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The Gearboat Chronicles

How to get snowed in like a champ

White stuff and little temperatures clamped down on certain parts of Oregon last week. Schoolkids and tow truck owners rejoiced. Others didn’t know what to do with themselves. Here, then, is the Gearboat Guide to handling winter when winter gets serious.


Step One: Make it interesting

Winter travel on icy roads can get exciting. You can cut down on the terror of sliding into things with practical measures like all-wheel-drive, studded tires, the power of prayer and so forth. But even with a highly outfitted winter-ready vehicle, setting out in foul conditions can be tense.

I lucked into a wonderful distraction after starting my truck the other morning so it could warm up while I used a splitting maul to chip the ice shelf off the windshield for 45 minutes. All set, I went to hop in and discovered a floppy door handle because the inner parts had snapped off and it wouldn’t open the door. Fun! My truck was running, the passenger door was locked and the driver’s side door handle was useless, so I got to go on a scavenger hunt for the spare key last used for a shuttle on a river trip. Yay!

After some internet research, I discovered this is not uncommon because auto makers decided easily-breakable plastic was the perfect material to use for door handles. Why waste metal on a part that gets used constantly and locks you out of your vehicle when it breaks? Good choice, makers of auto parts. Way to conserve readily available resources.

Luckily, it’s only a pain in the ass to remove your door panel by breaking a bunch of other easily-breakable plastic parts, then you get access and notice you left the window down, because, you know, if you leave the window down you can reach in to open your door from the inside . . . so Step Two is to go get the door panel and re-connect the electronics so you can roll the window back up. Easy peasy!


Not only did I get the satisfaction of creating new four-letter words, I now know what the insides of a door on a Toyota pickup look like. Put a price on that. (A million dollars if you have the dealership do it, half a million if you hire a mechanic, $120 for the part from Toyota, or $20-something online.)

Enjoy the down-time

Winter is a contemplative time. It’s quiet. No distractions, like the absence of sounds from running water when your pipes freeze. Years ago I swore off ever dealing with frozen pipes again, ever, so long as I live. I’ve done my time. I wrote about this very thing right here a couple months ago, encouraging everyone to call Jay Butts, plumber extraordinaire, not me.

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Todd called. His pipes had frozen. This is Todd Kruger, Winding Waters gearboatman extraordinaire, known to many as the nicest guy in the world. I can’t say no to Todd. So I mentioned the plumber Jay Butts. He’d already tried, but Jay was out of town. Damnit.

So a fun way to enjoy winter is to crawl under your house. Bring a friend. Run an extension cord. Prop a space heater next to the problem. Inhale some spider webs. Insulate some pipes. Army crawl through some cat poo. It’s fun.

Boat strap sighting

Before descending through the crawl space at Todd and Tammy’s, I noticed the legs of their ironing board are secured with an NRS cam strap. Evidence below.


Crawl under another house

The very next day I got another call and again, somehow, got convinced to crawl under another house. The good news is that Jacey and Joel now have heat tape installed on the plumbing under their house. The pipes are also insulated and I cleaned out most of their cobwebs and cat poop by collecting those items in my hair and clothing during the process. That’s the good news. In this case, the bad news, for me, is the same.

Special message from Jon Rombach

People of the world: Please, I beseech you, call Jay Butts, plumber, for all things relating to me crawling under a house. Seriously. This is ridiculous. Thank you. That is all.

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. . . now where were we . . . ah, yes. Winter.

Go skiing

Possibly the cutest thing I’ve seen lately is the video posted on the Winding Waters Facebook page of Linden skiing with her mom and pop up at our local hill, Ferguson Ridge. (update: upon review, it is definitely the cutest thing I’ve seen lately.)

Here’s a screengrab. For the video, get on over to Facebook and friend the Winding Waters page if you haven’t already.

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Go for a walk with Bula

For this winter activity, get a husky puppy. Be friends with her for 16 years. Then go for a walk in the snow. Sure, she doesn’t have the spring in her step she once did, but still gets around just fine and it’s a pleasure to see her romping in her element.


Get someone to build you a snowperson

My niece Anna has a can-do attitude, but recently had to deal with fluffy snow that wasn’t conducive to packing. Her creative solution was to ask her grandmother for help making a few snowballs. Maybe three. Big ones. You know, like . . . about . . . and then she sketched out what she had in mind, which were three nice-sized snow boulders perfect for making a snowman. Nice work, Anna. I like the way you think.

Wood-fired hot tub

I gotta tell you, watching snow pile up from the comfort of a hot tub is the reverse of crawling under a house in spiderwebs and cat feces. I can’t get enough of that hot tub when the snow is coming down. Here’s the view from the tub, steam and all.


Honorable mentions

Other fine ways to enjoy winter when it gets nasty are: Drink hot chocolate. (related: debate mini marshmallows vs. full size). Play board games. (related: debate Monopoly vs. Apple To Apples). Snowball fights (related: aim for makers of plastic door handles).

One last thing. Best way to combat winter’s grip is to think ahead and plan out a summertime river trip. If only we knew of an outfitter based in Joseph specializing in providing the best time you’ve ever had on the water in Hells Canyon, the sandy-beached goodness of the Lower Salmon or the Grande Ronde River. Hmm.