Sunday, December 11, 2016

This year’s last crossing of the great divide …

It was quite a quandary as we were getting ready to head back to northern California. We were to spend a week in the Bay area, first in San Jose and then, later in the week, Palo Alto. This is a trip that has become a regular occurrence for us as the major HPE event focused on NonStop systems (formerly Tandem Computers) takes place in November of each year. Restarted after a brief hiatus, this event has grown and it seemed it would set another attendance record yet again. Should we drive our BMW i8 and save money on gas or should we take the Jeep and be better prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us?

This time last year we had run headlong into a winter blizzard as we left Reno, Nevada, and headed into California. The forecast had looked reasonable – a snow front was moving into the Sierras west of Truckee, suggesting that Donner Pass would be problematic but we had just replaced all four of our all season tires on the Jeep with a fresh set and while not really a “sticker set” there weren’t too many miles on this set of rubber. As you may recall from the post at this time last year,
Yes, we have enough! the title of the post best sums up our experience. When it came time to head out of Boulder we elected to drive the Jeep. 

There’s a lot we can say about the Jeep. It’s now three years old and it has covered 80,000 miles in its short time with us. Mostly on interstate highways where we can still eke out a stunning 18 mpg, it’s as comfortable as any vehicle we have owned even as it is more than capable of handling anything we encounter. And this would be our last crossing of the great divide for 2016. The Jeep’s 6.4 liter “hemi engine” that gives us almost 500 hp (at sea level and that’s a 390 in old school lingo) never embarrasses and yet again, it delivered. We dodged a little early weather as the trip began but otherwise, it was smooth driving all the way to San Jose.  

There are times when you can call an emergency and there are times, well, consider it more of a nuisance. An inconvenience, if you like. After about an hour heading north on Interstate 25 and closing in on the Wyoming border, Margo looked at her hands in total astonishment. She had not put on her jewelry realizing all too late that she had left all her rings and other sparkling accouterments on her make-up table. With our home still on the market and showings likely to happen while we were away from the home, what to do?

A quick call to family saw to it that everything left on the make-up table would be securely put away but still a major event, meeting colleagues, with nothing that glistened. Wasn’t going to happen, was it!?  A circumstance that I cautioned Margo would only ever be accommodated once, we stopped in at the delightful old town of Park City, Utah. Without breaking the bank, Margo quickly found jewelry she liked and a dress ring was purchased. It was a crafted one-off and with a measure of relief, Margo was pleased that nobody at the event picked up on anything unusual about Margo’s accessories. Or, lack thereof.

At his time of year, driving across the salt flats that border the southern extremities of the Great Salt Lake, the weather can turn ugly very quickly. With many miles to cover before we pulled into Reno, we left Salt Lake City early only to catch the sunrise as we passed the Bonneville Salt Flats. Pulling into a rest area I was able to walk out to an expanse of water not usually visible at other times of year and took the photo above. After a day of driving across Wyoming’s high plains with little to see but its never ending expanse of sage bush, the picturesque vista that unfolded before us was perhaps the most beautiful landscape we had ever encountered driving across the salt flats.   

Reno was windy. We stopped by an outlet mall we had passed numerous times but it wasn’t pleasant to be outdoors. So we decided to check into our hotel and make our way down to the Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) and have dinner at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse. We had dined numerous times at Charlie Palmer at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas and found it to be a good steakhouse but in Reno? Well if you absolutely have to then it’s OK but it’s not a steakhouse we would recommend.

On the way back to Boulder we again stayed in Reno and on that occasion we went to the Harrah’s Steakhouse on the recommendation of good friends and while it was better than Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, neither held a candle to the Mastro’s steakhouses we have grown to really like. Then again, this is one of the real pleasures we derive from our frequent road trips – checking out the steakhouses along the interstate. If you really want a double cut pork chop with all the trimmings that’s grilled just right, then try the restaurant in the DoubleTree Hotel by the airport at Salt Lake City. It used to be a Hilton, but after the change of brand it maintained an overall high standard in its restaurant. 

The picture of Margo above was taken after we had just split a bone-in ribeye at Charlie Palmer Steakhouse and it was immediately clear to us that, well, it had been frozen long before it made the grill (as was the case, too, at Harrah’s) and for us, that’s a real downer. But it was enjoyable all the same and kicking back with only a short drive to San Jose ahead of us, we weren’t going to complain to anyone. 

Before we made it into Reno, somewhere out on Interstate 80 between Elko and Winnamucca, Nevada, we pulled into a rest area we had seen on previous trips and Margo pulled together an impromptu lunch. Good restaurants are few and far between in the miles that separate Salt Lake City from Reno. With cheeses, fruit, dips and some crackers, she did a pretty good job. The only real problem continues to be the wind and with the much cooler temperatures northern Nevada was experiencing, it wasn’t all that pleasant to be outdoors.

But we managed and we both took it in stride. Sure beats stopping one more time at McDonalds although, we have to admit, they seem to have got themselves sorted out and the fair was fresher than we had experienced on previous crossings to California. The conversations that passed between the two of us frequently returned to where we would prefer to live. Clearly, with grandchildren in Boulder, Colorado, there were going to be caveats. However, could we see ourselves living in northern California yet again?

From my perspective, I really do enjoy the many road courses that are easily accessible in California – from Laguna Seca to Sonoma to Willow Springs. All great venues, of course, and known around the world for their diversity of track layouts. And then there is the Auto Club “Roval” in Fontana as well as Buttonwillow at the lower end of the San Joaquin valley. Further up that valley lies Thunderhill and a road course we have yet to visit but we hear it is much like our home course here in Denver, the High Plains Raceway.

And then we arrived in the Bay. It only took a few brief minutes before our conversation turned to complaints about the traffic and about how rude and impatient the drivers had become. Everyone wanted to race and nobody gave an inch and as for speed limits. Forget about it … On very few occasions did this experience last all that long as over the next hill the traffic came to a complete halt as one traffic jam after another brought the aspirations of any young Mario Andretti to an end. No, not for us and all we could think about were the lines of a song about how you can never go back. Or perhaps, you can never go home. And no, perhaps we should reconsider our own Boulder home – something like, this house is not for sale!

It must have seem strange to our fellow participants at the HPE event in San Jose to hear that during the time before the event officially kicked off and again, after the event wrapped up, we still liked to walk the nearby malls. Valley Fair has grown considerably in the years we have been absent from Cupertino and when it came to the development across the street, Santana Row, well that too seemed to have expanded as well. But there was still time to grab a sandwich and to have coffee and of course, walking away from Starbucks on Santana Row, I couldn’t help but notice the cup of iced water alongside the larger-than-life chameleon which seemed more than appropriate as it had warmed up quite a bit since we first arrived. 

Could we live in one of the condos bordering Santana Row? In a heartbeat, in many respects, as long as treated it solely as our winter residence. There are still the grandchildren, remember, and Colorado in summer is still a magnificent place with late spring and early fall among the most colorful places in all of North America. But then again, with car yards featuring every known manufacturer, stretching for miles along Steven’s Creek, surely that would be an attraction in and of itself? Wasn’t it these showrooms that enticed Margo and me to buy our first real cars – a BMW 540i for Margo and then not that much later an RX7 twin turbo for me? The times, they are a changing, unfortunately, and the lines of cars stationary on Steven’s Creek Boulevard put a quick end to any such thoughts.

Having caught up with colleagues in Palo Alto and having stopped by Margo’s niece who so kindly gave us an escorted tour of Apple’s current Cupertino headquarters (including an evening meal in the Apple cafeteria), we headed out to Sacramento. There would be one last stop to catch up with dear friends who really were the instigators in my making a permanent move to America back in the early 1980s, Larry and Kathleen Lynch (creators of the CIMS job accounting solutions eventually purchased by IBM and now a part of Tivoli). As for the remainder of the trip, it was incident free and pulling back into the garage of our Boulder home, almost 3,000 miles later, the cloud of uncertainty seemed to come down a little lower as we mulled over what was really going to happen.

Starting the fourth year of having our home on the market we have been asking ourselves, would we ever find a family that would enjoy our home as much as we have? Looks like it may never happen but then again, second prize isn’t all that bad; we get to live in our home and will definitely enjoy the coming winter months. On that note, I raise a glass to everyone and wish them the best of Christmases yet to come. Cheers to all our dear friends, colleagues and family and our best wishes for the New Year!   

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The colors are on display wherever we travel but shortly, it all will fade to white!

With fall fully under way the leaves continue to pile up around the garages and so there has been numerous times this month where we pulled the cars out so we could sweep the garages clean. This means shuffling the cars around and on one occasion, we had the red ones all lined up and somehow, it seemed to us symbolic. With so many yellow leaves surrounding our home, it was good to add a splash of red! There are numerous maple trees now growing in the yards of surrounding homes and we expect in the years to come, there will be a more dominant presence of red, but for now, with the aspen groves vying for our attention, a little splash of red is a welcome sight.

There is some evidence of snow falling in the high country, but for everyone living along the front ranges it’s been a period of extended balmy weather with the thermometer pushing past 80 degrees a couple of times. Walking around in tee shirts isn’t normal for late October and for the month to end with Halloween being celebrated in the mid-70s, it just didn’t feel as though the seasons were changing. Having dinner outside, under the stars, at our favorite Niwot restaurant seemed routine except when you looked at the calendar. For now, we are enjoying it but the weather pundits are telling us to expect a below-normal winter, with several weeks looking to be spent indoors with the fireplaces roaring.

If you had suggested to Margo and me some time back that we would have a garage mostly populated with red cars, we would have been skeptical. Black cars perhaps, as Margo has always preferred an absence of color and maybe more than one blue car, but red? Not likely! But that’s how it has turned out and the more we consider the future makeup of the garage with what might be inside, the more we have come to realize that change is going to happen less frequently than in the past so we may as well get used to red!
This month saw us take two separate road trips for business. Early in the month it was a week on the road as we participated in events held in Scottsdale, Arizona. Two weeks later, and with an eye on the weather, it was another week on the road as we headed north to Mississauga, Ontario. The city of Mississauga is just outside Toronto, adjacent to Toronto’s main airport, and the home to a number of technology companies, including HPE. It’s not the first time we have taken the three day drive and when combined with the two day drive to Scottsdale, within a three week period we had pretty much traversed the bulk of America.

In between trips, Margo spent as much time as she could with the twins – our grandsons continue to grow and have become quite a handful. Help in any fashion is always welcome so when the phone rings Margo more or less knows what’s in stall. But it is a labor of love and although Margo returns home exhausted and looking for a martini, it’s not something she would willingly give up doing but all the same, it’s why we are now grandparents and not parents. We just don’t have the stamina anymore and a quiet home and a place of sanctuary is a blessing. 

However, once again, it’s all about red cars. This time, in miniature and with racing stripes! In a message Margo posted only a short time ago, the boys were happily seated atop the toy red Mini we had given to their sister, who is now three and a half years old and attending preschool! No, I couldn’t resist and here is a picture taken by her nanny – getting ready for the formal class picture day.

After some early tentative moves, the boys seem to enjoy any opportunity to be pushed around the house. Margo and I wonder to ourselves the likely impact from such “speed fests” and are preparing ourselves for the time the boys ask for something a little more competitive. Will we see them one day pushing each other hard in matching red go-karts? It’s a long way off but recent experiences has taught us that they may start early in life all of which will only reinforce that yes, we are getting older with each day spent entertaining our grandkids.

These recent road trips couldn’t have contrasted more with each other if we had planned it weeks in advance. There was still plenty of color along the highway as we traveled through Ontario but there was also a lot more rain showers encountered than on previous trips. We overnighted just outside Indianapolis where the temperature set a local record in the high 70s but by the time we passed through that other London, it was back down to the 50s and wet. Nothing by comparison to what greeted us early morning as we departed Mississauga when the heavens literally opened up on us, but still watching as the traffic on the highway thickened and unfamiliar with local driving protocols, it was an adventure that we are pleased to say we concluded without incident.

On the other hand, just two weeks earlier, we had crossed the four corners that separate Colorado from Utah, New Mexico and Arizona and then spent hours driving across the desert and Canyonlands famous throughout the world. We skirted the Grand Canyon but on the return trip we did take a side trip through Monument Valley. It’s a scenic wonder not to be missed and finding a couple of hours to spend taking in the sights was a commitment we had made before we had even set foot outside our door at journey’s start.

Whereas the return trip from Ontario was a wet one, we weren’t quite as prepared for what we encountered when we returned from Arizona. We had decided that our return trip would not only take us through Monument Valley but once insider Colorado, we would travel it’s famous “Million Dollar Highway” that took us to Silverton and then down into Ouray. We have traversed these mountain passes several times and in all kinds of conditions but even so, on that first climb up and over into Silverton, we encountered snow at the higher elevations. This made driving a little tricky as yes, we were once again in an unfamiliar car.  

These two road trips this month were memorable for another reason. Just as we had done back in August when we drove to Dallas, Texas, these journeys were our first endeavors relying solely on a hybrid car. If you look at some of the photos used in previous posts you may just be able to catch a glimpse or two of our latest ride – it’s a BMW hybrid i8 that our good salesman David finally worked into a deal we really couldn’t pass up. The car is a superb drivers car with phenomenal mid-range capabilities and when you begin to comprehend that a 2,000 mile return trip to Dallas cost us a little less than $100 on gas (even as we covered a lot of miles very quickly) then yes, the rules have changed. We so love our hybrid. 

For those who may be interested, after talking to colleagues who owned Prius and Tesla cars and then another colleague who had been an early purchaser of an i8, we ruled out all-electric cars. They simply aren’t for us as we rarely plan our trips well enough to where we could make it (to a charging station) given the range these all electric cars have today. We have enough cars for around town driving and our Mini is terrific in this respect as it’s very miserly when it comes to gas consumption. No, we want that extra engine and the i8 delivers. I keep asking Margo can we take it to the track – just once? I sure would love to see how it goes as no car we have is as accurate at hitting apexes as the i8.

But alas, no – it’s not going anywhere near the track. In some respects, that’s the good news as the Corvette continues to be our track car. But unfortunately, the news wasn’t all that good for the Maserati. After having both cars in the garage for some time we realized that in three months we had driven the Maserati only twice and each time for just a few hours, we decided to sell it and Margo proved rather ruthless once again and the demise of the Maserati was as sudden as it was final. And to think, I had just put new tires on the Maser.

The drive has taken on a distinct look of late. Following yet a further clean-up of the garages we parked them on the driveway for a while and the white of the i8 stands in contrast to the red cars and that’s probably the way it should be. If red cars are traditional cars it just wouldn’t have been right to add a red BMW – and no, they don’t make a red i8 fortunately. But there is a bigger storyline developing here as we continue to work towards selling our Niwot home. Should we ever consider easing our workload, which cars would we end up having in our garage wherever that may end up being?

After our most recent travels one or indeed all of them might be hybrids and already we have been paying close attention to the new BMW X5 with the same eDrive as can be found in the i8. We haven’t driven one yet and it’s only a distinct possibility for much later, but it would be good to experience what a big, heavy, SUV feels like with a similar hybrid package. Could that extend to our track car? Well, not likely …

As for the colors of fall and the many days we have spent under blue skies in such balmy conditions, the team out at High Plains Raceway where we have spent many days on track have introduced a winter package for alternate Saturdays, 11:00am to 4:00pm. Seems like the forecasts are for continued warm weather right up until Christmas so who knows, even as we thought track days were done and finished, we may be able to work in just one day before the year ends. I certainly would like to see Margo and I both on track as the Corvette is most definitely track-ready and it’s been over a year now since our last outing so yes, fingers crossed. We have just had the RV winterized and it’s out of commission now till the spring but we still have the SUV and trailer so maybe, just maybe, an opportunity presents itself.  

Well, until that day arrives we still have two more trips back to the west coast to complete before 2016 comes to an end. Halloween is behind us but then there is Thanksgiving and Christmas to celebrate and who knows, our home may have a new owner. And who knows, we may even have witnessed the season’s first snow fall. I won’t be worried either way as after all, readers may recall we were still experiencing snow fall all the way into May this year so perhaps we are catching a break. We will just have to wait and see and perhaps that’s how it’s meant to be – living on colorful Colorado means that it’s not just cars that can be white but the entire mountain front ranges can be every bit as beautiful freshly painted white! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

A very difficult month and not one for the books!

This has been a September to remember – for a second time in less than twelve months we had a potential buyer of our lovely Niwot home bail on us right at the eleventh hour just as they were about to hand over a check. Earlier this year we had almost crossed the finish line, only for a last minute hitch surfacing, but the common thread on both occasions was a little last minute buyer’s difficulty finding the money. On the bright side, on both occasions it has led us to revisit and prioritize a couple of task we had simply put off for too long so yes, our home has a light and airy feeling once again that, of itself, is making up for a little of the letdown that followed these missteps. 

For all of September we had spent the time in our Niwot home having elected not to travel far from our home. This isn’t usual for us at this time of year – yes, we did miss the final of the Indy Races that was held once again at Sonoma. Readers of this blog will recall that at this time last year, we were track side in the RV enjoying the hospitality of those very close to Herta Motorsports – team owner Bryan Herta being the son-in-law of our good friends and frequent track compatriots, Brian and Jan Kenney. If you missed the post back then you may want to revisit Moving on and yet, no lessening in our desire to be mobile!

It wasn’t just a case of being at home with little to do; passing time with friends which, of course, we still did manage to host a number of afternoon martini-hour receptions. It was more a case of thoroughly cleaning house. The word came that the purchase proposal was the real deal and that in all likelihood, we would have to be out of our home by October 1st so it was a room-by-room attack and I will spare you the details. However, shredding what turned out to be over a thousand pounds of documents, together with twenty plus trips to Goodwill, saw us doing what we should have done a long time ago. Having moved into our Niwot home a good year before the construction (and finishing touches) had been completed, we found that we still hadn’t unpacked many of the boxes we had brought from California! Ahhh, but it is the fall, so as we went about our work, we still had plenty of time to enjoy the colors! 

Among the more mundane tasks was pulling over 1200 DVDs from the racks and sorting them prior to packing. Should have done this a long time ago as we found more than one duplicate DVD lying on the storage racks. Even worse? A good quarter of the DVDs hadn’t even been watched with many still in their cellophane wrappers. Another surprise find was a box containing all of the individual component controllers – we still aren’t confident that we found them all– but looking further ahead, should we eventually move out of our Niwot home then whatever comes next,  we will be definitely looking for a simpler solution. An Apple iPhone app, perhaps?

Boxing books, CDs, DVDs, records – yes, we still have a collection of vinyl LPs although they are mostly Margo’s as in a burst of uncontrolled, and somewhat not well thought-through impulse, when leaving California back in the mid-1990s, I donated my entire vinyl collection to Goodwill. Several hundred of them – probably worth a fortune by all counts - but not something that Margo and I plan on replacing any time soon. But technology moves on and yet, sentimentality still tugs at our hearts so imagine my surprise walking into the local Crate and Barrel household goods store here in Boulder to see them selling turntables as they played vinyl records from the 1960s.

Even as technology has moved on, there is a lesson in all of this. Scurrying around the house, checking on whether an item was worth saving or not, the whole process proved very therapeutic, and the surprising thing was that very little of the modern accoutrements we had collected made the cut – as we set aside what we both really wanted to keep it was mostly older items that had very little to do with technology.

Paintings, glass works of art, the occasional book (but not many as it turned out), a few items we had picked up on our travels that meant something to us but for the most part, only a fraction of the stuff we had accumulated. We have a box of cameras both SLR and Digital and we really don’t know what to do with them even as, at the time, they represented a considerable investment on our part but then again, we are in technology and we know the true value of an antique computer. Zero!
In last month’s post I made reference to Margo’s Yamaha V Star 1100 cruiser – well, after spending several weeks at the bike shop, it’s now back in the garage and it’s in great shape. Although a 2003 model motorcycle, it’s always been garaged and with a little over 10,000 miles on the odometer, it’s still very much a great bike to ride and I have managed to go on several rides already. Margo has elected to come with me on each occasion I went for a ride, in her car naturally, but knowing she has been just a short distance behind me was nice to know. 

The Yamaha is a lot lighter than the Honda VTX1800 I had been riding up until a short time ago when we traded it for Margo’s Mini Cooper S Roadster, so seeing Margo following closely behind in the Mini kind of felt like the spirit of her motorcycle lived on – yes, we were “riding” together once more. For those who aren’t familiar with this Yamaha model it is a “Softail,” very much like a Harley Davidson, but only three quarter size. And yes, like the more treasured Harleys, this Yamaha is also features carburetors but that’s another story entirely as this last service also included a complete carburetor rebuild. Ouch!

Sitting in the garage alongside the Corvette, even though it was a Yamaha, there is something timeless about a Softail tucked up alongside of the ‘Vette – it’s all part of the American dream. It’s how we respond to the call of the open road. It’s how we interact with our environment. Whether lazily cruising down a byway or attacking a couple of favorite switchbacks it doesn’t really matter the vehicle chosen but motorcycle or sports car, it just seems the right thing to do when you find yourself thinking once again of visiting a favorite location. And at this time of year, with fall temperatures prevailing, finding time to revisit favorite roads seems to be just the right thing to do!

One of the more intriguing sights we came across recently in our travels was the construction of a new microbrewery / bar simply called The Barrel out of used containers. Setting them up side by side but with a slight offset, cutting out one side of one of the containers and installing waist high counters, and then clearly, adding a few stools to sit on, introduces a new way to embrace “industry standards.” When so many discussions today among those working with technology center on embracing industry standards (to reduce costs) few would have imagined that this would carry over into structures such as neighborhood bars but it now seems to be happening. We will just have to make a return visit in the Spring to check out the brews and see what else is on hand for the weary traveler who stops by for refreshments.

Earlier in this post I recalled how last year we were supporting Bryan Herta and team Herta Motorsports even as I may have forgot to mention that for the second time in only a couple of years, Herta Motorsports in partnership with Andretti Racing, won the Indy 500. It was a masterful if not true genius fuel management strategy that led to their driver, Rossi, taking the checkered flag for 2016. Being on the perimeter of this family and having enjoyed brief conversations with Bryan Herta it wasn’t all that long ago that we were all sitting at a restaurant table with Bryan’s son, Colton. This was back in 2012 when Colton was racing Karts and if you missed that first meeting with the family, check out the post of November 30, 2012, It was an ill wind ...

Colton has matured considerably since I snapped that photo of him walking to his Kart on the eve of a very important and final event of the year. Fast forward to 2016 and Colton is enjoying his second year in Europe racing formula cars on a full time basis. How’s he doing? After competing in the UK-based MSA Formula series last year, as the youngest driver and the only American on the grid, he enjoyed a bumper second half of the series winning half the races – four out of eight as I recall - to finish the series third overall. On British tracks he had never seen before even as all those around him had grown up on them. This year he stepped up to the even more competitive EuroFormula Open championship which would take him deep into Europe and onto the best F1 tracks going including Spa, Monza, and The Red Bull Ring (in Austria) .

So after a steep learning curve to begin with where the results were mixed and where he lay in ninth place overall as they went into the summer break – these cars have some serious aero packages providing levels of downforce that are new for Colton – this month he achieved a remarkable feat. He won both of the races at the Red Bull Ring. This was not missed by the prestigious motor racing magazine, Racer (where the photo above came from) who reported how, “The 16-year-old son of IndyCar's Bryan Herta avoided a chaotic start in his Carlin entry to take the win by 12.2 seconds ahead of Ferdinand Habsburg and Tatiana Calderon (RP Motorsport) in Race 1, then backed that up by dominating the second race of the weekend from pole position”. In so doing, “He is the first driver to pull off such a weekend sweep yet this year.” As a team, they ended up winning a bag load of trophies thanks to Colton.

Recognize the name of fellow competitor, Ferdinand Habsburg? Pictured above, to the left of Colton on the podium, having taken second place? Yes, that’s right – the heir to the Austrian throne and a direct descendent from the famous Habsburgs. I can imagine what would happen in the UK if young George said he wanted to go racing … But seriously, after just a few races, Colton has now risen to third place overall and is looking good to continue his climb up the Formula ranks. Our best of wishes go out to Colton for the remainder of the year as they also do to his extended family. And yes, “We all want to be Colton!”

September has come to an end. Margo and I are empting the boxes we packed fully expecting to have moved out of our home of seventeen years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but then, on the bright side, we are moving back into a very clean house – yes, we had all the windows washed as more or less a “welcome gift” – not to mention every wardrobe and cupboard had been emptied. It’s almost as if we have been given a second chance to get ourselves organized. Fortunately, there’s still a grill working in the backyard and there was a steak in the refrigerator and yes, just as importantly, martinis could still be shaken so perhaps the best color of fall is that of a red steak gradually turning brown over a gentle flame!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Getting ready for fall … bring it on!

After a lengthy hiatus, our red C5 Corvette Z06 is almost ready for the track. For nearly two months it has been worked on from top to bottom and from front to rear. The list of service and replacement items was extensive and comes after three years of nothing more than track outings. For a moment, we were even talking about replacing it with a C7 Z06 Vette and on a recent road trip Margo searched the web for every piece of information on the C7 Z06 after our local GM dealer put a very attractive package together for us.

A black C7 Z06 with the optional Z07 package and with detailing that included the upgraded interior, where the double stitching was done in yellow as were the powder-coated brake calipers – the touch of yellow on an otherwise black Corvette was all rather striking - and we came very close to pulling the trigger on the deal. But then, stepping back and looking at our C5 Z06 and having already experienced a supercharged C6 Vette on track, we decided to spend the money and bring our beloved C5 Z06 back to track readiness. Yes, this was going to be a big month for us when it came to maintenance.

The arrival of the C5 Z06 back in 2001 marked a complete rethink of the Vette program within GM. To think of the Vette as nothing more than muscle cars is completely at odds with the purpose of the Vette following the release of the fifth generation, C5. If you are interested in a GM muscle car then buy the Camaro. On the other hand, if you want a track or autocross car, then pick the Vette. Likewise, if you want a Dodge muscle car, buy the Challenger but if you want a track car, buy the Viper.

Take a Vette or a Viper right off the showroom floor and onto the track and you can be assured of having a highly competitive car. When GM took the C5 to LeMans it was an immediate winner (2002 and 2003) and with each new generation it has continued on its winning ways. With the stiff Balance of Performance (BoP) mandates that today attempt to level the playing field among the manufacturers, often times it results in the race cars having less power than the equivalent street cars. So yes, drive what the racers would prefer!

Perhaps the most serious upgrades were to the brakes, suspension and yes, the drive shaft. Being a 2003 model where half its mileage had been accumulated on the track, the drive (or propeller) shaft had bent so a replacement shaft was installed. It is a much beefier unit capable of handling up to a thousand horsepower and the actual heft is noticeable in the picture included here. As for the brakes, well, we now have slotted StopTech rotors with HAWK track-friendly, HP+ pads. Not too much squealing coming from the brakes while driving on the street, but for the first couple of miles when they are cold, then yes, you can hear them protesting just a tad.

The clutch was reworked a while back but following this latest service coupled with the new drive shaft and another service of the gearbox and differential, it just feels so much meatier with gear changes a lot less rubbery than it had been just a year or so ago. The wheel bearings and speed sensors monitored by the ABS, traction control and active handling were serviced and on a couple of corners, replaced. The shocks were pretty much out of gas so on went a set of heavy duty Bilstein shocks. And yes, there was a significant leak in the power steering pump that had to be attended to but it’s all fixed now. It never ceases to amaze me just how driving a deteriorating car can desensitize you to its many faults! 

So yes, the steering is precise. The clutch and gearbox feel purposeful. And the drivetrain no longer produces any unusual sounds and of course, the car brakes really well. The only remaining task is to throw on a new set of street Bridgestone tires that through the years have provided us with unusual levels of grip that have always surprised our passengers but as we have become so used to them, it’s difficult to consider changing to anything else. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that Bridgestone continues to make the Potenza RE760 Sport. While our Viper is no longer with us even as the Vette makes a dramatic comeback, the memories of track days in both still linger ...

This introduction and update on the C5 Z06 is by way of explaining that our passion for cars continues unabated. Whenever an opportunity for a couple of hours of downtime presents itself we head to the garage and jump in a car. Heading down the driveway we immediately begin relaxing and with the many canyon roads leading up into the Rocky Mountains, and the many small towns beckoning, we soon put the city behind us. Shortly, the fall colors will arrive with the forests of aspen trees turning gold but for the moment, we still have warm temperatures and clear skies so yes, driving with the sunroof open or the ragtop retracted, is enjoyable and highly entertaining!

There is always something new to see and places to drop in on – no matter how many years we have been driving along these mountain roads there is always some place to pull into and check out. When you drive the peak-to-peak highway connecting Estes Park down through Nederland and Blackhawk, you pass the small village of Ward. On the highway proper there is a small bar and restaurant adjacent to an elbow in the black top and on summer days, there’s always a mix of sports cars and motorcycles. For the twenty years I have been stopping in on this establishment, nothing has changed but the hamburgers are pretty good, particularly as there isn’t another establishment for miles around. 
Closer to home is a short but twisty canyon road that leads to Carter Lake.

When we first began riding our motorcycles, this was an oft-visited destination. The water level rises and falls with the season as much of the spring snowmelt flows into the reservoir. Each and every time we took the ride, we passed a small bar and restaurant on the northern edge of Carter Lake and this past month, after passing it so many times, we pulled in for lunch. Looking around at those seated nearby, we spotted one patron drinking what we thought was a bottle of Angry Richard so of course, we had to sample a bottle for ourselves but it turned out to be really Angry Orchard and wasn’t a beer but an alcoholic cider – but holding the bottle astutely, it’s not difficult to see how we were so easily taken in! 

David, our local BMW salesman and someone we keep in touch with on a regular basis as both our 740i ad our 750Li were leased from him, continues to promote the latest range of BMW hybrid cars. Readers of our business blog for the NonStop community, Real Time View, may recall reading the May 4, 2016, post, Hybrids continue to make headlines … where Margo and I were given the hybrid i8 to drive around in for a morning. More recently, David gave me the much smaller i3 for a Saturday morning drive and I found it way more entertaining than I had imagined. While the pace of the i8 is unquestionable, the pocket-rocket i3 is perhaps the fastest BMW ever to 30 mph. 

Not sure I like the dark color schemes as I found the white i8 perhaps the most attractive color combination but with the i3, its diminutive size makes it an ideal city car. We have our Cooper S Roadster by Mini and somehow, I just cannot see Margo giving up that vehicle any time soon but somehow, the progress being made on hybrids is something few of us can ignore. While I am still very reluctant to commit to an all-electric car, no matter how well the batteries perform, the presence of an additional power source just seems to me to be better suited to the wide open spaces that we have here in the west.

While August saw us only taking one business trip and that was to spend a couple of days in Dallas, having as much time as we did have at home proved to be really enjoyable. Leisurely mornings spent sipping coffee and looking out onto the mountains. Well, only after a quick trip to the gym for an hour of “treadmill with the news” as we tend to watch news while walking. By the time we get back home we can truly relax with cups of coffee. On the other hand, as September comes to a close, the routine of regular trips to distant places begins again as the fall season of customer and community events picks up once again. Already we have committed to events in Chicago, Scottsdale, Toronto and San Jose and so there will be many more miles to cover before the year finally runs out.

It wasn’t just the Vette that spent time in the shop being brought back to competition mode. At roughly the same time we had the Jeep in the shop getting serviced with new tires being installed as well as the RV getting serviced with the front windscreen being replaced. It’s often a sore point between Margo and me that we are spending more on tires than she spends on shoes and somehow, that just doesn’t sound right but no longer having to stand in line at airports, put up with failed reservation systems, or deal with weather delays isn’t something we are all that interested in returning to any time soon.

After an equally lengthy hiatus, we had the local motorcycle shop come pick up the Yamaha V Star 1100 that had been Margo’s regular ride since 2003. Last year we traded the Honda VTX 1800 on the Mini Roadster and had pretty much left the Yamaha untouched, but with a carburetor based engine it became so out of tune that it needed a lot of attention and so, in the shop it too has sat. We are expecting to be able to pick it up in a matter of days now and with fall temperatures not too far away, I am looking forward to “riding the Rockies” once again. However, with just one motorcycle, it’s not as much fun as it once was so Margo and I continue to look at the options, but doing anything further in this respect will have to wait until next spring at least.

I have often written posts to this blog that have talked about the possibility of buying a Polaris Slingshot of a Can-Am Spyder but nothing definite has been decided. With a sunroof opened or a ragtop retracted, it’s nice to experience driving al fresco.  And yet, it is no substitute to being atop a motorcycle cruiser with all the sensors taking in the experience only being on the open road provides. We aren’t getting any younger and there will certainly be compromises involved, but who knows. There’s still more miles to cover on some form of motorcycle but there's still no escaping the fact that with two bikes parked in the garage, we had lots of options!

Grilling outside on the BBQ just a few weeks ago and looking around at the vegetation that surrounds our backyard, it was clear that something was unfolding as everywhere we looked the leaves just starting to change color. Hopefully with fall, there will be time to take rides through the mountains on the Yamaha and perhaps one outing on the nearby road course in the Vette. Irrespective of what the fall will bring, road trips are already locked-in and there will be many more miles to be covered.

But as passionate as Margo and I continue to be with driving vehicles of all descriptions and as much as we enjoy exploring out of way establishments, we certainly have enjoyed a month of living at home. Already the pool and spa have been “winterized” and shortly the outside kitchen will be shut down for the season while the lawn sprinklers and drip-feeds to the trees and shrubs will all be “blown out” with compressed air. Fall will be with us for just a short while and then winter will follow just a handful of weeks later.

If we were to summarize the activities for the month, everywhere we turned the story was the same. It was all about maintenance – vehicles of all descriptions, the home and even ourselves. Then again having options, along with opportunities, is something Margo and I cannot see ourselves ever compromising on so until the next round of servicing, it’s now time to enjoy the options we have and go explore some more! Even as the predominant color of our cars is red, at this  time of year they help to add a lot of color to the view from front door. So yes, bring on the fall …      

Monday, August 8, 2016

July? Vacation? No time to spare so how about trying a BizCation!

It’s simply un-American to not consider vacation in July, but for us, there is never really any time for vacation. Seriously, we cannot recall a time since 2009 where we have simply elected to escape and do nothing. Being hi-tech freelancers and having a business to run it’s just not possible to shut down, so when circumstances arose that dictated we head back to Virginia and the Carolinas for business, well, we jumped at the opportunity to head east. Regular readers of this blog may recall the post of October 4, 2015, A tale of two cars and of paths not taken where we recounted our first trip to the Carolina’s Outer Banks together with our first impressions of driving our then almost-new Mini Cooper S Roadster.

Well, with this BizCation, we elected to combine both – our love of the east coast with our love for Mini. Readers if my posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View may have caught on to our whereabouts as I wrote the post, published July 19, 2016, Yes, once again, I ask – are our wishes truly important? while camped alongside the beach at Rodanthe. And yet, so much is happening with both HPE and IBM that making it back to Raleigh seemed appropriate. Dashing some 1800+ miles in just three days behind the wheel of the big-rig, all 60+ feet of RV, trailer and Mini, proved taxing. Not because of the size of the rig, or of the miles we needed to cover, but because of the weather – it was atrocious!

Before we left Colorado and crossed into Kansas, the rain came down by the bucket load and stayed with us for the remainder of our trip. For many miles, visibility was reduced to almost zero and of course, the further east you head, the more you find the Interstates under repair. Picking our way through the cones with more competitive smaller cars all around us proved challenging, but we made it. We didn’t hit a thing all the way across the country. It’s a moot point of course, but for Margo and me it remains the journey rather than the destination. We liked where we were headed, don’t get us wrong, but looking out through the massive front windscreen of our RV was all we ever looked forward to – what’s behind us is not important! 

Have to say, our first night spent in the carpark of a WalMart on the eastern outskirts of Kansas City, MO, was an uneasy experience. The storm really hit hard and returning from the Applebee’s, the sky lit up with lightening everywhere we turned. And then to be treated with a knock on our door by a young lad looking for a handout didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension. But this WalMart includes regular patrols by the local constabulary and even thought the storm did it’s best to unsettle us we passed the night in relative comfort. On the other hand, our overnight stay in western Kentucky was at a new KOA facility just outside Huntington West, Kentucky and we thoroughly enjoyed the overnight experience in an out of the way place we would never have otherwise contemplated visiting.

When travelling out west we have no issues with pulling into a WalMart parking lot along the way. However, east of the Mississippi, this is not the case and we have become almost instant fans of KOA, having experienced no problems with this organization. They aren’t luxurious nor are they always easy to pull into but the reception upon arrival is always easy to take. Plus the added value of a golf-cart escort to our pull-in lot is always helpful. New to the world of RVs? Well, not to worry, you cannot really go wrong with the good folks at KOA. But did I mention the weather? If the storms in Kansas City were extraordinary, the instantaneous downpour once we had set up camp had us pulling in the awnings and hunkering down for another night.

Before you begin to recall recent history and plot where we were relative to other cities in West Virginia, we deliberately headed to the northern part of the state to be well clear of the lethal flooding catastrophe overtaking the state. But nevertheless, all around us on the drive to the Outer Banks, rivers were swollen and back roads covered in water. Several times, the adjacent service roads were impassable. Pulling into the Outer Banks however was an entirely different story but somehow, not completely unexpected! The photo above these paragraphs may just be a clue …  

The drive down the Outer Banks includes traversing many bridges and at times, lanes just a couple of car widths wide were all that separated us from the Atlantic and the Sound. After nearly three days of heavy rain we were pleased to be greeted with sunshine and even as we began to relax and look forward to pulling into a familiar local RV camp for a week, the heavens opened one more time. And they did in biblical proportions – an extreme local storm front had crossed the banks directly atop our KOA campsite on Pea Island and the subsequent flooding forced us to make camp a short distance from the location we had reserved. Opening the door of the RV, we had six inches of water around us but as the picture here depicts, in less than 24 hours, the water had subsided completely. There’s something to be said about sand foundations!

While I worked all day from my phone and laptop and pretty much entertained the occasional business associate I was able to entice to stop by for BBQ and Martinis, always a good draw card and a familiar routine to those who have stopped by in other cities we have visited, Margo found more than ample time to wander the beachfront and collect sea shells. We now have a small drawer that is beginning to fill with Margo’s collection of flotsam and jetsam. Looking out of the RVs window and watching the many groups of pelicans on patrol just a matter of yards from our site certainly helped me come up with story lines as I continued to work for my clients. 

The picture atop this post was taken by the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. We took a day off to travel to the end of the island, cross a few bridges and make our way all the way down to the car ferry terminal. It so happened that a call I was expecting from Europe materialized so even as I was focused on the clarity of the connection, Margo had more than ample time to walk the jetty and check out the stores. It was on the return trip that we took the exit to the lighthouse but it really is a must-see opportunity for anyone visiting the Outer Banks.  

Whether it was because we had watched too many shows on the television channel HGTV about homes and condos along South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach or not, but we had decided right from the outset that our return trip to Boulder would include a couple of days alongside that beach. Little did we know that the KOA site we chose would be perhaps the best KOA location we have stayed in to date! Only three blocks from the beach we found ourselves in a heavily wooded area that was not only quiet and very peaceful but simply naturally beautiful. With a corner site far from the regular crowd and surrounded by trees, we absolutely owned the place.

Our trip had seen us capitalize on the Fourth of July holiday weekend. We had left Boulder in the Saturday morning and had arrived on the afternoon of the Fourth of July in Cape Hatteras. A full working week then gave us yet another long weekend at Myrtle Beach so we weren’t all that concerned about missing business opportunities and given that it was early July, many of my clients were already in vacation mode themselves. But Myrtle Beach? Well, a lot of fun walking the beach, stopping in at the souvenir shops and stopping in at some pretty cool restaurants. Almost sounds like lines from a Jimmy Buffett song but it did remind us of the Keys!

The Mini served us well. It proved easy to unload and then load onto the trailer and pulling it across the eastern states did little to lessen our fuel consumption. Still averaging a pretty healthy 8 mpg and much better than when we have to tackle both the Rockies and the Sierras as we often do! But on arrival to sunshine at Myrtle Beach, unloading the Mini – even though it took about 30 minutes – was only just completed when yet another cloudburst descended on us. Unbelievable! We huddled inside the RV as the winds howled and the rain tore at the sides of the RV. "Let it rain, let it rain ..." 

A lot of our discussions focused on the changes occurring within the upper echelons of HPE. Couldn’t believe some of the headlines we read and yet, the more we talked with one of HPE’s biggest competitors and the reason we headed east, IBM, the more we came to understand that the similarities with the two were unmistakable. The approaches being taken to address the customer’s needs were different, but the more we talked the more things seemed the same. Yes, the world is changing and the data centers of the past are irrevocably changing as well.  

IBM cannot find a buyer for its mainframe division and for good reason – no growth – so its conclusion was to pump up the margins mainframes deliver to a mind-boggling 57%. Maybe it was the sea air. Maybe it was the miles of sandy shorelines. Maybe it was the seafood. Or perhaps, yet again, it was the evening martinis. No matter the circumstance of the prevailing weather we always found time to shake martinis and to snap photos to share with friends around the globe. 

And yes, grill great stakes – Margo had done a terrific job of ensuring we had the provisions on board we needed and barely a night passed where I wasn’t grilling a rib eye or a trip tip or a pork chop. It turned out that the rain proved not to be a detraction, but rather a soothing way to end the day. Ultimately, we felt a little uncomfortable as the evening descended if there weren’t any raindrops falling on the roof of the RV.

And we cannot find a buyer for our home in Niwot, Colorado. Even as Margo took to shaking the evening martinis, there was a more serious side to the trip. After nearly three years of being on the market and dropping the asking price almost every quarters there has been very little activity. We clearly way overbuilt and homes of our size just aren’t selling. Unlike IBM, we cannot up the margins; quite the contrary, we are seeing margins diminish all too rapidly. So, who knows? Will we end up living out of our RV? All up, not a bad second prize when you think about it …

Routines on the road are no different than those any home owner would recognize. Trash has to be taken out. Dishes have to be washed. And yes, there is the occasional housecleaning to be done. The one big difference comes with the “hook ups” – yes, at every site, upon arrival, you need to connect to water, power and yes, sewerage. It amused Margo immensely that on our next to last night on the road, as we set up camp just outside Nashville, I thought it best to shake martinis before I looked at completing the hookups. Watching me set aside my martini on the power stump as I went about hooking up the lines, Margo realized possibly for the very first time, I was a little different from everyone else!
But life on the road is an experience not to be missed. Many times we have left our home in Niwot even as snow was falling. We have camped in Las Vegas as the temperatures climbed through 118 degrees. We have driven the coastal highways of California and camped on race tracks. And more recently, we have camped on a narrow spit of land that forms Carolina’s Outer Banks. Margo and I call ourselves new-Americans and in doing so, acknowledge that we never had parents who every summer threw us into the back of station wagons and drove us from one national park to another. These road trips for Margo and me are all new experiences and already we know we have seen so much more of America than most of its population.

BizCations? Love them and we both know there will be many more to come. Our final night was back on that same parking lot of WalMarts, just outside Kansas City but this time it didn’t rain. We still had dinner at the same Applebee’s’ and we still arose very early in the day to be off the parking lot before real customers arrived to shop at WalMarts. But the experience for both of us was unquestionably one we wouldn’t have wanted to miss. From previous vacations on WindStar cruises off New Zealand to Seaborne cruises off Venice to Peter Deilmann river cruises down the Danube to a simple ride on the Manly Ferry and yes, from first class travel by air to rickety train rides through eastern Europe - it’s all pretty much behind us. 

We have both come to really appreciate that it really is the journey and the destinations, be they scattered and surprising, pale into insignificance when set against the value we derive from the journey. Cliché? Well, not exactly but echoing what I know many others have experienced firsthand so yes, there will be more and next month well, it’s a new month after all. And yes, stay tuned as our track Corvette is back from the shop. Soon it will very likely be tarmacs in anger even as we longingly look back at the BizCation that was!