Photo: Snow flood hike

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Our seasons in the Midwest are starting to butt up against one another, sometimes creating an overlap. It has been said that our area is graced with five seasons, but the grim reality is three of them are winter. There is also spring and fall, but each of those are only half seasons. They don’t last too long, maybe a few weeks apiece. That gets us to four so far, and the remaining season is what we like to call flood-nado, which brings us all the excitement of damaging winds and the predictability of river flooding.

snow flood selfie

Such was the case last weekend when I ventured outdoors for my annual autumn walk to Bullfrog Bayou. Catch some fresh air, admire the turning of the leaves, maybe spot some wildlife stocking up for the winter. Before I arrived at the parking lot, I had to switch on my windshield wipers to brush aside the light, fluffy snowflakes. Once I took to foot, I had to wade across a low point in the path leading up to the proper trail, a raised ridge that had once been train tracks and still boasted the occasional railway infrastructure rusting away.

Either side of the trail was a now a submerged forest, snowflakes hitting the flood waters, churning with orange and golden fallen leaves. A green-headed mallard and his female companion floated past, trying to figure out the weather, probably thinking “what the duck.”

Winter is coming early this autumn, and flood-nado doesn’t want to let go yet.


Photo: Winter driving

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Sliding through the holidays, taking care of a few last-minute errands.

Photo: City snowfall

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Snowfall in the city. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Gear Review: $50 Rooftop Duffle

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Taking a prairie dog break under the big sky in Montana.

 Item: CargoLoc Rooftop Carrier
Size: 15 cubic feet
Price: about $50

This is basically a big duffle bag for your vehicle’s roof. We bought this after failing to find a hardshell rooftop carrier on short notice. It was about $50 at the local Farm and Fleet, which gets bonus points for actually stocking it. We lashed it to the roof of a rented Dodge Journey (don’t stop believing) for a trip from the Midwest to the West Coast in July. Eight states, 1,900 plus miles there and and another 1,900 back, interstate speeds legally reaching 80 mph. Loading and unloading during hotel stops each night.

I was very impressed with how this gear turned out. Only problem was the fixtures on the straps. The buckles held up, but I busted two of the four plastic cinching hardwear pieces during the initial load up. For a workaround, I knotted the straps at the buckle to hold the position. The roof cargo included four roller suitcases, a medium backpack, a soft swim gear bag and an extra pillow we brought along for some reason.

For weather, we encountered everything for 100-degree heat and blazing sun in the Badlands to light rain to short but intense showers in Wyoming to snow in Yellowstone and more snow in the mountainous Idaho/Montana border. No sub-zero temps, though. As an added precaution, we wrapped everything in contractor-grade trash bags before zipping it into the roof bag. Turned out everything stayed dry. The weather never got through to even dampen the trash bags.

The bag probably gave us more flexibility than a hard-case carrier when it came to arranging the cargo, and it was easy to store when we reached our destination. 

Bag worked great there and back, and it’s ready for more travels. Excellent value for the price.

Assorted notes:

Tie down the loose ends of the straps or they will bang around and annoy the crap out of you as you drive.

Crossbars on the roof rack help. Keeps the load from migrating back with the wind. We used a pair on one-size-fits-most bars we acquired at a big-box retailer. They have the added bonus of fitting on my wife’s Jeep after we removed them from the rental.

Driving with the empty bag on the roof sounds like a hailstorm and risks damaging the duffle bag — even at a slow 15 mph while driving from the hotel to the Cody, Wy., Wal-Mart to buy my son a belt that he forgot to pack.

Snow problem

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  Editor’s note: I am cleaning out my notebook. This was written a few weeks ago when they weather was crumby, or they wanted us to believe it was.

You know the blizzard is going to be lame when the weatherman makes a point of bringing up the fact that the term “blizzard” has nothing to do with the amount of snow and more about wind.Technically, he explains, a blizzard means blowing snow and crappy visibility, where you can’t see so many fractions of a mile in front of you because of whiteout conditions. It doesn’t mean tons of snow.

You hear it once in a forecast, you find it interesting trivia. But if you hear it several times a day as the storm approaches, you start to realize they are trying to cover for something. They are trying to maintain confidence so the public won’t think they are full of it when they hear “blizzard coming” on Day 1 and wake to one measly inch of snow on Day 2.

It might also have something to do with they fact that last week they started ringing alarm bells for the Snow Storm of the Century, causing schools and businesses and public services to be shuttered, only to have a below-average snowfall. Twice.

Ice-covered roadside assistance

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How to change a flat tire on an ice-covered road in the frozen Midwest:

Step 1) Don’t live in the Midwest. Live somewhere that’s warm year round. If somehow this step has failed, proceed to step 2 below.

Step 2) Pull over and check the tire. If it’s flat, make sure no one is in the car, moving around when you change the tire. If you 9-year-old daughter is in the car, this means you have to drive several blocks to get home because you don’t want her to freeze on the curbside while you take care of it. Plus, you are wearing shorts because you just came back from jogging indoors (because it’s too cold to take your daughter jogging outdoors). On the plu side, the mushy snow on the roadway should mitigate damage to the rim when you drive.

Step 3) Make sure the donut spare buried under the spare coats and emergency blankets in the trunk is in good condition or is at least inflated.

Step 4) Loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the car. Tugging on the nuts while it’s in the air might bring the car crashing down.

Step 5) When you have trouble pulling that last lug nut loose, adjust the tire iron and stomp the crap out of it to finally get the nut to budge.

Step 6) Find the almost undetectable notches in the frame that mark the jack points. Mistaking a scrape in the body from that time you jumped the curb while adjusting the radio for a jack notch could result in tearing off the quarter panel.

Step 7) Make sure the jack is placed on a stable surface, which doesn’t include several inches of snow and ice. This is why we recommend Step 1. In the event you are unable to find a dry, solid surface in a hospitable environment, continue while keeping yor distance in case the jack slips and the whole affair comes crashing down.

Step 8) Being careful to avoid having your skin adhere to the bare metal handle, jack the vehicle into the air, remove the lug nuts and the flat tire. Place the temporary spare and return the lug nuts, but don’t tighten until the tire is back on the ground. 

Step 9) Return home and take you chances with a new repair shop because it’s Saturday afternoon, and your regular mechanic is closed. Don’t worry about the warranty on the old tire because driving home while it was flat probably voided it.

Special thanks to Mechanix gloves for making this repair possible.

Longs Peak search

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Here’s the latest on a missing hiker at Rocky Mountain National Park:

Search underway at Longs Peak

On November 17, rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park were notified that Peter Jeffris, 25, from Broomfield, Colorado, was overdue from a mountaineering trek in the Longs Peak area. His car was located in the parking lot at the Longs Peak Trailhead. He reportedly left Sunday morning to summit Longs Peak and did not arrive at work on Monday. It is unclear what route he was planning, but he indicated to friends he was considering the Cables Route on the north face. He was not prepared to spend the night.

A Park Search and Rescue team searched a small segment of the area until dark last night. Today teams will search the north face, Keyhole Route, Chasm Cirque area and along the Longs Peak Trail. They are being assisted by Rocky Mountain Rescue and Larimer County Search and Rescue. There are 32 people involved in the search efforts.

Weather on Sunday and Monday included snow, high winds and bitter temperatures. Today, teams are facing extremely high winds, blowing snow and gusts up to 85 mph at 14,000 feet. Aerial search efforts are not possible due to extreme winds.

Photo: Welcoming spring

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Exploring a creek. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Exploring a creek. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Sometime after winter, and after the spring ice storms and second winters (but before the late April snowfall), we had a nice day and went for a hike. A light rain started to fall half way through the trial, but it didn’t last. At the end of the hike, we sat next to a pond and listened to the croaks of unseen frogs.

Photo: Snowshoes

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Snowshoes. (c) J.S. ReinitzSnowshoe rack at local wildlife preserve.

Not that anyone needs snowshoes right now, currently the snow is dense and frozen. You can walk on top of it without breaking through.

Snowshoes. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Photos: Winter paths

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Photos from a winter morning following a fresh snowfall. Shots include a road under a railroad bridge and the gate to an abandoned riverside lot. (C) J.S. Reinitz


Video: Sledding into 2013

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This week brought us the first day of spring. It also brought us a lot of ice and below-freezing temperatures, so it’s not too late to post a sledding video. In fact, we could probably title this “Sledding into Spring.”

We shot this over a few sledding trips to the local hill in December and January to try the Action Shot camera our son got for Christmas. It works OK, with the exception of the strobe effect that kicks in when it’s pointed at the snow. I guess it gets confused and tries to white balance. We also used my daily carry Pentax W90, which didn’t strobe out.

During one of the runs, the one that goes between two trees, the Action Shot pops off the head of our son’s friend. Our son rushes over to look at the camera and then checks on his buddy.

We can’t wait to try out the camera this summer. In the meantime, check out our other videos at our YouTube channel.

Scraping by winter

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winterAs soon as I heard the noise, I knew what it was.

The sound of something slipping from my Pontiac as I reached 55 mph could have been any number of things, most likely a chunk of frozen something or another dislodging from the snow-covered roof. 

But I knew better.

I knew it was my ice scraper/snow broom. I had placed it on the roof after dusting off the freshly fallen powder from my windshield and starting the engine. It stayed up there as I started shoveling the driveway in the pre-dawn darkness, then carving out a path down the sidewalk. I hacked through the wall of road snow the city plow had shoved across the driveway entrance when it passed. Next, I dug out my wife’s minivan and plowed a small trail back to the house. After that, I hopped in the car and fought through the sort-of-cleared residential streets until I got to the highway and could start making time.

Then whoosh and clatter. And that was the end of the ice scraper.

Later in the day, after work, I doubled back, but there was no sign of it in the chest-high snow banks lining the highway.

The loss was both practical and sentimental. My wife bought the scraper during our first winter back in the frozen Midwest after several years in the warm South. It took some looking, and ultimately shopping online, but she found exactly what I needed. The eggshell white high-impact plastic stock was a about two feet long with a hard bristle brush. It was the perfect gaffi stick to wield in the brutal six-month battle that is winter. The long handle gave needed leverage, but the ultimate source of its power was the metal blade at the business end. Where plastic scrapers do little more than massage the ice, the metal blasts through in a single pass.

Sure, I’ve used plastic blades in the past, but they’re futile tools when it comes to freeing cars that are encased in ice.

Since moving back to the Midwest, I’ve occasionally glanced at snow tool assortments in stores and noticed the lack of metal. So, the day after my scraper slid from the roof into frozen oblivion, I found myself at a national chain auto parts store looking for a replacement, hoping to find something beyond the big box discount store offerings. The place specialized in car parts and accessories, so it seemed the logical choice.

The stand near the door had nothing but plastic — small fit-in-your-pocket scrapers with plastic blades, long snow brooms with plastic blades. It had a nice assortment of colors.

“Do you have anything with aluminum tips?” I asked.

The clerk said he didn’t and went on to guess the government had banned them because he hadn’t seen any in a long time. It had something to do with people scratching up their windshields, he continued.

I explained that I had been using metal for more than 10 years and never had a scratch. He said the government was overstepping its bounds.

I left with a plastic scraper, price about $8, as a stop-gap until I could find something better. If nothing else, I could drive by the scene in spring when the highway snow banks melt.

That night, I searched the internet for any sign of the government meddling in metal scrapers and found none. Big Brother wasn’t behind it, just lazy retailers. What I did learn was the metal scraper blades are brass, not aluminum, according to several online hardware stores selling them. Asking price was $8 with another $10 for shipping.

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