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Interesting Experiences

My wife and kids keep telling me that I need to write an autobiography. While it will probably be interesting to only a very few close friends and family, I promised to work on it. I plan to complete the following stories over the next several months. Right now, they are just highly incomplete sketches.

Living on My Own at 17 (1969)

I moved away from home when I was 17 and spent my senior year in high school living in a one room apartment in a small boarding house on the southern slope of Mount Saint Helens. In addition to going to school and doing homework, I needed to work two jobs to pay for my rent and car as well as buying food, etc. The owner of the boarding house had a gravel business, and I used to run the rock crusher. When rocks got stuck and wouldn't crush, I had to take an iron rod and lever it out. I still have the scar on one shin where a sharp piece of rock hit me. He also owned a trailer park, and I mowed all of the grass. My weekends and evenings were definitely full.

On the other hand, I was one of the very few kids with my own car, and as far as I can remember, I was the only one with my own apartment and no parent telling me what I could do and what I couldn't do. I had a great girlfriend (though I was too immature to always treat her as well as she deserved), some great friends, and the freedom to make my own choices. Needless to say, I grew up fast in lots of different ways.

A Night on the Beach (1971)

Or where is my car?

Brushes with Death

Viral Pneumonia (1972)

While an undergraduate at Linfield College, I would spend the summers on campus while typically working to earn some of the money I would need for the following school year.  Campus would be pretty deserted except for me and a few foreign students.  Things were usually pretty quiet, and I was often the only person in my dorm.

One summer when I was temporarily between jobs, I came down with a cold that slowly turned into bronchitis.  I didn't think much of it, and since I didn't have anything to do except look for work, I just took it easy in my dorm room, reading and listening to music.  As the days passed, I progressively grew sicker until one morning I woke up and realized I couldn't get out of bed. I also realized that I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten or even had a drink of water. Although I had no reason to believe that there was anyone else in the dorm, I called for help. No one came. I kept calling and calling until my throat grew raw, but the dorm was deserted. 

I had no choice but to wait and worry. And worry I did. A week or two could easily pass before anyone stopped by to see why I hadn't been around lately.  I could tell I was dehydrated and had a high fever.  It made it difficult to think clearly.  Worry was turning into a dark depression as I slowly resigned myself to my fate when a small spark of hope flickered into existence. I remembered that my mother had been planning on driving down and visiting me. But I couldn't remember when she was planning on coming! Probably on the weekend. I tried as hard as I could, but I just couldn't remember for sure. Then I realized that knowing the day she'd arrive wouldn't have helped because I had no idea what day of the week it was.  During the summers when there were very few classes, one day was pretty much like any other unless you were working. I kind of thought it was Thursday or Friday, but I really didn't know for sure.

I dozed on and off, or maybe I just drifted in and out of consciousness. An unknown time later, I was awakened by a knock on my dorm room door. I tried to call out, but my voice had weakened to little more than a whisper.  Once more, I heard knocking on my door, this time louder and more insistent. Whoever was out there would surely come in and find me. But then, I realized I didn't know if my door was locked. I heard my mother voice, coming through the door. She was talking to someone. Surely she wouldn't drive all the way back to home without finding me. I waited and the door nob turned.  The door opened, and there she was. I had never been happier to see anyone in my life.

I must have looked like hell because when she saw me, she rushed over to the bed. She said something, but I wasn't sure what. All I could do was lie there. My aunt Myrtle appeared at my mother's side, and I found myself being dragged out of bed and into their car.  A short ride later, and I was on a gurney in the emergency room of the McMinnville Hospital.

I woke up to find myself lying in a bed with ice bags on either side of my neck, under each armpit and between and on either side of my legs.  A nurse leaned over the bed and told me not to worry and just try to relax and go back to sleep.  I don't know what kind of patients she was used to, but I can't imagine any of them drifting off to sleep when packed like a fish in ice. They were pumping me full of fluids and antibiotics, and I eventually learned that I had viral pneumonia, had had a temperature of 105, and would not have lasted more than another 24-36 hours had I not been brought in. It took another day before my fever broke and I could do without the ice.  Still. my body needed the fever to fight the virus even if my brain definitely disagreed. Luckily, they had a way to heat my chest without doing the same to the rest of me.

They microwaved me like yesterday's leftovers! They put two metal plates attached by wires to a machine on either side of my chest, turned it on, and my lungs were instantly toasty inside a blanket of electromagnetic warmth. The only problem was that when they turned on the microwave, nearby homes had a tendency to lose their TV reception to a strange static of unknown origin. Ah, basic science and simple engineering. For every plus, there may be a minus but I'll take science and engineering over entertainment every time.

Crohn's Disease (1974)

Three Months on a Bicycle in Southern Germany (1973)

I spent the 3 months before the start of school on a bicycle. I traveled more than 5,000 kilometers.

Adventures in the Soviet Union (March 1974)

Quarantined (April 1974)

I was quarantined in Germany for a month with a salmonella infection

Nuclear Reactors and Nuclear Power

Operating a Mark III Triga nuclear reactor, visiting the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, visiting the National Reactor Testing Station (now the Idaho Natural Laboratory, Zero Power Plutonium Reactor (ZPPR), Speaking to high school students and their parents and teachers, reviewing the safety documentation from the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant

Mount Saint Helens Erupts (May 1980)

On May 16th 1980, two days before Mt. Saint Helens blew her top, I was driving north from Portland Oregon along I5 with a couple of my friends from the Portland Science Fiction Society (PorSFiS) to attend a science fiction convention in Seattle Washington. By then, the mountain had erupted a few times, and we had heard about the bulge on the north side of the mountain and about the micro tremors that were evidence of magma moving below the volcano. Since I had lived just south of of the mountain, I was familiar with all of the roads, even including most of the dirt logging roads. I suggested to my friends that we take a few hours and drive up to the mountain and see if we could feel the micro tremors. We figured that as long as we stayed on the south side away from the bulging north side of the mountain, we could risk spending a couple of hours on the mountain.

When we got within a few miles of the mountain, we came to the place where the police had blocked off traffic from getting any closer. Turning around, I found the nearest logging road heading north, and we were soon climbing rapidly up the mountains southern slopes. But before we got to the tree line, we came to a place where four or five other vehicles parked there where stopped, most of them pickup trucks or big four-wheel-drive SUVs. The snow was too deep for them to climb any farther, so continuing on with my car was out of the question. When we got out, it was kind of eerie. There was some dense fog (actually we were in low lying clouds), and everything was strangely still with no birds singing or any other noises. We waited there for about 15 minutes, but never felt anything so we headed back down the mountain and west to I5 which would take us up to Seattle.

The conference was great, and we didn't think about the mountain until the morning of May 18th when we heard about the catastrophic eruption as we were packing to go. The TV warned us to wear dust masks and to get a new air filter for the to protect us from the ash that could cut our lungs and clog our air filter. Once we had loaded the car, checked out of the hotel, and bought the masks and filters, we headed off down I5 back to Portland.

As we approached the place where I5 is nearest the mountain, we started seeing a small amount of extremely fine dust on everything that acted like a gray talcum powder. Continuing south, the dust grew deeper, and every vehicle soon had a huge rooster tail of dust trailing behind it. Eventually, the police lined up their cars side by side so that no one could pass them and slowed the traffic down to a crawl. While this solved the dust cloud problem, it did greatly slow down our long trip home. I took the first exit and was soon on a deserted access road parallel with the highway, driving three or four times faster than the vehicles that had remained behind the police car.

Eventually, we came close to the Toutle river and had to get back onto the freeway. It was amazing. The river had been replaced by a lahar of ash, water, and large tree trunks roaring down the river bed at least 40 miles an hour. The gray trees came almost up to the bridge, and we hear the loud crashing as they hit the bridge supports. As we drove over the bridge, we felt it jerk sideways each time one of the large tree trunks rammed into the bridges supports. We were extremely happy to make it across. Just last year, I learned from a park ranger at the Mount Saint Helens visitor center that we had to be one of the very last cars to make cross the bridge before the police arrived and blocked the traffic to keep people from trying to cross. I also learned that the bridge had been significantly damaged and had to be replaced.

Subpages (1): Soviet Russia 1974