Monday, February 18, 2013

Roads less travelled …

As predicted in the last post, this month saw Margo and me on the road again. Work we left unfinished back in January still awaited us, and this necessitated a return trip to the Bay and to Silicon Valley. While those we met were clearly over their colds we unfortunately managed to fall victims to yet a second strain of flu – our previous illness had clearly started with us both catching a cold, but this time, running a fever and exhibiting a couple of other symptoms, it was definitely a case of the flu and more than likely, one of the bad Sydney strains that had worked its way to the US via the UK, we were to later find out.

Being under the weather as we were hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm for jumping back into the SUV having put together a two week business-focused program. Not for one minute did we regret it as we get a kick out of winter driving despite the challenges the highways present at this time of year. Our journey would take us to the Bay before turning southeast for a two-day drive to Las Vegas for the Valentine’s Day in Paris, and then finally, a short drive to Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the ATM Industry Association event in Scottsdale. We should be back in Boulder by the weekend, plenty of time to plan our next jaunt – a weekend trip to Omaha, Nebraska. As for the picture at the top of this post, it was snapped inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas as we spent an afternoon window-shopping along the passageways that line this hotel’s Grand Canal.

The drive from Boulder up to Wyoming and then west to Utah had been uneventful even as it was very cold. However, as we passed Salt Lake City and skirted the southern edges of the Great Salt Lake, snow began to fall such that by the time we crossed into Nevada, the roads were really slick and visibility was next to nothing. As anyone familiar with driving conditions like this know all too well, every time we came to a bridge it was a case of lifting off the gas and checking gingerly as to whether there was any traction. In conditions like this we run with the cruise control turned off so we can take full control of the SUV but even so, we had a couple of moments when we just had to be patient and wait for the big beast to find its footing again.

When I had first pulled out the map of western USA I had considered taking highway 50 as it crossed Nevada. We had traveled it once before, driving west to east, but that was at least ten years ago. However, I thought it just might be prudent to stay on interstate highways as there are no assurances the secondary highways will be cleared as quickly. Salt Lake City, Wendover, Elko all looked pretty miserable lying underneath gray overcast skies even as the snow continued to fall. Not until we had cleared Elko the following morning that conditions began improving. I had elected to pad the trip with an extra day in case we encountered poor weather so we took it easy, but all the same, we made it into the Bay area a full day ahead of plan and that did at least give us the Sunday to prepare for the upcoming meetings and to enjoy sunshine once again. It’s amazing how rapidly spirits are lifted when the temperature climbs into the high 50s for a change!  


Between trips, we enjoyed the company of business associates and friends who made it into Boulder. No sooner had we returned from the previous trip to the Bay than comForte’s CTO, Thomas Burg, stopped by for a weekend. Coming from the Bay we were not surprised in the least to hear that he too had caught the flu so Margo packed him off to the farthermost guest room in the house where he spent a lot of time recuperating. However, that didn’t stop Margo throwing a terrific dinner Friday night to which the local Colorado folks of comForte were invited. Did someone say roast leg of lamb?

Coming from Germany, where comForte is based, Thomas still has a difficult time reconciling many of the ills of the world with what he sees in America, not the least being how big pick-up trucks, V8 sedans and coupes, etc. still command sizable markets. On the other hand, as we have two V8 sports cars capable of cruising all day at 80 mph (now that 80 is the speed limit in parts of Utah), returning better than 30 mpg (yes, I sure would like taller gearing in the rear end but I will take the better mileage without complaints), we see not much downside in persisting with such vehicles. When you have mountains to climb and rivers to cross there is no more exciting ways to do this, apart from behind the wheel of America’s sports cars.

In a recent editorial to Motor Trend, Angus Mackenzie wrote that he is a “huge fan of the American Interstate System … and because the 47,000-mile interstate network makes travelling across this vast country so easy, it accounts for one-quarter of all the vehicle miles travelled in America every year. Factor in all the vehicle miles logged during the daily commute in cities and suburbs, and that leaves a lot of interesting roads less travelled for enthusiasts to enjoy.” While I had elected to stick to the interstate highways going to the Bay it didn’t stop me from choosing a highway less travelled when it came time to drive between Paso Robles and Barstow. Just for a change, we drove highway 58 the whole way and this proved to be is a road everyone needs to drive at least once. And definitely one worth revisiting in a V8 sports car! 

Shortly after Thomas departed Dave Roberts, a high school friend from Sydney, paid us a visit. He had been in the Colorado’s mountains skiing but managed to keep free a couple of days. . This isn’t Dave’s first visit but it had been a couple of years since the last time he was here. Dave is not only a skier but shares our enthusiasm for cars– racing a mighty Hillman in historical events around the eastern states of Australia. Check out his form as captured a few years ago:
I do not think Dave was surprised in the least when he first knew we enjoyed driving Corvettes given how big a fan of General Motors I had been when I was at school all those years ago. All the same, it was a surprise to find out how we took up the pastime as late in our lives as we did. This spring we will become grandparents for the first time and I am contemplating mounting a license plate surround that simply states, “You have just been passed by your grandparents!” Yet it wouldn’t be a Vette we would take for a winter’s drive, but an untamed beast of quite another color. David had proposed travelling to Chicago via highway 36 that starts at Estes Park and finishes somewhere near Indianapolis so I thought I would give him a taste of what he could expect to encounter.

However, as the weather had become much warmer, I first took him for a run in the Viper to look at some of the nearby car yards. My current favorite is located well to the south, Ferrari of Denver. Late last year we were offered a near-new F430 roadster for a very low price but the time wasn’t right (is it ever when it comes to thinking about buying a Ferrari?) and even thought the car is now being offered at almost twice the price, I am still not sure it is my next car. But did someone say Maserati?

The picture above is of me as I am giving an almost new Maserati GranTurismo S a thorough inspection. But yellow? The previous owner had spent a considerable amount of money upgrading almost every external adornment in carbon fiber, carrying over the theme into the cockpit as well, but this was proving of little value when it comes to resale value so yes, the car looks to be a good deal. But yellow? Did I mention that before? Well, there are still a few more months to go before spring really does arrive, so there are many more cars to look at before contemplating making any serious decisions. In the meantime, there were more highways to be driven in the Viper.

On a whim, I suggested to Dave that he might like to have a look at our home track outside Byers, Colorado. It was only a 45 min run from the dealer to the track and the weather was still proving to be favoring keeping the big Viper on the highway. Yes, the trip would include quite a number of miles on the very same highway David was contemplating taking on his trip to Chicago. My intention was to stop at the hill immediately prior to the High Plains Raceway circuit and point out a couple of the tracks features that are more prominent. However, no sooner had we crested the hill than we saw a Porsche 924 and a BMW 3 series turn onto the track. Driving to the entrance of the track we saw that the front gates were open so we just drove right in and headed to the offices.

It seemed that a couple of lads from Nebraska had booked the track for the day to gather data but if I would like to do a couple of parade laps, just to give Dave a real feel for the circuit, then he would see what he could do. Sure enough, when the two cars came back in to pit their respective owners gave us the OK to put in three laps. Without helmets or any other safety gear, we would hold the big Viper back to nothing much more than highway speeds (and lower) but getting back onto the track this early in the year couldn’t be ignored. What luck!

The picture above is of the Viper outside the offices before we knew we would be allowed on track but once the approval had been obtained, it only took a few seconds to sprint back to the car, fire it up, and head for the circuit’s hot pits. Pulling onto the track for the first time in several months felt fantastic. Whereas all our driving of the past two months had Margo and me cruising over mountains and crossing rivers, that first time turning onto HPR’s back straight and letting the Viper pick up just a little speed, brought enormous smiles to both Dave and myself. And the line I had worked so hard to find last year came back to me immediately and I nailed three pretty good parade laps that were consistent and smooth.

Next month, we will have a much clearer picture of where we will be taking the RV and Vette as we work up a program of events for 2013. Unfortunately, with our big rig, it will be back to the interstate highways, I fear, as there’s little scope for taking it on some of the more picturesque routes. For now, though, it’s still very much a case of waiting to get our RV back from extensive winter servicing and we hope that this will happen shortly after our return to Boulder. In the meantime, we have our fingers crossed as we hope for an early return of spring so we can get in a couple of Friday afternoons at HPR.

However, no matter how it works itself out, there will be further track days and I for one just can’t wait. And of course, there’ll be many more roads that will be covered before 2013 comes to an end! I have often wondered why it is I like living in Colorado as much as I do and the inescapable fact is that it enjoys four seasons without smothering us in any of them and it makes getting to anywhere else in America no more than two and a half days of driving no matter the choice of highway selected.