2017/05/17

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writed by Woozle

Tuesday 5/16

I'm kind of windblown after driving around for most of the morning and then also 4 hours up I-40, so not at my best, and that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. [1]

So... we drove up to Asheville on Tuesday to pick up Zander from Warren Wilson for the summer. We usually do these trips in one day – drive up, grab Z, get lunch, head back (or if we're bringing him there instead of bringing him home: drive up, eat lunch, drop off Z, head back) – but this time we decided to drive up the day before and stay overnight, so we could (by request) eat breakfast at the Waffle House. Benjamin had been cleared in advance for missing a day of school on Wednesday.

So we (the hypertwins) did our usual Tuesday stuff, including a very inconveniently-timed appointment with my electrologist, did the last minute packing for ourselves and Benjamin, then drove to B's school to pick him up (and only arrived about 2 minutes later than usual) and headed straight to Asheville had to go back home because of stuff that had inevitably been forgotten.

The drive up was largely uneventful, and the only picture I took was this one (right side of the page) of me waiting outside Gladfelter (at WW) for the rest of the gang to refill their zillion water bottles, and showing how completely I still fail at girling despite 43 weeks of HRT (but who's counting).

At some point after picking up Z, I noticed a sort of up-and-down feeling in the car when accelerating and some vibration at higher speeds, and the thought in my head was basically "hmm, we'll need to get that checked out... I'll have to pay attention to this so I know how to describe it... don't want to say anything, though, because Harena doesn't need more stress." I was going on the assumption that it was mechanical – somewhere in the drive-linkage – and any attempt to investigate it would delay our return by at least a day (which would have been a problem, because B did need to get back to school on Thursday).

Having picked up Zander (and water), we then checked in at the hotel, got most of the stuff out of the car (except, apparently, my laptop -- which was not stolen overnight, despite the car being left unlocked) then drove off down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asiana Grand Buffet (somewhere I have earlier photos of this) for dinner, as is our ancient and venerated ritual since 2015, then back to the hotel, collapsed[2], and fell asleep to the sound of Zander playing D&D with his buds via laptop.

Wednesday 5/17

For some reason, I started madly taking photos on Wednesday.

We pretty much always stay at this hotel:
IMG 20170517 085950887.jpg
Their free breakfast isn't worth much, but it's within easy walking distance of (and on the same side of NC-70, which is 5 lanes and rather busy, as) the local Waffle House, and also substantially cheaper than the Holiday Inn just up the hill. (The internet is frequently iffy, but we have enough cell bandwidth for that not to really matter.)

So, once everyone was awake, we walked up to the Waffle House:

...and we had an enjoyable breakfast:

...and then we walked back:

...and then we packed up and checked out of the hotel (checkout time 11:00) and drove back to WW to help Z finish packing up all of his stuff (checkout time 1:00) and wodging it into already-overcrowded Kestracel Weiss for transportation back home. It took one complete repacking (pull everything out, put it back in again more carefully) to get it all to fit.

Here are a couple of bumper-sticker collections we saw on the way out:
IMG 20170517 121818576 HDR.wwc bumper stickers.redact-crop.jpg IMG 20170517 124641137 HDR.wwc bumper stickers.redact-crop.jpg

...and then we headed back to I-40. I was nervous both about the vibration and about the fact that we were almost out of gas, but I really wanted to get down to the base of the hill where gas is somewhat cheaper (and there's a station that isn't Exxon/Mobil, BP, Shell, or Citgo), so I didn't fill up before cresting The Big Hill.

Nothing Bad Happens Here, Despite the Setup

For those not familiar with I-40 on the east side of Asheville, it goes about as straight down the mountain as it's possible to go while still allowing truck brakes to serve a useful function. It switches back and forth a lot (as mountain roads often do) in an attempt to reduce the slope by some small amount, but it's still kind of scary and trucks headed downhill aren't supposed to go over 35 MPH and there are sand-traps every mile or so. I've heard conflicting information about whether it's a good idea to use engine-braking – but the last time I used the brakes as often as I felt like, they required $600 of work by the time we got to the bottom of the hill... so there isn't really a good option that I'm aware of.

What I do about this is start out as slowly as possible (getting down to maybe 30-40 MPH as we go over the lip) and coast the rest of the way, using the brakes maybe only once or twice, hard-ish, for several seconds. I have no idea if this is at all optimal as far as minimizing repair cost, but it does mean that we are coasting down significant stretches at speeds upwards of 60 MPH (I tend to put the brakes on when it gets over 65 MPH), in moderately heavy traffic, going around curves that one doesn't generally find on an interstate freeway, with nothing between you and an almost-sheer drop on one side but some very flimsy-looking guardrail. (What's not to like.)

The good news is that nothing bad happened during this stretch – aside from Benjamin commenting about really hating this part of the drive, for all the reasons just cited, and in particular being nervous about the ability of the guardrails to keep a car from plunging over the edge. We explained to him that they are rather sturdier than they look, which is true.

We finally got to the bottom, and now I was really starting to get nervous about the gas because the needle was right on empty and we were still running the air conditioning and I knew that the exit with the gas was still a good 10-20 miles off... but we did finally make it, vibrating all the way, and tanked up.

So now all I had to worry about was the vibration, and whether some part of the car's undercarriage was going to suddenly wear through and fall off or lock up the wheels or something.

This Is Where It Gets a Bit Too Exciting

Fast-forward to approximately 10 minutes after tanking up. I was trying to find a speed where the vibration was at a minimum. We were in the left lane of two; Harena is pretty sure we were going 65-70 MPH at this point (more or less legal on that stretch). The car music stick was playing "Count on Me"[3], which would have been tragically ironic if things had gone a little differently. I think Harena had started to say something to me... and suddenly there was a loud BANGTHUMP (all one sound, but kind of a cross between the two)...

It must have been at approximately this time that I activated the right-turn signal, because I intended to change lanes and then pull the car off to the right shoulder. I might or might not have said something like "I've got to get us off the road". (For the record, here is Harena's recounting.)

...and the front of the car started veering off to the left, toward the median where it would have hit something stationary which would not have been good... and I compensated by oversteering to the right, which did in fact stop us from hitting the median but then it kept swinging over to the right and when I tried to steer back to the left I couldn't keep it straight.

Neither of us are sure how many times it went back and forth before it finally started spinning, nor are we sure how many times it spun around (probably just one or two)[4] before coming to a stop, mostly on the right-hand shoulder (mission accomplished!), pointing backwards (umm...).

(Harena remembers seeing a car go past us at this point, slowing down. I was too dazed to notice. This will be of minor significance in a minute or so.)

I immediately stopped the engine because I wasn't sure how badly things were screwed up and worried that I might be somehow destroying something by continuing to run it. (I was still assuming the problem was mechanical.) I think I must have gotten out and done a quick survey, and didn't see any pieces of machinery lying in the road, so decided to start the engine again just long enough to back us properly into the shoulder lane, and then stopped it again.

the view from Kestracel's dashboard, taken after we'd been waiting awhile
...although we actually had rather more shade at first.
This is probably the best view of the skid-marks.

I got out a second time, and I think this must have been when the driver of that other vehicle (which had stopped a short way further down the road) approached me to ask if we were okay. He was the absolute archetype of a redneck, only skinnier; half his teeth were missing... and there was absolutely nothing but concern in his voice and his face, and after making sure that we didn't need any immediate assistance he walked back to his car and headed off.

It must have been more or less then that I noticed that the left rear tire was pretty much shredded, and there was a piece of it still lying in the road. (Some cars were going around it, some just driving over it with a sort of faint but sharp popping sound.)

Having identified the problem, I figured we'd better call roadside service (we use Betterworld because they don't lobby for laws that favor cars over pedestrians and bikes). While I was on the phone with them, helping them to identify my account (it was very difficult to communicate with the frequent WHOOSHROAR of vehicles passing by at close proximity and high velocity, rocking our car in their backwash every time) because even though the operator read it back to me just fine, it wasn't coming up in the system... and when I looked at my membership card, it claimed to have expired in January 2016, and I was hoping that this was just because I hadn't bothered to laminate a new one in each subsequent year rather than having forgotten to renew the membership (that happened one year)...

...and then the cop cars started showing up, and they were asking me questions while I was still trying to get straightened out with Betterworld, and they didn't seem to be aware that this was a problem... but at some point I was able to tell them "yes I've got roadside assistance on the way" and they left.

During the call, I realized we probably had a spare tire in the back, and maybe equipment to change it ourselves, but told Betterworld to go ahead and send assistance anyway and we'd let them know if it turned out to be unnecessary – which didn't happen, because although we did have a jack we did not have a lug wrench – even though I remembered making a point of going out and buying one the last time we had a flat in that car... which was that same wheel...

Anyway, we figured we'd better get all of that tightly-packed stuff out of the back of the car so we could have the spare ready (which, fortunately, turned out to be fully inflated).

So there we were.

IMG 20170517 140608880 HDR.jpg IMG 20170517 140545818 HDR.jpg

...and that's when we started noticing all the cicadas. We were apparently privileged to witness the emergence of Brood VI of the 17-year cicada, which I had actually heard previously was due to emerge this year.

It wasn't quite a swarm, but every few seconds one or two would zoom through and maybe land; I think each one of us got at least one or two landing on them. Most of us were fine with this.

They were not green, like the cicadas we're used to here in Durham; they were orange, and kind of evocative of locusts. One landed on me, and started making this really weird sound – like a cross between a scream, a howl, and a 1200 bps modem trying to connect. You can listen to it here (if the video won't play, just download it). A little after that, I noticed a similar sound coming from the woods next to us – only it sounded more like wind blowing through a narrow-pass filter. Or something. (You can hear that here – sorry for the video being upside-down; I'll fix that when I can.)

Harena found holes all over the hillside, and a discarded exoskeleton to keep as a souvenir.

No car is complete without a souvenir cicada shell. It's the done thing.

I went and retrieved the bit of shredded tire from the road. I considered keeping it as a souvenir, but decided we had enough souvenirs and left it right there by mile marker 84.

Here's that piece of tire-tread... and oh, hey, those railings look a lot more solid up close, don't they. "No they don't", says Benjamin. "They really don't." Yes they do, says the internet.

Eventually the service van arrived (he was about 15 minutes past the original ETA due to a traffic jam), changed the tire with little fanfare (using both our jack and one he brought with him) – which is when I noticed that while the other tires (including the spare) were all Michelins, the blown one was a "Brigadier"; not sure if this is significant – and we parted company.

Then we packed everything back up (again), backed up into a shallow ditch just past the guardrail, waited for a solid gap in the traffic, did an almost-180 and drove off.

We continued seeing the cicadas for several more miles after that.

Postscript

I forgot to mention: while I was unpacking the car after getting back home, I saw a monarch feeding from the lugustrum in our driveway. I tried to get a photo, but it was too high up by the time I had the camera ready.

So they aren't extinct yet. :-/

Footnotes

  1. I thought at first this might be my first-ever cellphone selfie, but then I remembered I took a few selfies in my "transition" shirt, back in January. Some of those (like this one) were laptop selfies and therefore exempt, but I took some with the cellphone too. Update: I'm pretty sure those other selfies were not posted publicly – so this would be my first publicly-posted cellphone selfie taken on a Tuesday ever.
  2. At about this time, I realized that this was the first time I'd stayed in a hotel since HRT had turned me into a morning person; I wondered aloud how this would play out in the morning, since I couldn't just get up and go downstairs to work on stuff. As it happens, I was fine with sleeping a couple of extra hours and getting up with everyone else.
  3. I'm having my second adolescence because of the HRT, so I'm allowed to listen to sappy music.
  4. B says two and a half, i.e. twice around completely and then a just-over-180 to point us the other way.