Field Week of Doom Part 6: The End of the Story?

I figured I should probably tell you what came of all this truck hoopla.  On Monday, my boss' boss (since my boss was gone to the Las Conchas fire, which has gotten bigger, by the way...) talked to me and Egghead about what happened with getting stuck and all that.  I feel like I explained this story about a million times already but we had to tell it to him again.  Then he read my witness report and made Egghead fill out the incident report, of which I made copies for him.  A little while later, after reading the report, he came to my cubicle and asked me about the part when I told him to stop but he didn't listen.  He wanted to know how we got along otherwise, and I said we did (because, honestly, I actually do get along with him just fine when we're in the field) but he said if I ever felt uncomfortable with working with him, I should let him know.

We had to meet with him twice that day.  Once at 10 am to get the story and then a second time at 1 pm for him to tell us what he thinks we should do in the future.  He said they were still talking about the skid marks on the Reserve highway.  Reserve is a small town, what can I say?  We also planned for the rest of the week, which I got to decide on, because apparently I'm in charge.  But it seemed like he really wanted me to get back out in the field, so I said I would.   That meant we would be leaving the next day, Tuesday. The two interns Egghead, J and me.

We had to borrow a pool vehicle from the office since all of ours were previously occupied so all three of us crammed our stuff into the "rental" and headed down to Reserve to pick up the truck.  When we got down there, I paid a rather expensive bill (not on my credit card, though, thankfully) and discovered there was a ton more work to be done on it that I would have to take care of later in Albuquerque.  They recommended we just auction it off, which is probably what we're going to do.  I asked the mechanic whether it was drivable and he said yes, so we headed on our way.  We worked in the field the rest of the week and headed back Friday morning.

And that's pretty much it.


Humans getting taken down by "highly intelligent" robots.


Sonic Sundae Shakes: "It's human food!"  I laughed soooo hard at this commercial.  Yes, I'm weird.

Pimpbot 5000: "If you want, I'll take care of your bitches."

Robots are awesome.

Field Week of Doom Part 5: The Aftermath

Friday morning arrived and we still had no ride back to Albuquerque.  At 7am, I went down to the office and began making phone calls.  I called our office manager, who had no way to help us, and the fleet manager didn't have much advice either.  I was beginning to get nervous that we would be stuck in Reserve for a very long time.  My boss called later on that morning wanting to know more details about what happened.  I gave him a very abbreviated version of what I've already written here, while still making it clear that I was not the one driving and that Egghead completely ignored what I told him to do.  He seemed a little less mad after I explained that to him, but again, I really had no idea what he truly thought.

After I got to Reserve and dealt with all the crap from the night before, I was finally able to call Matt and tell him what was going on.  I called him with an update that morning, and we began discussing our options.  Back in Albuquerque, my own vehicle was due for an emissions test, which I had planned to do that weekend.  I thought that if I couldn't get back, Matt could at least do it for me.  He has an extra set of keys, but the car was currently parked behind the locked gate at my office.  So I was trying to figure out who I could get to let him past the security guards and into the back gate.  He was also seriously considering driving the four hours down to Reserve to pick me up.  How thoughtful! 

In the middle of our conversation, my boss called me and said that our other intern, who was currently down on the Arizona fire with him, would come pick us up.  This would also work out well for him, because he'd be able to stay in town and see his fiancee for the weekend.  I was so relieved!  I called Matt back to tell him the news and we packed up our camping gear to go home.

Intern 2 (known henceforth as J) arrived about 3 hours later and we were finally on our way back to Albuquerque.  While I was making a pit stop buying some ice at the Reserve gas station, Egghead filled J in on what happened.  I didn't get to hear everything he said but I'm sure he did what he could to make himself look less bad.  J informed us that the members of the fire assessment/remediation team (who are also on my soils crew) had been taking bets on who had been driving.  He said that he had bet it was Egghead, but he wouldn't say what the other people thought.  Probably because they thought it was me.  They have so much faith in me.  Ha. 

On the way back, I tried to be conversational (I'm not very good at that, but I'm working on it) by asking J about his upcoming wedding.  He told me that, for the ceremony, they had been able to rent out a spot on top of the Sandias for around $30.  How cool is that?  And their reception would be at the Hotel Parq Central, which is a newly renovated hotel that once used to be a psychiatric hospital.  I'm pretty sure it's haunted, but it's definitely a swank hotel.  It even has a fancy schmancy rooftop bar.

Anyway, we finally made it back and I went home soon after that, considering it was around 6 or 7 pm by that time.  It's been two weeks since then and I've been in the office ever since.  Part of me is happy about this, mainly because I don't particularly want to go with Egghead, which I probably won't.  He's shown up maybe about 3 times in the past two weeks, and he hasn't really done much work besides a half-ass job of reorganizing my boss' cubicle (after our carpet replacement) and reading some soils books.  Every time I see him, he just gets on my nerves more and more, though I'm really trying to push that aside and be nice.

My boss is on leave and then going out on another fire next week, and he says I can't go back out to the field until we've discussed what happened, blah blah.  It annoys me because I wasn't even the one who did anything wrong, yet I feel like I'm being punished for it.  He sent an email to everyone on our crew (including me), thanking them for doing such a great job on the AZ fire.  To me, this was like a slap in the face.  I'm sure he didn't mean for me to take offense, but it was kind of like, "Everyone's doing an awesome job, except you." 

But whatever.  I've been getting a lot of work done in the office and it's been nice not having to waste my weekends planning and packing for yet another week in the field.  That is one of my most hated parts of field season.  The anticipation and stress leading up to actually getting there.  But for now, I'll be here, hanging out at my apartment and writing in this blog (and the other one) and doing whatever else it is that office bound people do in the summertime. 

Field Week of Doom Part 4: Back in Reverse

Before I could talk with the Ranger, I had to go back to deal with the truck.  One of the fire guys drove me back to the scene.  He said, "You haven't been having a very good week, have you?" And that's when I was sure that everyone knew all about our adventures that week.  Fabulous.

When we got back, the cops had already shown up and were surrounding our truck with their lights flashing.  We went on into town to talk to the mechanics.  I think this is actually the point when I found out about the tow truck from Luna.  Later, I would find out that the mechanics they were sending it to were also in Luna.  I still don't fully understand this considering there was a shop in Reserve. And also, Luna is tiny.  There's not much there. At all.

But, oh well.  We went back to pick up Egghead and back drove up to the station.  Again.  We found some people who called my boss, who was on the fire in AZ, on his cell phone and told him to call me back on my phone.  Ugh.  I did NOT want to talk to him.  Meanwhile, the Ranger told Egghead and me to come with him into the conference room and explain what happened.  I started to give my account, just the basics, and Egghead kept cutting in with a whole bunch of unnecessary details that made us look even worse.  He was seriously getting on my nerves.

While we were talking, my boss called me.  He didn't sound super angry but I honestly can never tell with him.  He always sounds the same.  He gave me some phone numbers, for the fleet manager and some other people I needed to contact concerning truck repairs.  And more important to me at the time -- how we were going to get back to Albuquerque. 

At about this time, the tow truck had gotten our truck to the ranger station.  So we took all of our stuff out of it and it headed off to Luna.  I went back in the office to make a few phone calls.  I figured out a bit of information about the truck repairs but still hadn't figured out a way to get us back.  It was already getting close to 5 pm.  It looked like we would be spending the night in Reserve.

In the previous summers, I stayed at a hotel in Reserve called the Rode Inn.  Last December, it burned down.  It's actually pretty funny to see, because they landscaped the whole surrounding area really nicely and in the middle there's a crappy looking burned down hotel. But anyway, obviously that wasn't an option.  Firefighters were camped out in the fairgrounds so there wasn't much room for us there.  They decided to let us camp out in some guy's yard, just up the hill from the ranger station. 

A firefighter (one of the guys who pulled us out the first night we got stuck) drove us up with our stuff to our new campsite.  He told us we could walk into town in about 20 minutes and go to the restaurants there.  I hadn't thought of that, but it seemed a heck of a lot better than eating a peach and dry cereal for dinner.

Egghead wanted to put up his tent first, so I did the same.  I really shouldn't have even bothered.  I had the worst time trying to put it up.  It was really windy up on the hill and the tent wouldn't stay down long enough to even get the stakes in.  I ended up losing one in the process, which annoys me very much.  I was getting really frustrated and finally just ended up throwing all my stuff in the tent to hold it down.  We had exactly 20 minutes to get down to the restaurant before it closed so I told Egghead I was leaving and took off, whether he was ready or not.

We made it down there with about 5 minutes to spare.  Dinner was good but there was way too much food and I couldn't eat it all.  I ended up wasting a whole bunch because there was no place for me to store it.  That makes me feel bad, but what else could I have done?  I don't generally like taking leftovers from that restaurant anyway because that's how I got food poisoning last summer.

We were allowed to use the bathroom in the guy's house so I did that and then went back outside.  It looked like the house was being remodeled.   There was nothing in it, really.  Outside, it was starting to get dark so I sat on the ground for a while looking up at the stars as they came out, thinking about things.  It was the first time in a long time that I had felt completely calm, that I had done everything I could do, and I liked that feeling a lot.  I wanted to hold onto it as long as I could.  Egghead stayed in the house for a really long time for some reason, which I thought was weird, but I was glad he didn't come out and interrupt me.  It was nice to just be alone for a while.

Field Week of Doom Part 3: The Breakdown

That evening, when we got back to our campsite, I noticed a trickle of what looked like oil in a line behind the truck.  I spent a few minutes looking underneath, but couldn't find a source for the dripping.  Still, I checked behind the truck a few times while we were driving around the next day and didn't see anything else, so I figured it was nothing. 

But when we arrived back at camp again that afternoon, the oil line was back.  Where was it coming from?  I checked the oil.  Yes, I know you're not supposed to check the oil after the vehicle has just been running.  But if anything, it would run low, and when I checked, it was just fine.  Well above the minimum line.

Elk Girl helped me find the source of the problem.  There was a hole punched in the rear differential casing and the oil was leaking out of it.  Why I hadn't noticed that before, I have no idea.  I also had no idea what a rear differential was, why it was important, or why it needed fluid.  As it turns out, the fluid lubricates the gears that keep the back of the truck moving.  Really!  Elk Girl didn't know much either but she called her husband (oh yeah, they have a phone there too) who does know some things about vehicle maintenance.  He said if it were his truck, he'd duct tape the hole so nothing more would leak out, and drive it to town for repairs.  This seemed reasonable, and I wasn't about to call dispatch again to get it towed (that was his other advice) so we packed up our stuff and headed to Reserve.

Ok, looking back, this is the luckiest part of the story.  Despite some minor grinding of gears, the drive to Reserve was relatively uneventful.  This is lucky because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, between the Negrito Base and Reserve.  It took a little over an hour to get into town, and somehow, we made it.  Right when we were on the edges of town, I heard the gears grinding again, and this time it did not sound good.  I told this to Egghead, and he said "No, I think that's just a helicpoter."  What????  A helicopter???  No Egghead, that is our gears grinding.  Seriously... what was he thinking?

He finally agreed that it was, in fact, NOT a helicopter and tried not to push the truck too hard the rest of the way into Reserve. (although I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes...) We made it into the main part of town and turned the corner to go to the Ranger Station, which was about a mile down the road.

As we were driving to the station, we saw some people walking along the road.  Egghead swerved to miss them and I'm pretty sure this is where things got messed up.  We came to a screeching halt right in the middle of the two lane road.  So much for making it to the Ranger Station.  Egghead said to me, "Will you get out and push?"  I looked at him like, are you f-ing kidding me? but there wasn't really much else to do in there so I got out so that I could at least start doing...something.

By this time, the people walking had stopped to see what was going on.  They tried to help me push the truck off the road, but the back was completely locked up.  It wasn't going anywhere.  Soon, the traffic (all three cars) started piling up behind us and Egghead couldn't figure out how to turn on the hazard lights.  Some people driving by offered us a ride to the Ranger Station.  Egghead said I should go and he would stay with the truck.  At first, I thought it was just one guy in there and was about to say, "Heck no!  I'm not getting in a car with some random hick from Reserve."  But it turned out to be a family, and I trusted that more, so I got in and rode with them the short distance to the station.

The family, who turned out to be from Silver City, were very grateful to my organization for helping them with the fires they've been having down there, saying "you're our heroes."  I didn't tell them I wasn't a firefighter.  I was grateful to them, and even though nothing went wrong, I still regret the decision to accept a ride with some random strangers.  It's the one thing throughout this whole fiasco that I really think I shouldn't have done. 

Nevertheless, I made it to the Ranger Station and asked at the front desk where I should go for emergency vehicle maintenance.  They called the repair shop for me and asked if I would be able to drive there.  No, definitely not.  The repair shop would have to bring a tow truck from Luna, the next town over, so the front office staff went off to find someone to help out in the meantime and I sat down to wait.

And that's when the Ranger walked in.   He wanted to have a little chat.

Ohh crap, I thought.  I'm in trouble now.

Field Week of Doom Part 2: Seriously???

The next morning, I was still grumpy about the whole evening before but what can you do?  I had to keep working.  So I got up like usual and Egghead and I drove off to field mapping land, once again.  We managed to pass the stupid ruts without incident this time (Phew!) and continued down the road.  After that, things started to get a little hairy.  The road was pretty narrow, but I've been on roads where you have to dodge trees before.  Obviously Egghead, being from The Bronx, has not.  At one point, he drove over a tree.  Not a little tree, a big tree.  I definitely yelled at him for that one.  He kept scraping up against a bunch of stuff too, which wasn't as big of a deal.  I've done that before.

Finally, we turned a corner and I noticed a deep drainage crossing through the road.  I saw a little flat spot where we could park and told Egghead to stop there.  He said "Oh, no, the worst part of the road is behind us," and plowed on through.  And guess what... we got stuck.  Again.  This time, in the stupid drainage.   I said, "And that's why I wanted to stop."  He was just like, "I know, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."  Well, sorry doesn't cut it.

We ended up having to call dispatch again to come pull us out.  While we were waiting, we walked to a different spot and dug a hole.  While I was finishing up, Egghead went up to the top of the hill to get better radio signal, and I waited and waited for him to get back.  It seemed like forever.

I heard car doors slamming and voices down below where our truck was, so I figured the fire truck had shown up and I went down the hill to meet them.  When I got down, Egghead was already there.  Thanks a lot for letting me know, dude.  I was just sitting up there the whole time waiting and wasting time.

Anyway, the two fire guys who came ended up attaching the winch on our truck to a tree and driving it forward and out.  I had no idea how to use the winch.  No one shows me these things.  Of course, I'd probably mess it up.  But they were able to do it and also turned us around back on the other side of the drainage.  They even offered to use their saw to cut a log a bit further up the road, but I said no, that wasn't necessary.  I think they were bored.  They said they had been painting a barn before they got the call to come down there.

The rest of the day proceeded as usual.  I was a little set back on time, but I got a decent amount done.  I still didn't even know the worst of it, though.

Field Week of Doom Part 1: A Tragic Comedy

At the beginning of this year, I dubbed 2011 the year of technical difficulties, and it hasn't slowed down since then.  I thought I could get away from it all by getting out of the city for a while, but apparently the curse of 2011 follows me wherever I go.

Last week was my first of what was supposed to be 14 weeks of mapping and digging holes in the woods.  My motivation for doing this has been dwindling for some time now, but I tried to convince myself that this year would be different.  That I would do some good work and show everyone what I really can do.  Unfortunately, fate had other plans for me.

It started out as a normal field week.  The intern (henceforth known as Egghead) and I drove down to the forest.  Let me stop here to mention that I HATE driving, especially to new places, and try to avoid it all costs.  So I was happy to learn that Intern Egghead had just completed his defensive driving course and would be able to drive us to our campsite and wherever else I wanted to go.

We went down on a Monday morning, and the following two days proceeded as usual, that is until late Tuesday afternoon.  I finished describing four holes for my mapping, which is usually about the number that two people can get done in a day.  It was still early but late enough that we couldn't finish another hole so I decided to do some recon instead.  I wanted to explore a particular road, so we headed down to take a quick look and I was just about to give the go-ahead to turn around when Egghead decided it was a good time to get stuck.

Well, he didn't consciously decide it, but for some reason that I still don't understand he started driving in some deep ruts in the road rather than taking the high ground and no sooner had he done that when we completely came to a stop.  For two hours, he tried to dig us out of the sandy buildup beneath the truck, saying things like "just five more mintues," "just ten more minutes."  I began to grow very tired of this by the time we reached the end of our trip. Finally, I decided to get on the radio and call dispatch to get someone to come pull us out.  After I did that, we began a two hour walk back to our campsite.

The walk back was quiet and felt like an eternity.  I was visibly pissed and may have sassed Egghead a bit, because I do that when I get upset.  It was around 10pm when we finally made it back and I was starving.  It was Egghead's turn to make dinner but when we got back he said, "Well, I'm going to bed now.  Goodnight." And went off to his tent.  Thanks a lot, dude.  We were staying at a fire base, so I went to the kitchen to make myself a salad, and talked to a girl who was also staying there, studying elk for her PhD.  I told her what had happened and she offered to help pull us out in the morning, if we were willing to get up at 5:45 am.  I decided to try getting a hold of dispatch again to check on their progress, but was seriously considering her offer.

After I finished my salad, I went outside and a fire truck pulled up, saying they had been sent out on a call from the radio and did we know of someone who needed help.  I said yes, that was me, and we still do need help, so I woke up Egghead and got Elk Girl to drive us back to our truck, while the firefighters followed.  They were able to pull us out fairly easily and we made it back to the campsite sometime around 11:30 or 11:45.  I called dispatch to say that we were back at camp with our vehicle, and thanked them.  Then I went to bed.

I thought that would be the end of it.  But I was wrong.  I was so, so wrong.