Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stuck in the Streets of Seattle

It’s 2 a.m. and we’re stranded on the streets of Seattle. The Fried Piper won’t start, the vegetable oil has congealed in the fuel lines on this cool, crisp night. We’re armed with our mechanicin’ tools (hair dryer, warm water bottles and jumper cables) and we are trying desperately to warm the system, since the Fried Piper has to be to a garage tonight to dry out for its Halloween Costume.
The oil has congealed because we didn’t purge the system, and let the van sit for too long with oil in its lines. A visit with kayak legend Nigel Foster and his partner, paddler and potter Kristin Nelson extended into the wee hours as we had a few beers, played music, planned a trip to the Olympic Peninsula and shared tales of recent adventures. After toast and tea, we were off to take the Fried Piper in for its wrap job. But the good times lasted too long and now we’re trying to create heat. Frantic calls to roadside assistance, plans of towing and pans of hot embers, all failing, desperation setting in, when the van finally fired up with the help of jumper cables and consistent cranking.
Hoorah! A grand completion to a fine evening with great folks.
We drove off down I-5 to Auburn, triumphant, with spirits high. We pulled into the garage and set up camp, laying down pads and sleeping bags in a dark room off the bay. Camping in the industrial district.

Campus Tour in Full Swing

We visited Western Washington University on Monday while our brakes were "fixed". Spoke to Jim Moore's class and were well received. Caught the bus back to the van and prepared a fine dinner of Alaskan clam and chantrelle pasta at the Chicken Ranch, with the family and Haines friends Scot"One T" Nichols, Coleus, and Meghan. A late night Mac session with One T set us up tech-wise and, after a bit of sleep, we were on the freeway again, down I-5 to Seattle Pacific University, where we spoke to the Outdoor Club. The Fried Piper got a bit of love from a Sikh body shop near Safeco Field, now ready for its glorious transformation

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day 12-East of Deception, West of the Town of Gibraltar

We've entered US roads and waterways again, where kilometres are miles and rivers are no longer recorded in cubic meters per second but cubic feet per second. Also,where six-packs are reasonably priced, the grease is soy based and the water tastes like wine.

Our return to the Lower 48, or Outside as it's called by Alaskans, has been calm, with time spent in the idyllic hamlet of Bellingham, eating beets, gathering squash and making homemade applesauce. Some displaced southerners, Joe and Heather, and their daughter Pearl and dog Lusa, have taken us into their wonderful home. We've been eating the last of the garden's bounty and enjoying the temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Today's adventure was a trip along the coastal route out to Deception Pass, where Natcho and I paddled the thin waterway separating the mainland of Washington from Whidbey Island. We caravaned to the water in the family minivan, a perfect advertisement for Toyota, as Natcho put it. The family with the kid in the car seat, kayaks on the roof and the two dirtbag friends in back.

A calm day, with glassy seas and a hazy sunshine breaking through the clouds, made for perfect paddling. "I guess this is my introduction to urban paddling," I said, as we paddled under a major bridge and past waterfront homes. But compared to Natcho's experiences in San Diego, suburban or pastoral might be more apt. We approached the straits tentatively, running the passage left of the island. Current pushed kelp flat, the blades like the hair of an underwater medusa, and we shot past rock walls and tidepools and into the relative calm of the bay. We played in the currents, ferrying across eddy lines and catching swirling back pools, getting used to our big boats again. Birds not seen since my time last exploring the Northwest in 2004 swam and dove around us: cormorants, murres and grebes. Seals and sea lions were our companions again and we enjoyed an afternoon in new waters, having fun and getting excited as we talked about potential adventures on Washington's Olympic Peninsula next weekend.

The family met us in Gibraltar, west of Whidbey, east of Deception and Joe, who works on large ships, shared with us his knowledge of the oil and gas industry in the region. Huge networks of boat lines, refineries and pipelines bringing crude from Alaska to Washington, where it is off loaded and refined. He pointed out "the eternal flame" burning at the Anacortes refinery while we drove back to town.

We had pizza and good northwest beers at a restaurant downtown, across from where we had scored grease the night before, filling our tank for free and listening to the World Series on the radio. We've tapped into our own eternal flame with the Fried Piper.

Ravens in the City

The Museum Of Anthropology is housed in a soaring concrete and glass "post and beam" structure on top of a hill on the UBC campus, with sweeping views of the coast. They have an extensive collection of carvings, totem poles, house post and beams, bentwood boxes, dugout canoes, potlatch serving dishes, and jewelry, mostly from the Salish tribes of southern BC and the Haida from Haia Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). We arrived just when they opened on Saturday morning, squeezing in a visit before leaving town. The "Raven w/ Early Humans" carving, by legendary Haida artist Bill Reid had been much anticipated since Matt described it to me some days earlier. It's carved from a huge block of yellow cedar and sits on a WWII gun turret the museum built around. A skylight above makes the sculpture glow.

We hooked up with David Wolowidnyk for lunch after the museum. He's an old friend from Cayman who paddled Glacier Bay with me in 2001. So, bellies distended from poutine, we navigated the street of Surrey, BC, past lots of very American stripmall development and huge, tightly packed houses sprouting like mushrooms, the Fried Piper maneuvering among the hordes of Canadians heading south to spend their soaring dollar in the malls of America.
The homeland security people had no interest in our homemade power plant, and we were back in the US without incident, soon plying the familiar alleys of Bellingham in search of a greasy fix. A locked dumpster and a few empty ones caused some fuel jitters, "maybe the supply is finally locked down!", but Matt stayed calm and eventually we were slurping an old familiar dumpster dry and heading for a fine reunion at the chicken ranch, with Joe, Heather, and baby Pearl.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Down the Mountain and into Vancouver

We braved the crazy roads from Whistler to Vancouver, past the massive and controversial road project readying the region for the 2010 Olympics, and into the beautiful city. A return for Matt, much anticipated first time for me. Took care of some errands and made our way to Glyn and Terri's house in West Van. I met Glyn when he came to Alaska this summer and went on a kayak trip with two old friends. He made the classic mistake of proffering an invite and we took him up on it. They are really wonderful folks, cheerfully taking in two stinky travellers despite the steady stream of family and work commitments they have. Nine-year old Alana and her eight-year old brother Isaac got to check out some of our slide show in between a full schedule of school, hockey games, piano lessons, tennis, soccer, etc. They are really cute, smart kids with a passion for maps (apparently Canada teaches its kids geography) so they enjoyed our stories and photos.
Our first IWLS presentation was Thursday at Simon Fraser University. We set up our tent in the student union to differentiate us from the Costco table and the people signing up students for credit cards. We realized that having some internal support from schools will make a big difference in our success. Luckily we have this at most of our schools. Anyway, we made some good contacts and got comfortable with the slide show.
We had given up on Skookumchuck, the legendary ocean inlet that forms a huge wave on incoming tidal currents of up to 17 knots, content to take in some of the more genteel offerings of the city. Glyn and his buddies from the Alaska trip, Ken and Jeff, heard this over beers at a pub and were disgusted. A free day, let alone a sunny one, is too precious in their world for a museum visit. So, we were up at dawn and on our way to Horseshoe Bay and the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. A really beautiful part of the world, worth the trip for the drive alone. We passed the quaint little town of Sechelt and into the tiny village of Egmont. From there, we paddled our whitewater boats two miles down the coast, surrounded by huge sea lions playing in the sun. We found the spot, a rock ledge that forms the wave as the current builds on a sufficient tide. Soon enough, the placid inlet became a maelstrom before our eyes, and we were out there with the sea lions, cradled in the bliss of the endless wave. We surfed, rested, surfed some more, took photos, saw a seal catch a huge salmon, and surfed one more time before the wave disappeared as quickly as it came. The 4 km hike out with our boats was exhausting, but a small price to pay for such a wonderful and historic day.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fried Piper in The News

We are in Vancouver, BC, this morning,after a eventful few days. Stories and photos to follow. If you use the link on the right to the Chilkat Valley News you'll see the grease van made the front page! It's a great small town paper that's worth a look anyway. The other links are useful, too. The IWLS website will give you a better idea of what this is all about, and Golden Fuels is one of the two major outfits in the country that sell conversion kits for diesel engines. If you enjoy adorable kid photos, check out Dylan's blog.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Road is Hard

Breakfast on the dash, somewhere between Smithers and Prince George.

The Road to Stewart & Hyder (last week)

A shot of the Fried Piper heading to Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK, past the largest roadside glacier in the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day 6- We find ourselves in Whistler

As hoped for, we found desert warmth and big rivers in southern British Columbia. After catching the second half of Game 6 in the Indians/Sox series (a challenge, since nearly every pub and eatery was showing Ultimate Fighting Championship 79628), we drove down the winding canyon on the Thompson River and arrived at a riverside camp after dark. The sound of whitewater and the smell of sage greeted us, as did the rotting carcasses of a late fall fish run.

A breakfast of sauteed fresh chantrelles and hedgehog mushrooms wrapped in tortillas with cheese warmed us up as did rounds of coffee from the french press. A friendly family from Vancouver--Dave and Shirley and their daughter Bridget, a rising softball phenom in B.C.-- chatted with us about our drive and the grease conversion and offered to run our shuttle for the day's river run.

In an ominous upstream wind that some might call a gale, we dropped the Fried Piper near the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and traveled back to the put in with our new Canadian friends. They watched from the banks as we paddled into the first rapid, The Frog, and hucked our boats into the surf waves above the large, amphibian-shaped basalt plug.

The Thompson, a famed big water run in North America (according to our guide book), was plenty powerful, even at the low flows of October. Canyon walls hemmed us in, while the rush of whitewater drowned out the noise of the paralleling highway and traintracks. Big wavetrains and swirling eddies tossed us around, but we made it through the more challenging upper canyon in tact.
"How do you keep these eddy lines from squirting your boat," asked Bru, but before he could get an answer said eddy line grabbed his tail, squirted him up and sent him downstream.

Big winds replaced big water, so powerful they blew Matt vertical and over after a current line dipped his tail. Paddling the last few rapids with impaired vision, for the winds were sending blinding spray off the whitewater of the rapids, we reached the take out and hiked up to the sleepy town of Lytton.

A public park was turned into an interim home, where we hung our gear to dry and feasted on smoked salmon with cream cheese and crackers and the last of our homemade cookies from Haines.
We found baseball and beer at the only open establishment in all of Lytton, and eventually the locals warmed to us. Saw the the Red Sox win and thought of various friends and family celebrating, while mourning for a few long-suffering Indians we're close to. The friendly BC folks had given us some firewood which made for a nice night under the stars, eating curried red lentils while Matt picked the mandolin. Natcho turned 35 living in a van, down by the river.
Woke up to realize we had put down our bed rolls right in the spot dozens of local native kids pass through to catch the bus. Matt gave a salmon skin to their dog, who daintily carried it away, set it down, peed on it, and walked away. We enjoyed another great day of whitewater, battled some really unbelievable winds in the canyon, found out San Diego is burning, and took off on a crazy, winding drive to Whistler.
Now, we're getting ready for our first college presentation Thursday at Simon Fraser in Vancouver.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day 4-The Fried Piper Glides into Prince George, BC

We arrived here, the first major outpost of civilization since Whitehorse 1000 miles ago, sad to say goodbye to the "wilderness" part of the journey, but excited for some upcoming paddling. The grease van (Fried Piper) has been running like an absolute champ since its brief hiccup on the Cassiar and the crew is falling into the rhythm of the journey. Good coffee from the French press, then breakfast down the road a piece. Yesterday it happened to be on a runway at a mining camp where the mineral bounty of BC (copper and melybdenum) is being extracted. It was cold and clear as we set up a breakfast cafe on the frozen landing strip. Puddle crunched underfoot as Peggy Lee purred from the speakers, the random shuffle of 3500 songs once again perfectly timed.
Add Image
it's a good day for shining your shoes, and its a good day for loosing those blues, everything to gain and nothing to lose...

Breakfast porridge greatly enhanced by the preserves we put up in August from currants and thimbleberries growing in Matt's yard. We hadn't checked in with security, and soon enough a big truck emblazoned with the company logo"Copper Fox" roared up. Turns out it was just the friendly camp cook, a sassy redhead who informed us that she, in fact, was the copper fox.

... so take a deep breath and throw away your pills, a good day from morning to night.

We rolled down the road, the calendar rolling back to autumn as we made southern headway and returned towards the temperate coastal area below the massive, snow covered coast range.
A side trip to the funny little coastal towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska was approved (it's just grease) and was well worth the time. The Switzerland of Canada/Alaska? No bears at the viewing station, but loads of blackies on the road. Back on the Cassiar we visited a roadside mushroom buyer. This is a somewhat shady subculture Matt had infiltrated years ago on a mission partly journalistic. His description was apt, a rough looking family ensemble in a makeshift home at a highway pull-off. We checked out his Matsutakes, a vaunted mushroom bound for aphrodisiac-crazed Asia, and he gave us some Chanterelles. Matt talked me into giving him some our our precious frozen salmon fillets, but as we approached he layed into his wife with a barrage of expletives. We spun on our heels, and returned to the van, salmon in hand. I was able to play off my reluctance as a "bad vibe" rather than greed, and we were on our way.
Smithers, BC, once again proved to be grease paradise. Returned to the Blue Fin Sushi a year later and we also scored big at the Alpenhorn. Maxed out with 100 gallons(!) we went down the road to Hungry Hills and camped for the night, discovering this morning that we had chosen the very spot where a succession of enormous grizzlies had been terrorizing local ranchers for the past eight years.

Day 3-South to Autumn


Spent last night just past Dease Lake, B.C., just past the turnoff for Telegraph Creek and the mighty Stikine River, camped at an empty Lion's Club Campground on the banks of the Tanzilla River.
Pasta with rehydrated chantrelles, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, onion and anchovy paste with freshly grated asiago cheese for dinner. Slept in the van, warmed by 70 gallons of hot grease, but woke up cold, a heavy freeze overnight, with ice coating the puddles and clinging to the banks of the Tanzilla.
But overall, 200 km into the Cassiar Highway, winter is receding, thankfully. The snow-covered roads of the mountain passes of the Alcan behind us and the temperate, southerly coastal climes ahead.
Although not without cause for worry, when we entered the Cassiar, for the road looked more like a luge course than a highway: narrow, covered with snow and ice, winding and fast. A two-way luge run, with trucks barreling past as Natcho clutched the wheel, hugged the shoulder and cringed.
"You sure you don't want to stick to the Alcan, go soak at Liard, pards?"
" Oh no Natcho. You gotta see the Cassiar."
All systems go, but then failure, power loss and Natcho frantically switching the fuel line to diesel. All our theories on the loss of pressure in the grease line for naught. Clogged fuel filter. So an impromptu, dirty filter change using old buckets and a leatherman while the sun set and a large orange half-moon rose.
Back on the road in 45 minutes, pressure reading in the positive again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our System

Here is Matt fueling our main tank. We're driving a 1993 Ford Econoline Van that was modified with the help of Golden Fuel Systems in Missouri, and Haines mechanic Darren Shields. The tank has two chambers, each holding 50 gallons of waste vegetable oil and heated by engine coolant cycling through a chamber in the bottom. We pump dirty grease into the right chamber, heat it while we drive, then transfer it through a sock filter into the left chamber. Heating the oil lowers the viscosity, allowing it to pass through the sock like a hot knife through butter. On the left side of the photo is a Racor filter which further cleans the oil before it heads to the engine

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 1: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It's snowing and 1 degreee C

After a bit of delay, we departed Haines with all systems go: coolant flowing from the engine to the back of our bicolored maroon and white 1993 diesel Ford van; the 100 gallon, bisected tank in back filled with some 60 gallons of partially hydrogenated oils from the various restaurants in town, the tank reading nearly full on the filtered half and the PSI of the flow around 8; and the sweet smell of fried food emanating from the tailpipe. "The smell of freedom," as Natcho likes to say, veteran of grease trips, coaching along the neophyte.

We cruised out of the northern terminus of the Southeast Alaska around 11 a.m. Only after 34 miles did we discover our friend Liam Cassidy asleep in the back. We gave him a morning jolt of warm grease and, after a farewell blessing and naming ceremony, kicked him to the curb to hitchhike back to town. Cottonwoods, birches and willows in partial fall foliage brightened the landscape, where hundreds upon hundreds of bald eagles perched, congregating along the Chilkat River for the late coho and chum salmon runs. Our van was filled with cases of smoked salmon, much of it coho caught on rod and reel from the same river. A summer of harvesting led to a stocked root cellar in the back of the van: one case half-pints of canned clams, two cases of pints of canned pie cherries with a few pints of Royal Anne cherries, two cases half-pints of thimbleberry and red currant jams and jellies, the salmon and one large, commercial pickle jar filled with dehydrated chantrelle mushrooms. A fat larder next to that tank of grease.

Eagles and a clearing river, fresh snow on the peaks as we left the valley. On the pass, fresh snow and migrating raptors. Natcho and I following the pacific flight path. We monitored the van, listening to rattles and clicks with an attuned, if not slightly paranoid, ear as we topped 60 mph for the first time on grease. No loss of pressure, temperature or power as we climbed over the pass and into the Yukon Territory. Any fears we might have had were assuaged after listening to Darren "DP" Shields talk shop last night with a few other motorheads, describing fuel systems for vehicles involving pressuring air captured from the stovepipes of wood stoves and arguing the mechanical feasibility of crafts in the movie "Waterworld".

We pulled into Whitehorse in the early evening, troubling busy Asian restaurants for used grease, having marginal success before a big score at Colonel Saunders. Many gallons and some spilled grease later, we felt good with nearly 80 gallons of grease for our next, most remote stretch of road, the Cassiar Highway.

The Next Chapter

Where we embark on a university tour to promote programs offered to students by the International Wilderness Leadership School in converted Ford Econoline Van with four kayaks on the roof, a foldable bicycle, skateboard and several cases of canned salmon.