Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Time spent on the track and on America’s byroads …

Earlier this month, I spent the day out at High Plain Raceway (HPR) driving solo as Margo had commitments she simply couldn’t ignore. Being a new grandparent, opportunities to spend time with the granddaughter are not invitations easily turned down, so I would be spending the day, trackside, and alone. The picture above best describes the conditions but also my mood. As much as I really looked forward to spending time on the track, it’s a lot more fun when Margo is around, participating, and sharing in the adventure.

And an adventure it remains – every time either of us gets behind the wheel, pulls the straps of our safety harness tight, fires up the engine and heads to the grid, the adrenalin kicks in and it all gets serious in a hurry, but in an anticipatory, “wonder what’s going to happen?” manner, as we look to see who will be joining us on track. Will there be aggressive drivers prepared to steal our apexes? Or, will we be left alone to circle at our own pace? No matter; for this day, it will be a team of one and with nothing to share it will become a time to strengthen the brain’s memory-muscle paths as I drive numerous sessions with as consistent a lap time as I can muster.

The plan was for three 30-minute sessions in the morning followed by three in the afternoon for a total of three hours on-track time. This is aggressive and ambitious, as at organized events we typically drive four 20-minute sessions. As much as this sounds rather simple, the mental aspects of driving quickly during these organized events soon drains away the adrenalin we may have experienced earlier and the 20-minutes is as much as we can mentally handle under most conditions. Unfortunately, this outing at HPR was to be anything but routine!

Just getting to HPR that Friday morning was an adventure; for readers who have been following the storms that hit Boulder County, they will know just how serious this once-in-a-hundred-year storm proved to be. It was chaos, all around us as swollen streams and creeks became raging torrents that swept aside all they encountered. Our former offices alongside Boulder Creek were ripped in half, and yes, there was loss of life even here, in Boulder proper. On Thursday morning we had several exits out of our estate but by Thursday night, only two were left. Hooking up the RV and trailer and getting the Corvette strapped down, watching over my shoulder the whole time as rain continued to fall and thunderclaps echoed out of the mountains, I was left with this feeling of “what the heck am I doing?”

The video above, as short as it is, gives you a hint of what the conditions were like trackside. It was wet. It was windy. And few other drivers made it to the track – just two other cars on track for the morning sessions and three other cars for the afternoon. Fortunately, my client made it for the afternoon sessions by which time the track had dried out. The winds were brisk but warm and for the most part, only two small pools of water remained by the time we went out on track.

This is the second time I have had a client venture out to see firsthand what being a part of Team Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” is really like. Last year, it had been Margo’s turn to entertain a client and this would be my first time. The track was in wonderful condition with the rains and then the winds having completely cleaned the surface of the track so there was little to concern us and after the three outings, we called it a day. We were safe and we did get to see the difference between a Corvette and a couple of
Porsches, although the Carrera 4S was in the hands of someone new to the track, but the older, Carrera 2, provided some fun for a couple of laps that kept me honest for a brief period as I separated the Vette from what proved to be a well-driven Porsche.

September is perhaps the best time of year to explore Colorado. As the month began, we took the SRT Viper out for a couple of days driving along the byroads of western Colorado. The intent had been to take in the golden colors as leaves begin to turn with the onset of Fall, but this year, given the snowfalls that continued well into Spring, the time for Fall colors is still a fair way off and it will be mid to late October before any meaningful displays can be observed. Hopefully, we will find the time to check them out for ourselves.

Before this post appears, Margo will more than likely have added a post of her own on that trip to the western fringes of Colorado so I will not cover that excursion. However, the picture above of Margo was taken in Aspen, at the rugby field, leaning against the goal post, a few blocks from the center of downtown Aspen. Every year there’s a competition that draws players from all over the world but the loudest accolades are always reserved for the local team, The Gentlemen of Aspen. Through the years I have played and followed Rugby, never before have I ever heard of a rugby team mentioned in the same breath as gentlemen so at some point, Margo and I will make time to watch a game or two as the competition comes around.

In just a short period, we had driven to Atlanta and back and with the drive to western Colorado, we added yet another thousand miles to the Viper’s odometer. However, by no stretch of the imagination were we done with our cross-country travels. If the year had begun with multiple trips to the West Coast in our trusty Escalade, then the closing months of 2013 will be best remembered for our trips east. As much as we really enjoy track days, and our time out west, each time we head east it’s a whole new adventure as we find new roads to explore. No sooner had we returned from checking out whether the colors of Fall were on display then it was time to prepare for the drive to Ontario, Canada.

A client had asked me to present to the Fall meeting of the Canadian users of HP NonStop systems. It had been several years since I had last travelled to Mississauga, Ontario, and so there was no way I would pass on the opportunity and to make the experience even more enjoyable, we would take our Grand Tourer (GT) out for the drive. The garage continues to see its fair share of cars pass through its doors but the GT, well, it’s something else and whereas all our other cars are slightly track-oriented, the GT shifts the focus a little more towards comfort. We just had to see how it performed on what would become a 4,000 mile adventure.

The route across was straight forward – get to Mississauga as quickly as possible. Departure was originally planned for the Sunday following my track outing to HPR but the experience of getting the RV and trailer off the ridge where we live made us pull forward our plans. And a good thing, too, as more rain was forecast for Saturday night. Checking out the street closures noon time Saturday, we found we were down to just one route out of town so we headed back home, threw together the belongings we would need, and headed for Kansas immediately.

The route back home? Well that was another story. Being as far east as we would be, we just had to drive past Niagara Falls and the road would then take us down through New York and Pennsylvania making a visit to Wellsboro, PA, impossible to ignore. The picture above is of us both fronting all the falls – from left to right, the American Falls with the Bridal Veil next to it and then further to the right, the Horseshow Falls denoting the Canadian side of Niagara. All of this was captured by Margo in the video below. Before we headed to the falls, a colleague had suggested we take a short side excursion to the city of Niagara on the Lake and this we did – and what a bucolic village setting this turned out to be. A definite must-see for anyone visiting these parts!

Why Wellsboro, PA? Even the hardiest of travelers will be hard pressed to find this town on a map – it’s not even the county seat. However, back in the 1960s the Mergenthaler Corporation maintained a factory and educational center in support of their new “Line of Film” electronic printing systems. The replacement for older, lead-slug centered Line of Type mechanized systems, the transition to film revolutionized the printing industry and my father became the first Australian user to be educated in the system. When he returned to Sydney he brought with him a slide deck he then showed to many audiences (in his formative years in the newspaper industry, he have been a press photographer) and the images of this town stayed with me to this day.

Even as so much has changed in the years that have passed – almost 50 years have passed – the town itself had changed little. The hotel he had stayed in was still there as was the diner and the picture of me below shows me at the town’s major intersection with that diner in the background. As for the factory, unfortunately with the passage of North American free trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mergenthaler moved the whole operation to Mexico (as did Corning we were told) and the town took a big hit. Before Margo and I drove back to the main road, I did buy a tee shirt and I will wear it to my next family outing in Sydney when next I get there.

As for the last stages of our trip, we elected to skip the freeway and once we had passed Indianapolis, we picked up US Highway 36 that runs uninterrupted from Indianapolis to Estes Park, Colorado. For long stretches at a time, all you can see is corn under cultivation but every so often, the rad dips and winds and takes you to places unexpected – I didn’t realize that the town of Hannibal, central to the life of Mark Twain, really existed, but it does. And it has a great gelato shop, too! Looking out across the dark waters of the Mississippi, the adventures of Tom Sawyer didn’t seem all that far fetched. Perhaps that was the most surreal experience of the entire trip.

There will be more days on track, of course, even as there are more miles to be covered by car. Already there are plans in place to drive to Orlando for Margo’s big end of year event. On the one hand you can argue about how educational travel really is, even as you can persuade others of the immersion of the senses that naturally occur. It’s still just driving down roads you have no real understanding of where they will take you even as you try to stay hydrated all the time. Modern smartphone technology means you have a camera with you at all times, and that too, is a good thing.

Nevertheless, there’s still a great sense of adventure about taking these journeys and just having the opportunity to do this – a girl from Poland and a boy from Australia – is reward enough to generate the desire to keep on doing this for as long as we can. Without delving into clichés this is definitely becoming a journey without end and for that, Margo and I remain extremely grateful that we have been given the opportunity to drive and to keep on driving! There’s still so much more to come …    

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