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2:38 am EDT 60°F (16°C) in Rifle, CO
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I am sitting west of the Continental Divide for the first time in 25½ months tonight. At this point, I’m slightly past the halfway point of my trip to California; roughly 890 miles (1,432 km) remain in front of me, with two days to get there.
I must say, the high elevations out here in Colorado really seem to do a number on the truck, in several different ways. It’s not particularly bad in the eastern part of Colorado or in the Denver metropolitan area (both of which are completely below 5,500 ft./1,676 m), but above 7,000 ft. (2,133 m) or so, the thinner air becomes an issue. The most noticeable thing that happens is that the turbocharger becomes less effective; not only is this a problem in the obvious situation of climbing a grade, but it also reduces the effectiveness of the Jake brake, making lower gears and extremely high engine RPM even more important on descents than at lower elevations. On the climb to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which passes underneath the Divide at 11,192 ft. (3,411 m), I could hear the turbo making strange noises, almost as if it was literally gasping for air. Twenty miles down the road, climbing to the 10,666-ft. (3,251 m) summit of Vail Pass, it was all the engine could do to maintain 50 mph (80 km/h), on a grade no worse than 3%, with a load weighing less than 6,600 lb. (2,994 kg) in the trailer! At the much lower summit elevations found in the eastern half of the country, the truck would perform the same with payloads weighing four times that much.
In addition to screwing with the engine performance, the thin air up there also changes the ride characteristics of the suspension. The drive axles on the tractor utilize high-pressure air bags instead of leaf springs to smooth out the ride. At lower elevations, the air system is drawing in much heavier air, and the suspension air bags give a fairly firm (although not terribly stiff) ride. In higher elevations, though, the lighter air being pulled through the air system ends up resulting in a softer ride.
I’m going to give away one of my secrets of higher-elevation road travel that may come in useful for readers who venture out from their lower-elevation homes into higher terrain. Obviously, I more or less live out of the truck when I’m on the road, and I have to carry around a number of health/hygiene/etc. products, such as laundry detergent, shampoo, and contact-lens solution, with me in the truck. What I’m getting at is that all of the items in question here are sold in flexible (i.e., not rigid-walled) plastic bottles that are air-tight when closed. When you make use of such items, air will be sucked in to replace the volume formerly occupied by the liquid contents you have just squeezed out of the bottle, and when you close the lid again, the air pressure inside the bottle will be equal to the air pressure outside.
However, if you take the bottle up to a higher elevation without opening it, the air pressure inside (which will not have changed from the lower elevation at which you last opened the bottle) will be higher than the pressure outside, which will have lowered with increasing elevation. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to open such bottles up once for every 3,000-ft. (914 m) increase in altitude; I mean, if you last opened the bottle at 1,000 ft. (305 m) above sea level, it may be damn near ready to pop itself open by the time you get to 8,000 ft. (2,438 m).
Interestingly enough, I can’t say that the thinner air at the higher elevations has that much effect on me. I’m sure that if I were to carry on some sort of physical exertion, I would notice it more, but when driving or doing other “resting pulse rate” activities, I can’t tell the difference between Detroit and Denver. It’s almost kind of funny in a way that the truck suffers more from high elevation than I do.
Why am I not surprised that Dumbya is back to drinking again, at least if you believe this story from the National Enquirer? That would explain his so-called “Bush-isms” like “subliminable” and the recent classic “Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.” Really, when you think about it, he does demonstrate some of the behaviors associated with alcoholism, so I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if ol’ George was rekindling his love affair with Jim Beam and Jack Daniel.
Other than that, I’m very tired of the whole political scene, largely because of the sickening behavior of the Republicans running the show. It would sure as hell be nice if I could just hibernate for a few years and wake up in 2009 with true progressives — whether Democrats or not — fixing the damage done to this country since 2001.