse for the next storm. Then, coming back, I'd widen the track, again moving the snow to the leeward side, but leaving a row of snow down the middle of the road. A third run then moved that pile out of the middle of the road. 

You'd think that would be it. But, no. Turns out, the Ranger, with tracks on, tends to ride on the top of the snow and not fall down through it. That is the beauty of the tracks and the reason we want them and trust them to get us anywhere we need to go, even in deep snow. So, even if I move a large amount of snow on those first three passes, there can still be a lot of snow. The best way forward is to continue the runs up and down the road, only now always moving the snow to the center of the road where my neighbor then drives along with a snow blower blowing the snow well off the road. Multiple passes with this strategy may work?

The road after a couple of passes witht he plow. The snow is still 12" or more deep at this point.

Except in those spots where someone has gotten stuck and dug themselves out, leaving piles of compacted snow in the middle of the road. Or, in places where the snow has drifted badly, then frozen due to the unusual freezing rains we had a few nights ago. In these spots, we tend to leave "humps" of snow that can be a foot or more deep. I can eventually knock them down by hitting them over and again with the plow, taking a few inches off each time.

We did all the above for about 7 hours on Saturday. We made good progress, but I am not sure we could get through with the trucks yet. We did drive the full route we need to take with the trucks, and I continued to move snow off the road where we could do it in 2 passes, but I suspect we'll need to put in many hours again today to feel comfortable driving out.

The good news is that the neighbors who got stuck the other day now have tracks on their Ranger, and are driving it to the state line where they have a truck parked. And, I'm taking Lynne up to meet them and accompany them to town! She had a relatively short shopping list because we really are pretty well provisioned, but she will definitely get a couple of boxes of wine! And, check the mail. It has been 2 weeks!

The commodity I'm starting to worry about now is gasoline. I'm down to 6 gallons for the Ranger and the snow blower. I'll go through that today, I'm sure. So, our efforts to get out today need to be successful.

As a lesson learned, I think we should also keep one of our trucks at the state line. After all, the Expedition is sitting here next to the cabin, stranded and of no use to us where it is. (Digging out the driveway and Hidden Meadows Lane is the next chore, but I'll need gasoline to do that.)

Update: After I drafted the above, we decided it was simply not possible to use the plow on the Ranger to move the deepest snow, especially since it is now very compacted and icy. One lesson learned is to never drive the Ranger with tracks over any place that you want to later use a snow blower. After busting the snow blower (track came off), and realizing the Ranger just does not have the ability to plow heavy, frozen, deep snow, we need to find a different solution. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This is Getting Scary

Posted by: Rick

It is official. We are "snowed in". More than ever.

Keeping the driveway open is a futile effort right now.

I'd been able to keep the driveway open and create a road to our neighbor's where we could work together to get into town if needed. But, after many days in a row of heavy snow, blowing wind, with a little rain and sleet sprinkled in, there is no way we can get out of our driveway with the Expedition.

The Expedition is going nowhere.

There is anywhere from 6" to 24" of snow, some of it very heavy, in the driveway. I'll be able to clear it with a combination of the snow plow, a shovel, a pick axe, and the snow blower. But, not until it stops snowing!

The meadow.

It is a constant effort to keep a path open to the storage shed. The dogs just go out, do their business near the cabin, then want back in. Bella gets "castinets" in between her toes and goes "click, click, click" when she comes inside. Destin's curly coat captures every flake of snow and when we try to dry it the snow just rolls up into little snowballs. Hailey, bless her heart, slogs through the deep snow to do her thing, then "runs" back for a treat, completely coated in snow with her black eyes peeking out.

The prediction for today was that we'd get one inch of snow. I'm sure we are approaching one foot instead.

The storage shed is getting harder to find. There is about 4 feet of snow behind it.

Even our emergency exit strategy is buried in snow. Still the Ranger would fire right up and with the tracks would easily get us out of here. The plan is to take the Ranger on Friday and see just how big a chore it will be to attempt a trip into town on Saturday. If not Saturday, then maybe Monday or Tuesday. (It is supposed to snow again on Sunday.)

Our only hope!

The good news is that our summer preparations and provisioning are paying off. We have plenty of wood and food. It has been 10 days since we were able to get out to check our mail and run into town. It may be another 5 or 6 before we are successful. But, we are prepared. 

The bad news is the exception to our provisioning plans. We did not stockpile enough wine. We have, maybe, 4 or 5 days of wine left at our current rates of consumption!

Seriously, this is a bit scary. It is white everywhere. You cannot see the roads to navigate toward town. We'd have to go 6 or 7 miles before any hope of a plowed road, and there is  no way we could do it in either truck right now The wind howls, even causing the cabin to shake sometimes. In an emergency, we'd be screwed. (Is running out of wine an emergency?)

Friday, January 06, 2017

Welcome to 2017

Posted by: Rick

Mother Nature had a winter welcome for 2017. Between 1 January and last Wednesday, we got 24" or so of snow. Maybe more because sometimes it is hard to tell when the wind blows. We know we got about 18" on Wednesday and Wednesday night because the wind did not blow. The snow came straight down. Then, the cold temperatures arrived. Here is a bit of a photolog of the results.

It was truly a "winter wonderland" with all the trees flocked with new, powdery snow.

One of the first chores is to clear off the solar panels. We have two sets, one on the ground and one on the roof. Destin is always helping.



Destin really loves the snow. Hailey just goes out, does her duty, then wants back in. Bella is a bit more adventurous and will explore some, but is second in the door. 

Here is our outdoor seating and table next to the fire pit.

Anyone want to use the swing?

I used the new snow blower to clear the driveway and part of Hidden Meadows Lane. 

Where is the road?

Oh well, we'll just make our own.

We took the Ranger up to where we have the Suburban parked. We cleared some of the snow off the truck and started it and let it run for a few minutes. This is our way out if we can't get off of our own property.

We are definitely "snowed in". At least we think we are. We don't have the need or desire to see if we can get out on the county roads. The wind will come soon and will both clear off most of the roads, but also create drifts that we'll need to deal with. We have plenty of food and drink, so no compelling reason to try to get out now.


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