wooden brake line plugs
Monday, September 2 2013
location: Tall Pines Cabin, rural Hope Township, Hamilton County, New York
Gretchen read recently that Celexa, her prescribed antidepressant, may work by preventing rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. Sleep specialists have found that REM is the phase of sleep when most nightmares and disturbing dreams take place, though it's also been found that REM is essential for the establishment of long-term memories. Perhaps, Gretchen began to wonder, Celexa is the reason her memory has been so shitty for so many years. So about a week ago, Gretchen quit her Celexa cold turkey. That's a bold thing to attempt, especially given that the few times in recent memory when she's neglected to take it, her mood suddenly took a nosedive that was unmistakable even to me. For some reason, though, this time she's been doing well without the Celexa. Her mood hasn't been perfect, but it's never perfect, not even with Celexa.
Gretchen also read somewhere that the sleep drug Ambien also has a negative impact on REM sleep, and she's tried to stop using that as well, but this has made the process of getting to sleep more difficult. The night before last, she tried sleeping in different beds, reading herself to sleep, and perhaps other non-chemical techniques, but none of them worked very well, and she ended up only getting about four hours of sleep. So last night, not wanting a repeat of the night before, she decided to try smoking some of the marijuana I'd brought. I don't normally travel with marijuana, but I was recently given a fairly large amount and I've been enjoying it, and I thought it might be a fun thing to smoke at the cabin. As for Gretchen, she has never really enjoyed smoking pot and almost always declines it when it is offered. But several months ago after she using it to treat her nausea, she began to appreciate its medicinal value. Last night when I got up to piss, I found Gretchen with my little makeshift redneck pipe (cobbled together from various brass pipe fittings). She didn't really know what to do because, strange as this might seem, she'd never packed a bowl before. So I helped her smoke a small amount of pot. It wasn't enough to get her very stoned, but it helped dispell her darker thoughts and get her asking herself such stoner questions as "I wonder what my brain looks like from the inside?" In the end, marijuana demonstrated to Gretchen that it isn't just a miracle anti-nausea drug; it's also a good way to prepare the mind for sleep.
We'd had some heavy rains and occasionally lightning last night that left us with some clouds and gloom this morning, although it didn't seem to affect the level of the Sacandaga River, at least not initially. At some point, though, somebody must have opened the gates a little on the dam holding back Lake Algonquin upstream, and the Scandaga rose a good eight or nine inches, inundating most of the cobblestone beaches and filling some of the channels that had gone dry. The river only ran that high for a few hours before returning to the low level with which we'd grown familiar.
In the mornings while I'm waking up and getting the coffee started, Gretchen has been walking the dogs in the nearby woods around the cabin. There aren't a lot of places to go, but it can be enough of a walk to initially satisfy the dogs, at least until we can go on a longer walk later in the day. On this morning's walk, though, Ramona wasn't feeling very good. She eventually began vomitting, repeatedly producing a thicky slimy white material as if she'd accidentally eaten a five pound sea slug. After puking several times on the walk, she puked a few more times in the yard and a half dozen times in the house. It was a nasty business to clean up, but (unlike when Marie &mdash aka "the Baby" &mdash does diarrhea on the floor) we couldn't leave it for Ramona to clean up. After she was done puking, Ramona cuddled with Gretchen on the couch, occasionally foaming at the mouth and looking weak. We'd planned to maybe go for a big hike today, but first we had to wait for Ramona to recover. And then we had to wait for some gathering clouds to either shit or get off the pot.
After a couple hours of Gretchen reading, Ramona recovering, and me working at the computer, the threat of rain seemed to dissipate, so Gretchen and I walked down to a nearby RV campground she'd discovered (43.336681N, 74.271859W).
It being Labor Day, we expected to see people either doing some last minute brunch barbecues or packing up their camps to head home. But the place seemed to be almost completely empty of humanity. There were plenty of RVs there, many of them the large kind with whole wings of additional space that could accordion out of their sides. There they sat with their sewage and power hooked up and their accordion wings deployed, and yet there were no cars parked nearby and no signs of human life. It was as if it had been hit by a neutron bomb. Judging from the human-shaped plywood cutouts, American flags, and corny kountry kabin decorations, the temporary residents of this campground were mostly McCain-Palin people, though where they came from the camp here and what occasions they did so were all a complete mystery. Eventually, off in the distance, we finally saw a camp that seemed occupied. But that was it.
On our way out of the campground, some small sporty red American-made car came flying down the gravel entrance road. The driver (a hard-faced middle-aged woman) had to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting Ramona, who of course was out in that road and completely oblivious to the danger of moving motor vehicles. The sudden presence of a new one was very exciting for her, and she danced back and forth slowly in front of it as the driver tried to drive. I called Ramona back and told her she was stupid, and the hard-faced middle-aged woman gave me stern look, but nothing else came of it.
In the late afternoon we decided to drive four miles to the next village north, a place called Wells, in hopes of hiking a trail to some old-growth White Pines in a placed called Pine Orchard. Wells wraps around Lake Algonquin (which is technically a reservoir) and it surprised us by seeming more civilizationally-complete than Northville, though we'd heard nothing much about it from the person renting us our cabin. Once we arrived in Wells, Gretchen was delighted to find a cellphone signal; up until that point she'd assumed she'd have to drive the nine miles down to Northville for such communicational amenities.
Using her phone to Google "Pine Orchard," Gretchen managed to navigate me to the end of a dead-end road where we could park and begin our two-mile hike. As I parked, I felt the brake on the Subaru go all the way down to the floor without providing any stopping power. That was a little disconcerting, but then I thought maybe that was what always happened when the car shut down and the power brake system lost power.
Though it was two miles in length, the walk to Pine Orchard was an easy one and the trail barely crossed any contours. It did cross a very leisurely creek at some point, suggesting that we were perched atop some plateau whose interior drainage had yet to be captured by any of the creeks draining its steeper sides. The forest was more montane than I'd seen it on other recent hikes in the southern Adirondacks, containing a lot of spruce and various species of white-barked birch.
We encountered two other groups of humans along the way (including one half-comprised of an old woman of the kind Ramona has a history of jumping up on and inflicting accidental injuries with her claws), but for some reason Ramona restrained herself and did not jump. We had brought some snacks, including two different kinds of chips, chipotle hummus, and two Mountain Brew Ice beers, and once we got to the big pines (which were some six feet in diameter), we sat under one and had a little picnic. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were bad there and we had no defense against them except to swat them. So we ended up drinking a good bit of our beer on the walk back.
As I began our drive down the hill from the trailhead parking area, I realized the Subaru had almost no brakes whatsoever. I could still slow it by downshifting (it has a "standard" non-automatic transmission), and once I got to a very slow speed, it was possible to stop it with the brakes, but only just. Obviously, this was a very dangerous situation, though it wasn't dangerous enough for me to stop driving altogether. Indeed, I'd once had similar problems in the Punch Buggy Green but had continued driving it for several errands before getting around to fixing it.
Using utmost care, I drove us to a Citgo station in Wells and bought a container of brake fluid (along with about $25 of overpriced gas) from the nice older Slavic cashier. He was surprisingly chatty given that he was speaking broken English.
After adding the brake fluid and pumping the brakes a few times, I looked at each of the wheels for evidence of leaks. There it was, clear as day, a serious leak near the wheel on the rear passenger's side. Despite seeing that, I hoped perhaps the brakes would work okay as long as there was some fluid in the brake reservoir and that I could continue to have brakes for emergencies as long as I used them sparingly. That wouldn't have been hard; in my normal driving style, I mostly just use brakes for stoplights and to stop the car at the very end of my drives. But after driving for a little while in Wells, I realized that the additional fluid had done nothing to fix the brakes.
Somewhat panicked, I pulled into a parking lot across from the seemingly-abandoned Seabiscuit Inn and used Gretchen's cellphone to research brakeline routes in a 1998 Subaru. I was hoping to find which brakelines in the engine compartment went to which brakes in hopes that I could somehow clamp off the line leading to the leaky one and stop the loss of fluid. Unfortunately, though, I was unable to find any handy chart of such routes. All I managed to find were posts on various messageboards from people requesting the chart I was seeking. In the end, it looked like I was going to have to trace the brake lines from the master cylinder manifold to figure out which was which and perhaps plug the one going to the rear passenger wheel.
At some point in the midst of this, a middle-aged white guy with a young fat-faced Asian girl in one hand and a tawny mid-sized mutt on a leash in the other came by, and over the monotonous barking of Ramona and Eleanor, he saw my hood was up and asked if perhaps I needed radiator fluid. I explained that, no, that wasn't my problem, and then for some reason I told him about my brake issue. After telling him this, he felt the need to tell me where I could go to get radiator water, even though I'd just said that my radiator wasn't the problem. At some point I realized the young Asian girl was walking on an artificial leg. It was like a scene out of a David Lynch film.
Despite the absence of brakes, I managed to drive us safely back to Tall Pines. I have to give Gretchen credit here; I don't know many people who would willingly ride in car without functioning brakes. Indeed, when I'd first explained the problem, I'd half-expected Gretchen to insist on a tow truck. But I should have known better; Gretchen is not that kind of woman. In a situtation like this, she is content with looking to me to see what I am willing to do, and if I'm prepared to drive the car, she's perfectly happy to ride along. For her, life is too short to sweat the small dangers (even when, as in this case, they grow a bit large).
Back at the cabin, I was not going to be happy until I found some solution, improvised though it must be, to the brake problem. I'd found the leak itself; it was high up in a nearly-inaccessible gap between the gas tank and the chassis and was much bigger than a mere pinhole. A whole chunk of the brakeline had blown away, leaving a hole at least a quarter inch long and a little less wide. Without a way to plug the leak, I definitely needed to disable the entire line and (for the time being) abandon that brake's functionality. The car could still operate, though it would only have three brakes instead of four. But to abandon the brake line upstream from the leak, I would still need to find that brake line near its source at the master cylinder in the engine compartment.
Without the help of any documentation, I was forced to trace the routes of the brake lines from the master cylinder. I eventually found the lines going to the rear passenger-side brakes by the process of elimination. First I determined that none of the lines going to the front wheels punctured the firewall at the back of the engine compartment. And then I found that two brake lines punctured that compartment on each side. For some reason there were two brake lines going to each brake. This didn't seem necessary in a hydraulic system where fluid doesn't need to flow, but evidently that was how the Subaru brake system was designed. It didn't really matter, though. Now that I'd figured out which lines went to that brake, all I had to do was plug them up. What I needed to do was unscrew the ends of the brake line from the manifold, plug them with some tight-fitting object, and then tighten the lines back to the manifold. (Though I wasn't actually working at the manifold; there was some odd aluminum box whose functionality I could not deduce.) For plugs, it seemed I needed some sort of small perfectly-machined (and somewhat compressible) cones. Ideally I would have found rubber cones about three eighths inch long and an eighth inch wide, but I couldn't find anything like that. In the end, I cut the pointy ends off a pair of wooden barbecue skewers, inserted them into the line, and torqued the lines back into place. When I fired up the car, not only had the brake fluid leak near the rear passenger-side wheel ceased, but the Subaru had functioning brakes once more. Better still, the horrible carunk-carunk sound from a warped brake disk was no longer in evidence; it seems that the offending brake happened to be the very same one whose line had ruptured and which I'd just abandoned. I'd just successfully pulled off something they refer to on Gold Rush: Alaska as a "bush fix."
As soon as I announced my success with "fixing" the Subaru's brakes, Gretchen began preparing dinner. It ended up being another Asian meal, with shredded cabbage added to the leftovers from yesterday's meal. Since it was a little carbohydrate-poor, I ate mine as a wrap. As we ate our dinner, we watched old DVDs of the Chapelle Show, which just happened to be part of the Tall Pines DVD library.
After dinner, I further celebrated my brake line victory by smoking some marijuana and then taking a bath in the Twin Pines bathtub. It's a much smaller tub than the one back at home, but for some reason it was possible to take a very satisfactory bath in it. Sometimes I fear being too self-critical when I smoke marijuana, this this has tended to be a problem in the past. This evening, though, I found a different voice inside my marijuana-altered head had taken over. It was a surprisingly-supportive one, responding to normal midlife anxieties by pointing out the ways I haven't completely squandered my life and wasted my opportunities. That's not a voice I hear often, but it was good to know it exists somewhere in my brain (and that it can rise up to be heard when I smoke marijuana).
After I got out of the tub, I found myself just sitting and talking with Gretchen in a way that I haven't generally done on this particular Adirondack vacation. At some point she cooked herself somethin on the stove, a fancy electric model with heating coils hidden away beneath a glass surface. (It works so well that we haven't found ourselves craving a gas stove.) To my marijuana-altered mind, it suddenly occurred to me that conventional consumer kitchen stoves now use all three forms of heat-transfer methods. A traditional gas stove uses convection, where rising heat (in the form of flames) heat objects. Conventional electric stoves use conduction, where hot coils heat objects that they touch directly. And this newfangled electric stove uses radiation, where a glowing coil heats whatever is above it through a pane of glass. One indication of how much better a radiation-electric stovetop is than a conventional electric stovetop is that it is possible to directly toast a piece of flatbread on the former (or on a gas stove). I've tried doing that on a conventional electric stove, but all that happens is flames at the parts that touch the coil and untoasted flatbread at the parts that don't.
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