Winter travel can be such a blast. This fall, our local native tribal council decided to institute a bus service twice a week (up Monday-back Tuesday, and up Thursday-back Friday, with some weekends around the holidays if there's demand) from Manley council building to the main bus depot in Fairbanks. There's a scheduled stop in Minto at the council's lodge, but residents along the length of the highway can call ahead and schedule a reservation for pick along the road if they can't get to one of the council locations. And, if you make arrangements ahead of time, you can reserve cargo space to haul back a goodly amount of stuff. It's a pretty nifty idea considering that winter driving can be pretty hazardous, and many folks up and down the Elliott might not adequate vehicles for the trek into town to get supplies, and $40 round trip is definitely cheaper than $150 in gas or a seat on the mail plane. All-in-all, it's a really great public service.
Well, that's the theory anyway.
Unfortunately, sometimes the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. These sorts of things really need really good planners who can identify all the possible risks and assess the additional equipment that may be required. Our little bus is pretty cool, and would be more than adequate for, say, a country spa/retreat shuttle somewhere in the Lower 48 on a paved road with more moderate weather. It's just not quite "enough" for routine 3+ hour trips on an icy gravel highway through the hills at temps below -20F. To manage that sort of abuse, you need extra heaters and extra electrics to manage that, and a really kick-ass mechanic to keep it all running at tip-top. Sadly, this is not the case, and the bus seems to visit the shop in Fairbanks every time it's in town... sometimes even getting stuck there! Guess their mechanics aren't any better than the local handyman mechanic that works for the council. Ooops!
My trip this Thurs/Fri was pretty fun. First, we couldn't get the truck started because it was too cold, so I had to hike a mile up to the side of the road for pickup... and Ken was late because of a delay departing the council building, so I got to stand out in -45 for almost 30 minutes on top of the mile hike. Joy!! Then we had two major mechanical issues that were a little concerning... one was minor, the other not so much. On the minor, there was this really annoying rattle from the right side of the engine compartment the whole way up and back that didn't get fixed while it was in the shop overnight... I suspect this is because the fiberglass fuselage around the front fender and engine housing has completely cracked and is vibrating on the bumpy road. Secondly, for no apparent reason, the voltage dropped to just barely 12v halfway back home in possibly the worst possible section of road... this meant that Ken had to shut down all the lights and heaters just for us to make it into Minto where he shut down in hopes that the alternator would reset and start kicking out the proper voltage again. OK - losing heaters when it's -45 and windy as hell is totally not fun... neither is wondering whether or not you're going to make it home without having a 30 miles hike in those temps. Luckily, I was the only person besides Ken (the driver that day) who didn't get off at Minto and we had all the proper cold weather gear in case we had to hike or wait for rescue. Not everyone riding the bus wears or carries the proper gear, and that's really poor planning on their part!!.
And then there's the passengers.... Granted, I'm biased because I've got Aspergers and Anxiety Disorder and really don't like being crammed in a metal box with a lot of strangers. For the most part, the other folks were cool. But the ones who weren't cool, really weren't cool. The rules say no drinking alcohol and no riding intoxicated... clearly, these drunken fools must realize that most people aren't going to pull the bus over in the middle of nowhere when it's well below freezing and kick them to the curb. And I must admit that, although I have an abnormally large bladder capacity and can make the entire trip without a potty break, I still don't understand how some people can't make it the 45 minutes between bio-break stops without begging the driver to stop so they can pee. I mean, really, we're in the middle of nowhere on a snowy road and you want us to just stop?! Legally, the driver isn't supposed to stop except at the designated full pull-outs where he can get completely off the road... learn to hold it or carry a jug for heaven's sake!
Of course, Dead Milkmen's "Taking Retards to the Zoo" came on my Zen (I'm anti-Apple, no iPod for me!) during the trip, which made it all bearable. And we got our new favorite tool... an electric log splitter!