Three Days in Red Rock Canyon

Finally in Vegas, I met up with my small quaranteam of Austin climbers and we spent the first half of our week climbing in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Tomorrow is a rest day with big turkey plans.

They didn’t think this was going to work. I thought these people knew me.

Monday: The Hamlet Wall

Each trip out here, we usually start at The Hamlet. It has a good assortment of easy and moderate stuff to cut our teeth on to remember how Red Rock Canyon is different than climbing in Austin.

Tuesday: Civilization Crags

A favorite area of mine with spectacular views, wherein we got Kenneth back on lead after a while, Mike did his first lead ever, and Brent decided to have us all start the day on a 5.10a as a “warm up.”

After climbing, we had a helluva home cooked meal of steak, potatoes, brussels sprouts, and a multitude of Oreos that we really should stop buying. It was all so good, we even convinced Mike to eat one brussel sprout. It’s been a big day for him.

Wednesday: The Great Red Book

Uh oh. So I asked to go somewhere off the second pull-out since the park seemed pretty empty today. I wanted to see someplace new. Yeah this was my fault. At least partially. We ended up at The Great Red Book, which is mostly trad (which we don’t do — oops) and the base of the wall is somewhere in the lower stratosphere. Also the approach “hike” ended up being a dramatic rock scramble…

Serious navigational prowess on display here… The circles were totally on purpose.

The two sport climbs we jumped on were Subject-Verb Agreement at 80 feet with a lot of run-out and the first pitch of Dangling Participles at about 120 feet, respectively. Neither were particularly hard technically, but stupid heights and exposure aren’t exactly my jam. I led neither but cleaned both, so while I cannot claim any ambition, at least I can be useful. Brent led the first and Jay and Mike tag-team lead the second. An ambitious second lead for him given the everything.

We emerged back into the hiking trails through Black Corridor — another favorite area but a slot canyon incompatible with social distancing — right as the sun set. Kenneth is making a carbonara for dinner tonight, which is awfully good natured of him after we dragged him up Everest today.

Short Day in Death Valley

After hacker games, I could finally leave the Starbucks I’d been parked out front of for many hours. Finally on the direct route, I headed up toward Vegas and took US-95 straight up to Beatty. A ways north of Las Vegas, I drove next to a massive military installation that I realized was “Area 51” because the one gas station in 100 miles, right on the edge, was full of alien tchotchkes.

After making the customary stop at the StageCoach Hotel & Casino & Denny’s in Beatty, I headed over to my campsite for the night, the ghost town of Rhyolite.

As I wandered around, I felt like there were ghosts. And there is a residence on the far side of town. And two more cars drove in while I was there — sir, what the heck are you doing in a ghost town at midnight? So I decided to obey the “Day Use Only. No Camping or Overnight Parking” signs and park at the entrance to Titus Canyon Road instead.

The sun may set early here, but when it rises, you get free Lasik through your eyelids. Which was probably good because I wanted to do Titus Canyon Road again and I had a big hike planned, despite the short winter days in this region.

This may be my third run through Titus Canyon, but it never gets old. After that, I drove down the park down to to Dante’s Viewpoint for Mount Perry, a ridge hike. Major ass-kicking, but beautiful.

Mount Perry

The parking area, at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, looks out over the Badwater Basin salt flats at 300 feet below sea level. What I missed about the trail map is that between me and the peak was a valley. The uphill that started at mile 8 was pretty-soul crushing, but put me at the top right at sunset.

After laying down in the parking lot because my Death Valley march damn near killed me — and also to let the insane sunset traffic jam dissipate — I got back on the road and took Furnace Creek Wash out the south edge of the park, carrying on our tradition of not arriving or departing the park on a paved road.

Next up, Vegas!

Hacking from the Passenger Seat

Apache Lodge, Prescott, AZ.

Today’s drive is Prescott, AZ to Beatty, NV (or Rhyolite, if I’m brave enough) but it also coincided with the 2020 CCDC Invitational. For the past few years, I’ve worked as an assistant project manager and scenario writer for the Southwest Collegiate Cybersecurity Defense Competition. This year’s competition in March was cancelled, but we hosted a virtual one-day event today.

About an hour into the game, I started the drive north. Throughout the day, I’ve stopped for a couple hours at a time to work on my pieces and monitor the game.

Black Team focused on building Ansible and Terraform config for automated deployment of an entire team infrastructure.

If I had to spend an entire day on a Zoom, these are the people I’d like to do it with. Though a virtual game just doesn’t have the excitement and zany antics of the in-person experience.

Watching a student’s virtual machine terminal as a fork-bomb from Red Team crashes his computer toward the end of the game.

He reported the outage to his team:

Now that the game has ended, I have to grade the budget forecasts I made the teams write, and then I can head on to my campsite. Tomorrow is hiking in Death Valley!

Views of Arizona

I am on the road again. Don’t tell anyone. I have mixed feelings about what we’re doing, given the latest escalation of plague. I had not planned to write about this one, but today’s drive was noteworthy. To back up briefly — I will be joining a couple Austin climbers for Thanksgiving in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas. Driving, of course.

Originally, I planned to stay Thursday night in Socorro, New Mexico. But their travel restrictions are the heaviest in the Southwest and the situation is serious. So I drove through on a lonely scenic route — US 380 and US 60 — that re-traced some fun routes from past trips. I’ve come to love New Mexico with all our adventures there in the last three years; it pained me to sneak through without doing anything. So I stopped for a trunk-snack on the side of the road at the VLA.

I rolled into Show Low, Arizona rather late, but it put me almost a night ahead of schedule. On Friday, I survived an onslaught of meetings and ejected myself into my first week off since I started my new job. To celebrate, I asked George and Evan to help me find something fun to do between Show Low and “somewhere vaguely headed toward Vegas, but who really cares?”

Rim Road overlooking Payson, AZ. Route from Trails Offroad.

Yeah, that’ll do. I got a late start getting out of town, but there was a dramatic sunset waiting for me when I got there.

At the end of Rim Road, I rejoined AZ 260 headed toward Camp Verde on I-14. From there, the suggested route to Vegas was to continue southwest to Prescott Valley before turning north again. But for just a few miles extra, I could go through a ghost town I’d heard about.

It also happens to be on a pretty awesome looking road.

As it happens, Jerome is not a ghost town exactly, though its tourism provenance comes from being called that. It looks like mountain town and vacation destination that has built up next to the decommissioned copper mine, which still stands as a state historic park. In the 1920s, the population peaked near 10,000. Now there are less than 500 permanent residents. The whole town is situated precariously on dramatic cliffs with steep hills and sheer drop-offs. Homes and businesses are wedged into every available crevice, pressed up against the rock, or hanging out over the Verde Valley below.

What doesn’t come through in the dashcam is that this was a steep, constant uphill climb that someone decided to perch a town in the middle of.

Between Jerome, Rim Road, and the forest lands that surround them both, I might propose we put Arizona on the list to come back to.

Post-op Report

Since returning to Austin, I haven’t driven the Xterra even once. I would feel bad about that, but Xterra the Younger is fixin’ to drive to California over the next four nights, so I felt he deserved a rest after dragging his elder back from hospital. Which is to say — I’ve put about 120 miles on the truck in the past week or so!

Parked opposite a Datsun 720 (the precursor to the Nissan D21) at Austin Bouldering Project

Last night, I had dinner with the folks and they wanted to see some of our tinkering. I popped the hood and was pleased to see that coolant, clutch, and brake fluid levels were all exactly where I left them back in Tulsa! That means we successfully resolved the leaks.

I also received a piece of mail that had been waiting for me:

So now I have team shirts and Matchbox cars for both! The other thing waiting for me at mail call was a package of vents/vent covers to start making the dashboard look a bit more civilized. Looks like I’ve got a December project!

Headed Home

Happy Election Day. After work, I trailered the truck again — easier and less scary with spotters. I also disconnected two things: my phone and the truck’s propshaft. Again. But this time, I used bailing wire to attach the rear end of the prop shaft to some structural elements under the bed rather than pulling out the whole business. That way I don’t leave another trail of gear oil and I can use the truck to get its ownself off the trailer back in Austin.

With phone notifications muted, I was able to remain largely unaware of national news. And pulling a trailer down I-35 is sufficiently mentally occupying that I didn’t feel compelled to add more to my plate in the moment. No difficulties, and little traffic. I got in around 2am and immediately regretted checking the news.

The week was a great success! I think the truck has been given a new lot in life. It’s finally gotten cooler here in Austin, so I’ll be putting a lot of miles on it this fall. I’ve still got a list of projects, but now I have momentum.

  • Find speakers that fit and reinstall
  • Decide of the speakers from Amazon can be returned
  • Return the brake parts that Amazon sent me late
  • Return the brake parts that RockAuto sent me that were incorrect
  • Replace the 3D printed brake line channels
  • Design and print a coolant expansion tank cap
  • I found new vent frames and vents to install into the dash. I may not be able to fix the airflow diverter, but just the aesthetic improvement of cleaning up the busted dash will be pretty fantastic. It does involve pulling the whole dash, which I’m intimidated about, but I think it’s achievable.

And who knows what else I’ll find. One thing this week gave me an appreciation for is how simple a lot of the truck is to access.

The Truck is Finished

Today, we’re all back to the office after a three-day weekend, but the to-do list is short. We knew that the tailpipe replacement needed to be done at an exhaust shop, and then we had to paint over the rust converter we laid down yesterday. With the help of the time change, I got up before work and ran the truck over to a shop in West Tulsa that Evan recommended.

The original tailpipe was entirely rusted and made of holes, some of which coughed their way out at the start of this enterprise. But the exhaust shop called me mid-afternoon to let me know that it was worse than I realized — because of course it was. The muffler was a) also full of holes, and b) too rusted to have a new pipe welded onto it anyway. But for less than I had feared, he could replace the whole business and he could do it today. So I asked him to proceed.

The new tailpipe doesn’t stick so far outside the body of the truck and both it and the muffler are properly drained to that steam and condensation can drip out. On further inspection the catastrophic rust in the old system — and potentially the epic steam clouds I get when I start the truck in cold weather — could be blamed on no drain holes anywhere on the old muffler or exhaust pipes.

I should also point out that it was fun to drive it around town.

Back at the house, I went out for a run before it got dark. Then we laid down a few layers of “rusty metal” color primer in the rust spots we treated yesterday. Between coats, I ran down to UHaul to fetch another tow-dolly.

The paint job is pretty contained and the color is decent — but definitely noticeable. It may not be a good look, but it is definitely not the worst area of paint damage. It also buys me a good amount of time to figure out what, if anything, I want to do about all of that.

As I walked back in, Evan and I came to the realization: The Truck is finished.

Well, this round anyway.

First Overtime: Cleaning, Rust, and the Test Drive

We started the morning by determining that the speakers, in fact, do not fit in the door. I’ll figure out what to do about that once I get home — the new speakers are the same size as the old ones. The old ones fit because the design of the cone is deeper and narrower compared to the frame. That’s not exactly a filter on Amazon’s product search…

So we moved on to mitigating three serious rust issues. One just in front of each door by the wheel wells, and one in the truck bed. The crap catchers by the wheel well look super familiar — the Xterra catches and holds onto mud in the exact same place. After taking a close look at what has become of the truck, I will start cleaning these out with a toothbrush…

We’ve wire brushed down the worst of the rust and covered the surfaces in rust converter to stabilize it. Tomorrow, after it cures, we’ll paint it with some auto primer. It’s red-ish, or so I’m told. Ultimately, this is still a temporary fix, but it buys time.

Meanwhile, we pulled and washed the middle seat belt, which I apparently have. It was disgusting. I’m pretty sure George and Evan can never use their sink again. Once it dried though, we were able to put the bench back in!

After that, I drove the truck back into the bay, confirming that the clutch definitely needed to be bled again. At last, I refilled the transmission’s gear oil! That was an odd experience. And then we redid the clutch bleed.

Then we did some odds-and-ends in the engine bay, sealed everything back up, did a light cleaning of the garage, and got ready for a test drive! Not gonna lie — mildly nervous.

We took a short tour through the neighborhood and back to the house. It was great! The brakes are still squishier than I feel like they’re supposed to be, but we also still maintain the did the bleed correctly. Otherwise, the clutch is happier, the transmission sounds happy enough, and no signs of coolant or hydraulic leaks. And the bench is comfy! Also the whole cab has been really cleaned out and looks nice. Still wish I had a radio, though.

We did discover that the left front blinker was out until we fixed it by wiggling it — so clearly that socket needs to be replaced. Also one of my reverse lights is out. But I’m content to keep those on the to-do list alongside the radio and speaker problems.

The only thing that remains is the tailpipe replacement. It’s a welded component. So I guess that means two things: we do have to out-source one part of this adventure, and I won’t be leaving Tulsa on-time. Rats. Whatever will we do? Play video games all night? Sounds good to me!

Day Seven: Halloween

It was a slow morning… After having done the passenger door yesterday, taking care of the driver door trim this morning was not difficult. After that, I went on an AutoZone-O’Reilly-Advance circuit looking for the insufferable plastic clips to reattach the door cards while Evan put up vapor barrier plastic sheeting, which the truck also seems to not have had in a while. After putting the door cards back on and reattaching the handle trim and window crank, the truck is really starting to look like itself again. Then we went to put up the speakers and discovered that they kinda don’t fit.

So we’ve punted it to tomorrow and shifted gears into Halloween and football mode instead. Texas squeaked by over Oklahoma State in overtime with a similar score going into the 4th as Tulsa had yesterday. When the win was announced, I put the Texas fight song on my phone and loudly walked around George. Meanwhile:

Maple Ridge (this neighborhood) did not see its usual parade of thousands of trick-or-treaters but we did serve 435 kids — a record low, but a comforting hint of normalcy. We heard from some families that this was the only neighborhood even hosting. Sad days. But in addition to a metric ton of Nerds, we also handed out adult and child-size masks to anyone who wanted them. We gave out at least 100 kids’ masks and probably 200 adults. The folks who took them were gracious and immediately put them on. Many others showed up already masked, and everyone was keeping respectful distance. It was definitely a strange Halloween experience, but I am glad that we participated.