By: Mark Abrams
It was the 12th of October when it was time to head up to Bishop, the largest city in the Eastern Sierras. Bishop is approximately 280 miles north of the south bay area which is about a 5-hour drive with normal traffic. If there such thing as normal traffic in the Los Angeles area since the COVID shutdown has been over, you could fool me. L.A. traffic may be “normal” for a large city, but LA traffic is anything but normal. Normal traffic should move you towards your destination. LA traffic moves one towards a total standstill and gives you the ability to study the license plate and anything else on the rear of the vehicle in front of you such as bumper stickers, license plate frames or reading several chapters of the book War and Peace.
I started the day at 4:30AM when the alarm rang. Springing into action, it was time to get up, make the bed and get cleaned up for the day’s work. After getting dressed, I read the latest emails, checked for bookings in my condo in Mammoth and proceeded to load up the ice chest with water bottles and ice after taking the morning regiment of vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements. I then loaded up the car to head out on my journey at 5:50AM. I drove over to Costco to fill up the gas tank which was on the way to the freeway since I would be using more than one full tank of gas for the day. Mortgaging the house to fill up the gas tank was part of the morning ritual these days since the price of gas has almost doubled since the new administration started its war on energy production, but there was not much of a choice in the matter since the vehicle runs on gasoline.
After filling up the gas tank, I headed north on Crenshaw Blvd towards the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405). There were multiple red lights and a number of other vehicles that just seemed like they were in no hurry to go anywhere and managed to block any attempt to pass them. It was very frustrating while heading towards the freeway as the freeway traffic builds fast this time of the morning and you can see the difference in traffic level by waiting just 5 minutes. The general rule of thumb is if you delay 5 minutes, you cost yourself 10 minutes in traffic delays which can compound as you continue the morning trek, so I was anxious to move towards the freeway as expeditiously as possible. Eventually, I reached the freeway and turned onto the onramp at 6:10AM where I proceeded to join the massive traffic jam that was moving at about 5MPH. I had planned to be on the freeway by 6AM so I was already 10 minutes behind my desired schedule which meant that I was likely to loose an 20 minutes on the freeway while heading north past the LA Airport, Howard Hughes Center, Culver City, the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) and the Westwood area before passing the bulk of the traffic delays.
I continued driving north on the I405 freeway as traffic lightened up to full speed ahead. I traveled through the Sepulveda pass marveling at the amount of work that was needed to cut through the mountains in areas where the pass was not wide enough for the freeway and the old road aka Sepulveda Blvd. The new retaining walls on the freeway were built to look like rock faces which gave the area a more natural look instead of the antiseptic look of the older retaining walls which looked like smooth concrete. I have spent considerable time in the Las Vegas area where the freeway overpasses have been built with a keen eye for their artistic abilities considering the natural landscapes of the area. California has been notorious for not paying attention to such aesthetic concerns in the state construction of the highways even though we pay the highest fuel taxes in the nation while having some of the worst roads. It was a pleasure to see that attention was finally being considered to the aesthetics of the roadway.
Soon I was passing the high point of the Sepulveda Pass where the roadway started to descend into the bowels of the San Fernando Valley. One must watch the speedometer during the descent to make certain that one does not exceed the speed limit which is almost automatic in this segment of the freeway. I down shifted the transmission from sixth gear to fourth gear and carefully applied enough braking to keep the speed under control. I did not want to start the day with a speeding ticket which would start off the day badly. The old saying about jobs and days is, “If it starts off bad, it stays bad!” I did not want to have the day become a total looser so I thought that it would be prudent to keep it from starting off bad.
I arrived at the bottom of the valley as I passed the Ventura Freeway (US101) and continued north towards my ultimate destination of Bishop, Ca. which was still several hours ahead of my current location. The trip consists of many segments, most of which were still ahead of me. As I was approaching the Roscoe Ave exit, I got off the freeway to have some breakfast at one of my favorites “choke and puke” junk food locations when I am in this area of town which fortunately is very infrequent, otherwise the unhealthy breakfast sandwiches they serve would have a considerable detrimental affect on my overall health. I stopped to enjoy my breakfast sandwich and revel in the mouth-watering taste explosions that were occurring to excite the pallet. Thank God that I will not have another one of those sandwiches for another month or two so that I can honestly say that I do not eat them very often.
Upon finishing my breakfast, I got back into the car and proceeded to head back to the freeway. The traffic to get back onto the freeway was snarled when I got off the freeway, but by the time I was heading back to the freeway, the traffic picture had completely changed and now it was smooth sailing. I entered the freeway and moved over to the #2 lane to avoid the interchange to California 118 freeway and soon thereafter, I merged with the Golden State Freeway (Interstate 5) and immediately came upon the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) which I passed and shortly thereafter merged onto California Highway 14 towards Palmdale. It was now 7:15AM which meant that I have been on the road for 1.75 hours, but I should have been here after only one hour not including my stop for gas and breakfast.
It was time to make tracks and put some distance behind me. I traveled up Hwy 14 at full speed much of the time, but intermittently encountered pockets of traffic that would cause me to slow down to as little as 55mph for 1-3 minutes at a time. Eventually, I emerged from the mountain pass and started my descent into the Palmdale area where I had to watch my speed like I did when I emerged from the Sepulveda Pass an hour earlier. Now as I descended into Palmdale, I controlled my speed but was less concerned with the ultimate result because the CHP tends to be lax about speed enforcement in the area due to the lower population density. As I passed Lake Palmdale, I noticed that the sole wind generator was still as there was no wind which meant that the drive would be easier and less eventful. Continuing north, I counted down the streets which started at Avenue S and worked its way down to Avenue L where the Costco is located. Often, I get off the freeway there to fill up with gas, but I had already filled up with gas earlier in the morning so there was no need to stop. I passed Avenue L, then Avenue K and Avenue I where the freeway speed limit goes from 65mph to 70mph. Unfortunately, the roadway narrows from three lanes each direction to two lanes each direction which significantly increases the chance that one can get caught behind slow vehicles and be unable to pass which happened to me several times for 1-2 minutes at a time. In all, the traffic delays were minimal, but would be irritating if I were in a hurry. I had left the house earlier than the others on the same job so in my opinion, I had time to spare so I ignored the small traffic delays.
As I passed Avenue A, I was leaving Los Angeles County and entering Kern County and was rapidly approaching the town of Rosamond which marked the start of the construction zone on Highway 14 and the access to Edwards Airforce Base a famous landmark which landed the space shuttle on multiple occasions. The northbound lanes had been finished and all the construction barriers (and their delays) had been removed, but they were still partially in place in the southbound lanes. As I proceeded north through the area, I was pleased to see that the last of the barricades had been removed from the southbound lanes which would make the southbound drive home a lot more pleasant. This area between Rosamond and Mojave is a desolate area so it is not a good place to have vehicle trouble. Fortunately, none was encountered during this trip thus far and none was anticipated so the trip through the area was uneventful. As I approached Mojave, I slowed down with the rest of traffic to 45mph which was the speed limit of the town. Now it was time to stop at the Chevron station to use the restroom, stretch and purchase a caffeinated soda to make certain that I did not succumb to the sleepiness that had started to creep up during the last 30 minutes of driving.
After a quick pit stop, I was back on the road by 8:15AM which was still behind my desired schedule, but not by more than 15 minutes. I headed north out of Mojave turning northeast towards Bishop and the Eastern Sierra area. I drove through the miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles in the northern portion of the high desert. I passed by a solar panel farm that was built about 2 years ago on the northwest side of the road and another larger solar panel farm on the southeast side of the road that was built by the Department of Water & Power (DWP). Jawbone Canyon was the next landmark with the General Store and the information center. Soon thereafter, I reached Red Rock Canyon where the freeway snakes through a pass in the mountains where the rock faces of the mountains have a significant red color indicating a high iron content in the soil. The roadway climbs up a hill and eventually levels off at the point where the roadway changes from a split 4-lane highway to a 2-lane roadway, then continues north towards Indian Wells, Inyokern and the Ridgecrest area. I wanted to stop at Indian Wells where they sell specialized “old-time” sodas and craft beers. I wanted the people who were allowing us to install our equipment at their location to know that we appreciated the generosity, so I thought that a couple of 6-packs of craft beer would be appreciated. I assumed that the brewery opened at 9AM and I arrived at the brewery around 9:10AM shortly after the time I presumed was opening time. However, the signs were out stating that they were “Closed”, and they were out drinking so stopping at the brewery was short lived. Back on the road again, Highway 14 merged with US Highway 395 where I continued for another seven miles to Pearsonville, the “hubcap” capital of the world according to their claims where I continued past the “town” until I reached Lone Pine around 10AM. I drove through the town and headed out towards Independence where I stopped for gas at the Fort Independence Travel Plaza. Filling up the tank would give me sufficient fuel to get to the job site and make it home. While the tank was filling, I took the time to make another pit stop and get another soda, a drink with lower caffeine content than my first drink.
With the gas tank full and the radiator drained, it was now time to complete the journey. I exited the station and proceeded north on US395 traveling at full speed towards the town of Bishop which was another 45 minutes ahead of me. As I approached the town, I received a call telling me that Nick has arrived at the yard where we were installing the equipment, but the tower trailer was not there. I told him to work on anything else for the job and that I would pick up the tower trailer and bring it to the yard so that we could use it for our antenna installation, but I would need his 2 5/16” hitch ball because the hitch ball on my vehicle was 2”. I arrived at the yard to see the proposed installation and I immediately saw something that was of great concern to the success of our installation. The area was surrounded by a huge number of trees which were typically 50-60 feet tall. Our antenna structure would be only 35-40 feet tall, thus placing our antennas below the tree line. I knew that this would be a problem for the radio system performance but was not certain how much it would degrade the performance. I felt that this may cause our job to be a waste of time and money. Time would tell if my supposition would turn out to be correct or not.
It was time to head over to the yard where the tower trailer was located. It was about a 10-minute drive from my current location, so I left the other guys working on all other aspects of the installation while I retrieved the tower trailer. When I got to the yard, it was locked because no one was there. I did not have the combination to the gate, so I had to call to Nick over the radio to get the gate combination. I did not know for certain if the combination that he had would work for the gate that I was facing, but when I tried the combination, it worked on the first try. At least something was going well.
Now it was time to move my vehicle into place to hook up to the tower trailer. I drove over to the trailer and backed up into position. I proceeded to back up slowly until I was within a few inches of the trailer. I exited the vehicle and walked to the back of the car to assess the situation. I started to crank up the trailer but found a lot of resistance to raising the trailer because all the outriggers were deployed. I went around the trailer and stowed the outriggers one at a time until they were all stowed away for travel. I then cranked up the trailer to the maximum height, but I needed the larger hitch ball, so I retrieved it from the vehicle and tried to install it. Unfortunately, the hitch from the tower trailer was blocking my ability to change the hitch ball so I had to move the vehicle forward to make room for changing the hitch on the back of my SUV. After changing the hitch, I backed up the SUV to the trailer hitch. I got out of the car again and looked at the situation to determine how far I needed to backup to line up the hitch ball with the tower trailer, but what I determined was that the trailer was not high enough to attach to the hitch ball. Now I had to figure out how to remedy the situation so that I could get the tower trailer higher to attach to the SUV. The tower trailer foot was resting on a 6 x 12 piece of wood. There was nothing else around that I could see so I formulated a plan to turn the 6 x 12 piece of wood on its side to facilitate getting the trailer high enough to attach to the SUV hitch. To do this, I needed to change back to my 2” hitch ball which had a significant drop so that I could hook the trailer to my SUV, raise the foot on the trailer, turn the wood on its side then lower the foot again to raise the trailer up high enough, change to the 2 5/16” hitch ball and then attach the trailer properly to my SUV while having to move the car each time I had to change the hitch ball. Finally, I was ready to attach the SUV to the tower-trailer, so I backed up the car to be under the hitch. I put the car in park and proceeded to get out of the car and walk back to attach the trailer. The SUV rolled forward just far enough to make it impossible to attach the hitch. I repeated this step 6 times before I was able to get the vehicle to stay with the hitch ball under the tongue of the trailer so that I could attach the trailer. I then lowered the trailer onto the hitch ball, but it still would not properly engage. I had to rock the SUV back and forth several times before the hitch was able to seat properly so that I could latch the trailer onto the hitch ball. Now it was time to hook up the safety chains, the electrical cable and pull the trailer out of the yard after removing the chock blocks which consisted of old pieces of asphalt. I pulled out of the yard and attempted to pull out far enough to have the trailer clear the gate so that I could lock it up, but I was then blocking the street. I was able to back up the trailer and pull out at an angle which allowed me to get out of the gate so that it could be locked up without blocking the street. Finally, I was able to head back to the other yard and deliver the tower trailer or so I thought.
I walked around to the gate, lined it up with the other side of the gate and proceeded to wrap the chain around the gates. I grabbed the lock and engaged both sides of the chain, closed the lock and spun the tumblers. Now it was time to get back into the vehicle and take off. I was putting on my seat belt when a sheriff car came by and wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I now had to explain myself to the deputy who was not aware of the task that I was doing for the department. After about 5 minutes, he was sufficiently convinced that I was not ripping off the department and let me go. I then headed over to the other yard with the tower trailer.
When I arrived at the other yard, I was met by my three associates who were anxious to know why I took so long. It had been over an hour since I had left to get the tower trailer which was an excessive amount of time. I had to explain to them the things that happened to me at the yard which delayed me far beyond what was expected. They were satisfied with my explanation but were still unhappy because they had run out of things for them to do without the tower-trailer, so they had some down time. They had prepared the ground where we were going to park the tower-trailer, so it was ready for me to back the trailer into position. With little effort, I parked the tower trailer in the proper position then we had to get the trailer detached from the SUV which required reversing the procedure that I used to get the trailer attached to my SUV.
Once I was clear from the tower trailer, it was time for me to head over to the local WISP to pick up the microwave radio to establish the radio link to get our internet connection. I headed back towards Main Street to find their local office. I went to their location only to find a sign that indicated that they had moved but had not indicated what location to which they had moved. When I tried to call to get their new location, I found out that there was no cellular service because Verizon was completely down. I proceeded to make some inquiries and found their new location only a few blocks away from my location, so I headed there to get the radio and microwave dish. I arrived at their new building and then had to go on a hunt to find them within the building. Eventually, I found them, got the radio and antenna, made another pit stop, then headed back to the yard where we were installing the equipment.
I headed back to the yard to deliver the radio and antenna so that we could complete the installation. The guys were still working on the antenna installation on the tower trailer. We had fabricated a small extension to the tower-trailer that matched the six-inch square flat plate at the top of the tower trailer which provided a proper mounting arrangement for the antenna and antenna clamps. The antenna had been mounted to the tower trailer and now the guys were preparing the antenna cables for attachment to the antennas. Once they had that under control, they began to tilt the tower to the vertical position and extend the tower to its maximum height of about 30 feet. With the extension of the trailer by the tower extension and the antenna itself, the total height of the antenna was about 42 feet above ground level. The guys then worked on getting the antenna cables from the tower-trailer to the building where the equipment was located. They had to drill a hole in the floor of the building that allowed us to fish our cables into the building.
It was now my turn to get involved with the installation. I got my cable prep tool to prepare the end of the cable for the connector. I installed the connector on the end of the ½” hardline cable while Nick installed the connector on the LMR400 receiver cable. I got my antenna sweep tester out of the SUV to test the two antenna systems. Each one displayed excellent results indicating that the two antennas were operating properly. Now it was time to connect the antennas to the site which would allow us to test the site coverage. We still did not have the site connected to the network so the testing had to be done with all radios on the new site. Three of us participated in checking coverage while the others started working on the network connection. The coverage testing initially indicated that the site was working very well, but that was short lived as we got further away from the site. As originally predicted, the trees had a significant adverse affect on the radio propagation and as we got closer to the center of town, the signal strength dropped considerably to the point where the signal was substandard. This means that we will eventually need to move the site, raise the antenna or install another site in town to cover the area not served by this site. This was very disappointing and it will end up causing us considerable amount of extra time, work and expense to cure the coverage issue.
The guys were working on the network connection by attempting to aim the antenna at Silver Peak. The problem was that we did not know where Silver Peak was located. We could see many of the mountain peaks, but none of us could specifically identify which one was Silver Peak. We spent considerable time looking at the mountains and aiming the microwave dish at different locations but to no avail. I knew that I could identify Silver Peak from a location about 12 minutes away, so I got into my SUV and drove over there. I took multiple pictures of the mountain with the buildings and towers which were minimally visible from that location. I then headed back to the yard with the information so that we could finish aiming the microwave dish antenna properly. However, in the meantime, the guys had located the proper path to the mountaintop and had the signal locked into the site which gave me the opportunity to stop on the way back to the yard at Mahogany Smoked Meats (the local place to get smoked meats that was famous) to pick up some goodies. It was 5:40PM and they close at 6PM which meant that it was now or never during this visit to Bishop. I stopped in the store to purchase some items to bring back to the yard and office for sharing before returning to the yard. The site link was established but they were still working on the router programming to establish the connection and get the site fully operational. This took another thirty minutes to work out so that we had a fully operational battle station. Now the installation was complete.
It was time to pack up our tools, test equipment and supplies. We started gathering all items together, packing up the test equipment with all their accessories, gathering ones tools to put them away in each of our respective toolboxes, collecting all the trash to properly dispose of it, collecting the left over materials to return them to their proper storage area and vacuuming up the floor since we always leave any area where we work cleaner than it was when we arrived to start the job so that no one will get angry with us over leaving a mess. My high school electronics teacher had a saying, “Let it never be said and said to your shame that it was cleaner here before you came.” That saying was burned into me a long time ago and we wholeheartedly adhere to that philosophy.
It was now about 6:45PM when we were driving out of the yard. We stopped to lock up the building and the gate to the yard, then we headed towards US395. We were debating whether we should stay overnight at a local hotel or whether we should drive back home. We decided to head south to have dinner in Big Pine where the Copper Top BBQ was located. During one of our previous trips to the area when we were installing the new dispatch console in Independence, I had managed to get by Copper Top for a BBQ tri-tip sandwich for lunch which was very tasty. The other guys had missed it and were looking forward to having it for dinner this time. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Big Pine, we found the Copper Top was closed (on Tuesday and Wednesday) again so we kept driving south towards Lone Pine where we decided that we would have dinner at the old dinner standby “The Mt Whitney” where they claimed to have the best burgers in town. We are not in a position to confirm or deny that claim, but we can say that their burgers are very good. We stopped at The Mt Whitney around 7:30PM for dinner and had a very enjoyable meal, especially since none of us had eaten lunch in our zeal to get the job done. So after a sumptuous meal (while forgoing the beer since we had decided to drive home), we headed out to the vehicles, battened down the hatches, rearranged a few items and proceeded to head south on US395.
it was now 8:30PM and the sun was down. We had 4 hours of driving ahead of us with normal traffic with pit stops, but due to the late hour, we felt that we could shave at least 15 minutes off of the estimated time. We also would avoid any of the normal LA traffic when we got back to town. So off we went down the highway towards Los Angeles settling into our routine drive back home. Having started the day at 4:30AM when I was awakened by the alarm clock made it so that I was on the go for 16 hours already with another 4 hours to go. As we all know, driving can be mesmerizing especially at nighttime so the drive home was of concern to all of us considering the length of time we have already be awake so we took some caffeinated sodas with us in the vehicle to sip upon after consuming a considerable amount of it at dinnertime. The drive home was relatively uneventful as we caravanned south towards home until we reached the US395 / California Highway 14 split. Nick and I took Hwy 14 while David and Chris continued south on US395 since that was a slightly shorter route for them to get home. Nick and I continued south through no man’s land, Red Rock Canyon, Jawbone Canyon and finally we stopped at the Chevron station in Mojave where we both made a pit stop, stretch the legs, got another soda and made our entrance back onto the roadway heading south again.
We exited Mojave by going over the bridge on the highway when the speed limit increased from 45mph to 55mph to 65mph which continued that way for a mile or two until it increased again to 70mph. This was the first time in recent history that I have been able to drive this segment of the highway without lane closures and reduced speed which made the trip just a bit shorter than it would have been if the road work had not been completed. Nick and I continued to caravan with each other as we passed through Rosamond, Lancaster and Palmdale before climbing into the mountain pass on Hwy 14 as it headed back towards the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles area. We stuck together throughout most of the trip down Hwy 14, but Nick was planning to take the Golden State Freeway (Interstate 5) while I was planning to head down the San Diego Freeway, so he got into the lane to reach his freeway while I stayed over to the right side of the road to head south on I405.
Now the rest of the trip was by alone, like earlier in the morning when I drove up to Bishop. I kept myself in the number one or number two lane for the bulk of the trip through North Hills, Sherman Oaks, the Sepulveda Pass, Westwood, West LA, Culver City, Westchester, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Torrance and finally home. Nick was the first to get home at 11:53PM while David, Chris and I arrived at our respective “homes” at 12AM. So now we said goodnight to each other as none of us planned to be in the office at 8AM in the morning. Since each of us had consumed caffeinated drinks, we were not ready to fall asleep in spite of the long day and being very tired. So I climbed into bed, turned on the TV with the sleep time set to shut off the TV and proceeded to watch some TV until the world blacked out as I inspected the insides of my eyelids.
Another job well done with the professional touch. I just wish that it had been more successful from a coverage standpoint. . . . . . . .