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May 22, 2011
Russell’s birthday rut

The overgrown southwestern road

It should be stated up front that Russell never had any intention of going up to our mountain home during his birthday weekend.

Somehow, though, Gail casually mentioned to our son Joss that this might be a possibility.

So on Thursday evening, Joss approached his father. “Dad, I understand that you’re thinking of going to Glencoe this weekend.” He even put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “I just want you to know that if you go, that’s all right with me.”

Joss could barely suppress his smile. Russell took the hint. For weeks, we have been hounding Joss (“Riding on my back,” as he calls it) about his schoolwork. With only weeks left in his high school career, Joss still has one grade he has to improve in order to graduate and go on to college.

It has not been fun for any of us. So when Joss saw the possibility of having a parent-free weekend, he could barely suppress his smile. Russell, anxious to give Joss the opportunity to be responsible and productive on his own, immediately set about figuring out how to leave town the next day.

Gail and Russell managed to start the car at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, May 20. The drive up was pleasant, scenic, and uneventful. It wasn’t until we arrived that things started to go awry.

As we pulled into the property at 5:30 pm, Russell declared that we should drive the Prius down the back southwest road. He likes to do that regularly to stop weeds from encroaching onto the dirt road.

“Can’t we wait until tomorrow?” Gail asked. “No,” Russell replied. “I’d like to do it now.”

“Can we at least unload the car first?” Gail asked. “No,” Russell replied. “I’d like to do it now.”

Driving down the half-mile dirt road was easy. Sure enough, an abundance of grass and weeds was beginning to grow all over the road.

Russell drove around the loop at the bottom and began to make his way back up the hill. The car struggled and stopped making progress. There was no traction.

No worries. Russell backed the car to the loop at the bottom and tried again. The car reached the same point and stopped making progress. There was no traction.

(Years ago, we drove a 27-foot motor home with two toddlers onto a non-snowplowed road in the middle of nowhere outside of Yellowstone National Park. If we could escape that predicament without killing each other, this situation should be a piece of cake.)

We spent the next hour trying to get the Prius up the hill. Gail sprinkled dirt, grass and leaves in front of the car. Russell pushed from behind. We pulled towels and shopping bags out of the trunk and lay them in front of the tires. There was no traction.

Gail tries putting towels in front of the Prius tires to create traction. What was Russell doing? Taking pictures, of course!

The problem was that driving as little as two feet caused the tire treads to fill with mud. We used keys and fingernails to clean the treads. Two more feet and they filled back up again. The mosquitoes came out and were biting us (mostly Gail) all over. It was starting to get dark.

The tire treads kept filling up with mud, destroying any possible traction

In hindsight, Gail’s birthday present to Russell was not to kill him. We offloaded our overnight necessities from the car and walked up the hill to the house.

Russell tried walking back down with several planks of wood. An hour later, he walked back up again. The Prius spent the night down the hill on the southwest road.

The next morning saw our neighbor Scott drive over with a 4x4 Polaris ATV and a tow strap. He had delayed driving to a wedding at Lake Tahoe to come and help us instead. Within a half hour, the Prius was parked in front of our mountain house. Today was Russell’s birthday.

Our neighbor Scott used his Polaris 4x4 to rescue the Prius

The rest of the day went better. Russell finished installing the skirt boards onto the deck railings around the house. Gail puttied and stained the rest of the support posts that would be used for the cable railings.

Gail putties a support post in preparation for staining it

In order to attach the skirt boards to the support posts, Russell attached short 2x4 braces


Before and after pictures of the remaining skirtboards. The corners were especially tricky.

Gail even discovered how mice were getting back into the house. They had literally chewed several holes through the wood on one of the exterior walls. Gail covered everything with more mesh.

The rodent access point, outside of Cameron’s bedroom

Russell received another birthday surprise Saturday afternoon, when our friend Craig called to wish him a happy birthday. (Craig is one of our longest-time friends. He was Russell’s best man at our wedding… although the argument could also be made that he was actually Gail’s man of honor.)

Craig and his wife Liz are empty-nesters, which means that they can be very spontaneous. Which means that they could instantly decide to leave El Dorado Hills and drive to gold country and meet us for dinner that very evening. Which means that they could also accept our invitation to spend the night at our mountain house.

We had a terrific dinner of Italian cuisine at Teresa’s Place, an historic restaurant outside of Jackson. (Russell’s dinner wish was for spaghetti and meatballs.)

Russell, Gail, Liz and Craig at Teresa’s Place in Jackson (note Russell’s spaghetti and meatballs)

Craig and Liz packed wine for the evening and fixings for a Sunday brunch the next morning. Liz and Gail picked up a cheesecake on the way back. We drove both cars back to the mountain house.

Craig and Liz let out their two beautiful dogs, Aria and Natoma. As we did a tour of the house, the two dogs went upstairs and promptly wolfed down a cube of rat poison that had been put out on the floor.

Craig and Liz were instantly on the phone trying to find an all-night weekend veterinarian. They finally found one – two hours away in Sacramento – who recommended that they bring the dogs in immediately. Craig and Liz quickly repacked their clothes, wine, brunch fixings and dogs, and drove off into the night.

This story does have a happy ending. Although Craig and Liz ended up being out until 1:30 am the next morning, their dogs were fine. The vet induced vomiting and put the dogs on medication, which of course they promptly wolfed down. We are hoping for a rain-check on the overnight stay someday in the future.

Gail and Russell ended up having a very productive trip, and the Prius had no further trouble during the drive home. Russell’s only hope is that his birthday next year is much less interesting.

Russell’s rut (note the long boards at the top of the rut)

Gail wanted to make sure that we also included a picture of her spraying weed killer


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