Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In truth, we are but travelers …

Even in the middle of January there’s a need to travel and this month the road trip involved a lengthy loop through the southwest as we visited a client in southern California. If he theme of the post of two years ago, January 2013, was On the road, again! Again? should we add a further “again” to the title of this post? Perhaps not! Truth is, and it’s a fact I am reminded of regularly, we do like to drive and no matter what the weather may throw at us, there’s never a time when we aren’t looking forward to being on the road, again. The night before we departed we were forced to work the phones and rebook our accommodation – a severe snow storm was heading towards southern Colorado and was making a beeline for the very route we had planned on taking. Who knew? Turned out the western route, via Vale, was going to be less troublesome than the southern, less mountainous route.

As seasoned winter travelers among the first items we throw into the back of the Jeep are a set of snow chains (yes, for a Jeep 4 X 4), a shovel, a couple of bags of kitty litter and candles. As we normally pack bottles of water along with G2 Gatorades (yes, track days have taught us about the importance of staying hydrated), the only thing missing was a couple of health bars, but not to worry, they have always been ignored without causing any grief to date. As unlikely as it may seem that our Jeep will ever get stuck in the snow, coming across ice however is a tail of a completely different color.

Oftentimes, when encountered, ice can be quite exciting with little that can be done should the car’s steering become non-responsive!  If you go back to the post of April 8, 2011, Follow or spin! you may have noticed the reference to our Nissan GT-R and how, even with it’s very capable AWD system, shod only with summer tires, the ice we encountered generated some very tense moments. The road over the Sierras was extremely icy on that occasion and we had to abandon the crossing midway. Getting off the interstate is always the smartest move when facing ice and as it so happened, the next morning revealed a completely dry interstate. But troublesome conditions that forced a change of route can be expected at this time of year and it had little impact on our enthusiasm for this particular road trip.  

The big story this month had to be the price of gas – prices were the lowest we have encountered for years. The drop was so dramatic at times, I had to look twice at the meter with the lowest encountered price being the $1.399 per US gallon at a Safeway’s store that discounted the price further following a big stock up on groceries. However, putting 20 US gallons in the tank, often saw the final tab only a couple of dollars over $40.00 – a far cry from the $75 to $80 we had been paying just a short time ago.
For many it will always be about the destination but for us, it never has mattered where we were headed. The journey is the all-important element and putting in hours behind the wheel is neither a chore nor an obligation. On this latest trip out west we talked frequently about our transition to being travelers as if that was something that made us different to everyone else on the road – travelers, with an expectation that there would always be something new and interesting just over the horizon even if we have been down this road numerous times before.

With client meetings planned for southern California where we hoped to catch up with one particular client who had travelled to the early-December, 2014, HP Discover event in Barcelona, Spain. I am always very interested in hearing firsthand about such events as simply reading press releases really doesn’t cut it as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, even with the cheap gas we are all enjoying, it’s still an expensive proposition to fly to Europe, no matter how important an event is being held. In truth, we are travelers, of course, but not so much air travelers any more – been there, done that, and got the T-shirt (or at least, the platinum frequent flyer card). 

Ahhh, the sheer pleasure of being out on the open road! Well, sometimes, you need to first check your surroundings and on the return trip, we elected to take the route we had thought of doing before the snow descended on the Rockies. To be safe, we headed even further south choosing Interstate 8 (I8) that starts only a few miles north of San Diego. It’s always been a favorite city of ours – lying on a northern latitude that approximates the southern latitude of Sydney - with almost as many eucalyptus trees as in Sydney – San Diego is as close to being in Australia as you can get without flying. But pulling into the gas station to once more fill up with cheap gas proved to be rather revealing when I finally lifted my eyes from the pump and took in the surroundings.

In Sydney, we all know what a body shop is, or to be more accurate, a body repair shop – it’s where you take your car to be repaired. Sometimes called a panel shop, where panel beaters straighten out the dents that come from mishaps in traffic, such premises have everything to do with car repairs. Not in this part of San Diego, apparently, as the many signs were telling a completely different story. Without making matters worse this was also the location of our hotel, selected solely on the basis of how inexpensive it was, by San Diego standards. No worries; the night passed uneventfully, even if it was at the major intersection of Interstate 5 (I5) and I8.

Before we left Simi Valley, we celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary. To be truthful, it had been the week before, but with the friends we have in Simi Valley it seemed only right to celebrate such an occasion with them. Without saying anything more, we headed for the Thousand Oaks Mastro’s Steakhouse, our all-time favorite southern California restaurant, where host Jimmy always looks after us – sometimes, with over-the-top desert plates covered with all the deserts on offer. But not that weekend, as Jimmy was in Mexico obviously enjoying a little downtime. Fortunately, the very best cuts of beef stayed behind in Thousand Oaks and once again Margo and I tucked into an oversize bone-in ribeye steak (which we shared). Joining us for the celebration were our very good friends, Brian and Jan Kenny so there wasn’t a chance that any hardship would be experienced – Mastro’s is where our thirst for Appletinis on dry ice first started, thanks to the Kenny’s. 

The return trip took us very close to the US – Mexico border, and I noticed just how much had changed since last I drove this Interstate. I had to go all the way back to early April 1977 to when I last took I8 and it was in the opposite direction. Living in Edmonton at the time, and given three weeks off to attend a conference in Dallas, Texas, I took my new BMW 530i on a 5,600 mile (9,000km) trip that circled through Denver, Dallas, El Paso, San Diego, and the entire west coast up to Vancouver before trekking across the Canadian Rockies via Banff into Calgary and then back up the highway to Edmonton. New to the America’s at that time, and considering it was the 1970s, the reaction over my plans to do such a trip was quite surprising. Seems like these were times before Albertans all headed to Vegas each winter – their ubiquitous red on white plates seem to be everywhere on Interstate 15 (I15) these days.

Leaving Edmonton at that time of year, not surprisingly, resulted in the passage to Lethbridge during a blizzard and, yet again, I was caught out badly having just remounted my summer tires – Dallas was to be a lot hotter than Edmonton. I guess the transition to being a traveler had its roots further back than I had thought, but again, who could have guessed it would become such a big part of my life. Reinforcing those memories was us making a decision to leave the interstate and visit the ruins at Casa Grande, picture below. Not much had changed in the forty years since I last visited the site but just thinking about forty years shook me, I have to admit. Truthfully speaking, there will not be another forty years in stall for me, so if I want to see the ruins again, I will have to be a little quicker about it.

With a lot of time in the Jeep, talk often turned to Boulder and to our home. Quite surprisingly, all things considered, we have lived in our Boulder home for more years than either of us have lived anywhere else. That wasn’t a deliberate act on our part – we had always thought of Boulder as being a place we were passing through on our way to somewhere else – so, celebrating fifteen years in Boulder really has caught us unaware. How did that happen? And, more importantly, are we still headed for some other place? Too cerebral a conversation for the road, perhaps, but one I suspect we will be revisiting many times over the course of 2015.  

Travelling close to the line that divides the US from Mexico it wasn’t hard to miss the fence that has now been erected. In places it feels so close that you could reach your hand out the window and touch it – and as much as it can be argued that it’s needed, it’s rather sad to see, all the same. Margo and I remember all too well the emotions we had as we watched the Berlin wall come down and surely, securing the nation’s borders can be done in ways that aren’t quite this embarrassing for a nation that works hard to resolve issues between nations all across the globe. There are always unintended consequences, no matter what steps are taken, when it comes to security but what stood out for both of us were the stark reminders that within the space of a few miles, disconcerting inequalities exist.   
Whether by coincidence or not, just a short time later and after we had turned north onto Interstate 25 (I25), putting many miles between ourselves and the border, we passed the exit to the township of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. History tells us that the local leaders opted to rename the town after a popular 1950s radio show on NBC, attracting the show’s host to the town for a live broadcast. Only in America, one muses and yet, in truth, it stuck and remains one of the few townships we can remember having passed through on our way home to Boulder. As for consequences, leaving home with the wrong tires mounted or without adequate provisions to survive an unexpected winter storm, can prove dire in the extreme, and even as the travelers we have become, such a truth can be hard to take.

Spring is a ways off but I can’t wait for the temperatures to climb once more; time in southern California did nothing to help us warm to the natural beauty of the Rockies in winter. Unfortunately, the celebrated Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow on Monday morning, effectively telling us that there will be six more weeks of winter. On the brighter side, of course, we only have a few weeks to get our Corvette Z06 prepped for track outings, but calls have been made and the program initiated. We will be on track, although it will be late summer before the doctors clear Margo for seat time – and I am looking forward to that. Shared experiences are what our track outings are all about it and it’s been a somewhat hollow experience to be doing it all on my own. But then again, my Christmas gift this year was a GoPro camera, so there will be videos to show, ad nauseam, and about that, I am sure to hear plenty!

Every indication is that gas will remain cheap even as we are front-loading the year with business trips to the west coast. In two weeks’ time we are back to Las Vegas for the ATM Industry Association event, followed a few weeks later by a trip to Phoenix for an event being held by BAI. Then it’s a quick turnaround before heading back to northern California to catch up with all my good friends in the Bay. Calling ourselves travelers may seem a little over-dramatic, but with 40,000 miles now on the Jeep after a year and a quarter, travelers we are. And with that, all I can add is yes, indeed, that’s the truth!