The Story of the Honda...
When a musher thinks about fall training, we get excited. It is the start of the season that we enjoy the most! Running dogs! Even though for 5 months of the year that is what I do for a job (TOURS!) starting fall training is always exciting because its just you and the dogs, no more questions, no more people, just you and the dogs! This season is even more exciting because I bought my very first 4 wheeler! 4 wheelers are pretty standard for fall training, any kind of quad will do, from ones with out engines, to those with engines but don't run all the way up to the fancy pants side-by-sides with a roof, doors, windshields, the whole she-bang!
Well for this girl, I'm rolling a 1998 Honda Fourtrax 300. Its manilla envelope yellow and only has 2 small holes in the seat! But to me she's beautiful! So far most of the issues I've had are operator error (I think its my family's fault for all being mechanics so I never had to learn how to fix things :) but I'm not going to trade that for anything! ) If I could fix mechanical things I wouldn't be able to pull the girl card, and well I'm a sucker for a guy with greasy hands and someone who needs things handed to them while they are fixing my rig :) any way I digress....
Motorized things make me nervous. Not only am I not handy (I really just don't have the patience to fix these types of things) but I have a tendency to break things....I might be a little hard on equipment but seriously I think there is some sort of electrical field around me that just insists on breaking things... I'm pretty sure my ultimate soulmate is a very handy man that can not only work magic with motors and equipment, but will just follow me around and clean up the tornado of debris that I leave in my wake (broken things, half finished projects, random clothing ( I get hot! and I dress in layers- things happen don't judge me!), random anything I had in my hand for 30 seconds) and be the worlds most patient man. Oh and he has to love dogs....
Well I bought my little beauty from another musher about 400 miles away from Willow, in Fairbanks. I was super excited because a friend of mine also had a small trailer I could use to get the beauty back to my place so I could actually start training the dogs. I had to go to Fairbanks for a Veterinary conference anyway so it was going to be perfect!
I think I might have been a little cocky coming off the summer, where (knock on wood!) nothing major broke in my life! The worst thing that happened is I tried to paint my dog trailer in the monsoon season in Skagway and that didn't go well... but its still functional! Anyway I went to go pick up the trailer and the 4 wheeler with much excitement!
Now you have to realize that mushers in general are used to just working with what we have. Most of us do not have a lot of money and what money we have usually is going to dog food, or harnesses or entry fees to races, or dog food.... did I mention dog food? So when the free use of a trailer came up I jumped on the chance. As I'm standing there looking at this trailer, the alarm bells are going off in my head. Look how bald the tires are. Oh wait not even bald, but um well coming apart at the steel belts. There is only one safety chain.... interesting but at least is has one! At least the floor wasn't rotten! It will be fine! He just handed me two (count them 2!) Spare tires. Oh wait one is flat....remember to pump that one up. ...
Ratchet straps... next item up for dibs. Well this one only has one hook but it will be fine! We will just tie the one end on and it will be fine. Good lord. This guy is actually a really good friend of mine and he knows all the issues I've had in the past, am I really hearing this correctly? To do list before I leave Fairbanks: Pump up the flat spare tire (That I definitely know I'm going to need at some point in my return trip home...) and buy new ratchet straps (I of course left the 456 of the ones I have at home....).
Next! Lets go get the machine. When I pick it up - its actually in great shape! It runs really well and started right up - Now I'm really excited! Lets get the show on the road because I have dogs to run! Load up the beauty and tie her down with the ghetto ratchet straps on the trailer with 2 rotten, bald tires and one safety chain (but the floor is good so I think we will be OK).
Before leaving Fairbanks I do my little to do list and securely tie the 4 wheeler to the trailer. My first time hauling a 4 wheeler so what do I know about anything? Leaving town its raining, and its cold. Typical fall weather. I'm heading out of town and hoping to get to Willow by dark. Its a solid 5 hour drive in good conditions not pulling a trailer so I was pretty much hoping that I would have no issues....
Start going and well what do you know, I go more than 50 mph and the trailer starts fishtailing. Awesome, 50 mph it is, really? This is going to take forever! BUT I don't want to end up with a wrecked 4 wheeler before I even hook dogs to it! So 50 mph it is. Sigh.... hmph.... grrrrrr.....its fine, I'll get to enjoy the scenery a little more and catch up on my Podcasts.
About 5 miles north of Nenana, less than an hour into the drive, POP! thump, thump thump, thump.....and there goes tire number one. OK cool. Well I what I also forgot to say is that I didn't have my 4 way, tire lug nut loosen-er upper thingy either... BUT I did have my brand new vvvvvrrrrrppppttttt, impact thingy that takes the lug nuts off! AND I just happened to get all the common size do jobbies that you put on the end of it (seriously I don't know what they are called). SO this was fine, I've changed a million tires, OK maybe not a million but I can change a damn tire. First issue, my jack is too tall to fit under the trailer.... hmmmmmm um welllllll sooo I'm sitting there thinking..... I just need a piece of wood to put under the jack to jack it up here instead....I'm contemplating this and a truck pulls up behind me. Man to the rescue! Man and his very nice wife to the rescue! So we end up pulling the quad off the trailer, they lifted the trailer up and I put the jack under the trailer, very nice man changes the tire for me (he put the non-flat spare on, because the other one was flat again...awesome....) and we load the quad back up.
Not only did I learn how to load a quad without having ramps, but that they should be loaded very forward so the weight is on the tongue and not on the back, this will prevent it from fishtailing. I learn something new every time something breaks....he also suggested that I stop in Nenana at the repair shop and see if I can get the other tire put on after I pump it up (I didn't tell him I already had and well it went flat in less than an hour and not on the trailer...). So I thank them profusely because it really is nice to have help, and head off towards Nenana.
I pull into Nenana, and I'm going to tell you that the gas station is pretty worthless for anything helpful regarding a flat tire, they didn't even have an air hose...awesome, its Sunday in small town Alaska, and there isn't much between me and home to help me out if I have issues....so I pull into the closed service station next door because at least they have an air hose. As I'm dicking with the tire and debating on whether to risk the one that is on already or put the spare on that keeps going flat, I'm looking around and there are a shit ton of tires every where. My thought was, I wonder what it would cost for 2 decent used tires for this thing?
As I'm getting ready to bite the bullet and call the emergency number, Hal, the owner comes out the door and asks if I need some help! AH YES Please! He just happens to have the same size tires I need (with studs no less!) right there!I So for $80 I got 2 new to the trailer, studded tires mounted and put on in a dry garage by a very nice mechanic. Some of the nicest people I've met are the mechanics in small towns where I break down!
I didn't have any other issues on my way home, except to stop and check the ratchet straps (they were wet and kept stretching or something...) and to get gas. For someone that is as unlucky as I am with my mechanical issues, I sure am lucky to find the help when I need it. That I will ever thankful for! I'm sure there will be other stories with the manilla colored quad, but right now I'm looking for her name...so if anyone has any suggestions give me a holler!!!
The "B" Squad after a run - I love that I can run the dogs right out of and right back into the yard!!!!
Some of our training grounds with the "A" Squad.
Best time and place to change a flat tire!! Before it happens and some place dry!!