One of my favorite places to be is in the mountains surrounded by trees. The long winter has made it pretty tough to get up into the mountains due to the snow. But, the snow is melting fast (yay!) and the trails are beginning to open up. In our ranger district (Cle Elum) and the one to the south of us (Naches) the trails are officially closed until June 15th to motorized use. But, if you fill out the appropriate paperwork, say the right words in the right order and sacrifice a chicken under the full moon you can volunteer to patrol and clear trails, which is what I did. So yesterday we put the little chainsaw on the dirtbike, loaded up and headed for the hills. We found lots and lots of trees down which we stopped at each one, cut up and moved off the trail. In 3-1/2 hours we managed to get in 9 whole miles (round trip). We finally got to the point that my itty bitty 14" Stihl was not up to the trees that were across the trail, so we decided that it was time to call it a day and come back later with a bigger saw. Even though it was lots of hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
As we worked I was reminded of how different riding in the mountains is compared to riding in the desert. One of the biggest things is visibility. In the desert (for the most part) you can see someone coming toward you quite a ways out. But in the trees this is not the case, so it is really important to slow down around blind corners and when you do meet someone going the other way, use hand signals to indicate to them that there is someone behind you, or if you are the last in line, let them know that you are last person in your group. Depending on who you talk to, some people will say to indicate the number of people behind you with your fingers and if you are the last just a clenched fist. I tend to lose track of how many people are either ahead or behind me, so I prefer to just use my thumb to indicate there is someone behind me or the clenched fist if I am the last in line. Always keep an eye out for hikers and horses. Horses in particular don't mix well with motorcycles. Even though some of the people you run into in the mountains think they should be the only people allowed on the trails, that's just not the case. We all have to share what we have and figure out how to get along.
Another thing I was reminded of as we worked the trails was how quickly you can get winded, over-heated and dehydrated in the mountains. I think this is largely due to the change elevation. We live at about 1500 feet above sea level and I like to believe I am in reasonably good shape. However, when we start riding in the mountains the staging area is somewhere around 3500 feet and goes up from there. I find myself huffing and puffing in no time just walking up a hill or moving tree rounds. At higher elevation you have less O2 and your body has to work harder to draw air into your lungs since you don't have as much air pressure pushing the air in compared to lower elevations. So, as you start getting back into the mountains it's important bring and drink plenty of water. Don't wait until you are thirsty, or worse start having muscle cramps. Trying to "conserve" your water is not a good idea. Most riding areas around Kittitas county have lots of streams and creeks. Thanks to our abundant wild-life it's not generally a good idea to drink straight from the creek. But for about $5.00 and a very small portion of your pack you can get water treatment pills so if you do run out you don't find yourself having to decide between dehydration and quality time in the bathroom later. Also know your limits, if you can avoid it, don't push yourself to the point of exhaustion. At least on a motorcycle; once I get to the point where I start feeling worn-out that's when I start making mistakes and crashing. Which then leads to more exertion, since usually a crash in woods means dragging your bike back onto the trail or having to push it up-hill. Once you start you are stuck in a downward spiral and a fun day in the woods turns into misery, or worse you seriously hurt yourself and turns into a helicopter ride.
If you think that working hard for no pay sounds like a good day, you should join a volunteer work party. If you don't know how to do that, follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/crossroadsoutdoormotors/). We will be posting more trail clearing days in the next few weeks.
It appears that winter might actually be on the decline here in Kittitas county, I think it might even have stopped snowing on Snoqualmie Pass, but I am not holding my breath. The good news, at least in the valley, is that the trees are blooming, the grass is growing and the wind is blowing. Of course, if you are like me all three of these are also bad news since the trees need to be trimmed, the grass needs to be cut and the wind....well it's the wind what else can I say?
Now that everything is picking up in the yard department most of us are starting to get serious about using the lawn mower, trimmers, etc. Maybe you were even lucky enough to have all of your equipment start right up and go after the long winter. But, have you thought about doing maintenance? Most people realize that they need oil, but do you know that your oil needs to be changed at least once a year? Some other things to look at on your equipment are things like spark plugs, air filters and belts. Like oil, these are things that many people understand (at least on some level) need attention. But have you given any thought to the cooling system on your mower or trimmer? Now, before you shrug it off and decide that your mower or trimmer doesn't have a cooling system, read a little more. Most lawn equipment is air cooled, which means it doesn't have a radiator. But believe it or not there is still a cooling system. If you look at your engine you will see little fins. These fins are designed to dissipate heat from the engine so it doesn't get too hot. The problem is, if the cooling fins get covered in grease and oil, and/or dirt and grass gets caught between the shrouds it's like wrapping yourself in a wool blanket on a 100 degree day and sitting next to a wood fire. I only know one person who thinks that's not a bad idea.
Unlike your car or truck, you can't really tell that your engine is running hot until you have a problem. Overheating an air cooled engine can cause performance problems, oil breaking down prematurely and then engine failure, valves sticking in their guides, etc. To avoid major problems there are a few things you can do. The first step is make sure your engine is clean. The easiest way to clean your engine is by using a pressure washer and some engine cleaner. Just remember don't get water in the carburetor or spray directly into the exhaust and be careful not to get too crazy with the wand. If you don't have a pressure washer even a garden hose and some degreaser will work, but you may need to do a little scrubbing with a brush. If you have had an oil leak (and they are very common) that hasn't been addressed the oil may be baked on to engine, in which case you will need to do some scraping. Also, you should pull your shrouds and clean all the grass and accumulated debris that get caught in there over time. Once you have washed your machine you should start it right away and let it run for a few minutes. If you did get water in the engine and you don't start it to dry it out then you will have bigger problems. Don't worry if it doesn't start right away, but make sure you take the time to get it started. If you have a riding mower it's important to clean the accumulated debris off the top of the mower deck and make sure that your mandrels are not completely caked with "stuff". Mandrels often have cooling fins as well and it is important to keep them clean so the bearings don't over heat. You should also clean the underside of your mower deck and remove all the old clumps of grass and whatever else is stuck under there. Too much debris can lead to premature belt failure and uneven cutting.
Believe it or not, with a little maintenance your outdoor power equipment will give you dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of trouble free performance. Unfortunately, yard equipment is often seen as the redheaded middle step-child and is neglected to the point of failure and then blamed for being a pile of junk. So before you need to go spend $1500 on a new mower, take a look at what you have. It's hard to believe, but other than the outward appearance there is very little difference between a brand new machine and one that is 10 years old. As always, if any of this makes you want to gag just thinking about it, or if you simply have no idea how to do it, give us a call.