Auto-Biography: My Xb Now Has Manual Steering – Maybe I’ll Keep It That Way –

A couple of weeks ago as I was bopping down a forest road at a healthy clip to get to a distant trailhead, I had to slow down and make a 90 degree turn unto another road. The steering suddenly felt quite heavy, not at all as its usual light self. Hmm.

I pulled over to raise the hood, thinking that probably the power steering pump belt—which is its own little thing and not the serpentine belt—snapped. Nope; there it was, and there was plenty of fluid in the pump. The pump must have died. Oh well, not really a problem, and I was thankful it wasn’t anything more serious as I was alone, way out of cell coverage, and technically in violation of a closure in the area due to a forest fire.

That resulted in getting a front row seat in watching jets drop fire retardant.

My destination was Cowhorn Mountain, a relatively unknown volcanic peak in the central Cascades that I had never climbed before, since its upper portion has a steep scree section and then the final peak requires scrambling (non-technical climbing). Since Stephanie wasn’t coming, this was my chance to finally cross it off my list.

Getting to the top did require climbing up some steep slabs, using cracks for hand and footholds. The summit was tiny; just enough room for maybe three or four. But the exposure (several thousand feet drop) and views were superb, except the part about the forest fires. I had a perfect view of the Windigo Pass fire directly to the south, and sat on the summit eating my lunch and watching two jets make repeated drops of fire retardant.

It was fascinating to see the how they did this. There was a small spotter/pilot plane that kept circling. When one of the jets appeared, the spotter plane led it on a complete circle over the fire area, descending all the time. When the pilot plane was where it wanted the jet to dump its load, it let out a little white smoke marker. The tanker jet used that as a target for its drop.

I watched this carefully-choreographed dance for quite some time. After dropping their load, the jets came roaring by very close to where I was, on their way back to Redmond airport, presumably. If I had had a better camera or lens, I would have taken a video or some shots.

To the north, I could see a plume of cloud-like smoke to the right of Diamond Peak, from the East Waldo Lake fire, which has grown steadily since when I was up here on August 13. It’s one of my favorite hiking areas on the east side of pristine Waldo Lake; major bummer. And it’s in such a remote area there’s little to be done about it until the winter rains come, which won’t happen for a couple of months yet.

And looking directly west, I saw another small fire that must have just started just the day before. All of these are the result of lightning strikes. It was actually not far from the valley that I had driven up to get to the trailhead. I was a bit nervous as to whether it might hit the road I had driven in on.When I got back to my car, several fire crew trucks had just arrived at the pullout I was parked at, but the crews didn’t ask any questions. The area was closed and the fine was potentially up to $5,000. I was almost certainly the only hiker in that whole huge area that day.

Back to the xB: I ordered a rebuilt pump (from a reliable company) and the hoses, but I haven’t got around to putting them on, or hiring my new mobile mechanic to do so. I’m getting used the manual steering, although it does feel heavier than the manual steering I remember on the Honda Civics we had in the 1980s. Does dead power steering make it feel heavier than if it were straight manual steering?

I’m so used to the Armstrong steering on the F100, it feels familiar to exercise the muscles a bit in a slow, tight turn. And now there’s one less thing to break!