Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snow Days

Another long round-trip with crummy weather just to make it interesting. This is how these things tend to go:

I got a very early call and got caught a little with only about an hour of sleep. That alone makes for a miserable trip, fighting the heavy lids through the wee hours and trying to be coherent. After enough years of this though, I'm pretty used to it as long as I don't try to do too many all-nighters in a row. It's not the end of the world, just not my favorite thing to do. One of my old conductors used to call me 'the Iron Engineer' for my ability to hold off sleep and function like almost like a human on very little shut-eye but it ain't getting any easier as I get older.

To make the trip more exciting, the weather guys had been forecasting a 'historic' snowstorm for about a week so I was sort of expecting a long drive. It was supposed to start before I left but not much was going on all the way out. I drove the van so I'd have good tires just in case but there was almost nothing for the commute. In fact, it was mostly rain and wet snow on the trip and solid rain the whole time I was in the hotel. Temps. went up into the 40's and everything turned to slush and mud. I figured that was too good to last as a call to the Home Office reported heavy snow and closed school in my neck of the woods.

Unfortunately, the railroad gods deemed that it was our turn to take an extra long stay in the bag which turned into 27-plus hours before the phone finally rang to head for home. Between the snow piling up at two inches per hour everywhere to the south and west of us and a hopper train that pasted a car stuck on a crossing, it was an almost endless holding pattern. Even though nobody was hurt in the collision and the snowplows making headway, they still held us for an extra six hours while they sorted it all out and got things moving again.

Once we launched from the yard (still in the rain), things deteriorated pretty fast. The downpour turned to snow before we got 25 miles out and just kept coming. Apparently, all the rain in the valleys was snow on the hilltops because in a matter of about 10 miles, the snow was a couple of feet deep and still coming fast. By the time we made the top of the first hill, we were plowing snow and wondering how bad it was going to get. The stuff was heavy, wet and stuck to everything. It just got deeper by the mile until I had some doubt as to our chances of making the next grade. It's been a long time since I pushed snow very much. It hasn't changed.

It let up some after a while and the visibility improved but the track was still buried. We just happened to not be overloaded for a change and had 11,500 hp to work with so climbing the hills wasn't too bad, all things considered. I guess those weather geniuses do know what they're talking about.

The funny thing is...after we crested the last hill, it pretty much fizzled out. It was like stepping into another world in a matter of a few minutes. Still snow on the ground but nothing like that stretch of about 40 miles with the crap up to the third step. From one end of the trip to the other it went from pouring rain to out-and-out blizzard back to just plain old winter in one day. Like they say...if you don't like the weather around here, wait a few minutes and it'll change. Now if it would only change to spring in the next few...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cold With A Chance Of Bike Ride

Well, the sun finally poked through today (while I was home even)and the thermometer inched up to around the mid 30's. Hmmm...let me think. The road is almost dry, the temperature is a little above polar, the big light in the sky is visible...almost sounds like a ride to me. I knew I'd hate myself if I didn't venture out for at least a short hop. Besides, even younger son wanted to drag out the ancient Raleigh we keep around hoping it'll someday morph into a new Gary Fisher. So after stalling for a while waiting for the mercury to jump up a few more degrees, I scrounged my spandex out of the laundry room and pumped up the tires on the Trek. A couple of layers later, we went out the driveway into a stiff breeze and around our usual loop to warm up. By the time we got back to the homestead, I realized that warm was going to be a little more difficult than I planned. The Raleigh came back indoors with it's young rider and I picked up another sweatshirt and another layer of gloves. I was determined to put on a few miles more since I'd gone to the effort of putting on all these clothes.

Deep down, I know there's a ton of salt on the road and salt is the enemy of cables and aluminum frames but it's been a long winter and the chance to get out is just too good to pass up. With two pairs of gloves, three sweatshirts, cold weather pants and fat socks, it was off again and head west just to see how far I could go.
25.65 miles later, it was worth it. As usual for me, I went up into the hills right off the bat. I got in a couple of pretty good climbs (for me anyway) and just kept on going until the cold finally started to get to me and the knowledge that I'll have to go to work in the wee hours of the morning turned the pedals for home. It really wasn't much of a mileage venture but the climbs felt good and even the leg-burn didn't come on 'till the very end so I guess the trainer miles and all the treadmill work at the hotel has accomplished something. On top of that, I figured out how to embed a map of my escapade in the Wayward Home so that was another plus. I'll probably do more of those as the summer progresses. Are you with me Doc? Our first century is going to be this season.'s still cold out and now I've got some work to do to get the salt off before everything corrodes but I remember why I do this...when you make the last pitch to the top of the hill and know you could do it still feels like victory.

Monday, February 15, 2010

...And So It Goes

I got back from another trip about 10 last night. Seems like they get longer and longer all the time. At least the railroad powers ran us fairly straight through. It didn't take all twelve hours as it usually does lately. Just another day at the office though...big sloppy freight train, electrical problems, slow grind up the hills, etc...same old, same old. I always say that I don't care a lot about a fast trip, I just want them to be uneventful, unexciting (boring is good) and profitable. This one pretty much went along without major uproar so in that regard, it was successful. But I'm about burned out from so many in a row so I took a couple of personal days this week to regroup and get myself reassembled. I always know when it's time to bail SA starts to get fuzzy and I have a hard time keeping all my assorted distractions safely stashed in the box I usually pack them in behind my concentration. Even after all these years, I still have to think about what I'm doing to do it well and when things start to pile up...I just can't. Time to step back and take a look at the landscape.

The one bright spot of the trip came after we'd stumbled up over the last heavy grade and were finally cruising downhill into home plate. I glanced out my side as I was blowing over a crossing to see a familiar van sitting at the gate with an even more familiar face in the windshield. There sat my wife and the kids, grinning away like they'd just won shopping sprees at GameStop and Lane Bryant. They were out train-chasing and just managed to catch me on the glide slope. She used to chase all the time when this was new and the boys were small. She knew most of the track speeds as well as I did so she could get ahead of the train, set the boys up and wave at the next crossing. Routine eventually set in as it tends to do, the kids got older and the novelty wore off so the chases kind of faded away over time. Still, every once-in-a-while, she loads them up and away they go. She's not quite as adept at finding the right train anymore (or even the right tracks) but even so, sometimes they get lucky and find the monster in the woods with the old guy driving and make me smile. Simple things for a simple man can brighten the dark days.

There's been a series of personal events lately that have me pretty shook up and confused so with the drop of my grip at the door...I believe I'm going to sit still a minute or two, maybe sip a beer and think things over. Nietzsche said that "...when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." Maybe it's time to look long and see what it is that's looking back. Times have been tough around the Wayward Home for many weeks and the world has been awfully cloudy, inside and out. I could use a little clearer vision perhaps.

In the meantime...C and I are going to break away a little bit while I'm off and have a late Valentine's Day with each other. As usual, we missed the actual day because I was working but over the years, we've sort of adapted to having holidays and such on odd days anyway. It has it's advantages. On the big weekends, we miss the traffic and the jacked-up prices by taking the day off on Tuesday and for everything else...the thought counts more than the calendar box as far as we can tell. Any day without CMC ringing my phone is a holiday to me and by this'll be off and I'm not going to care where I left it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's Been Such A Long Time...

So says Boston from way back when. Yes troops, I know it's been a long time since I tapped out anything on the 'Home' but life intrudes so much into your time for this kind of thing. Between the ridiculous hours at work and the medical issues and the to-do list and the...well, you get the picture.
Basically, I don't have a lot of patience lately for much other than the essentials of pushing through another day anyway. We've been doing battle with the medical profession and the cutthroat insurance industry for about 3 weeks and it's worn me down about as far as I want to go. I've never seen anything like this. Everybody has a waiting list or doesn't accept my 'Cadillac' insurance policy. What the hell am I paying for? I've never been more frustrated. Seems like there's times when everything piles up at once and it just feels like you can't do one more thing on top of what's already on the plate. But then you do and then something else collapses and you're off and running to handle it. Even something as simple as typing a blog entry seems like a major undertaking all of a sudden.
...and then the phone rings to go to work...NOW. My train is about 6 hours late getting here so I got to sleep most of the night for a change. Maybe we won't spend 24 hours in the hotel this time since we're leaving in daylight. I figured it would be a late call when I checked the lineup last night so I stayed up a little longer planning on some extra zzz's. Good idea except for the RR waking me up at 4:30 this morning to ask if I wanted to work a job in New Jersey (where I've never been, am not qualified, in a yard I couldn't even find) on a day when the snow is a foot deep and it'd take me till next Friday to get to. I can't get them to stop doing that no matter how many times I tell them I'm not qualified on New Jersey Transit's railroad and so can't go there even if I wanted to, no matter how many times they call me. So much for that "get proper rest" thing they're always preaching. The one time I could sleep in, they wake me up anyway. It's one more irritation they provide along with all the other petty nonsense that goes with the job. I have to put up with it but there's days when it just about pushes me over the edge.
In the meantime, I better close up shop and get my stuff together. It's still snowing pretty steady and supposed to keep on most of the day. It'll be a long commute with all the fair-weather drivers out there this morning so I better hit the road early. It takes almost an hour on a good day so I gotta roll.