Tuesday, June 28, 2011

May 20, 2012

9:00 P.M. What a day. We spent nearly six hours trying to clear the bridge over the river. For some reason, bridges always seem to hold the worst traffic congestion. The winch on the front of our deuce and a half got a real workout today...

After moving about a half dozen cars and trucks, we had an eighteen wheeler strung out across both lanes. I released the trailer from the hitch and dragged it off to the side of the road. Then I just pushed the tractor with our truck, and finally had a clear path across the bridge.

After all that, we pulled in to a parking area near the base of the bridge, right along the river, to camp for the night. I helped Josey down from the cab and we headed for the camper. Once inside, she insisted on making dinner. I told her she should sit down, but she would have none of it. That woman has the fire in her belly, that's for sure.

While she went about making dinner, Kevin and I took a little stroll by the river. One striking thing we noticed is just how quickly mother nature is reclaiming the landscape. Vines are growing up the bridge columns. Nearby buildings are almost completely hidden by vegetation. Even the highway itself is becoming overgrown as plants take root in the cracks, and the shoulders slowly disappear under the overgrowth. Low hanging tree limbs are starting to be a problem, especially on the side roads.

We saw a few deer drinking from the river nearby, but we left them be. There is still plenty of beef left in the freezer for us, and not enough room to put up more meat. Some fish would be nice, but we have no poles or tackle. Something to keep an eye out for as we travel I suppose.

Josey whipped up a wonderful meal. She baked a loaf of bread, and a delicious beef stew. The bread was so good. Something none of us have had in a long, long time. After we ate, we went outside and built a fire. There was a few cold beers in the refrigerator, so we each had one. It almost felt like we were simply out on a camping excursion, and for the first time in a long while, we actually enjoyed ourselves. What a welcome treat. After all the hell we've been through, it's about time we had some enjoyment out of life. I hope we get more...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ghost Ship

Hours rolled by, with First Watch loping along at six knots, barely heeled as she glided through the moderate swell. The two specks remained at what appeared to be the same distance off the port bow, their course and speed nearly identical.

Willie emerged from the cabin and reported that Peggy was doing much better now, then offered to take the helm. Jack handed it over and went below, where he found Linda checking in on Peggy as she slept in the aft berth. He then went forward to the master cabin and sprawled out on the bunk. He watched intently as Linda came in as well, quietly closing the door behind her...

Jack woke with a start, caused by an insistent knocking on the cabin door. He rummaged through the tangle of sheets and clothes lying on the cabin sole, in search of his shorts and T-shirt. Still fumbling to get his arm through a sleeve, he ensured Linda was covered up, then opened the door.

Jack, you need to come look at this” Willie said, then made for the companionway.

On deck, Jack was bewildered by what he saw. One of the sailing ships had reduced sail to bare steerage, and was now less than a mile away. He scanned for the other ship, but it couldn't be seen in the fading light of dusk.

What do you think?” he asked.

I think we should break out the rifles” Willie replied. “And stage them where they'll be handy if needed. But no cause for alarm just yet. These guys are taking great care not to do anything provocative. Slow and easy is their M.O. so far. But I'd be ready for anything just the same.”

Slowly the two vessels inched closer to one another as twilight faded into night. A sliver of a moon was already in the sky as the sunlight retreated, and countless stars took it's place. The few scraps of sail worn by the square rigger presented an eerie grayish hue in the dim glow, and the black silhouette of the hull and masts gave an almost ghostly quality to it. Linda must have thought so as well, Jack mused, for she came up on deck, giving a visible shudder when her eyes fell upon the scene.

With a quarter mile now lying between the vessels, Jack suddenly recalled something from a novel he'd read, specifically about a naval battle between tall ships. The main character, an English frigate's captain, was locked in a dance of strategic maneuvering with an enemy vessel. His goal was to gain the “weather gauge”, or in other words, to position himself upwind of his adversary, which would give him the distinct advantage of being able to run downwind to attack versus beating upwind. And also left the option of speeding away open, should he find himself out-gunned.

Their current course would put them under the square rigger's lee, stealing the wind from First Watch's sails and leaving them dead in the water. Jack relayed all this to Willie, who then agreed they should very slowly alter their course to cross the ship's stern to windward. This they did, very slowly, very cautiously. About one hundred yards from the sailing ship, they had gained the weather gauge. Jack reduced sail to the second reef, which set First Watch's pace to just slightly faster than the ship. Willie studied the vessel through his binoculars as they crossed her wake, slowly scanning from stern to bow in the dim moonlight.

Not a soul on deck” he said as he lowered the binoculars. “No guns, as far as I can tell. Looks to me like a cruise ship. Lots of deck chairs, and what looks like a bar about mid-ship. There, under that canvas shade.” he said, pointing just aft of the main mast.

Jack eased the helm to starboard, to bring them alongside the ghostly ship. When they were twenty yards off her port beam, they heard a voice shout from across the water.

Ahoy there” the voice said, in a very thick, very drunk accent that Jack couldn't quite place.

Ahoy” Jack replied. “We mean no harm.”

That's good” the voice answered back. “We have no weapons.”

To Jack, the voice was beginning to sound eastern European now, possibly Russian.

Where are you headed?” Jack inquired.

A shadowy figure appeared at the ship's rail, having stepped out from behind the high bulwark which shielded a door leading into the ship's interior.

Saint Martin, we think” said the shadowy figure, the voice's owner. “Depends on crew not killing each other. Much fighting here. How you say.... Mutiny? Only six left now.”

Jack looked at Willie, trying to gain a sense of what he might be thinking. But Willie just stood there, stone faced, listening.

Monday, June 13, 2011

May 19, 2012

Thank you Alan for your subscription!

10:45 P.M. It was a long, hard day... We got rolling around 8 A.M., and were moving along well enough through the scattered dead vehicles. The scenery here near the Shenandoah park is breathtaking. And the terrain is hell on the old Scout. Twice she over-heated on us during a long uphill pull. Which required us to stop and let the engine cool while Kevin or I trudged off looking for water or anti-freeze. It wasn't too hard to find, we both wound up simply draining it from one of the many derelict vehicles along the road into a couple gallon plastic jugs. But that wasn't the worst of it.

The worst came when the rear universal joint decided that it had enough. On the downhill run, of course. Thank God that Scout has disc brakes on the front, if they were drums we'd be dead. With no engine braking, and the weight of the trailer and all our gear pushing on us, it was all those brakes could do to keep us from flying off the road, or worse, smashing into a vehicle. When we finally came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, the rear brakes were smoking, and the front discs had turned blue-ish black. No doubt they were glowing cherry red as we came down that hill.

After catching our breath, and some discussion, the three of us decided that it might be best if we find another vehicle. So I dropped the trailer, gave a look under the Scout to make sure nothing critical had been damaged when the drive shaft made it's hasty exit, put it in four wheel drive, and off we went.

Several hours later we'd found our new ride. And what a ride it is! At a small volunteer fire department in Harper's Ferry, we found an old Army deuce-and-a-half which had been converted into a tanker truck. After about an hour we had the pump and tank removed (threw some fire hoses around the tank, tied to a phone pole, and drove the truck out from underneath!). We scavenged a good, heavy tarp from the fire department, and some PVC pipe from a local hardware store to make a cover for the bed. Fortunately someone had already rigged up a 2 inch hitch receiver on this beast, so then it was back to the highway to pick up the trailer.

The truck rides like a buck board. It's noisy. And it spews black smoke when the throttle is open. But I have no doubt that it will get us wherever we want to go. Plus, I find that our fuel options are much wider now. The book I found under the driver seat says it will burn diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, fuel oil, or gasoline with one quart engine oil per 15 gallons added. I'm sure all the gasoline left is probably bad by now, but I know there's plenty of fuel oil as we head further north.

Friday, June 3, 2011

May 18, 2012

Thank you Edna for your subscription!

12:30 P.M. We got moving this morning. Kevin and I got Josey up and about on crutches, which she mastered pretty quickly. After a good breakfast of veal steaks and powdered egg omelettes with canned peppers and dried onions, we helped her into the Scout. It felt good to be moving again.

I took it easy while traveling, so as not to cause her any more pain than she is already dealing with. She did wince a couple times on some hard bumps, but she never complained. At 11:30 I stopped, to give her a break and to make lunch. Kevin the "chef" sliced up more veal from the refrigerator and browned it, along with more peppers and onions, plus some canned veggies. A kind of "survival stir-fry", which was delicious.

We've decided to rest a while, even though Josey claimed she is "just fine" and ready to roll. Bless that woman, she's tough as nails...

5:45 P.M. We didn't cover a lot of ground today, but we did at least make some progress. I stopped at 4 P.M. so that we'd have plenty of time to prepare a good meal, because that's what Josey needs right now. She needs it to heal and regain her strength. Though she puts on a good show, Kevin and I know she's still pretty weak. Which is to be expected, given the horrific ordeal she's gone through.

I changed the dressing on her wound, which is looking pretty good, thank God. The redness is fading, the swelling has gone down, and the oozing has nearly stopped. Soon I'll be able to remove the stitches, and hopefully I'll be able to fashion some sort of peg leg for her. With a little luck, she'll be standing tall again. I hope so.

Kevin got a nice fire going, and we're going to roast a large piece of veal for supper. We stopped at a small roadside restaurant for the night, and found a treasure trove of canned goodies which had not been pillaged when things went to hell. The remoteness of this former roadside greasy spoon kept it intact, for the most part. It was broken into, but not much was taken. Must have been a small group that came across it before they were taken by the disease.

We scored some spices, BBQ sauce, canned beans, peppers, olive oil, salt, and black pepper corns and grinders. The biggest find though was flour, baking soda, and sugar in sealed buckets. We haven't had bread at all since we found each other, but now we have the makings of it. This will be a special treat for us...

10:00 P.M. Our bellies are full. And we even had a little beer from a case I found in the restaurant's store room. The rest I packed into the trailer's storage area, save for three which I put in the 'fridge for later.

Josey is sound asleep after I gave her another round of morphine and antibiotic. Kevin and I are enjoying a couple cigars from the humidor we found in the restaurant owner's office. There's still a nice fire burning, and things are looking up for us right now. There's a delivery truck out back with a fair amount of diesel which we'll utilize to top off our fuel tank before we leave tomorrow.

On fuel: I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Soon most of what we find will have gone bad. What then? I know we can burn cooking oil and such, which should keep much longer, being in sealed containers. And we've found plenty of it in stores that have been stripped of everything else. But I wonder what might happen if we get caught somewhere that's not got a supply of it. As we approach the northeast, there's more stores and such, but there's also more vehicles piled up on the roads. Which makes the going slower, and consumes more fuel. Soon, I think, we'll run into sections of highway that are completely impassible. Totally blocked by derelicts that died when the CME fried their electronic brains. Unfortunately, many drivers coasted to the shoulders when their vehicles died, leaving vast stretches near the cities impassible. Though I've avoided major cities as much as possible, the further north we press the more cities we'll encounter.

I don't know why I'm drawn northward, but it just seems right. Maybe the disease can't proliferate in a colder climate. Maybe there's more survivors up there. I don't know for sure. But I do know that I am driven from deep inside to continue north along the east coast. Straight into the heart of the most dense population. Or former population. Which will make for difficult travel at best. At worst, well I hesitate to think about that.