Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ski Day - Maybe

Yesterday, Stephen and I, along with our neighbours Matt and Nina, went skiing. We stuffed our gear into our little Subaru Leone and piled in after it. Once we were all secured in, we sputtered out onto the road and off towards the mountain of the day, Mt Hutt.

Mt Hutt is a two hour drive away at most. About an hour and a half to the turn off and then half an hour up the access road. With our full car and tiny engine, we puttered to the turn off in about 2 hours. Having left at 7am, we had a good lead on the rush of traffic. And so our ascent began. The speed limit on the road is signed as 40kph, we were in no danger of passing that. We rolled along at around 20kph and struggled up the hill. That is until our engine began to smoke and a loud hissing noise started coming from under the hood. Stephen quickly found a nook to pull into and let the long snake our cars sneak by. We quickly opened the hood and allowed the vast billows of smoke to emerge onto the road. I stood back as jets of yellow liquid spurted from beneath the car and trickled down the gravel road. Hmmmm, that can't be good. Stephen slowly released the coolant cap and we stared down at the near empty tank. Just what we needed. We were far from half way up the hill and our cars' coolant system was gone. What to do? It was still pretty early and our hopes were high, so we let the engine cool down a bit and dumped all the water we had into the tank. Closed her up and started up again.

We got about 500 meters before we started smoking again. Pulled over. Cooled down. Borrowed some water from a passing car (no one was keen to stop and ask if we needed help) and kept going.


Cool down.

Apply water.

Move 100-200 meters up hill.

The parking lot seemed to get further and further away as we struggled up the climb. We limped from one section of wide road to the next. Finally, at the overflow parking lot (closed until August, when the real snow gets here) we all tumbled out of the car and took some time to assess - and eat brownies. We were over half way (we thought and hoped), it was already 10:30am, the car was getting worse, we really, really wanted to ski and it was starting to get late (especially if we continued on at the rate we were going). Finally, Stephen, the driver and therefore ultimate decision maker, told us to climb in for one more try at the parking lot. If we could make it to the next ridge line in one go we would keep going, if not, we would turn around and coast down the hill.

Someone in the car must have eaten horse shoes that morning because we made it first to the ridge line, then along the flat section and finally up into the parking lot, all in one go. Perhaps it was the 15 minute cool down or maybe it was luck, whatever it was we were there and we were going skiing.

Despite a poor forecast with snow and wind, the day was gorgeous. Sun, light breeze and temperatures hovering around -1 degrees. My first run was shaky with legs that wanted to give out every time I dropped my knee for a turn, but mostly I held on and made it down. After that, the day only improved. By lunchtime I could go for a good 10-15 turns before my quads would give out and I would collapse at the knees into a happy pile of skies, poles, snow and Erin. We met up with Matt and Nina for lunch and convinced our beginning friends to give the big slope a try. With our assistance (and patience), we spent an hour and a half guiding these budding skiers with knock-knees and nervous speeds down the teeming beginner slope. Compared to the bunny hill where they had so far had all their experience, this was crazy, full of people (some going too fast), sides that dropped away steeply and a hill that was 10 times longer, there was no giving up half way down. Eventually, we all made it down and they returned to the bunny slope to practice some more and we made a mad dash up to the top of the mountain to chase the vanishing beams of sun, now just kissing the ridge line along the top. We skied and we skied and we skied. Enjoying absolutely every minute of it. The ecstasy of each successful turn increasing tenfold as the snow rooster-tailed behind us filling the air with tiny diamonds of light. We raced down and caught the last lift just 2 minutes before it closed and took full pleasure from that final run of the day. My thighs were finally behaving and I was in my own little world of happiness. For the few hundred meters down to the chalet where it was back to the world of people. We all changed, climbed into the car and crossed our fingers for the drive home.

Things didn't start all that well. In fact, the car wouldn't start at all. We eventually nursed it into a belligerent state of rumbling and joined the line of traffic heading downhill. Making it a total of 76 meters before stalling right beside some parked buses making it difficult for anyone to get by. Key turn after key turn, the engine tried but wouldn't start. Stephen got out and fiddled with the choke which had become stuck and that seemed to do the trick as we rumbled back to life and started down again. We rolled along in second cautiously, stalling out once but starting again just as strangely as we continued to roll. When we reached the point in the road where we first exploded our brakes started to reek, so once again we pulled over to cool down. This time people were much more considerate in their offerings of help and instead of 1 in 30 cars stopping, it was 1 in 3. Unfortunately, no one who stopped was a mechanic so we just waited. Finally, after another jiggle with the choke we started up again and I took us down the mountain switching between using the brakes, the transmission and my mad steering skills to reach the bottom.

With highway speeds the engine fan seemed to do much of the cooling for the engine, so we didn't have to worry too much about cooling. We were just working with a higher than normal engine temperature. Although we all knew that if we returned the same way we had come we would have to go through Rakaia Canyon, a rather deep and large canyon with lots of uphill for the poor car. So we turned off towards Methven and the longer road home. This of course meant we had to drive through Methven and slow down, which meant the engine would heat up and explode again. Of course before this happened the car would stall, so intersections became our worst nightmare.

We made it through town and screamed down the highway (as much as a sad, broken little car can) not in the direction of home. The sun was now gone from the sky, as we drove past field after field filled with sleeping sheep and cows. Farms with their glowing windows whispered past our windows (which were constantly open because when the cooling system went so did our heater and defroster) and cars with their bright headlights shot past us in the opposite direction. We finally turned off onto an even smaller road with a tiny sign pointing towards Christchurch and we headed home. Through Dunsandel, Selwyn, Norwood, Burnham. Each town meaning we had to slow down and play gently with the engine so as to avoid either stalling or over heating. Through Rolleston, Weedons and on into Christchurch. By which time I was a pro at driving our half broken car (well, it was probably full broken, but we couldn't let it die just yet). Down Bleinhem, Moorhouse, up Fitzgerald, onto Avonside and into the driveway, where the car happily idled by itself as we stumbled out of our seats.

What a day. But then again, every day is an adventure. Sometimes you just get a little more than others.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of our Plymouth Fury without a clutch. Had to do everything in second gear (we got to choose which gear but once you started you couldn't change) so a jerky, roaring start and very careful timing and long range vision to make sure traffic lights were green when we arrived. And not too fast.