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April 23, 2006
Emerging from hibernation

Our mountain house in Winter (We weren't actually here -- our neighbor took this picture)

Back on October 2, 2005, we had shut down construction on our mountain house as the good weather came to an end. What followed were several months of the most extreme Winter in the area’s history. The San Francisco Bay Area broke an 80-year-old record for the most days of consecutive rain. Calaveras County experienced several snowstorms, including one that blanketed our mountain (at 2,700 feet elevation, normally below the snow line) under several feet of snow.

During those long Winter months, we made a few day trips to the site just to check on conditions. The first thing we discovered was that although we had wrapped the house in plastic, the house was not weather proof. The metal roof had no leaks, but the plastic-covered second-story floor did not stop rain from seeping through to the first story below. (On the mountain, rain often comes down almost sideways.) As a result, there was some water damage to the lumber, clothing, and other supplies that we had stored in the first story.

We repaired broken plastic sheets, re-covered the second-story floor with yet more plastic, and ultimately covered everything on the first-story floor with tarps.

It was not until April 20, 2006, that the weather looked good enough for us to journey back up for more than a day trip. With the boys away on a Church trip, Gail and Russell drove two cars up for a three-night stay. There had previously been a few intermittent weeks of fair weather, but our schedules did not permit us to take advantage of them. With our schedule now free, the weather forecast was for cloudy, overcast skies and intermittent showers.

The first thing we had to determine was whether we could safely sleep on the lower story. We arrived to find yet more water damage, but found a dry spot to set up a double air mattress.

(One of our newest acquisitions for the house was a propane-powered heater that Gail had gotten for free on freecycle.com. It worked fine for the first day, then began to sputter and shut itself off every day afterwards.)

Our intention had been to begin work on the decks, but we ended up spending several days just doing housekeeping and maintenance work.

But the most unsettling issue was that, in the middle of the night, we began to hear tiny feet scampering about near our heads in the tarp-covered lumber piles. Apparently we were not alone – some small rodent had made a home here during the Winter. As we uncovered the lumber piles, we found a piece of insulation that had been formed into a nest, surrounded by empty acorn shells and rodent droppings.

A rodent nest uncovered in the lumber piles

We took a trip into town to purchase two live-capture (humane) mousetraps, which we baited with peanut butter. We never did capture anything, which led us to the disturbing conclusion that whatever we had was larger than a mouse.

It was not until the second day that we were able to begin the work that we had come for: the deck joists.

Our plans called for decks to be built on five of the eight sides of the upper story. Last Summer, we had installed eleven joists on one of the sides. We decided that all of the decks would need to be completed before we could install the upper-story walls – otherwise we would have no place to stand.

Because the decks themselves were trapezoid-shaped, eleven joists would be simple 2x8” pieces of wood with normal, square cross cuts. However, the last joist on either end of each section would need to be cut at an extreme diagonal angle in order to fit. We decided to cut and install all of these peculiar end-section pieces first.

We tried three different saws, including a skill saw, a table saw, and a mitre saw – but none of them could cut at the extreme angle we required. Ultimately, a hand-held Sawz-All was the only tool that could do the trick – but only after we drove into town to buy a longer blade.

Russell uses a Sawz-All to make an angle cut for a deck joist

As a team of two, Gail and Russell successfully cut and installed seven of the ten end-section joists before we ran out of time. It was now Sunday, April 23, and Gail would need to return to the Bay Area to pick up the boys on their return.

Gail, overcoming her fear of edges, installs an end-joist

Russell would stay on the mountain, to be joined after a night alone by our friend Steve for an additional two nights. During his day alone, Russell cut and installed the remaining end-section joists until he ran out of nails. Undeterred, he went ahead and measured the lengths for all of the remaining joists.

It was nice that Gail and Russell were able to spend some time up on the mountain alone, especially for the re-opening of construction. It was even nicer that the only rain we had was during the night.

Tomorrow, Russell will be joined by Steve for the first time this year. Our goal is to complete the remainder of the deck joists… weather permitting.

The final result: angled joists at the end of each deck section


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