Saturday, December 19, 2009

Radio Call: 2905 this is 708. Frolic Fleet headed south to Old Faithful.

There is a tradition that dates back to at least the early days of tours being given by car, if not earlier than that, called "Frolic".  All new guides, then as they do now, would go throughout the park with an experienced guide to learn how and what to say and do. 
From Tuesday until tonight at 9 pm we frolickers (11 newbie guides) reported to work at 6:15 where we banged all the ice off the coach under the direction of our guide and then headed to breakfast.  We left Old Faithful by 7:30 and didn't return until after dark.  We'd drive straight to the EDR and then after a quick dinner go bang more ice off the coach, fill it up with gas, and stumble back to the dorm.  It wasn't always easy to climb in and out of vans and plod through knee-deep snow in geyser basins since I'm still pretty tender with the stitches. 
But I have seen the park from top to bottom in the snow and have pages and pages of notes.  I am now a repository for facts about Yellowstone--if I can just keep them straight. 

- I have driven three kinds of coaches: Mattrack (15 passenger van with rubber tracks on all four wheel wells), Glaval (like a mini bus with four separate tracks), and the queen of the roads--the Bombardier (invented by the same French Canadian--Joseph Armand Bombardier--who invented the snowmobile, before he invented the snowmobile; it was meant to be a school bus for Canadian kids in the winter).  She's affectionately called a "bomb".  She's got a Chevy 350 V-8 engine (whatever that means).  The coaches deserve an entire description of their own, but that will come later.  Above is a Glaval (we were walking through the snowstorm in a basin).
- Bison chips have so much moisture in them that when they freeze they become like piles of steel in the road.  If I hit one with the Mattrack or the Glaval I'll bend an axle.
- Don't get the Glaval near the edge of the road.  No one knows for sure, but the mechanics think that if one track gets in the snow the entire thing will roll.  The Glaval takes diesel.  If I put in unleaded and then start the vehicle it will explode.  Good to remember.
- Trumpeter swans pretty much mate for life.

- The Park Service prefers to call pit toilets "vault" toilets.  Once someone asked a ranger why and was told, "Because it is a place where you deposit your treasures."  Just don't make withdrawals.
- The leader of a bison herd (a herd is actually called an obstinacy) is the alpha female.
- All this touring stuff is a great idea, but the dispatchers (one of whom is German and gets large packages of sausages from home) told us, "Don't worry about touring too much for now.  For now your motto should be: get 'em home safe."
- When a bomb starts to overheat, go to the back and bungee cord the door over the engine open so it gets more air. 
- There is a lamp post in West Yellowstone just as you are driving into the Park.  It's on the right just past the IMAX.  Now I know I live in Narnia.  This picture is the canyon and Lower Falls partially frozen.

- Road kill in Yellowstone is moved to certain areas in the Park because they still want the carcass to be available to other animals.  So don't go hiking along those "Service Roads".  Some of them are designated carcass dump sites.
- A small bird called the American Dipper hangs out in river rapids.  It flies above water, dives below, and continues to fly through the water to catch the critters it likes.  It can also grip the bottom with its feet and walk along the bottom of the river.
- Coach drivers never pass gas.  We learned this the hard way (the bombs don't have gas gauges).  This is me, standing by my bomb after it ran out of gas. 

Luckily, it was just around the corner from the gas station.  I guess that new tank doesn't hold as much as the mechanics thought.  By the way, there's no power steering either.

- Duck Lake was caused by a steam explosion, unlike the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake which was caused by a magma explosion.  So, in other words, Duck Lake is just a "quack in the earth". 
- Boiling point at sea level is 212 at Old Faithful it is 199 degrees F. 

On Friday afternoon we finished at Mammoth Hot Springs where we dropped of our guide/teacher and then piled into the three vehicles we were to shuttle down to Old Faithful (two bombs and a Glaval).  We don't have mechanical training, but we didn't have any tools anyway so we crossed our fingers and headed south.  Doing radio calls are kind of tricky because they are mostly numbers.  For example: 2905.  708.  1029 Madison.  1017 Norris.  708.  KNFK 912.  When coaches travel together they have a name (north fleet, south fleet, etc.).  The last coach gets to make the calls to dispatch.  We called ourselves "The Frolic Fleet".  I start my own tours on Tuesday.  And Wednesday, for the first time in nine days I'll get a day off.


Laura said...

Oh my goodness my mouth is open as I read all this! I can't believe what an adventure you are on! I would have pooped out and gone home... :) This is amazing stuff to read. I am loving your blog! Keep it up! I love all your details and insights. You are a hilarious writer...if you don't have a future in driving through snow, you should be a writer. :)

Jacque said...

Amen to Laura.

Rachel Eddington said...

Don't tempt me, who hasn't dreamed of being a writer? Glad that you find it fun. When it is your own life, it never seems as unusual as hearing about someone else's.