There would be no more snowfall, and the hours of sunlight was growing rapidly each day. The solid base of snow I was counting on to make an end-of-season haul of siding and windows to the cabin was on the verge of vanishing. Time was running out.
During the week prior to heading to the cabin I worked hard to get situated. Instead of wasting more money renting a snowmachine that could haul heavy loads, I bought a used one at a fair price off Craigslist. I also purchased two custom (and heavy) windows measuring 6’x5′ (replacing two used windows accidentally broken by snowmachiners the prior winter) and finalized a deal with Poppert Borthers Milling of Wasilla for some rough cut spruce planks for siding.
The siding was cut just in time. Final departure plans called for me to rent a U-Haul on the morning of Friday, April 13 and load it with the windows and siding, load some OSB on a trailer which also carried the new snowmachine, then pick Dee up toward the end of the day. As usual, all those things took longer than expected, but I was ready to hit the road with a fair amount of daylight left.
Dee had offered to lend a hand knowing there was much work to be done and very little time left to do it.
Just thinking about this trip I take a deep breath of relief. It was in many regards and for many different reason a gigantic pain in the ass. I’ll make it clear that did find some enjoyment in the trip and the weather was incredibly nice. My face and arms even got a little tan. That was one of many problems, though, too much sunshine and heat.
All the hassles experienced, beginning with the most costly in time and energy, included the enormous load of lumber itself, rotten snow, water in my fuel, what seemed to be an overheating engine, loose track (came off twice), and a busted freight sled. Fortunately, I tend to enjoy overcoming adversity. The question is, did Dee and I overcome it, or just subscribe to doing the best we could?
…Best we could.
In short, as darkness approached on Friday evening, Dee and I made two runs of lumber to the cabin and started a nice, organized pile. I then began feeling some pressure that it was torture for her to ride shotgun, enduring the loud, bouncy ride, when I could easily zip back and forth alone. Also, we were realizing just how many times I’d have to make these trips only able to haul 6 to 12 board at a time. From then, Dee helped me load quickly while I made faster runs. I also began dumping the loads at the edge of the wood near the cabin. Risking getting stuck in the softer snow of the trees, without help to get out, wasn’t worth it (in my opinion) when I could easily pick the siding up from nearby later the next day or even later.
That plan was successful until I was running out of fuel. By this time it was probably well past midnight and I did not want to make a drive to Trapper Creek Inn and back again. I recalled some fuel I still had at the cabin and poured it into the snowmachine during the next haul. It wasn’t much would would allow me complete one more trip… had there not been a problem. Back at the parking lot Dee and I loaded the freight sled again, but the snowmachine would not start. I had just turned it off. It was running perfect, and now it wouldn’t start.
For at least an hour I tinkered with the dam thing. I checked that fuel getting to the carbs, sparkplugs were clean and sparking, ignition switch and kill switch in the correct positions. I pulled and pulled and pulled, turning the engine over until I was exhausted. Then I’d take a break and have at it a little more. Eventually I gave up, and it was another ordeal just getting the machine back on the trailer without it running. At one point ratchet straps were used in sequence like miniature come-a-longs to drag the machine up onto the trailer. With only a few hours remaining until daylight, we made way for Trapper Creek Inn where we had a nice, warm bed waiting for us.
The following morning I attempted to find someone skilled at working on snowmahcines who wanted to make a quick buck and help me out. Even the TCI staff searched, but by the time they thought they found a helper, I managed to sort the issue out myself. A particularly wet spark plug on one cylinder while the other would almost start hinted that there was water in the carbs. Remembering the fuel I got at the cabin, it was the most likely scenario.
After draining the carbs multiple times and letting some water remover sit in the tank, the machine did eventually start. Too bad the hard, morning snow was already feeling the affects of noon sun. Still, Dee and I continued the work.
I made a few more runs, had trouble with water in carbs again which wasted more time, and eventually Dee and I called it quits until the cooler evening came. We were still exhausted from the prior evening and napped back at Trapper Creek Inn, had dinner and watched TV until the work ensued once more.
Saturday evening came too soon, and we got back on the wagon for more hauls. The events included more water trouble or an overheating engine — it was hard to tell — and at one point my snowmachine track came off under the stress of climbing out of Trapper Creek, the steepest point on the trail. Having never worked on a track before I was mentally crossing my fingers that the tools I needed were in the machine’s tool kit and that I’d be able to figure out the method of getting the track back on… and execute it alone.
I inspected the bolts on the idler wheels (last, large track wheels) and the adjustment bolts and found the correct wrench in the toolkit. I loosened everything, kicked the wheels forward to make room for getting the track back on, then tipped the machine on its side. The weight of the machine itself helped to push the track back up around the idler wheels with a little more tugging on my part. I tipped it back, tightened all and was making progress again within a matter of 20 minutes or so.
I needed that 20 minutes, having lost so much time already, and I didn’t even know headache what was to come.
Dee and I worked late again. I made steady trips attempting to not have any problems while she remained at the U-Haul biding time until my arrival for a new load of lumber. Late into the night we called it quits. I could only make one trip every 30 minutes or so, two per hour, and there were many loads of siding left and the windows. We hoped for harder, frozen snow snow the following morning and needed some real sleep.
After breakfast at the inn on Sunday morning we found the snow to be as mushy as we had left it. The night had been too warm, but there was no choice but to get busy. The amount of spruce siding remaining looked manageable, but there were the two windows to content with.
One after the other the windows were secured in place with a combination of ratchet straps and OSB fitted into an A-frame structure that was solid as a rock. For the first one, Dee and I cruised together almost all the way to the cabin without trouble. It was in the trees near the cabin we began sinking, creating a rut that caused the window to tip and the snowmachine to come to a halt or veer off the trial and get stuck. Getting unstuck was made all the more difficult by the fact that we couldn’t find footing. It was terribly aggravating being so close to success yet not being able to walk let alone get the machine back on “solid” trail. However, we did make it, after three or four mishaps, some swearing and brute strength. The window was left, unharmed, leaning against the cabin.
An hour later the snow was rotten through. With the last window in tow, the long meadow just prior to reaching the wood line and cabin was nothing short of an unforgiving trap, a vast swamp of snow that desired to swallow us whole until spring thaw could release us. We sunk and wasted more time getting out. We gained twenty feet and sunk again. We unloaded everything, got unstuck again, hooked the sled up and made another attempt without success. Eventually, leaving Dee behind, I slammed on the throttle with nothing but the window laid horizontal on one sheet of OSB. It was all I could do to keep from getting stuck. I’d gain meager speed then bog down into mush, the snowmachine gears grinding under the load and an already stretched track. Each time I’d be pulled off the trail making it even harder, yet somehow I’d rev the machine back to more solid snow only to overshoot it and experience the same near-stopping mush. Again and again, heart pounding, I’d pull and twist the skis, never letting off the throttle, bouncing, with little control and sent off course by the dragging, sinking freight sled until finally I had reached the wood line. (I will never do that again!)
Leaving the window there, I risked riding back toward Dee. I nearly didn’t make it, again keeping on the throttle at top speed as I felt the snow drop out from under me. On a shaded, more solid section of trial, Dee and I left the snowmachine and walked to the cabin on snowshoes to wait for the day to cool down, all the while knowing there were many loads of siding left back at the parking lot.
We snacked at the cabin, inspected things, sat around and talked a little. Eventually we agreed to attempt dragging the window by hand to the cabin. It was an attempt to make use of our time instead of sitting idle. Back at the window I fashioned a rope harness. Dee provided some shoves on the sled between falling or sinking into the trail, while I attempted to keep forward motion with the harness over my shoulders. Wet, sticky snow and small hills and drifts made this seemingly simple task an exhausting and lengthy one. Every five steps I was brought to a halt. If I managed twenty steps I was nearly out of breath, heart pounding… It sucked.
Having reached the bottom of the small ridge, just below the cabin, and knowing I could never make it up to the cabin, the window was placed right there against a tree for later retrieval. Dee tried to convince me to continue, but the small hills that had given me so much trouble were nothing compared to the climb from that point to the cabin. Also, why break my back when I could easily grab this window in passing with the ATV trailer a few weeks later? So the window waits with a shield of OSB.
As for the remainder of the siding, as evening approached once more Dee and I made it back to the snowmachine, sled in tow. She walked (what a trooper) while I road the machine to the main trail. When she arrived we road together back to the U-Haul.
With the main trail still passable, we decided I’d make hauling trips only as far as the meadow (the death trap). I continued long into the night pushing the snowmachine to the max, riding faster and with heavier loads, the engine troubles sorted out, to that location. I must have made eight or more blitz trips, and there I piled many planks of siding which I hope to acquire on a future trip in the spring.
Though the whole endeavor was not an overall success, in my mind the siding is as good as at the cabin. I “should” have no trouble picking the siding up later when I can use the Polaris 6×6 and the new utility trailer to haul it that last little mile. Much of it is closer than that.
As with many things regarding this cabin project, it will only take time to complete.