Monday, October 12, 2020

What we have learnt as we returned to the road


Yes, we have returned from nearly two weeks on the road. Our itinerary included southern California with a quick attempt at a business meeting in northern California and while our focus was mostly on business, the global pandemic didn’t help us a whole lot. Nor did the coming end of quarter and end of year activities of HPE, but that was completely understandable and our opportunity to chat with some folks was always going to be problematic. On the other hand, we were able to talk business with folks we are close to and the news is rather mixed.

You will read more about the business outcomes in my next post to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, but for now, our itinerary was deliberately constructed to maximize the mix of cities we would pass through, including some where we overnighted. So, what was the big takeaway from our travels? It is as diverse as the country itself as we were presented with so many different approaches to combating COVID-19 that oftentimes it left us a little confused. To my many friends overseas spread from Australia to the UK, America is a republic. At least for now that is and as a republic, states maintain enormous powers such that no national dictate is enforceable. So, it is what it is and we made adjustments to our approach to staying healthy each time we crossed state lines.

The photos (above and later in this post) are quite a contrast. On the outbound journey, we stopped by Mastro’s steakhouse in Scottsdale old town, Arizona, where the tables were set up with lots of open space visible. On the return journey, we stopped by the Doubletree Hotel in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the bar was open, although there was enough distance between patrons to feel safe, and where the atmosphere wasn’t far removed from when we had stopped by many times during the past couple of decades. And the bar staff were familiar faces and were so happy that a level of normalcy had returned and yes, they could now pay their bills!

Entering the bar at the Doubletree hotel, Grand Junction, we passed this blackboard sign. Considering that over the two decades we had stopped by for the night, we had never seen the bar completely full so informing us that the hotel would be accommodating only half the patrons it could well, it meant there was no visible difference from former times. As for parties of six plus, well, only at the height of fracking at nearby Parachute and Rifle, Colorado, we never saw parties of more than four. Anyhow, good to know there were practices in place to protect us!

However, in between the cities we passed (and where we stopped for the night), finding somewhere to eat proved difficult. In Colorado, McDonalds kept lobbies open for the most part and allowed you to sit outside on everything from tables to nicely sculptured rocks. On the other hand, it was drive-through only in Arizona and California and yes, the lines of cars were so long we didn’t bother. We simply went hungry on many occasions. Perhaps, that was good for us but on the other hand, you have no idea how much we looked forward to reaching our destination and finding a place where we could sit down and enjoy fine dining. Oh, and when these restaurants allow drive through only the bathrooms are not available, either. Add to it the California’s mostly closed rest areas. We did miss our RV this time.

At this point it would be all too easy to break into politicalized rhetoric but I will resist at this time. What Margo and I cannot ignore however is just how different it is driving across the westerns states to what we see on television most nights. While this journey was born out of business necessity it also gave us both plenty of opportunities to listen to the many folks we encountered along the way and the impression that we were left with was that life was continuing albeit differently.

With the exception of a couple of locations in California – Monterey being the best example – those working in the service industry were simply happy to be back working productively again. Whether it was where we ate or where we spent the night, it was the same story. How can we help make your time with us enjoyable despite restrictions that may be in place; everywhere rooms had been sealed prior to our arrival and room service was absent unless a call was placed to housekeeping.  

Hotels and restaurants tell only part of the story as we did have an opportunity to stop by the Kennys of Simi Valley. Lots of topics were covered in the time we spent with them, some of which covered business topics we were well aware of that happened to be progressing well despite the COVID-19 pandemic. But perhaps most important of all was the arrival of the Kennys new free-standing pizza oven which was the center of one evenings activities. Never been near one so it was quite an educational experience watching how it worked; that’s it in red just behind Brian and for those wanting to know more, it’s an Alfa Allegro. As is custom at the Kennys, there was always a martini on hand and a phone nearby as business still had to be conducted. 

However, it was a bottle of a vastly different kind that helped kick of the pizza night. A decade ago, the Kennys and the Buckles spent Brian’s birthday on track at the Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring! When we planned the trip to Europe, we were not aware that it would see Brian celebrating his birthday driving a Lotus around this most famous of all race tracks. This time with the occasion being his decade later birthday and with travel plans totally wiped out, with the money we saved on exotic dinners somewhere around the planet, we arrived with a bottle of 2009 Cristal Champagne. The perfect starter, of course, for any evening that would end with fire-roasted pizza! Despite all the marketing hype associated with this drop, it turned out to be really good suffice to say, even being the best Champagne any of us had ever tasted. 

Another topic I will steer clear of at this time is Indy racing. It so happened that the Friday and Saturday were race days on the Grand Prix circuit at Indianapolis – what some of us like to refer to as the Indy Roval. There is nothing more engaging or indeed entertaining than to be seated next to grandma Kenny when grandson Colton Herta is on track with the opportunity to climb up the ranks and take third place for the series. But about that I will have more to say in a later post but, for now, rest assured it was every bit as exciting to watch seated in the Kenny’s living room as it would have been trackside.

When it came time for the celebratory drink for those that reached the podium, it is worth noting that there was no Sparkling wine for 20 year old Colton but the Penske organization had made sure that there was a bottle of bubbly Apple Cider on hand. Yes, Colton placed second in the Saturday race almost passing Aussie Wil Power in the closing laps. And the takeaway from the celebratory bubbly shower is that well, Apple Cider just doesn’t cut it!  

As for our time on the road, we had chosen to stray from the roads well travelled, at least for the most part. Going to California, we drove out of Denver on the road that takes us almost to the four corners where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah come together. Our route took us to Ouray and up over the “million dollar highway” to Durango. It has been quite a while since we last drove this unbelievably beautiful road and with fall well under way, there was more than enough gold on the hills to remind us that for years there was plenty of gold under the hills. And silver, too.

Again, looking at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Durango had adjusted admirably with streets looking more like chicanes as restaurants took to the streets. An evening cocktail with a superb dinner was there for the asking and yes, we asked. And enjoyed very much, thank you! The surprise here was that even with social distancing being practiced we were able to share stories with those seated around us and there was plenty to smile about. The next day saw us drive past Mexican Hat and on through Monument Valley with a final destination of Scottsdale, Arizona.

And the story continued for the rest of our bizcation. Monterey, Las Vegas and then back through Grand Junction with the final day spent on an Interstate Highway for the duration. California is so different from the rest and best of the west. No inside dinning and definitely no seating at the bar! Masks to be worn at all times – the governor suggesting while we were there that we pull up our masks between bites – and yes, empty streets everywhere we turned. 

Our time in Monterey was as a return to a place we so enjoyed in January but there was no comparison. Spending time with our good friends, Dieter and Chris Monch, feels like it happened only yesterday. As for the business side, turned out most of our planned conversations took place over the phone so in many ways it also felt as if we really hadn’t left our home offices in Colorado. Then again, the whole point of this exercise was to see for ourselves just how business was being conducted in these difficult times. 

We had originally planned on driving our BMW i8 Roadster but as we packed for both business and a long weekend, we moved up to the BMW M4 as it simply provided more room for bags. On the other hand, it proved an ideal mode of transport for the various backroads we took. Did I mention we found a new best highway in California? Connecting CA Hwy 101 with the I15 Interstate, is CA State Route 198. A must drive if you want to tackle something that throws about every possible variant of turn, mountain descents and undulating blacktop. It’s no coincidence that Motor Trend calls up the California Highway Patrol to close down over four miles of this road to better test cars that have made the final cut in their annual Best Drivers Car comparison.

We always look for something new with each trip we take, but this year, naturally enough, the times are very different to past years and the opportunities to travel are way down on anything previously experienced. This was just our second road trip of the year and even more telling, we don’t even have another road trip in the planning stages. Nothing; a completely empty calendar!

All across the western part of America, people are somewhat begrudgingly making adjustments on the assumption that these times would be with us not just till the end of the year but throughout 2021 to where even 2022 wasn’t bringing much comfort. Society needs to interact and as much as we have all adjusted to ZOOM and the likes, we were just pleased to have enjoyed as many real-world conversations as we did. We took precautions, of course – gloved hands at all gas stations, plenty of hand sanitizer aboard the M4 and yes, a stash of masks that ensured we too looked like everyone else. We even walked through malls in Scottsdale and Las Vegas but therein lay one more tale – deserted corridors. With the amazing scene of a completely empty corridor in an otherwise bustling shopping center in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas without the hustle and bustle we are all familiar with pretty much summed up our week of bizcation. There were plenty of sights to be seen being fall and there were still plenty of strangers to talk to even as spending time with our dearest friends in Simi Valley went a long way to reinforce normalcy is still on offer if we go look for it. But for now and for as long into the future that I can see, it’s back to the home office, the couch and the outside bar! Can I see snow in the forecast; a shame in some way as yes, winter is coming … but even with that in mind, I cannot finish without one last photo from the Kenny's home as Cristal flowed!

Friday, September 18, 2020

More normal? What will follow remains to be seen!

Standing in the checkout line at a CostCo this week, looking around at the patrons emptying their carts, Margo turned to me wryly observing that this is now looking more normal. Yes, our favorite brand of TP was readily available. And yes, the passage through the checkout stations and then on through to the exit for a final count of items, there was little acknowledgement that anything other than a kind of normalcy had returned. Yes, there were still a strong contingent of naysayers on social media dwelling on the downside of this global pandemic but to anyone living in Northern Colorado (NoCol), observing the bare minimum of social interaction anyway, it meant that well, it was getting harder by the day to see anything having changed at all!

During my early trips to Tokyo, Japan, I have to admit I was taken by surprise to see passengers on commuter trains and buses wearing masks. Turns out that for Tokyo residents, waking up of a morning with a sniffle meant that out of common courtesy you wore a mask. Better to  minimize the chance of spreading anything nasty than having every head turn your way should you happen to sneeze in the confined spaces of commuter carriages.  Indeed to these Tokyo residents, nothing appeared out of the ordinary when masked commuters entered transit hubs, banks and stores or places of work.

Clearly, we have left normal behind and are well into the process of adjusting to life that is a little more normal. This past week has seen Margo and me, heads-down at our desks, finalizing the September 2020 issue of our digital publication NonStop Insider. Now that the task has been completed, it’s been a time of sitting back, drinking coffee and skimming through magazines that I have ignored for some time. With the weather now a little more normal in that the snow that fell earlier in the week and with it, daytime temperatures hovering around freezing, the return to warmer weather has seen us stepping out onto our decks.  

By chance I picked up an older copy of Racer magazine – the May / June 2020 Return to Racing Issue.  As a fan of the articles by Marshall Pruett, I turned to his feature Dawn of a New Normal:

“We won’t forget the year when the world buried its foot in the brake pedal and brought out the red flags for auto racing.

“Fundamental alterations to how we go racing are guaranteed. But this experience will change us in other ways that aren’t fully known yet, carrying the permanence of a new normal as it’s established.”

Pruett then quotes Indy Car team owner, Chip Gnasssi, after he made the observation:

“We have no option but to take a fresh look at how we do the things we do. And all of us from the sanctioning bodies, to the tracks, to the team owners, to the engineers and mechanics, and everybody in between, has no option but to do the same.”

As for fresh looks at doing things including stepping up security trackside, a newspaper in Toronto published the cartoon above. A not so subtle reference to the up and coming Indy stars being as young as they are these days with many in the twenties and a couple just barely twenty. Pictured as the two “race babes” are Colton Herta and Conor Daly, with former Indy winner Hinchcliffe acting as the trackside reporter for NBC. As a historical side note, it was Hinchcliffe who won the pole for the 2016 Indy 500 but where it was team Herta with driver Alexander Rossi who won that year’s Indy 500, the start of an even closer tie-in with the Andretti dynasty.   

It is not always easy to take the words coming out of sports programs literally or to quickly apply to our daily lives. And yet, in all the conversations Margo and I have had of late it’s been hard to ignore the comments about what we are doing differently today. No more handshakes or hugs, no more sitting bar-side at your favorite restaurant and no more gathering as friends over small talk and chitchat. On the other hand, elbow bumps seem unnatural even as we have adapted to something more normal that gives us a form of contact that we have been deprived of for most of the year.

This past week two posters appeared on my Facebook feed that struck a chord. Next year will be a big year for me and even though Margo and I just cancelled our 2021 return BizCation to Australia and New Zealand we are both adamant that we are not getting old. No question about it, we continue to be in good health, to enjoy the work we do even as we plan our next road trip. However, we were only recently reminded that it was two years ago, this past August, that we spent our last weekend trackside. The red Vette was still our sports car of choice and on the Friday prior to the weekends outing with NASA – the National Auto Sports Association – I took Jim Miller out for a couple of laps. 

The skies were even more ominous than that depicted at the top of this post. Not influenced by fire as much as by converging weather systems that were not normal for that region of Colorado at that time of year. Symbolically, after a fashion, a tornado just happened to sweep past the track and, completely unaware of its potential for destruction, I completed the lap. Time to seek shelter!

On the other hand as not normal as this was, the symbolism had more to do that it would prove to be the last time I blasted around High Plains Raceway (HPR) and while I had the notion that indeed this may prove to be the case, I also happened to think that there would be more events to come. Ten years’ of weekends that normally saw us heading to a race circuit somewhere out in the western states for a combination of socializing and on track shenanigans, had come to an end. 

NASA certainly stood by Margo and me as we slowly advanced up the ranks. And our thanks to Ryan Flaherty, John Matthew and Fulton Haight as well as to instructors like Steve, Mike and Tom. When you encounter a group director with the name Maddog, you know you have to be on your best behavior. There were occasions when I wasn’t particularly behaving at my best but even then, a day or so later, Ryan would call me and walk me through whatever issue I had at the time, spending his own time to encourage me to keep at it! 

Which leads me to the second poster that caught my eye the same day! In these times when so many of us argue over this precaution or that, it’s really a time to weigh our option. Priorities are becoming quite different even as CostCo continues to build up its inventory of items that complete disappeared from the shelves a short time ago. We have finished our downstairs storage area – carpets, storage racks, and more – and even as we find ourselves referring to it as our thrift shop or even the downstairs pantry, we now ensure it’s always kept well stocked. No hoarding mind you, but enough good to ensure we are OK. But then again, what’s OK? I guess this is the message of that second poster.

We aren’t quite yet at the point where we can say we have arrived at the new normal. I am not sure we will fully appreciate the new normal when it does arrive as it’s probably going to be a moving target for at least the next two years. However, I am quite OK with living in the more normal circumstances we encounter up here in NoCo. The forest fires seem to have died down even as there remains a hint of burnt pine needles in the air. Parts of the sky remain hazy but even with the presence of forest fires we shrug our shoulders and dismiss them with the thought that after a dry summer, they were expected. They are just another part of normalcy we live through each year. 

It’s been quite a while since I referenced Colton Herta, the grandson of our good friends the Kennys. This weekend began the beginning of the end for the 2020 Indy series with just five races left to run. Colton had worked his way into fifth place overall but then, in a difficult first race on Saturday he slipped back to seventh place in the standings. Still, with the potential of ending the season possibly as high as third, Sunday was going to be challenging as rain was heading towards Ohio. 

Fortunately, Sunday started out well for young Colton and for the Andretti team of which Colton is now an active participant. In tricky conditions that brought out the red flag for the first group of qualifiers Colton, running in the second group ended up the fastest on track securing P1 for the race. After a season without a podium and far from normal for Colton and the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport it spelt a return to what we all expect from Colton. But then again, there were 75 laps to complete only a matter of an hour or two later in conditions that seemed to be changing by the minute. 

For anyone that follows a favorite team or sporting identity, there is nothing more nail-biting than watching events unfold where they look likely to win! Motor Racing is nothing if not entertaining and on occasion it delivers something exciting. I once drove from Edmonton, Alberta, as winter was still hanging around, to Long beach to watch a Formula One event on the streets of that seaside town. Yes, Mario Andretti just happened to have won but the significance of this win escaped me at the time. 

It would be more than two decades later that I sat in the stands at Monte Carlo to watch the 2004 Formula One event that was won by Giancarlo Fisichella, an upset win as Montoya took out Schumacher in the tunnel while under a full course yellow! Racing is always full of drame as the hours unfold. Then again, even as we sit at home glued to our television sets, there were no surprises this Sunday; Colton won the race.

“That was sweet!”

Colton led every lap apart from the laps as the race leaders made their pit stops. It was as clinical a win as I have ever seen with the distance separating Colton from the other placegetters clearly visible as he crossed the line.  With the laps winding down and with the appearance of being caught by fellow Andretti team members, Colton was in fuel save mode. On his radio, asking for when he could return to racing (as those Andretti drivers closed the gap), it was with a sigh of relief when, with about three laps to run, his crew chief gave him the signal to go race.

Nothing like a quick chat with the "boss" 

And race young Colton certainly did, quickly pulling away from his adversaries. Yes, he won; pulling away and in so doing closed the gap between himself and the driver in third place in the championship. It’s always good to be greeted by the boss and team owner Michael Andretti couldn’t be more pleased to see three of his drivers make it to the podium for the very first time in forever. Then again, it was history too after a fashion:

 “The last time Andretti Autosport swept the podium was in 2005 at St. Petersburg when Dan Wheldon scored the win and fellow Andretti teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta – Colton Herta’s father – followed to sweep the top four finishing positions for what was known as Andretti Green Racing at the time.”

The significance of that F1 win by Mario all those years ago then hit home. Hertas and Andrettis have enjoyed close relationships for a very long time and it’s only normal then that Colton has found a home with a winning team. From seventh place on Saturday night for Colton it meant a jump up to fourth on Sunday afternoon. In times when there’s so much that is normal and where conversations oftentimes harken back to when it was normal, the sense that we were seeing something a little more normal was encouraging.

And the drama continued as the week unfolded. It was as I was reading a digital update from Racer, news came that perhaps Colton now have bigger ambitions than simply finishing this year’s Indy series in third place. Marshall Pruett, once again, led with a heading
Formula 1 still on Herta’s radar

 “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack,” (Colton) said. “I think it would have to mean either being with a top three team or incentives of, if I do good enough, getting to a top three team.

 “So I think if having that U.S. driver can push the market forward and drive the market, I think it’d be very beneficial for Formula 1.

“I’d love to give it a shot; I think you’d be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “But if I don’t, I think I’m going to be just fine and enjoy driving IndyCars just as much as I’d enjoy being in a Formula 1 paddock.”

Maybe just maybe there’s more to that connection with Europe and F1 in Colton’s friendship with Mario after all!

It’s only a matter of days now before we head to Southern California (SoCal) where the forest fires have been more extreme and not to be trivialized in any way. Returning to the highways for only our second roadtrip of the year in a way further highlights how life is becoming a little bit more normal. There is a long way to go and there’s no discounting the tragedy that has been faced by many families around the planet. Shocking, and heart-braking, to say the least. This experience will change us in other ways that aren’t fully known yet … What will follow in the months that lie ahead isn’t clear but there is a growing sense of us becoming adaptive to our changing circumstances.

At the very least, our cars will have masks in the door pockets and we will be carrying plenty of hand sanitizer. The only question we have been asking ourselves is whether or not we should have been doing this all along? Perhaps what comes next is simply a greater appreciation for keeping our neighbors safe and isn’t that something that none of us will be tired of doing any time soon? And when it comes to winning, isn’t taking simple steps like this all that counts in our life race?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Seen fire, seen rain; seen sunny days I thought would never end!

I recall a television show on the ABC channel (no relation to America’s ABC network, but rather, the Australian government service) simply called Australia you’re standing in it. I also saw tee shirts while travelling that took it a little further: Welcome to Australia; you’re standing in it! You can read into this what you want but the thought being conveyed was that well, if you are looking for something new and different well, you have come to the right place.

I was reminded of this momentarily as I looked out of my home office window. What I saw I will address a little deeper into this post but suffice to say, Colorado can almost lay claim to exactly the same sentiment. As the lock-down we all associate with the global pandemic has gradually eased and there’s more confidence among Coloradans to simply grab a mask and step outside, it’s good to see that creativity always finds a way.

Walking through the small town of Louisville in Boulder County, the main street has been closed with the pubs and cafes prospering from a new way of doing business. There are still county-dictates that mandate walking up to the host wearing a mask but once seated, inside or out, masks can be safely removed as distancing is practiced. It seems a little weird at first but then again, we are just so thankful that there is still some sense of normalcy creeping back into our lifestyles. 

We have enjoyed such an extended period of sunshine now that it’s almost a cliché to say, have a nice day! On the other hand, we have had an extended period of high temperatures with nearly all of August spent in the 90s F. July, either, wasn’t any cooler. Considering winter lingered longer this year, we weren’t all that concerned about the presence of warmer weather but then again, do nice days ever become too much of a nice thing? As the songwriter noted, sunny days do end.

With the lack of enthusiasm to travel pervading most discussions, Margo and I cannot recall a longer period of time where both of us could be found living together under the very same roof. And yes, happy. Upon returning the first week of March from our cruise on Princess to the South Pacific, we have been housebound. Worse than that, we have sadly watched one vacation and even business milestone pass by leaving us with nothing else to do than enter web sites and look for refunds. Fortunately, almost every vendor helped out, with the only exception being Iberia airlines.

While not the best choice of photo for this post, it tells its own story. Just after midday, the skies grew so dark that it was difficult to see very far. Out on the highways those cars with auto lights had them turning on and the only evidence of the presence of the sun was an eerie red spot that broke through the haze, but only occasionally. Colorado, just like California, is on fire. Lightning just happened to strike a little to the west of us, equidistant to both Ft Collins and Loveland, but the smoke plumes thickened rapidly as the fire doubled in size in a matter of hours

As evening descended, we elected not to dine outside and not to fire up the grill but to enjoy a simple pre-dinner drink followed by meatloaf, veggies and French fries, close the drapes and do what teenagers do. Just hang out with our friends, the Millers, who are almost at the end of their time with us. Jim and Dale are about to complete their move to Arizona and it’s been fun to have them around as they take that big jump from being Coloradans to being Arizonians. 

When we woke Sunday morning, every item left outside was covered in ash. Burnt pine needles could be found everywhere you turned. It was a dystopian scene reminiscent of our worst movie experiences where the end of the world was being revealed. Of course, this was not the case neither was it a time to dwell too long on all that is wrong with the world today! Later that day, the darkness continued and yet, there was still time for Margo to simply smile and be thankful that the last of our lawn food had been applied – more on that, shortly.  

Fortunately, for us Coloradans, with only minor disruptions to our lifestyles, we can still head out, relax and in general, find the time to simply sit to watch that world pass us by. We may not be standing in Australia and we may not be true Coloradans even after having lived here for more than two decades, but we can still enjoy the delights of Bondi. Not the beach, mind you, but a local bar in Ft Collins that the locals simply cannot pronounce correctly referring to it as Bind-ie and not Bond-eye!

Conversations at home of late have frequently turned to whether living in the US is our long term goal. One of the trips we had planned for 2021 that we have now cancelled was to Australia and New Zealand. While it was to be a working trip where I would continue to blog for business, it was also a time to check out
whether or not we could live in either place. It’s tempting to daydream of life by the beach where real coffee is brewed and where the wines on offer are superior to much of what is released up here, in North America.

Then again, we have become too vested in the US to make such a return to my home a possibility. Our extended stay in Sydney back in 2018 / 2019 taught us one thing and that was the Aussie $50 spent down there went about as far as a US $20 up here. That good coffee and those fine wines did come at a price and even factoring in the exchange rate, the reality is that both countries have become relatively expensive destinations. To say that we miss the dining in Sydney and indeed Auckland as well and the variety of seafood on offer, is true and yet, we have been able to feast on some really good lobster and muscles of late.

We have both been busy writing and editing articles for our digital publication,

NonStop Insider. This may not be too everyone’s taste as it’s a technical publication but if you haven’t given it a look, then maybe it’s something you might want to do. As editor in chief, Margo always writes the opening editorial and together, we are having a lot of fun pulling each issue together. I only mention this as the upcoming issue completes four years of publication and it has truly helped grow our business. 

More than that; writing can be therapeutic. In these times where thoughts about the global pandemic are never far from our minds, it’s an opportunity to pursue topics that are far removed from what we see on the news or read in the papers. With our trips all cancelled and our thoughts turning to moves overseas, it’s a relief from instability that finds a way of creeping into daily conversations. Yes, like many of you I suspect, our conversations often stray into areas that are dark, but for Margo and me, it’s only fleetingly as we are both good at coming back to what counts most of all. We have a home. We have a family, we have friends and we can still move around the countryside. And we have each other.

We have seen fire and now we see rain. Yes, today what the weather forecasters had predicted came about. From temperatures this weekend in the 90s F, there was an almost 60 F drop in temperature overnight. Awakening to early morning rain we soon saw it turn to snow. In the first weeks of September? Really? Whereas Australia, your standing in it may be a truism, Colorado, your weather will change (where all four seasons can happily happen over any 24 hour period) is definitely equally as good a truism as well.

The backyard and the furniture we have on our lower deck soon were dusted in white. For a short time, it was coming down heavily but for now and apparently for the rest of the day, we will continue to see light snow falling. As for the rest of the week, temperatures will once again climb so that by the weekend, it will be back in the 90s F. The good news is that our application of lawn food happened at exactly the right time as the overnight rain and now, the light snow, is making sure the grass gets a good feed.

We have cancelled trip after trip this year but that doesn’t mean we have ruled out travelling entirely. Having enjoyed the company of the Kennys here in Windsor only a short time ago, we have now made plans to drive to Simi Valley for a short visit - yet another bizcation if you like. Hopefully, our route will take us past the Aspens as they turn yellow even as it takes us well off the beaten path. It will be a return drive through Durango, CO, and then on to Scottsdale, AZ. It was on a July weekend way back in 1993 that Margo and I together with colleague, Brad Poole, traveled almost this exact route as we took the license to extend a business trip to simply enjoy a road trip together.

To think that this was almost thirty years ago is mind-boggling. Then again, the seasons come and go and time becomes our enemy. That trip back to Australia and New Zealand that we had planned was to mark passing of a major life milestone, but even as we cancelled it, we knew that we couldn’t cancel that inevitable transition. In a blog post I asked the question as to whether with age came wisdom or whether it simply meant we were getting old and among the responses was the comment that old wise people derived wisdom from what had been. Today, it’s more important to have new wisdom than anything else so I guess I have to own up the fact that wisdom has escaped me and yes, I am simply old.

“You don’t stop racing when you get old; you get old when you stop racing.” This simple truth appeared in my twitter feed and it was what prompted me to write this post. Margo and I no longer spend time on the track even as we both admit that we miss the social aspect of club outings but when a pickup towing a racecar passes by we both get a tad misty eyed in seeing someone else heading out. However, what hasn’t left us is the thought process that takes place as we consider future vehicles – do they have an infotainment center or soft leather seats or even ease of access?

For both of us it’s about the driveability, the handling and the overall performance of the car. Even as the snow abates and we look out onto the driveway and think about which car we will take on our upcoming trip to Simi Valley there really isn’t all that much to discuss. It’s got to be the BMW M4 Competition. Will have to get the snow off the car, of course, but we have grown very fond of this car and come sunshine, we will be back on the road. And we will have to keep watching those weather forecasts in case this foretaste of winter turns into a regular occurrence.

Yes, over these past few weeks, we have seen it all. We have seen fires ravish our forests and sunshine that has baked the black top. We have even seen hard rains that turned to snow. But with each change we saw, there was an unmistakable end. All we can do now, thank goodness, is to look ahead to the drive and trust we will see nothing but sunny days ahead, yet again. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Recapturing my youth? Mission failed!


Almost identical except I added frame sliders for track days, right!


It was the very year I married Margo that, together, we went for our motorcycle licenses. Somehow, with one weekend of training and a few dropped bikes, we managed to become licensed motorcyclists with that magic M endorsement affixed permanently to our regular Colorado driver’s license. At first, we didn’t pursue riding but in 2001, off to the show we went and bought a pair of bikes. In no time at all, we moved up the ranks to where we both were driving Yamaha V-Twin Cruisers – mine a 1600cc Roadstar and Margo’s, an 1100 V Star.

Pictures of these bikes have appeared in multiple posts through the years but as a reminder, you may want to check out the photo atop the post of September 2, 2018, The bikes are gone … However, these were relatively sane acquisitions and we both enjoyed Saturday afternoon rides around the front ranges. What could be clearly classified as being insane was the addition of a Yamaha one-liter superbike, Yamaha’s halo product, the R1. Pictured above is the identical model, color and all, of the R1 I purchased. But this is just the beginning of the story.

Adding my final conclusion to the beginning of this story may not be usual, but to set the record straight. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to allow these bikes on our roads! Having gotten this off my chest, what follows is coverage of one summer’s experience. Picking up the bike on a Friday afternoon, with spring’s gentle rains falling, riding it home was among the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. For the first 1,000 miles, the change gear “strobe light” blinded me whenever I reached 4,000 rpms. Mind you, this was a motorcycle with a tachometer that ran up and through 13,000 rpms. Get the picture? Even at this docile limit I was getting the sense of what I was riding.



See? That bright white strobe light? It’s all you CAN see …

 It was mid fall when the 1,000 mile mark was reached and the shop upped the change gear strobe to 10,000 rpms. Coming home from a ride with Margo and being on a backroad with no traffic, I decided to take off changing gears only when the strobe flashed.  Changing out of third gear, as the strobe flashed, I briefly saw 130 mph flash by on the digital speedometer.

For some, this might have been exciting news as there were still three more gears to go but for me, it was the beginning of the end. And I was only just then entering the bikes “power band!” Yikes … At speed, I no longer had the physique to embrace the ergonomics or adopt the riding position necessary to control this Yamaha. Why was that strobe light important? The acceleration drove my eyeballs to the back of my skull so that I couldn’t see anything at all other than that flashing light.

Talk about tunnel vision! Talk about straight roads being very short! I could only stay on the bike for 45 minutes or so before every muscle in my body told me to call it a day. It was only after a young girl pulled up next to me at the traffic lights, riding a similar superbike, who lifted her visor and turned to me to say, “Nice bike, mister!” that I quietly went about selling the bike. I had ridden sports bikes many decades ago but they were sports bikes with 250cc and 350cc displacement engines that did little to prepare anyone for the superbikes of today. As one journalist noted this month, when testing the latest Ferrari, that “it felt like a superbike; it’s a straight-cancelling machine!”



Parked at mall with nothing to look at

 Much more sensible to drive a car, you would think. This summer we have been putting a lot of miles on our BMW M4 Competition. Set up right, while not quite the oomph delivered by the R1, it’s still a reminder that there are plenty of highly capable vehicles out there that really are pushing the boundaries of normalcy. This is such a well-rounded vehicle that it’s easy to forget that, strobe light notwithstanding, it ensures that you really do pay attention to what’s happening around you.

The beauty of this car is that left standing in a car park it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. Every now and then, a stranger will stop and ask, “is that the competition version?” Apparently, to the keen eye, the front openings are a little larger to better feed more aggressive turbocharges of which the M4 Competition has two very large turbos. We have driven this vehicle across America and while it truly doesn’t qualify as a grand tourer, it can serve this purpose when called upon to do so. Up until a few days ago we have been so looking forward to driving this to Seattle, but that proved not to be an option in these times

The M4 Competition comes with a 7-speed double clutch automated manual which I absolutely love. Previously, we had purchased a couple of Nissan GT-Rs – a 2009 and a 2013 – and at the time, these were the affordable benchmark against which all performance cars were measured. Truly a super car according to the original presenters at Top Gear. Looking back at that 2009 model with only 480 hp and how much like the R1 it felt, having only 444 hp in the Bimmer seems rather pedestrian until you realize it’s only a tic slower that that mighty 2009 GT-R. But again, driving out onto the highway and heading for the supermarket to pick up a fresh head of lettuce, this M4 Competition certainly makes for a fun “quick trip to the store!”



Margo behind the wheel taming the Tail of the Dragon

All of which is to say that Margo and I have had opportunities to experience some wonderful vehicles over the years, two wheels and four. But for this weekend, we are putting to one side any thoughts about what might come next as it’s time for the Indy 500. The greatest spectacle in racing! A pageantry for truly "super" cars! Through the years, I have attended the “Great Race” atop Mount Panorama and watched GM and Ford battle it out over 1,000 kilometres. Margo and I have also attended the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo. We have watched Indy cars around the streets of Long Beach and on the Sonoma circuit.

Could I drive like that? Could I stay focused that long and be able to concentrate in such a hostile environment? The lessons learned on the R1 motorcycle kept coming back to haunt me – OK, I was able to “hang on” to the R1 but could I ride it? Back in my youth, when I was a fearless rider, perhaps! The stories I could tell you of the number of times I crashed my Honda café racer have become legendary (to those who have sat through my story telling).  Unfortunately, when it came to that Yamaha R1 I failed miserably to resurrect any signs of my youthfulness and as I write this post, I have become a little gloomy as I know those days are long gone.

Behind me, on the top shelf in my office, are the helmets Margo and I had custom painted for our motorcycle adventures. I find it increasingly more difficult these days to look at them without shaking my head and wondering, what were we thinking? So, it is with total awe that I sit fixated on the television watching the boys of summer hurtle into corners carrying speeds close to 240 mph. For 200 laps the four turns on the Indy track will challenge their youthful exuberance where one microsecond of distraction can prove disastrous.



All revved up and nowhere to go … at least, for the moment!

Put it down to Indy Week, but for the past couple of weeks the stories coming from Indianapolis have helped build on previous years legendary tales. Who knew that it would be another Andretti on pole to start the race? Seated to the left of the famous Borg Warner trophy, the third-generation Marco Andretti was all smiles. To his right and only two seats away, sits Colton Herta. As previously noted, Marco Andretti drives for the Andretti / Herta team part owned by former two-time team owner Bryan Herta, while Colton drives for a different team albeit still associated with Andretti, the Andretti-Harding-Steinbrenner Autosport team.

In short, the above picture really did sow the seeds for what was to come in that any smiles that were visible would soon be replaced by lines bordering grim determination. These youthful faces, full of anticipation, would soon turn serious in ways few others will ever experience. When asked what his goal for the race was, Colton responded, “to win, of course and to become the youngest ever Indy 500 winner at 20.” He took a deep breath and then did the calculation – “I think I am still young enough to make two attempts as next year, if the race is held in May, I will still be younger that that previous youngest winner who was slightly more than 21 years of age when he won.”

There will be no failed missions this time around. Youth will dominate even if the likes of Sato and Dixon push the boundaries just a tad. You may argue that it’s only numbers but as you creep past 40 years of age, the edge you may have once had loses a little of its sharpness. I have lapped enough tracks over the course of a decade to know that I do really miss being 40 even as I barely remember anything at all of when I was 20.

We all know that it was Mark Twain who remarked, “Youth is wasted on the young,” but it’s not till you are well past any possible association with youthfulness that the message really sinks in. So much of your youth is wasted. But then again, when it comes to strategy, wiser heads prevail and in this case it’s the likes of Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta that typically shine on occasions like this.



Hard to argue with the team of Marco-Pole-Oh! and Bryan Herta

I cannot wrap this post up without adding something about the just-completed running of the Indy 500. In some ways it didn’t so much end with a bang – and there were plenty of bangs this year – but with a whimper as the race ended under a full course yellow. All drivers involved in incidents appear to have been able to walk away with no serious injuries although the last incident involving Spencer Pigot was a huge endorsement of all the steps Indy has taken to improve safety through the years.

As for team Andretti it really wasn’t their day. With all the hopes for Marco to do well it kind of ended with the first lap when he was passed by Kiwi, Scott Dixon who then battled with Japan’s Takuma Sato for the rest of the afternoon as they did indeed pushed the boundaries. As for Colton he turned in the second best drive for Andretti finishing eighth just one place behind fellow Andretti driver, James Hinchcliffe. This being Colton’s second Indy 500, it was a tremendous improvement for him as he finished last year in last place following a very early retirement. 

Youth may indeed be wasted on the young but then again, not all youngsters rise to the top as these Indy drivers have done – proof certain that it is very much a young person’s sport. Off the track it’s so important for them to perform as well as tapping sponsors’ support has become a lot harder to do. Knowing the value of winning and knowing the relative short-lived time in the spotlight is a reminder that time isn’t your friend. It was left to soccer player George Best to tell it frankly when he stated, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” 

It was a hectic start for Colton and #88

For Margo and me, it would be easy for us to admit that throughout our time together we have treated our cars just as we would have treated our children. In reality, this isn’t a fair or true observation but on occasion it kind of rings true. We have cars coming off lease in 2022 and already I want to take Margo on a tour of showrooms but for now, no matter what I spin on the day, there have been no visits to any dealerships. Even when I argue that the lead time for some cars is as much as eighteen months, there’s not a shred of excitement in any response she provides. Truth be told, we are toying with the idea of enjoying just a tad more comfort and ease of ingress and egress even at the expense of performance. Who would have thought?

One other sign that times are changing is that after decades of having more cars than garages, we are looking to downsize to just three vehicles. But for more on that you will have to wait for the post of winter 2021 where I take a look at the cars that would make sense for Margo and me to consider. For now, enough said. However, it does have me scratching my head and wondering what really will come next. One thing for certain is that any thought of throwing a leg over a superbike is definitely off the table.

And you don’t have to direct a strobe light my way for me to confess; it’s not that I am out of shape, mind you, but then again, yes it is! You don’t have to remind me either that turning more laps on circuits and looking for podium finishes isn’t going to happen as best as I can tell; concentration these days isn’t what it should be. On the other hand, in shape or not, for me the best person I know to earn a podium has to be Margo.









Saturday, August 8, 2020

Where our road is leading …

Another road trip has been postponed. Planned for next month it would have taken us up into the North West of the country, to the islands that lay between Canada and the US. We wouldn’t have gone through Seattle or Portland, but otherwise it had looked to be a good opportunity to revisit places we like. Unfortunately, there were no guarantees that the bars and restaurants we wanted to visit would be open. Even as we have been stocking supplies to safeguard us, the time just wasn’t right. Then again, those storm clouds appearing on the horizon are hard to ignore.

The effect of the global pandemic isn’t visible at all here, where we live. When you read headlines from newspapers published July 24, 2020, for instance, decrying the visit to the US by a couple of Australian politicians then you cannot help but wonder. After reading that headline Two senior Australian Government ministers will fly to COVID-ravaged US next week
I stepped out onto our patio and looked around. Poetic license by that Sydney newspaper, or written with all seriousness? COVID-ravaged US?

Margo and I live in the village of Windsor, Colorado. It’s a small town just to the south east of the much larger Ft Collins. Our home sits alongside the local golf course where there is an almost constant stream of golfers passing by. It’s a bucolic setting that lends itself to peace and quiet and yet, apart from the self-distancing the golf course imposes all by itself, there are no outward signs that anything has changed.

And here is the paradox; as with many other countries there is tragedy emerging from a number of hot spots, but for many of us living across the west, where urban living is far less dense then no, there is little evidence that much has changed at all apart from facemasks, which we put on to enter a bar or restaurant (Colorado edict), before removing them once seated. Having said this we sure do miss our road trips and perhaps even more, our time together in our cars. This latest postponement was understandable and yet, there were still signs of nostalgia in the conversations that followed.

These days, even as we look around us at golfers darting furtively across the fairways looking to play their next shot, it seems like road trips have taken an unexpected turn for the worse and time on track simply isn’t happening at all. It was two years ago that on August 8, 2020, that I posted Ridin’ the storm out … Little did we know at the time that it would be our last outing in the Corvette.

The road course at HPR had become Margo’s and mine favorite track and we enjoyed many weekends away from home camped out on the parking lot. Track weekends had also been the catalyst for buying our RV, but again, it had always been about the cars. That last outing saw us dealing with a different cloud formation as a tornado made its appearance. 

Margo and I happen to live nearby a local craft brewery. Launched by Dan Miller, the son of our good friends, Jim and Dale Miller, we were uncertain over its fate in these times. However, there were no signs of a COVID-ravaged US as we spent an evening with the Millers even though to go up to the bar to order drinks, a mask was required. And yes, many of the tables had been removed so that a degree of social distancing could be maintained. Once seated, with adult beverages on the table and discussions covering almost every topic imaginable well under way, it was hard to correlate this to anything that appears in newspaper headlines.

All of which makes the postponement of this latest road trip more puzzling. Understandable, mind you, but still puzzling! Mighty River, as our local pub is called, is now a favorite and it’s worth discussing at this point the many favorites we have enjoyed over the years, be that road trip destination, the hotels and restaurants or even the cars. We have taken a hiatus from track weekends for now. Will we ever return to the track? It’s still far too early to contemplate the future without a track toy but then again, the passage of time is certainly reminding Margo and me of tour times on track.

For a decade we had packed up our car and headed out to tracks across the west and looking back, it was something that was not a hobby so much as it was a shared interest in being able to empty our minds from all that we had been doing the week before. Over that period of time, we had tracked a C6 Corvette we had supercharged, the Infiniti G37S, a C5 Corvette Z06 and the Viper.

HPR may have been our favorite track, but when it comes to which car was our favorite car then hands-down, the best just had to be our fourth generation Viper SRT/10. Then again, it didn’t have cruise control so road trips had to include regular driver changes but then again, that was a burden Margo and I were quite prepared to share. 

When it comes to favorite destinations we have pretty much seen most of the US and Canada. We haven’t been to Maine and we haven’t crossed the Canadian prairies opting to skip both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. As for all the rest we have driven through them, enjoyed the sights and bought the tee shirt. There really isn’t one destination that stands out as our all-time favorite but there are still many places we want to see.

As for roads then there was the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap (US Hwy 129), the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray (Hwy 550) and Mulholland Drive, California (not forgetting Decker). And then there was the Moki Highway, Utah (Route 261) that over the course of just three miles dropped more than 1,000 feet with 10 percent grades on a road that was mostly dirt and gravel. If you have to leave civilization, concerned over the COVID-ravaged US, then there are plenty of ways to get lost on America’s highways.

No topic featuring a ravaged US could be complete without a reference to the biggest bike rally of the year. It was back on this weekend in 2011 when our road trip home took us from Omaha and Minneapolis to Sturgis. Back then, there were more than half a million visitors to this sleepy little village of 7,000. You can always tell when this event is about to happen as the many groups of motorcycles passing us on the interstate highway were heading north.

This year, amid what some are calling the height of the global pandemic, the 2020 ride to Sturgis continued unabated although some of the planned activities were being scaled back. Expectations were that this year, the crowd would be cut in half but even so, there was no mandatory order to wear masks. And let’s be serious; who among us would want to challenge that many bikers. It came as no surprise then that our friends, the Millers, made it to the event as they trekked across the northern states on their way to Indiana.

As for their son Dan he opened up his Mighty River bar to a local radio station. They were broadcasting a pre-game broadcaster discussion and from where we were seated, it looked to be a lively affair. We never did find out the game that they were previewing but it had to be a local affair and here in Northern Colorado, there are plenty of sports still being played. A short drive to our favorite car wash saw us pass a local high school were the visiting team had been bused in and the game was under way. No spectators in the bleachers mind you, but then again, we haven’t seen too many attendees present for this game even at the best of times.

We hear so much about home field advantages. In cricket, the home crowd is often referred to as the twelfth man as the raucous nature in supporting its team cannot be ignored by any visiting side. It’s hard to imagine cricket, like golf, breaking any social distancing rules as the fielding side are so spread out and yet, there are still no crowds in the stands. Even as England played Ireland and is now playing Pakistan, it was all the commenters could do to instill a sense of excitement in those tuned into the matches. Seeing as we did the broadcast team at our local hunched around microphones as they were and without a mask in sight, well, it was hard to make out any storm clouds gathering nearby.

Our newly installed Weber grill is up and running but it’s not the only station we turn to for a sausage-sizzle. As we drove into a local burger place that we thought we could tap for a burger or two, we just happened to park alongside a C5 Corvette Z06. In torch red, no less and a perfect copy of the Vette we tracked during most of that decade of track weekends. We sold it last year along with the RV and trailer and who knew!

How advantageous having an RV would have been in these times. No need to worry about the absence of rest areas alongside the highway. No need to disinfect all the surface areas. And no, absolutely no need to be concerned about touching anything foreign at all – we would have been taking our home right along with us.

And this is the biggest stumbling block in the way of us taking to the road any time soon. Living outside of major cities and far removed from the COVID-ravaged US we are being warned about, Margo and I are still trying to make sense of it all. Our families express concerns about our activities – planned or otherwise – even as they are frustrated from our apparent lack of concern about it all. But then again, as we sit with our neighbors on driveways enjoying an afternoon cocktail party what else should we be doing?

The worst news of all happened just a few days ago. The magnum of 1993 Chateau Lafite had well and truly corked; a byproduct of the many moves we had made and of our inability to keep temperatures under control. Even so, we did have to snap off a picture as I tipped the bottle down the sink. On the other hand, the magnum of 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia held its ground and proved to be really good as did the magnum of 1997 Duckhorn Merlot. Fortunately, our driveway get-together ensured that there were plenty of thirsty neighbors on hand to share our two-out-of-three impromptu wine celebration!

Stumbling blocks aside and cognizant of the fact now that our last road trip was back in January when we took in the sites along California’s Pacific Coast, we really aren’t fooling ourselves. If you have read this post all the way to this final paragraph, rest assured we are taking this global pandemic very seriously. We have now been tested twice for COVID-19 with an early result in March informing us that we both had contracted Influenza B, but we are spending a lot of time at home. We are fortunate that for more than a decade we have worked out of our home offices, but all the same, like many of you we are social creatures who thrive on interaction with you all.

Where our road now leads, who can say? What car we will chose as we head out onto the interstate is still unknown but what we can say, we have never put less miles on our vehicles in all the time we have been married. Those clouds continue to billow as summer storms have erupted most nights but come sunset, the sky still paints a pretty picture. So perhaps, even as we all make adjustments to our lives knowing that returning to our former normal times might never happen, there will be less talk about the ravages of disease and more talk about how we all are keeping watch over each other. Here’s to many more sunsets yet to come!