Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Almost ...

This weekend we managed to fit in a trip down to Anaheim to visit the Orange County Auto Show sponsored by the magazine Motor Trend. I have developed a liking for some of the editorials in this magazine and given the chance of a one year free subscription, just for attending the show, I couldn’t resist. Even though this meant navigating more than fifty miles of LA freeways on a Saturday afternoon, in light rain – the first for the season, getting the chance to look at the new Corvette ZR1 up close certainly seemed fair enough compensation.

The trip down was uneventful except for the slight detour we took through a Disney parking station, when we should have been at the Anaheim convention center, but the helpful folks at Disney soon had us headed out of the garage and in the right direction. As we had bought our tickets online, and had an e-ticket receipts, gaining entry to the event went very smoothly. And without any fuss at all, or lengthy queuing, we were standing on the floor of the exhibition hall.

And almost immediately and quite unexpectedly, I was overcome by a sense of déjà-vu. In early September 2001, Compaq had held a user event that brought together users from the Tandem user community (ITUG) and the Digital user community (DECUS) for the first time. I was the Summit Co-Chair that year with responsibility for the running of the Tandem portion of the show.

We had extensive vendor participation in the exhibition halls – and the event was well attended. Come Tuesday morning, September 11th, and it all changed as we watched in horror the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. It was then my task to stand before the community and advise them of what we would be doing to help everyone cope with the situation, knowing full well that some in the audience were directly impacted by the loss. Walking back into the exhibition hall seven years later, as I was now doing, for the very first time since those tragic circumstances, and looking at all the cars, gave me an eerie feeling.

This was the first car show I had been to since my brother Greg and I had attended a car show in Sydney back in the early ‘80s. Not much had changed - the cars looked gorgeous, and the picture at the top of the page is of me looking into the engine bay of the new Corvette ZR1. And the picture below is of me taking a really close-up look at the Nissan GT-R, the car appearing so much better than in any magazine photo I had ever seen. It will definitely shake up the status-quo!

The stands that attracted the biggest crowds were the Mercedes Benz, Audi (yes, they had an Audi R8 on the stand), Nissan, and Pontiac. For any Australian, to see “pride of place” on the Pontiac stand being given to the old Commodore V8 and to the humble Holden Ute albeit, dressed up as Pontiacs and with an attendant hovering over them dusting and cleaning them, brought a wry smile to my face. After spending a couple of hours looking at every exhibit, we pushed back out into the light rain and headed home.

And then we had an “almost” – and I should have expected it, and I should have known better! With only a few miles to go before reaching our home in Simi Valley, and after stopping off for an early dinner, I had turned onto a long, two-lane entrance ramp that climbed up to the freeway above. With a number of cars moving slowly up the inside lane, I changed to the outside lane and began to briskly pass them – until I saw the lane merge to the left and with a large SUV beside me. So, I pushed down a little harder on the throttle, and it happened!

The light rain had made the road surface just a little slick. We were driving the newly supercharged ‘Vette with the automatic transmission still trying to figure out its role in the new scheme of things. As my good friend reminded me “You have so much hp now that you can literally spin the car accidentally on a ‘straight away’ in the rain, without even changing the position of the steering wheel ... just the torque imbalance in the rear will pitch the car sideways!” So even though I only eased down lightly on the throttle, the increased load convinced the transmission to change down a gear, with the result from the arrival of a lot more torque, it set the rear-end free!

I really do dislike it when others are so right! I should have been prepared for it to happen and to anticipate it better! As we drifted left towards the side of the SUV, I eased off the throttle and looked to regain some steering, only to find the Vette now headed to the right and straight for a large pole. I gave the steering a little correcting nudge, as small as I dared, as I wanted to make sure that if we were to hit anything, it would be the embankment ahead of the pole. At the very last minute, and much to my surprise, the car regained traction and my final steering input was enough to bring the car back in line with the entrance to the freeway - so we escaped without incident. All the while, Margo was on the phone, chatting with her Mom, and only when I heard the high pitched “ouch” did I know that she wasn’t missing out on any of the excitement! Only after we looked at the car in the garage did we see grass caught up in the wheel-well and stuck under the GM emblem that adorns our flanks.

Almost …

The weekend before, we had been in Boulder where our good friend Lyman who had accepted an invitation to join us on a motor cycle ride across the front-range peaks and to see the colors of fall - as the Aspens put on quite a show! Every year I try to find time for the ride, taking the big cruisers up into the mountains, and it’s always a lot more enjoyable with company. But Margo had to spend time with her family this year as her mother was not well, and so having Lyman free up time on his calendar to join me on the ride, was a real treat!

There is a magnificent scenic ride across the top of the front-ranges that is called the Peak-to-Peak highway. In summer, it can become a procession, as visitors pack the highway – it offers tremendous views of the Continental Divide and several prominent 14,000’ peaks are easily viewable. The picture I have included here is of Lyman taking some time out to look at the views.

Rather than riding it all in one stretch, I had decided to break it into two loops – with a 100 + mile ride for Saturday and Sunday. The northern route taking in Estes Park and with a great view of Long’s Peak, the tiny hippie township of Ward, and then returning home down the Boulder Canyon, would be tackled on Saturday. The more technically challenging: southern route out of Golden, and up through Black Hawk before coming down through Pinecliffe on Colorado Highway 72 would be Sunday’s ride.

As it turned out, Sunday’s ride was very enjoyable – but Saturday’s trip in and out of Estes Park had its moments. As many times as I have ridden up into the mountains, I should have expected the unpredictable, and I should have known better. Just because it had been 80 degrees along the foothills and with sunshine bathing the landscape, it didn’t mean that the conditions would be the same at higher altitudes. And just because we had jackets over our t-shirts, there would be no guarantee that it would be of much help to us if the temperatures dropped. I should have known better …

As we crested the last summit and caught the view of Estes Park below us, the skies above us opened-up, and we rode headlong into a violent thunderstorm. The lightening strikes were so close that we could hear the thunder above the noise coming from the open exhausts on our cruisers. Once again, a sense of déjà-vu came over me. And once again, it involved the Tandem user group!

Back in 2004, along with a group of friends from Australia, Andrew Price, of ACI, and I rode these same cruisers from San Jose up through Yosemite and down Nevada to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley – more than 1,700 miles as part of an “extreme team-building” exercise! As we drove down from the South Rim and left highway 89 for Kayenta and the entrance to Monument Valley, we rode straight into an electrical storm. We had seen the first light drops appear as we headed out of the Canyon’s car park but the brief period of lightening that followed really alarmed me. And now, the same anxieties I experienced on that ride were returning with a vengeance.

I scanned the horizon and it looked like the best option was to bypass Estes Park and to exit early onto the Peak-to-Peak highway. I had a quick exchange with Lyman and no sooner had I outlined the plan, then the rain really came down in torrents. The traffic we were in came to a complete halt. With few options other than staying put and becoming targets, we rolled the bikes over to the edge of the road and drove down the emergency lane until we could cut across to our left and exit up the highway as the rest of the traffic inched its way into the township.

We began to climb, once again, but the weather became even worse. This time, we were being pelted with hail! As I glanced at my left arm, smaller hailstones were beginning to accumulating on the sleeve of my jacket, and I began to seriously fear for the worse and became a little concerned that hyperthermia may set in. But I should have been better prepared and yes, I should have known a lot better …

After a few short miles, we rode out of the storms and into sunshine. None the worse for wear and after only a few more miles, as dry as when we started. So we stopped along the highway at the township of Ward to better warm-up over a burger. The picture above is of me at a table and no! I hadn’t taken a direct hit from the lightening! But the rest of the journey proved less eventful – we did encounter rain again but this time, barely a few drops.

Almost, again …

Next weekend we will be back at the track. This time, it will be the circuit at ButtonWillow outside of Bakersfield, California. In an earlier posting, you may recall how surprised we were to find that we had to drive the track counter-clockwise after reading as many reports as we could on the experiences of others driving clockwise. Well, this weekend, we have been advised that we will be doing both – counterclockwise on Saturday and then clockwise on Sunday.

Our usual routine has been for me to drive all day Saturday and then for Margo to drive Sunday – but this time, we will be alternating sessions throughout the weekend. This will significantly reduce the lap time we will experience for either course layout – and our instructor has advised against this and for all the right reasons. However, our ambitions to become racing drivers are long gone and the goal we both share is to have fun so we will just take it easy and alternate sessions.

This time driving the car will be new experience as we have not taken the ‘Vette out to any track following the addition of the supercharger – so learning the car, and the track, and sitting down after each session to prepare each other, will be a lot of fun. Regular readers may recall in the posting of July 3, ’08 - Gaining Confidence! – that, as I was finishing a Saturday session, I “dropped some width of both left-side tires into the dirt that was visible to the flag marshals monitoring us”, and had an incident report filed. This is something I am really going be trying very hard to avoid as I prepare for taking to the track again.

And this time, I am hoping for no déjà-vu experiences and, quite honestly, I am preparing for the best! I do know a lot better and the past ten days have done a lot to reinforce that message.

No more almosts, this time around …

1 comment:

Patty Fennell said...

Now reading through your entire blog to-date, I realize how often our lives seem to tread the same paths: driving in the Colorado mountains in the autumn with all those golden aspen on display is truly awesome (and the roads are great fun to drive as long as the grandpas aren't out sightseeing as well); the shock and pain of 9/11 at the Anaheim conference with 6000 people to care for; various European scenes recalled and enjoyed, along with the wine and delicious food (except Strasbourg - didn't really dig the sausage and sauerkraut); then meeting up with you and Margo in Montrose - what a kick!
I'm envious of your driving experiences and growing skills - best I ever managed was the mini-course Malibu consessions (in spite of a lifelong love of driving). Now we're into 4x4 challenges in South Africa... we'll compare notes!
Thanks for providing great reading - keep it up!